Experience Wisconsin

17 Ways to Have Family Fun on the Water in Wisconsin

Photo by Rachel Hershberger, TravelWisconsin.com 

With 15,000 lakes, 84,000 miles of rivers, and the majestic lakes Michigan and Superior shorelines, Wisconsin is the perfect place to cool off and have some summer fun with the kids. These family-friendly attractions offer relaxation, recreation and opportunities to make memories.

HIT THE BEACH

Practice your flutter kick, play Marco Polo, or build an epic sand castle at these beaches.

Big Bay Town Park Beach, La Pointe

Take a ferry ride to Madeline Island to access this two-mile beach near a lagoon. Bonus: Big Bay is a short trek from other Apostle Islands attractions like sea caves you can explore by kayak and the “singing sands” of Julian Bay, which “squeal” when you touch them.
bigbaytownpark.com

Fontana Beach, Fontana

This beach is as family-friendly as they get: You’ll find plenty of sand, a snack bar and changing rooms where you can slip on a swimsuit or slip off a dirty diaper. Lifeguards watch over swimmers Memorial Day through Labor Day, and there’s a family movie at sunset on selected Saturdays.
villageoffontana.com

North Beach, Racine

Escape the crowds of Chicago beaches without sacrificing the magic of Lake Michigan. This 50-acre gem has 2,500 feet of shoreline and lifeguards on duty from June through the end of August. Swim, play volleyball, visit the huge playground and bask in the sun—with the knowledge that you’re at a place on Parents magazine’s list of top 10 beaches for families.
cityofracine.org/beaches

Kohler-Andrae State Park Beach, Sheboygan

This striking spot by Lake Michigan is ideal for families with kids, dogs or both. Pups can visit the area north of the nature center, while humans can also enjoy two miles of swimming beach to the south. For top-shelf wildlife watching, follow the boardwalk to the sand dunes. dnr.wi.gov

HAVE AN ADVENTURE

Crank up the excitement with activities like kayaking, river tubing and whitewater rafting. Reserve your spot ahead of time and bring a change of clothes, because you will get wet!

ALL AGES: TUBING, KAYAKING, AND STAND-UP PADDLEBOARDING

Wildwood Outdoor Adventures, Eagle River

Craving some R&R? Meander down the northern Wisconsin River on a tube, beverage in hand and loved ones in tow. Wildwood Outdoor Adventures will drop you off at the start of the route and pick you up at the end, up to three hours later.

Or explore Northwoods waterways on the guided Wildlife Paddle, which Wildwood will tailor to your family’s needs.

“If two or three hours is too long for the kids, we’ll come up with a fun paddle that lasts an hour,” says co-owner Nichole Bach. Tour-goers might spot eagles, otters, deer or swans, she adds.

Bach also recommends that families try stand-up paddleboarding.

“A very young child can sit on the front of the board while an adult paddles along the shoreline,” she says.
715-477-3333, wildwoodoutdooradventures.com

ALL AGES: CANOEING

Wisconsin Canoe Company, Spring Green

Bond with your brood while canoeing the southern Wisconsin River. Wisconsin Canoe Company will provide the boat and help you make the most of the experience. The 10-mile Arena to Spring Green trip is a popular choice, according to co-owner Ryan Schmudlach.

“There are tons of opportunities for kids to get out of the boat and explore sandbars,” he says.

Schmudlach says most kids are ready for some paddling responsibilities by age 8, and that younger kids can go along for the ride.

“If your kids can wear lifejackets, they can safely ride in a canoe,” he says.

The Arena trip takes roughly three hours under average conditions if the group paddles nonstop, but many families turn it into an overnight camping trip. One big reason for this? Turtles.

“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of turtles in the river, and kids love to stop for them,” Schmudlach says.
608-432-5058, thebestcanoecompanyever.com

OLDER KIDS: RAFTING

Shotgun Eddy, White Lake

Go whitewater rafting with this northern Wisconsin company, which will take your family to and from the Wolf River. There are routes for groups of various skill levels, all of which offer chances to enjoy the river’s sights, sounds and splashes. If your kids are in elementary school, try the M-Bridge, a two-and-a-half-hour trip suitable for riders as young as age five.
shotguneddy.com

CRUISE THE SIGHTS

These boat-based tours will get you on the water, then dazzle your crew with cool sights and facts. For best results, book ahead.

