ULTIMATE WATER ACTIVITIES GUIDE
Your ultimate guide to watersports and outdoor fun on Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River
Nestled in one of the most beautiful areas of Wisconsin, Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River offer a plethora of water activities for everyone, from adventure seekers looking for a new local activity to families looking for a relaxing getaway. It could be that you’re keen to experience Wisconsin River tubing. Maybe you’re yearning for a relaxing Lake Wisconsin fishing trip. Perhaps you’re exploring the best kayaking rivers in Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River is next on your list. Or maybe you’re looking for the perfect activity to round off your Lake Wisconsin vacation. No matter what you’re looking for, we’ve got all the info you need to have a wonderful time.
Here we explore the various water activities available, the best spots to enjoy them, and how to stay safe while having fun in our beautiful section of Wisconsin. This is all the info you need to get your next adventure off to a flying start.
Unravel the secrets of Lake Wisconsin fishing
Fishing is one of the most popular activities to do on Lake Wisconsin for a variety of reasons including:
- Diverse fish species — Lake Wisconsin is home to a wide range of fish species, such as walleye, northern pike, muskie, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and catfish, meaning anglers get the opportunity to experiment with, and hone, multiple techniques (not to mention taste a range of flavors)
- Scenic beauty — Surrounded by picturesque landscapes, Lake Wisconsin offers a beautiful, serene backdrop for any fishing trip, making it an ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life
- Accessibility — Our lake has heaps of access points, including many boat launches and fishing piers, so you’ll find it’s super easy to get out on the water or drop a line
- Seasonal fishing opportunities — Lake Wisconsin offers year-round fishing experiences, from open-water fishing during spring, summer, and fall to ice fishing during the winter months
- Family-friendly conditions — Fishing on Lake Wisconsin is an enjoyable activity for people of all ages and skill levels, so it offers a great way for families to bond and create lasting memories while enjoying the outdoors
- Proximity to other attractions — If you’re looking for the perfect weekend fishing trip location, this may not be important, but if you’re looking for the perfect vacation spot, you can rest easy knowing there are heaps of other activities to do like kayaking, hiking, or wildlife watching, and there are lots of attractions too, like nearby wineries and distilleries, several specialty museums, and more
Our favorite fishing spots on the lake include the mouth of the Wisconsin River, where it enters Lake Wisconsin, and the areas near sandbars and submerged vegetation. The river mouth is an ideal fishing spot because the confluence of currents creates a productive environment that attracts various fish species, making it an ideal location for targeting a diverse range of species. The areas near sandbars and submerged vegetation provide shelter and feeding grounds for fish. Sandbars serve as natural barriers, creating ideal habitats for predatory fish to ambush their prey, while submerged vegetation offers cover for smaller fish species. We find these spots therefore have the highest concentration of fish, so we always come home with a great haul.
Before you cast your line into the lake, just be sure you have a valid Wisconsin fishing license. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the specific regulations regarding catch limits, size limits, and fishing seasons for different species.
Embrace the serenity of canoeing and kayaking the Wisconsin River
The upper portion of the Wisconsin River feeds into Lake Wisconsin, and the lake then drains into the lower portion of the Wisconsin River. So, if you’re heading to Lake Wisconsin for a vacation, or live in the area, you won’t have to go far to find a spot on the river for a paddle.
Both parts of the river offer stunning scenery for kayaking and canoeing, with sandstone cliffs, lush forests, and abundant wildlife. And the river’s gentle flow also makes it an ideal destination for both novice and experienced paddlers. Our favorite spot for a paddle is the stretch of river between Sauk City and Spring Green, which is part of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway.
If you haven’t got your own gear, you can rent a kayak from Lake Wisconsin Watersports for as little as $17 for an hour up to just $170 for six days.
When kayaking or canoeing, always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) and bring essential safety gear like a whistle and a flashlight. It’s also important to check the weather and river conditions before embarking on your adventure.
