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Lake Michigan State Water Trail

Kayaker along the shoreline at Rock Island State Park.


Launch the interactive web map application.


The Lake Michigan State Water Trail is Wisconsin's 523-mile segment of the Lake Michigan Water Trail, a continuous water route paralleling the shores of four states. The entire trail will provide 1,638 miles of scenic recreational opportunities when completed. The mapping application is a web-based system that allows paddlers to locate and obtain information for access to Lake Michigan.

Trail overview, access and camping

The Lake Michigan Water Trail is Wisconsin's first designated State Water Trail. Trips of varied lengths will be possible by evenly spaced access points, public camping sites and restroom facilities. Access sites are located in eleven lakeside counties and are managed by an assortment of public agencies and private organizations.

The trail was chosen as one of Wisconsin's two projects in the Department of the Interior's America's Great Outdoors Initiative, which works to bring states, tribes and local governments together to reconnect citizens with our natural resources. The development of the trail has been done in conjunction with the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program of the National Park Service, as well as with the Lake Michigan Water Trail Association.

Natural treasures are plentiful along the Lake Michigan shoreline including cedar-lined gorges, oak savannas and coastal marshes. Scenic geologic features such as limestone cliffs and sand dunes also line the coast. Together with the small towns and big cities on the lake, both cultural and natural experiences await the paddler.

The trail offers excellent developed and carry-in access sites along Lake Michigan. Developed access points are equipped with public boat ramps or docks, while carry-in sites provide easy kayak entry to the water. Most of these sites are located on public lands owned by the State of Wisconsin or local governments. Locate the access site closest to you with the interactive web map.

There are multiple public camping locations along Wisconsin's Lake Michigan shoreline. Campgrounds vary from primitive campsites to facilities with electric hookups. When the trail is completed, paddlers will not need to travel more than five miles between sites with restroom facilities and no more than ten miles between sites with public camping opportunities.

Paddlers are strongly encouraged to use developed and carry-in access sites. Alternative access sites are not ideal and could present challenges or conflict with adjacent landowners. Emergency sites should only be considered in emergency situations.

Paddling on Lake Michigan presents difficulties unlike those on other, smaller waterways. The potential for significant off-shore distances, cold water, high winds and tall waves create hazards that should not be taken lightly. Paddlers must dress for immersion and be aware of weather conditions. Use of the Lake Michigan State Water Trail is recommended only for experienced paddlers with appropriate equipment and training.

Please review these important safety tips before paddling the LMSWT [exit DNR].

Web map features and frequently asked questions

Please see the toolbar at the top or bottom of the interactive map for a list of map tools. If collapsed, press the arrow tab to expand. While the toolbar features important functions you can perform within the map, the layers icon on the map will be the way you can customize the map layers and see the map legend.

Why is the map not available?
The web map server might be down temporarily. Please try again in a few minutes. If it still isn't available, contact us.

How can I see air photos/topographic information - or how do I use them?
Click on the Map Layers icon on the map. Click the “eye” icon to turn the layer on. If the text is grayed out, you may need to zoom in or out to see this layer.

How do I see additional detail?
You can zoom in or out by using the scroll wheel on your mouse. Users can also left-click or press the "+" or "-" buttons on the map to zoom in or out.

How do I find detailed information for a specific site?
After you've zoomed in on your specific site, click on the site icon on the map. A name and specific information should appear in a pop-up box on the map. Additionally, if the toolbar is expanded, switch to the “Common Searches” tab. The buttons in the toolbar will change and you can select the “All Access Sites” button. Once clicked or pressed, the left panel will populate a list of access sites on the map. Click or press one of the site names to view detailed information. If the toolbar or left panel cannot be seen, click on the arrow tabs around the map to expand these items.

What do the access site classifications mean?
There are four access site classifications used in this web map. More detailed definitions, from Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan Water Trail Project Analysis [PDF], are provided below:

Developed Site Symbol Developed: A site that provides water access via a public boat ramp or dock.

Carry-in Site Symbol Carry-in: A site with a beach that provides easy kayak access to the water with little user conflict from adjacent landowners.

Alternate Site Symbol Alternate: Non-ideal carry-in access site that may be only a road that ends at the water. Alternate access sites may have a bit of a steep slope to the water, require wading or paddling through a marsh, or present minimal potential for user conflict from adjacent landowners.

Emergency Site Symbol Emergency: Use of these sites (primarily road ends) is restricted by limited parking options, high user conflict potential, or agreements with site owners that only permit emergency egress.

I see coordinate positions reported on the map system; can I use these with my GPS?
The accuracy of these latitude/longitude, utm, or wtm coordinates is unknown. While we have generally found it to be quite good, we do not consider it to be an appropriate tool for, say, collecting lat/long coordinates and incorporating them into a database. These coordinates are generated "on the fly" by the application. You must be aware of how your GPS collects, stores and displays data.

Map disclaimer
This map is for informational purposes only and may not have been prepared for or be suitable for legal, engineering or surveying purposes. The user is solely responsible for verifying the accuracy of information before using it for any purpose.

By using this product for any purpose user agrees to be bound by all disclaimers found here: Terms and Conditions.

Suggested segments

Day trips
Rock Island – At the very northeastern tip of Wisconsin in Door County is the exceptional 912-acre Rock Island State Park. From Washington Island's Jackson Harbor, paddle east to Rock Island and travel 8 miles around this beautiful and primitive place. Map [PDF]

Garrett Bay to Rowley Bay – Rounding the Door Peninsula in northeastern Wisconsin, this segment is approximately 15 miles long. You will encounter spectacular views of Washington, Detroit, Plum and Spider Islands. Map [PDF]

Harrington Beach to Port Washington – From the north end of Harrington Beach State Park south to Port Washington Marina, this 8-mile segment is only a short trip from Milwaukee. For paddlers who also like to bicycle, a "self-shuttle" opportunity is available via the Ozaukee Interurban Trail. Map [PDF]

Milwaukee Lakeshore State Park to Concordia University, Mequon - This 17-mile paddle takes you past the wooded bluffs of Milwaukee's north shore area. Permission is required for landing or launching at Concordia University. The paved switchback sidewalk up the bluff at Concordia will provide a workout to end your day. Map [PDF]

Milwaukee South Shore Marina to Bradford Beach - Paddle along the shore or along the break wall. Either way, this 5-mile trip takes you past striking views of Milwaukee's downtown lakefront. If you want to stop along the way, paddle into the lagoons near Discovery World and step out onto the pebble beach of Lakeshore State Park. At Bradford Beach, launch and land only at the far north end to avoid the designated swim area. Map [PDF]

Port Washington to Kohler-Andrae State Park with an overnight stopover at Harrington Beach State Park - Put in at Port Washington's South Beach. You may need to park your vehicle on a side street if you plan to leave it in Port Washington overnight. Paddle 9 miles to Harrington Beach State Park. Just south of the point, look for the blue post that designates the campsite location. On day two paddle 12 miles to Kohler-Andrae State Park or return to Port Washington. Map [PDF]

More information