One of the best ways to travel Wisconsin is beautiful and timeless. Long before European settlers arrived, Native Americans traveled the state by river. You can discover thousands of scenic miles of river paddling in Wisconsin—all you need is a canoe or kayak and a sense of adventure. Here are two of the best places to paddle in Wisconsin.
This major tributary of the Mississippi covers 430 miles—it’s the state’s longest river. And, it’s a river with a long history: French missionary Jacques Marquette recorded its Algonquian name when he paddled the river in 1673. Today the river provides explorers with long stretches of scenic paddling.
Some start near the river’s source at Lac Vieux Desert in Vilas County. The county also has longer-haul routes that are great to explore. Two routes detailed on the Vilas County Silent Sports Trail Map include the Wisconsin River Centennial Trail Trips. Trip 1 covers 25 miles, from Lac Vieux Desert near Land O’ Lakes south to Conover. Continuing south, Trip 2 heads south and west past Eagle River, covering 23 miles. Together, the two legs total more than 20 hours of paddling.
Further downriver in Oneida County you can find several other scenic paddling options. Paddlers can head from Hwy O to the Rainbow Flowage (1-3 hours) or roll through some light rapids on the stretch from Hwy D to River Road (1-2 hours). For easy paddling and great wildlife viewing, paddle the stretch from River Road to Bridge Road (3-4 hours).
In central Wisconsin, the river provides a mix of paddling in the Stevens Point Area. Intermediate paddlers can find a good route about four miles north of Stevens Point, off Hwy HH. As you paddle downstream, the islands to your left are surrounded by channels. The adventurous paddler may wish to poke around the islands and spend some time fishing, bird watching or viewing wildlife. The southbound channels open into the Stevens Point Flowage and connect back to the main channel of the river. In the Flowage, go under the power lines and take out at the boat landing near the swimming beach in Bukolt Park.
This northern Wisconsin river, a tributary of the Chippewa River, is a classic Wisconsin paddling river. Like the Wisconsin River, it has a rich heritage. The name means “torch” in French, and it’s believed that the name came from early explorers who saw the local Chippewa Indians fishing by torchlight at night. The river includes some whitewater, and it passes through the Flambeau River State Forest. Head to Rusk County for some of the best paddling stretches. Rusk County is a place laced with four beautiful rivers, but the wild Flambeau really stands out.
Paddlers looking for whitewater excitement should try the stretch from Hervas Camp Landing to the Big Falls Dam. For an easier paddle with great scenery, try the Dairyland Reservoir down to Ladysmith or Ladysmith to the Thornapple Dam. From the Thornapple Dam, it’s a quick and exciting eight-mile paddle to the Flambeau’s confluence with the Chippewa River.