Experience the thrill of rafting or tubing the Wisconsin River
While white-water rafting is great for thrill seekers, tubing is the relaxing alternative for serenity seekers. The Wisconsin River does offer spots for both sports, however, it’s not known for having challenging white-water rapids and is a much more popular destination for tubing.
One popular area for mild white-water rafting on the Wisconsin River is near Wausau, where the Wausau Whitewater Park is located. This man-made whitewater course provides a controlled environment for practicing and enjoying rafting, kayaking, and canoeing. Scheduled water releases create Class II and III rapids, making it an exciting spot for paddlers of various skill levels.
The Wisconsin River offers numerous spots for tubing with varying levels of intensity. Some popular locations include Wisconsin Dells, the section between Sauk City and Arena, and the section from Gotham to Boscobel. We especially love to start at Sauk City and relax on a tube with friends when they visit for the weekend.
Local rental companies offer tubes and rafts if you’re looking to enjoy a day on the river. Water levels can significantly impact your tubing or rafting experience, so be sure to check conditions before setting out.
Be prepared for any obstacles, such as rocks or tree branches, and follow safety guidelines provided by rental companies or guides.
Unleash your inner adventurer and jet ski Lake Wisconsin
One of the most exhilarating ways to explore Lake Wisconsin is to go jet skiing or water skiing. These high-octane water sports provide a unique opportunity to experience the beauty of the area while satisfying your need for speed and adventure.
There are several locations around Lake Wisconsin where you can particularly enjoy jet skiing and waterskiing. Some of the most popular spots include the areas near Okee, Moon Valley, and the lake’s eastern shore. These locations will give you plenty of space to cut through the water and make the most of our expansive lake. Alternatively, the mouth of the Wisconsin River and the numerous bays and inlets that surround the lake are ripe for exploration on a jet ski.
If you don’t own a jet ski or waterski equipment, Lake Wisconsin Watersports has the newest and best-maintained jet skis on the lake. You can rent a jet ski for just $60/h or $350 for a full day and we’ll make sure you have everything you need to enjoy your day on the lake to the fullest.
When participating in high-speed water sports like jet skiing and waterskiing, it’s crucial to prioritize safety. Remember to always wear a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD) along with a wetsuit and helmet, and familiarize yourself with local regulations and guidelines, including speed limits and designated areas for water sports activities. Lake Wisconsin plays host to several water hazards including tree stumps, sand bars, and an underwater ferry cable, so it’s important to be aware of those. If you’re new to the area, our friendly staff will fill you in on everything you need to know.
Of course, being safe isn’t just about ensuring your safety. It’s also essential you maintain a safe distance from other watercraft and swimmers. So, be aware of your surroundings and stay vigilant to avoid collisions.
If you haven’t already, you might like to take a boating safety course or a water sports-specific safety course to learn more about proper operation and handling techniques, as well as emergency procedures. We will, of course, show you exactly how to operate our jet skis.
Find tranquility when you go for a paddleboard on Lake Wisconsin
Paddleboarding on Lake Wisconsin offers a serene and peaceful way to connect with nature while exercising your muscles in a way few other activities do. This popular water sport allows you to glide across the calm waters, take in the stunning scenery, and escape from the everyday hustle and bustle. If you’re looking for a tranquil and rejuvenating experience on the water, paddleboarding on Lake Wisconsin is a must-try.
There are so many great spots for paddleboarding on Lake Wisconsin, each offering unique views and experiences. Some of the best locations include:
- Okee Bay — Located on the southeastern shore of the lake in Lodi, Okee Bay provides a calm and sheltered area perfect for paddleboarding, especially if you’re a beginner or are just after an especially peaceful paddleboarding session
- Ferry Landing — The area around the Merrimac Ferry Landing is another excellent spot for paddleboarding as it offers stunning views of the surrounding bluffs, making for a picturesque and memorable paddleboarding experience
- Wisconsin River — If you’re seeking a more adventurous paddleboarding experience, the Wisconsin River offers a variety of conditions, from calm, flat stretches to gentle rapids, which makes for an exciting and diverse paddleboarding adventure
If you don’t own a paddleboard, or just don’t want to lug it with you on vacation, Lake Wisconsin Watersports paddleboard rentals start at $16/hour or $100 for a full day. We’ll fit you out with a board that suits your size, weight, and skill level. We’ll also help you find a great spot that suits your skill level and personal preferences. And if you’re new to paddleboarding on Lake Wisconsin, we’ll help you understand how to avoid the dangers of submerged trees, sandbars, and the underwater ferry cable.
