If you’re a paddler, Wisconsin has enough rivers and lakes to keep you adventure-fed for a lifetime. While daytrips are great, why not make a weekend of it and combine some time on the water with time in the tent? Here are a few great options that include both one-way river sojourns and don’t-need-a-shuttle lake excursions.
Sleep under the stars on the shore of the Wisconsin River. It is said you never step in the same river twice and that couldn’t be truer than with the Lower Wisconsin. The last 92 miles are unimpeded by dams from Prairie du Sac all the way to the Mississippi River at Wyalusing State Park. The sandbars come and go and parallel channels around forested islands allow you to choose between wide river and intimate channels.
You will see eagles and herons. Much of the land along either bank is protected by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and stops like Trader’s and the Wisconsin Riverside Resort offer camping right on your path. Rent from an outfitter in Sauk City or Boscobel, or bring your own craft.
Camp on your own private island. A dam on the Flambeau River created this nearly 13,000-acre body of water, with double that acreage of undeveloped forest and a vast assortment of islands both large and small. Scattered throughout the flowage are 66 rustic campsites, free and first come, first served.
Consider this Boundary Waters Light. Putting in here won’t require arranging a shuttle between vehicles, and a dedicated quiet zone on the already remote lake makes it heaven for paddlers.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more twisted river in Wisconsin than this beginner-friendly water route popular for daytrippers who typically make the run from Ontario to Wildcat Mountain State Park. But if you paddle past this takeout point toward La Farge, you’ve got another day of paddling, with rustic campsites along the banks within the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.
Fall asleep to the calls of owls and awake to morning mists rising off the river right outside your tent. The current is steady and the towering sandstone bluffs along the banks make for great photos – if you can back up far enough to fit them in your lens.
Bittersweet Lakes Natural Area
Situated just northeast of Woodruff, this paddle within a designated state natural area requires a few portages. Short trails connect four lakes – Oberlin, Smith, Bittersweet and Prong – which are surrounded by old pine and hemlock within the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest. Five reservable, rustic sites allow up to six people for one night only.
While you don’t need a shuttle, you will need to carry your canoe or kayak between lakes and at the put-in. Expect to see the occasional osprey, eagle or loon fishing for its lunch. You may want to join them: Bring your fishing pole for walleye, northern pike, bass and panfish.
St. Croix National Scenic Riverway
Two wild sister rivers – the Namekagon and the St. Croix – rise up in northern Wisconsin, eventually joining and forming the border between the state and Minnesota. Along the length of both are rustic campsites with no fees or reservations.
Expect some simple Class I rapids and riffles, and perhaps Class II in a few spots after the two combine their waters. It’s an impressive natural corridor with very few signs of nearby civilization and abundant wildlife. The National Park Service offers excellent detailed maps with river miles and campsites marked so you can plan a trip for as many days as you want to paddle.
Check out the Paddle Wisconsin interactive map for more trip ideas and tips on canoeing Wisconsin's riverways, and keep on exploring with these microadventures for weekend wanderers!