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Milwaukee by Water
Walking on water during the winter was fun enough, but now that the snow and ice have (finally) melted, it’s time to enjoy the city’s waterways from a slightly different perspective.

Photo by Marge Beaver

When the early settlers of Brew Town were cooking up names for our fair city, perhaps feeling the effects of smoking a bit of kinnikinnick, they employed the Ojibwe word omanowakiing, which loosely translates to “gathering place by the water.” (Don’t ask us about how we finally settled upon Milwaukee after starting there.) And for all the years that followed, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing… once the ice shelf melts. Our rundown of water recreation will leave you all wet, in a good way.

For our tour of H20 fun, we begin with a newcomer. Milwaukee Kayak Company began its adventures in the summer of 2013. Founder Beth Handle is looking to build on the success of her rookie season in which active, adventerous types explored the Kinnikinnic, Menomonee and Milwaukee rivers. Follow the Milwaukee Urban Water Trail and discover 25 miles worth of shoreline, or create your own itinerary, and pop into one of the many dining and drinking establishments that feature paddler-friendly docks.

The three branches of the Urban Ecology Center are out to prove that membership, which starts at just $30 for students, has its privileges. In addition to nurturing nature outreach, UEC members get free access to kayaks and canoes (as well as bikes, gardening tools and some winter equipment we won’t dare mention in a summer issue). After passing a basic water-safety course, you’re free to take the vessel just about anywhere conditions are favorable, although Lake Michigan and Veterans Park Lagoon are two big no-no’s. 

If you are itching to venture out on our Great Lake, the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center has been showing landlubbers the sailing ropes since 1980. Classes aimed at kids as young as 8 years old are available, so there’s no reason you can’t find your sea (or lake) legs this summer. The MCSC operates much like a boating co-op, with memberships working out to a cost of about $25 per month, which gives you access to its 80-boat fleet.

If your vision of lake life is a little less hands-on, there are salty dogs out there who will ensure you encounter nothing but smooth sailing. Step aboard Sea Dog Sailing’s Quinn Marie, which departs out of McKinley Marina and let Capt. Bob DeVorse take you out for a sunset or moonlight cruise. Adventure Charter Boats can surely provide you with a lazy day on the water, but we’d suggest signing up for a diving adventure and catching a glimpse of some of the ships that never made it to port.

Thanks to the resurgence of the RiverWalk in recent years, there’s no shortage of boats making their way along the Milwaukee River. Russ Davis of Riverwalk Boat Tours & Rentals has his watercraft running seven days a week out of Pere Marquette Park (950 Old World Third St.). No matter the day or night, you can find a floating party with themes like “Margarita Mondays” or “Wine Wednesdays.” His popular “Saturday 3 Pub Tour” crawls along to riverside pubs like the Twisted Fisherman or Milwaukee Sail Loft.

Not to be outdone, the folks behind the Milwaukee River Cruise Line boast the “largest fleet variety” in the city, operating five vessels. You’ve almost certainly seen its mothership, the Edelweiss, filled with partygoers on a sun-splashed day. But if you’re not looking to pickle your liver, set your sights on a murder-mystery dinner cruise or the historic Milwaukee tour. Ask about the Pirates of the Caribbean-themed cruise and throw junior an unforgettable birthday party. 

Rivaling the Edelweiss in terms of visibility and tradition in Brew City, Milwaukee Boat Line’s Iroquois (414-294-9450) has been meandering Milwaukee’s waterways since the 1960s. Its sister, the Vista King, will be reworking the definition of yacht rock this summer thanks to a partnership with 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, as bands like the System Lights and Doghouse Flowers will board to fill the night air with music.

Come summer, Bradford Beach and the surrounding area become the hot spot for Milwaukee. Just a bit south of the beach, Wheel Fun Rentals has you covered when it comes surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, pedal boating and so much more (by land and by “sea”). If you want to make a bigger splash, Hands-On Science (414-803-3515) rents out its Jet Skis to those who have a need for speed. 

But if you think you’ve seen it all when it comes to the MKE (we’re calling bullspit on that one), hop aboard the Lake Express Ferry and venture across the lake to see what sort of fun can be had in Muskegon, Mich. If nothing else, the view from the other side of Lake Michigan offers dazzling sunsets from the 26 miles of sandy beaches.

The 2014 City Guide appears in the June 2014 issue of Milwaukee Magazine. 
To read the full article and more like it, subscribe to Milwaukee Magazine.



1 Comments
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active2gether Posted: 6/5/2014 8:00:34 AM
 0   0    

IMHO, the best way to experience Milwaukee by the Water is from a sea kayak. However, it takes the right equipment and training to venture out onto Lake Michigan. Several competent and certified sea kayak instructors are available in the Milwaukee area.
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