Lake Delton And The Wisconsin River: Original Wisconsin Ducks

Spend an hour exploring the Wisconsin Dells in ducks—military vehicles equipped for land and water travel. You’ll devote half of your time to each type of environment, visiting famous rock formations like Hawk’s Bill and cruising the waters of Lake Delton. The drivers show off the ducks’ ability to speed down hills and make a big splash in the drink, impressing kids and kid-at-heart adults.
608-254-8751, wisconsinducktours.com

Lake Monona: Betty Lou Cruises

Ooh and aah at Wisconsin’s Capitol and the downtown Madison skyline from a motor yacht on Lake Monona. Sweeten your Sunday with the Ice Cream Social and Sightseeing cruise featuring superpremium ice cream from Madison’s beloved Chocolate Shoppe and loads of toppings. Have as many scoops as you’d like, plus complimentary soda, during the 90-minute trip.
608-246-3138, bettyloucruises.com

St. Croix River: Afton*Hudson Cruise Lines

Board the Grand Duchess for the RiverFest cruise of the St. Croix, a tributary connecting Wisconsin to Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The trip includes a presentation by a local naturalist and the director of the Carpenter Nature Center in Hastings, Minn. The kids will flip when live animal ambassadors appear.
651-436-8883, stcroixrivercruises.com

Milwaukee River: Milwaukee River Cruise Line

Dress like a pirate and defend your ship, the Edelweiss, from a band of competing rogues on the historic Milwaukee River. You’ll get water balloons and water cannons to fend off the invaders, plus tacos and hot dogs to keep your stamina up. The adventure is open to pirates age 3 and older and lasts 90 minutes.
414-276-7447, edelweissboats.com

DINE ON THE SHORE

Don’t want to get in the water? Then enjoy the view—with a beverage in hand and a great meal. Here are five eateries that offer kid-friendly fare, a casual atmosphere and gorgeous vistas.

Clear Water Harbor Restaurant & Bar, Waupaca

Enjoy an outdoor meal as you behold the beauty of emerald-tinted Taylor Lake. This establishment is known for ice cream, gluten-free options, a twice-weekly fish fry and kid-approved fare like cheeseburgers and mini tacos.
715-258-9912, clearwaterharbor.com

Old Post Office Restaurant, Ephraim

This former post office is all about Door County traditions and views of Eagle Harbor. Try the region’s famous cherries in morning pancakes, or visit for the fish boil, a dramatic affair that includes a bonfire, a sunset, storytelling and a kettle of whitefish that boils over when ready to eat. (Hot dogs and chicken are available for the kids.) Reservations are required for the fish boil; call for times.
920-854-4034, oldpostoffice-doorcounty.com

Paisan’s, Madison

Paisan’s patio is a relaxing place for an Italian meal and some of the best lake-gazing in Madison. Kids enjoy the thin-crust pizzas and customizable pasta dishes featuring a choice of three noodle shapes and six sauces.
608-257-3832, paisansrest.com

Pier 4 Cafe & Smokehouse, Alma

Grab a bite on the Mississippi River at this seasonal spot, open March through November. Sit in the screened-in patio to watch barges fl oat by during a breakfast of omelets or German-style potato pancakes. At lunch try the Memphis-style barbecued ribs, which are smoked on-premise.
608-685-4964

South Pier Parlor, Sheboygan

This old-fashioned ice cream parlor’s treats are as refreshing as Lake Michigan’s waters. The menu includes sundaes, floats and a rotating selection of ice cream flavors, including Shipwrecked, a vanilla ice cream with almonds and salted caramel. To enjoy lake views with your dessert, head to the adjacent pier.
920-395-2675, southpierparlor.com


This article originally appeared in the 2018 spring/summer issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.