Dive into the inviting waters of Lake Wisconsin’s inviting swimming spots
Our water may not be crystal-clear, but Lake Wisconsin is home to several beautiful swimming spots and beaches, providing the perfect opportunity to cool off and unwind on a hot summer day. Some of the most popular swimming spots and beaches on Lake Wisconsin include:
- Okee Bay — This picturesque bay on the southeastern shore of the lake is an excellent spot for swimming, with its shallow waters and sandy beach making it ideal for families with young children
- Merrimac Ferry Landing — Near the Merrimac Ferry, a small beach area offers a great spot for swimming and relaxing, and the scenic surroundings, including the impressive bluffs, make this location a favorite among visitors
- Moon Valley — Located on the western side of the lake, Moon Valley is a hidden gem, featuring a secluded sandy beach, which is perfect if you want a more tranquil swimming experience away from the crowds
While swimming in Lake Wisconsin is generally safe, it’s essential to be aware of potential safety concerns especially as you’ll be sharing the water with a variety of boat users.
- Always swim with a buddy or in a group for added safety
- Pay attention to local signage and warnings, such as posted water quality alerts or swimming restrictions
- Avoid swimming near boat docks, launches, or heavily trafficked areas to minimize the risk of accidents
Many of the popular swimming spots on Lake Wisconsin offer a range of amenities to make your visit more enjoyable and convenient:
- Parking facilities — Most swimming areas have parking areas, so you won’t have far to go from your car
- Restrooms — Some locations, such as the Merrimac Ferry Landing, offer public restrooms, which is especially useful if you’re heading to the beach with a young family
- Picnic areas — Many swimming spots feature picnic tables and grills, allowing you to enjoy a meal with friends and family while taking in the beautiful scenery
Explore Lake Wisconsin’s beauty with pontoon boats
Pontoon boats are the ideal vessels for those looking to spend a leisurely day on Lake Wisconsin or the Wisconsin River. With their spacious decks, comfortable seating, and stability, pontoon boats cater to a wide range of activities, from family outings and fishing expeditions to intimate sunset cruises.
Pontoon boats have several features that make them perfect for exploring Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River:t
- Stability — With their wide, flat design, pontoon boats offer a stable and secure platform, ensuring a comfortable and safe experience for passengers of all ages
- Space — The spacious decks on pontoon boats provide ample room for passengers to move around, socialize, and enjoy various activities, making them perfect for family outings or gatherings with friends
- Versatility — Pontoon boats are versatile vessels, suitable for a wide range of activities, including fishing, swimming, sunbathing, or simply cruising and taking in the scenic beauty of the lake and river
- Accessibility — The ease of boarding and disembarking makes pontoon boats an excellent choice for people with limited mobility, ensuring everyone can enjoy the boating experience
A pontoon boat can allow you to discover many picturesque destinations and routes around Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River at a leisurely pace, including:
- The Upper Dells — Cruise along this iconic stretch of the Wisconsin River, taking in the dramatic sandstone cliffs, verdant forests, and hidden coves
- The Lower Dells — Experience the tranquil beauty of the Lower Dells as the river widens, with numerous sandbars and islands to discover and enjoy
- Ferry Bluff — Navigate your pontoon boat to this stunning landmark on the Wisconsin River, where you can marvel at the impressive bluffs and take in the breathtaking scenery
- Lake Wisconsin shoreline — The calm waters and scenic shorelines of Lake Wisconsin offer a relaxing and enjoyable backdrop for a day spent cruising on a pontoon boat
Pontoon boats from Lake Wisconsin Watersports can hold up to 14 people and cost just $350 to hire for half a day or $600 for a full day. Your boat will even come with a seven-speaker Bluetooth sound system for the ultimate auditory entertainment while out on the water.
