How to Get on and in the Water This Summer

Looking for a place to cool down? Decide whether you’re in the mood for swimming, paddling or leisurely floating, then explore these options.


Little Wolf River 

Nothing says “lazy summer day” like a float down a river in a tube. One of the quintessential Wisconsin tubing trips is on the Little Wolf River just west of New London. Not to be confused with the wider Wolf River known for its whitewater rafting upper stretches, the Little Wolf – which doesn’t allow motorized craft – is shallow, with average depths of 3 to 5 feet, and its current doesn’t go up beyond some simple rapids amid longer stretches of slow-going water and riffles. Wolf River Trips & Campground has been managing tubing and paddling trips since 1972, and currently offers two options for tubers: 5- and 9-mile runs that last roughly two or four hours, depending on water levels. The outfitters provide tubes – for people and coolers – and personal flotation devices. They also manage a bar, restaurant and campground at the take-out spot.  

Other Options: 

S&B Tubing & Canoeing in Albany puts tubers on the Sugar River in southwest Wisconsin. Another famed tubing destination, the Apple River, is a longer haul, near Somerset and the Minnesota border, but only a few miles from the modern campgrounds at Willow River State Park.



Photograph of Ottawa Lake by Chelsea Mamerow


Ottawa Lake 

If you’re looking for a summer’s day swimming hole, the 17-acre Ottawa Lake within the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest is a lovely option. Once part of a larger glacial lake, the shallow water warms up early in summer, and the clarity is remarkably good. A sandy beach lies along the southern shore and no motorized boats are allowed, keeping the waters safe for distraction and ideal for swimmers, paddlers and standup paddleboarders. Picnic tables and grills serve day-trippers. Dog owners take note: there is a special pet swim area. The park’s campground counts 100 sites, 49 of them electric, and offers showers and flush toilets. Right across the county highway from the park entrance is Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail as well.  

Other Options: 

Mauthe Lake Recreation Area in the Kettle Moraine Northern Unit has good facilities for swimmers, a sandy and shallow beach area perfect for the kids and an easy hiking trail around the lake. Harrington Beach State Park is literally a “great” lake option. Lake Michigan water is chilly, but the sandy beach is a mile long and undeveloped, and the park offers hiking and modern family campgrounds.  

Photograph of Upper Milwaukee River by Eddee Daniel


Upper Milwaukee River 

Urban paddling along parts of the Milwaukee River gives the illusion you’ve left town. Better still are the upper stretches of the river where it truly goes native, winding through rural stretches rich with wildlife, including deer, a variety of birds and the occasional eagle dropping in for a meal. The 10.6-mile stretch from Newburg to Fredonia passes through forest or within a wooded corridor amid farmland. Choose your course around various islands and watch for swallows as you slip under a few bridges. Not far from the put-in at Newburg’s Fireman’s Park, you’ll pass along the protected 380 acres of Riveredge Nature Center, a nice hiking destination. Waubedonia Park is a convenient takeout, and the closest outfitter for rentals is Sherper’s in Port Washington.  

Other Options: 

The 7.7-mile segment of Racine’s Root River from Linwood Park to the Horlick Dam is a gentle, pastoral paddle. Birders and beginners will enjoy paddling the canoe trail within the 32,000-acre Horicon Marsh. Put in at Greenhead Boat Landing and the negligible current of the Rock River means you can either paddle out and back or go the 7 miles one-way into town. Horicon Marsh Boat Tours can set you up. 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s June/July issue

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