In Wisconsin, there are over 1,000 miles of beautiful Great Lakes coast on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. There are over 19 unique harbor towns on these shorelines that welcome you to explore and discover their treasures. With more than 15,000 lakes, 43,000 miles of rivers, and over 1,000 miles of the Great Lakes shoreline, there is no shortage of opportunities in Wisconsin. Water trails provide a network of access points, resting places, and attractions for users of watercraft on lakes and rivers. In Wisconsin, some trails are interpretive routes, some take paddlers to campsites, and some connect communities, but all allow visitors to experience the natural beauty of our state by this original mode of transportation.
Door County Coastal Byway
The Door County Coastal Byway (DCCB) is a 66-mile loop on Wisconsin State Highways 42 and 57, showcasing the most ecologically rich and diverse county in the state. The county’s 300 miles of shoreline, interspersed with historic lighthouses and charming fishing villages, have attracted generations of tourists seeking a vacation paradise. The Door Peninsula presents two different faces of nature. The Green Bay coast offers cozy harbors nestled below high escarpment bluffs. The Lake Michigan side provides sandy beaches and inland lakes. The narrow peninsula allows people to make short forays through farm orchards, forests, and wetlands between the shores of Lake Michigan and the bluffs of Green Bay.
The route offers a range of resources and activities with scenic vistas of Lake Michigan, the Bay of Green Bay, and the Niagara Escarpment bluffs, as well as dense forest, agricultural lands, and quaint shore-side towns and villages.
DCCB features three state parks, ten county parks, and several lighthouses. Towns and villages along the way offer retail shops, galleries, live music and theatre, cherry and apple orchards, boating, fishing, hiking, golfing, and many other recreational activities.
Lake Superior Scenic Byway
The Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway (WLSSB) follows 70 miles of Wisconsin State Highway 13 along the southern shore of Lake Superior. The majesty of Lake Superior unfolds along the Byway with sweeping views of the “Big Lake.” The Byway follows the shoreline of the Bayfield Peninsula, passing through quaint harbor towns & historic fishing villages, dozens of orchards & fruit farms, miles of sand beach, and the home of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Densely forested lands provide a spectacular backdrop to the year-round recreational opportunities that abound with hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, snowmobile, ATV, and cross-country ski trails.
WLSB begins its journey at the junction of US Highway 2 and State Highway 13 in the Town of Barksdale in Bayfield County, approximately 2 miles west of the Ashland city limits. The Byway continues on State Highway 13 around the Bayfield Peninsula and ends at the intersection of County Highway H and State Highway 13 in the Town of Cloverland in Douglas County.
The corridor provides very different geographical and cultural opportunities to travelers as they wind their way North up one side of the peninsula along the Chequamegon Bay around the top of Wisconsin and then West along the South Shore of Lake Superior.
Lake Michigan Water Trail
The Lake Michigan Water Trail continues a traditional mode of travel that has been practiced across the Great Lakes region for thousands of years. From the first paddlers who hunted and traded in pre-historic dugouts, to Jolliet and Marquette exploring in their 17th-century birch bark canoes, to the 18th-century voyageurs carrying hides and pelts in the sawn plank bateaux of John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company, to today’s paddlers who ply the Lake’s waves in kayaks for fun and adventure, human-powered watercraft has a long and rich history on Lake Michigan. Many historic sites and museums around the lake that explain, display, and interpret this heritage are located near the lakeshore within easy reach of Water Trail access points.
Lake Michigan is particularly friendly to paddlers and non-motorized watercraft – the majority of the shore has some sort of beach available for easy refuge. Access to the Lake has been enhanced by water trails on the Illinois and Indiana shores. And tourism and travel around the lake have been supported for more than twenty years by the Lake Michigan Circle Tour.
The initial Lake Michigan National Recreational Water Trail is easily accessible to the more than 6 million people who live in the five counties adjacent to the trail and the more than nine million people in the region. But as Chicago and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore attract tourists from around the world, this trail will be enjoyed by people from far beyond the immediate region.
There are over 450 miles of trails from the Michigan border at Marinette, around Green Bay and Door County, and south to the Illinois border. The recently developed Lake Michigan Water Trail provides rest stops and campsites along a variety of shorelines with towering bluffs, caves, Native American etched petroglyphs, river mouths, and long stretches of sandy beach. Don’t miss the shipwrecks and lighthouses along the way!
Lake Superior Water Trail
Wisconsin’s Lake Superior Water Trail offers exciting and exhilarating kayaking with more than 400 miles of diverse shoreline from the city of Superior in the west to the Montreal River at the Michigan border. Known for its clear, cold water, Lake Superior is the largest, least populated, and cleanest of the Great Lakes. The south shore is the sandy side of the lake with miles of beaches, boreal forests, and the dramatic sandstone formations, red clay cliffs, and sea caves of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. This trail is an ongoing effort to connect 3,000 miles of Lake Superior trails along Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Native American lands, and Ontario, Canada.
The St. Louis River estuary with a mix of wild wetlands and the busy Duluth/Superior harbor defines the western terminus of this water trail section. From the city of Superior east to the town of Port Wing, a traveler passes miles of clay bluffs, small streams, and the Brule River State Forest. Past the scenic village of Herbster, the shoreline begins to reveal sandstone outcrops, which culminate in dramatic cliffs and sea caves in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
The trail then passes the Red Cliff Indian Reservation and the historic town of Bayfield, known for its orchards, commercial fishing, sailing, and tourism. Turning south from Bayfield, the paddler wraps around Chequamegon Bay with its sandy shores, parks, fishing, shipping history, and the communities of Washburn and Ashland. From Ashland, the traveler passes wild and sandy shores before going along the internationally recognized Kakagon-Bad River Sloughs – Wisconsin’s Everglades – within the Bad River Indian Reservation. East of there, the shoreline returns to red clay bluffs and sandy beaches, reaching the Michigan border east of Saxon Harbor.