Discover Lake Wisconsin’s sandbars — A world only accessible by boat
No discussion of Lake Wisconsin boating would be complete without mentioning our lake’s iconic sandbars. The sandbars of Lake Wisconsin are a hidden treasure, accessible only by boat, which offer an exclusive and unforgettable experience. These sandy stretches of land make beautiful, serene, and tranquil beaches at which to swim, sunbathe, and anchor vessels. Some people even go camping on the sandbars.
However, sandbars also pose a potential hazard so always:
- Exercise caution and a depth finder when approaching sandbars, as water depths can change rapidly
- Ensure you have the necessary equipment, such as an anchor, life jackets, and a first-aid kit, to make your sandbar experience safe and enjoyable
- Familiarize yourself with local regulations regarding anchoring, noise levels, and alcohol consumption to ensure a respectful and responsible visit to the sandbars
Maximize your enjoyment of whichever Lake Wisconsin watersports you choose by being aware of potential hazards
While Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River offer a wide variety of exciting water activities, these waterways aren’t without their hazards. All water-based activities come with risks, but Lake Wisconsin is a shallow lake, so some risks are slightly magnified. This means it’s extra important you’re aware of the specific hazards in Lake Wisconsin, follow safety tips and precautions, and know what to do in case of an emergency, so you can fully enjoy your time on or in the water.
There are several hazards to be mindful of when participating in water sports on Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River. These include:
- Floating tree stumps — Tree stumps and branches are common in the river and lake. They may sit high in the water, making them visible from a distance. But many float just below the surface of the water, posing an unseen risk to boats of all kinds. Always keep an eye out for obstacles and navigate carefully, especially in the shallowest areas.
- Sandbars — Shifting sandbars can create unexpected shallow spots that your boat could run aground on. They also raise the level of the lake bottom increasing the risk of submerged trees. Use caution when navigating near sandbars, and make use of a depth finder to avoid grounding your boat.
- Underwater ferry cables — The Merrimac Ferry, also known as the Colsac III, is a historic car ferry that crosses the Wisconsin River between Sauk and Columbia counties, near the town of Merrimac. The Ferry operates using an underwater cable system in which several cables are secured to the bottom of the river and connected to a system of pulleys and winches on the ferry.If you plan to boat or swim near the Merrimac Ferry crossing, it’s essential you’re aware of the underwater cables, so you can avoid becoming entangled in one of the cables and so you can avoid trees and other obstructions that may also become entangled in a cable. Observe any posted signs or warnings in the area, and keep a safe distance from the ferry crossing at all times.
To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience on Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River, follow these safety tips and precautions:
- Always wear a life jacket when participating in water sports or boating, as it can save your life in case of an accident
- Operate your boat at safe speeds and be mindful of other boaters and swimmers in the area
- Don’t drink alcohol while boating or swimming
- Check the weather forecast before heading out on the water, and be prepared to return to shore if conditions take a turn for the worse
- Familiarize yourself with local boating and water sports regulations, and ensure you have the necessary permits and licenses, including a boat safety certification if you were born in or after 1989 and you’re going to be driving a boat or jet ski
In case of an emergency or accident on the water, follow these steps:
- Call for help: Use your cell phone or marine radio to call for assistance. Dial 911 or contact the local water patrol.
- Signal your location: If you’re in distress, use a whistle, flares, or other signaling devices to alert others to your location.
- Stay with your boat: If your boat capsizes, stay with it if possible, as it will be more visible than you, and thus will make it easier for rescuers to locate you.
Always keep a list of emergency contact numbers with you while on the water. By staying aware of potential hazards and following safety guidelines, you can enjoy all that Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River have to offer while minimizing risks.