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Paddling the Lake Michigan State Water Trail in Wisconsin

Kayaking in Door County

Wisconsin has some of the best canoeing and kayaking in the upper Midwest. Paddlers will find small lakes and rivers perfect for beginners as well as bigger waters that beckon adventurers. The Lake Michigan State Water Trail offers more than 1,600 miles (2,400km) of adventure—the route rings the edge of this massive freshwater lake, crossing through Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s segment includes some gorgeous paddling. Here are a few of the places that paddlers can experience on the route.

Rock Island

Rock Island sits off the tip of the Door Peninsula, past Washington Island. The entire 900-acre (360 hectare) island is a state park. For a pleasant daylong excursion, paddle east from Washington Island’s Jackson Harbor, then around the island. Break up this roughly 8-mile (13km) trip by exploring the state park, which features hiking trails and free guided tours of the Pottawatomie Lighthouse. You can also check out several massive stone buildings, including a boat house and Viking Hall, which were constructed by a millionaire investor who once owned Rock Island.

Downtown Milwaukee

If you prefer a more urban experience, paddle or sail from Milwaukee’s South Shore Marina to Bradford Beach. This 5-mile (8km) trip offers prime views of the downtown Milwaukee lakefront. Possible stops along the way include Lakeshore State Park, which features a pebble beach and selfie stand, and the lagoons near Discovery World, a science museum. When you reach Bradford Beach, change into your swimsuit and take a dip in the lake.


Experienced paddlers looking for a more challenging option can travel from Port Washington to Kohler-Andrae State Park, a 21-mile (34km) trip. On Day 1, head north 9 miles (14km) from Port Washington’s South Beach to your stopping point: Harrington Beach State Park in Ozaukee County. The kayak campsite, just south of the point, is marked by a blue post. During your downtime, explore the park’s 7 miles (11km) of hiking trails and scenic shoreline. Day 2 entails a 12-mile (19km) paddle to Sheboygan’s Kohler-Andrae State Park, where you’ll find impressive sand dunes, a pine forest, nature center and several miles of hiking trails.

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