Whether you’re traveling by canoe, kayak or giant inflatable pizza, paddling is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience Wisconsin’s waters. Here are five spots for beginners to give it a try in Wisconsin. 

Lake Monona, Madison

Madison’s Lake Monona offers views of the state Capitol and other architectural attractions such as the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. Visit Brittingham Boats to rent a canoe or kayak and enjoy a scoop of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s renowned Babcock ice cream. For a heartier meal, hit Williamson Street for Weary Traveler Freehouse’s cocktails and comfort food, A Pig in a Fur Coat’s pork belly with sunflower shoots or Lao Laan-Xang’s savory squash curry.

Need a paddling lesson? Book one with Rutabaga Outdoor Programs, which offers instruction for individuals and families. Once you’ve mastered the basics, try the company’s atmospheric Full Moon Paddle, which begins at the Rutabaga Paddlesports retail store in Monona.

Washington Park Lagoon and Milwaukee River, Milwaukee

With tranquil water and an abundance of wildlife, Washington Park Lagoon is the perfect place for families to find their sea legs. Borrow a kayak or canoe at the Urban Ecology Center to get started. While you’re there, peek inside the center’s 560-gallon fish tank, which teems with frogs, fish and turtles.

For an urban paddling experience geared toward adults, head downtown to the Milwaukee River. Grab lunch at the Milwaukee Public Market in the Third Ward, then rent a boat from Milwaukee Kayak Company on Water Street. New to paddling? Check out Brew City Kayak, which offers guided experiences such as the Milwaukee City Skyline Tour.

Geneva Lake, Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva’s eponymous waterway is a gorgeous spot to take up a new hobby. Clear Water Outdoor rents kayaks and their chilled-out cousins—stand-up paddleboards—at three locations, two of which are steps from popular hotels. The company’s Sunday-morning social paddles are a great place to learn the sport and meet others who are in the same boat—literally, metaphorically or both. Of course, just steps off of Riviera Beach is Lake Geneva’s main drag, where you can munch on casual bar food at Popeye’s (with a lakefront view), nibble on Neapolitan-style pizza at Oakfire (also with lake vistas) or grab a glass of wine at Barrique Bistro & Wine Bar.

Apostle Islands, Northern Wisconsin

Located on Lake Superior near beautiful Bayfield, the Apostle Islands offer wave-sculpted sandstone cliffs and caves that beg to be explored by kayak. Whitecap Kayak Bayfield can show you the ins and outs of these natural wonders on a 2.5-hour guided tour that includes personalized instruction in a tandem kayak and all the gear you need. The company also offers a women’s trip for beginners, which features breathtaking Lake Superior scenery, gourmet campfire cuisine and beaches that take relaxation to a whole new level.

Photo by Sara Stathas Photography/VISIT Milwaukee


In addition writing arts-themed books and articles, Jessica Steinhoff has served as an editor at two Wisconsin newspapers: Madison's Isthmus and Milwaukee's Shepherd Express.