Best Canoe Camping In Wisconsin

Best Canoe Camping in Wisconsin

Something happens when you get out in nature. As you listen to the sounds of wildlife and fall asleep under the stars, you start to reconnect with yourself. This is how a getaway becomes a life-changing experience and becomes a memory you revisit for years and years. 

The only question is, where do you go to have this kind of experience?

If you ask us, we’d say your best bet is to look for a hidden gem. Many well-known outdoor destinations tend to get overrun with people, putting a damper on the remote solitude you’re looking for. 

Wisconsin and much of the Midwest have managed to remain one of these better-kept secrets in outdoor recreation since many people tend to think of it as farm country. But the truth is, Wisconsin is home to some of the country’s most gorgeous natural landscapes, from scenic rivers to stunning forests. And the best way to see them is on a canoe camping trip. 

To give you a sense of just how much beauty and variety a canoe camping trip in Wisconsin has to offer, we’ve collected what we consider to be the five best canoe camping trip destinations for everyone from beginner to expert paddlers. Read on for our recommendations on how to experience nature at its finest in the beautiful Midwest. 

Top 5 Trips for Best Canoe Camping in Wisconsin

1.) Lower Wisconsin River

  • Closest Town: Madison, WI
  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Paddling Style: Quiet-water Paddling
  • Camping Availability and Location: First-Come, First-Served Undesignated Public Land Camping
  • Camping Permit: No
  • Camping Fee: No
 

Enjoy miles and miles of free-flowing river and natural wildlife habitats on the Lower Wisconsin River. Just a thirty-minute drive from Madison, this area is great for camping as you can pitch your tent just about anywhere without the need for a permit. While you’re there, keep your eyes peeled for deer, eagles, heron, and other waterfowl. 

For more information on canoeing on the Lower Wisconsin River, visit the DNR website.

2.) Flambeau River

  • Closest Town: Winter, WI
  • Difficulty: Beginner to Expert
  • Paddling Style: River Paddling and Whitewater River Paddling
  • Camping Availability and Location: First-Come, First-Served Designated Sites
  • Camping Permit: No
  • Camping Fee: No
 

The Flambeau River has two major forks, the North and the South, that offer the best of both worlds. The South Fork provides experienced whitewater paddlers the kind of technical rapids they crave, while the dazzling North Fork has various sections that will appeal to all levels of paddlers. 

Camping is available on the North Fork, with a one-night limit. Don’t forget the bug spray because you’ll need it. 

For more information on camping on the Flambeau River, visit the DNR website.

3.) Apostle Islands (Northern Wisconsin)

  • Closest Town: Bayfield, WI
  • Difficulty: Expert
  • Paddling Style: Great Lake Paddling
  • Camping Availability and Location: Reservable Designated Sites
  • Camping Permit: Yes
  • Camping Fee: Yes

 

One of two National Park systems in Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands are a collection of twenty-one islands and a dozen miles of shoreline on Lake Superior. This area is known for its outstanding natural beauty, and the sea caves, in particular, are not to be missed.  

A word to the wise: the Apostle Islands are not for beginner paddlers or a spur-of-the-moment getaway. Proper planning and experience are essential to enjoying this area (including arches, caves, cliffs, coves, tunnels, and turrets) in all its glory. 

For more information on the Apostle Islands, visit the NPS website.

4.) Chippewa Flowage

  • Closest Town: Hayward, WI
  • Difficulty: Beginner to Expert
  • Paddling Style: Flatwater Paddling and River Paddling
  • Camping Availability and Location: First-Come, First-Served Designated Sites
  • Camping Permit: No
  • Camping Fee: Yes and No
 
The Chippewa Flowage is the perfect getaway for those who want to get away from it all. The shoreline is largely undeveloped, giving the area a feeling of untamed wilderness, and there are plenty of spots for remote island camping. 

Paddle your way through the network of 200 islands and experience the breathtaking beauty of rolling hills and forests of birch and pine. 

For more information on camping at the Chippewa Flowage, visit the DNR website.

5.) Bittersweet Lakes Natural Area

  • Closest Town: St. Germain, WI
  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Paddling Style: Flatwater Paddling
  • Camping Availability and Location: First-Come, First-Served, and Reservable Designated Sites
  • Camping Permit: No
  • Camping Fee: Yes

 

The Bittersweet Lakes are made up of four lakes—Bittersweet, Oberlin, Smith, and Prong—linked by short portages, and the entire area can be covered in a few hours. Although each of the lakes is distinct in its own way, they have high water clarity and are home to several plant species. 

One unique appeal of the Bittersweet Lakes is that they are a State Natural Area. It’s unusual for camping to be permitted in State Natural Areas, but it is here. 

For more information on the Bittersweet Lakes Natural Area, visit the DNR website.

Planning your trip for canoe camping in Wisconsin

Now that you know a little bit about your options for planning a memorable canoe camping trip in Wisconsin, what’s stopping you? 

Take the chance to spend time in the great outdoors, soaking up the wild natural beauty, sharpening your skills, and rekindling your connection with nature and yourself. These are the kind of memories that will last a lifetime.