With two Great Lakes and numerous rivers, including the mighty Mississippi, there are plenty of ways to enjoy Wisconsin on (but not in) the water.
Summer may have passed (far too quickly!), but there will still be plenty of beautiful fall days before the start of the non-construction season. Why not spend some on the water? Leave the navigation to the captain and embark on one of these boat cruises in Wisconsin.
Dell of Wisconsin
The Upper Dells are one of the most scenic stretches of the Wisconsin River, and as such, many of Wisconsin Dells’ more than 4 million annual tourists hop on a boat to see them up close. What better time to ride the river than after school starts and the fall colors return? On a two-story boat, Dells Boat Tours takes you upstream from the dam, making two stops to allow passengers to cross the narrow Witches Gulch and see Stand Rock, where a trained dog will re-enact this doggie cliff jump from the famous photograph. The journey takes a second pass through the valleys on the way back. Daily trips until mid-November.
Foxy Paddler bills itself as the Green Bay Party Boat, a water-based version of its pub-crawling Foxy Pedaler. The 22-seater pontoon boat with a paddle steamer in the back has a dozen pedal stations, but you don’t really have to paddle; the boat has a motor. It’s BYOB, but the tour provides ice-filled coolers and bottled water, plus a Bluetooth audio system for the tunes. While the boat is often booked for groups, Mix & Mingle tours are public options. Routes run north to south on the Fox River from the mouth of the river at Green Bay to De Pere Dam, with one or two optional stops at pre-arranged bars. Departure from Leicht Park behind Restaurant The Depot in the historic station. The season ends in early October.
From Father and Appleton
River Tyme Tours also flows the Fox River, but further upstream. River Tyme, a 1953 49-passenger riverboat with a full bar and restrooms, and the former 32-seater riverboat River Tyme Too set sail from De Pere and Appleton, respectively. (At the time of writing, low water levels have temporarily canceled De Pere trips.) De Pere-based trips start upstream from the dam and head to Little Rapids or occasionally through De Pere Lock for a descent to Green Bay. In Appleton, the boat docks in front Tempest Coffee Collectivebut the company River Tyme Bistro further upstream is where you would go for tickets. Cruises head downstream to Little Chute, sometimes passing through the locks there, or upstream through the four locks at Appleton. Watch for tours that include guided narration or music. The season lasts until mid-October.
Visit the islands of Wisconsin’s famous National Lakeshore on a Cruise to the Apostle Islands boat built for the gloomy waters of Lake Superior. Whether it’s a sunny day or a magical sail through morning mist, the 55-minute narrated Grand Tour won’t disappoint, passing colorful sea caves and sandstone cliffs as well as lighthouses on Devils and Raspberry Islands. Tours depart every morning and afternoon from Bayfield, and an evening cruise is offered on weekends. The season runs until October 23.
Take in views of the State Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion, the UW campus, and all the natural beauty of the parks along the lake to the soaring cliffs of Maple Bluff. Betty Lou Cruises has a varied program of trips often incorporating themed food and drink menus, such as a Fiesta Cruise with Mexican Buffet and Unlimited Margaritas and Coronas, Friday Fish Chips with an Old Fashioned, or a Pizza & Beer Cruise. Sodas are included on all public tours. Embark on the north shore of Lake Mendota at Sailor’s Inn. The season runs until October 16, 2022.
The bright red impeller on the back isn’t just for show: The Queen of La Crosse is a replica of one of the historic paddle boats that once cruised the Mississippi. Departing from its namesake port, the Queen offers cruises ranging from 1.5-hour narrated guided tours and pizza cruises to 2.5- to three-hour lunch and dinner cruises that can include passage through a lock. In the fall, nature lovers can enjoy the migration of birds along the river corridor. The season lasts until October 23, 2022
Take in views across the Milwaukee River of Cream City’s historic buildings, pass under its bridges, and cruise through the Inner Harbor to see the Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion of the Milwaukee Museum of Art. Edelweiss boat trips maintains four cruise ships and a pontoon. Edelweiss I and II are European-style riverboats with indoor and outdoor spaces, while the two-tier Miss Wisconsin and The Harbor Lady can accommodate private groups of up to 120 and 145 passengers, respectively. The ships offer full bars and schedule dinner and live music cruises throughout the season. The City Skyline Cruise is a sunset cruise on the Milwaukee River through downtown and into the Inner Harbor on Lake Michigan, with a DJ setting the mood. Sunday Funday offers mimosas on board. The season ends in mid-October.
Door County is surrounded by water, so where better to see it? Door County Boats operates a 149-passenger double-decker catamaran with an enclosed lower deck. Cruises last up to two hours and depart from Sister Bay. Sights include the towering Eagle Bluff and its namesake lighthouse, Horseshoe Island, the caves along the Peninsula State Park, and the North Rim cliffs to Death’s Gate Passage. Sunset cruises feature live music. Cruises run until October 15, 2022.