Wisconsin's Wild Waters: A Paddleboarder's Guide to Wildlife Watching Heaven!

Wisps of fog dance across the still water as the first rays of sun peek through the forest canopy. You step gingerly into the kayak, paddle in hand, taking care not to tip the delicate balance. Pushing off from shore, you glide out into the milky mist enveloping the lake, your eyes and ears peeled for signs of wildlife stirring. The lonely call of a common loon echoes across the water, at once haunting and alluring. Somewhere nearby, the splash of a beaver tail cuts through the silence. You paddle on, enchanted by the prospect of what creatures you might encounter around the next bend. From otters frolicking in the currents to eagles soaring majestically overhead, Wisconsin's abundant waterways offer paddlers an intimate glimpse into untamed nature. Are you ready to go wild? If so lets get started with this tour of the best places to view wildlife from a sup in Wisconsin!

Key Highlights:

  1. Unique Wildlife Encounters: Explore Wisconsin's rivers, lakes, and wildlife refuges to see a diverse array of animals in their natural habitat.
  2. Ideal Locations for Paddlers: Detailed guide to 20 must-visit spots for paddleboarders seeking both tranquility and thrilling wildlife sightings.
  3. Seasonal Adventures: Insights into the best times to visit these locations for optimal wildlife viewing, from spring migratory birds to autumn's elk bugling.
  4. Paddleboarding Tips: Expert advice for beginners and seasoned paddlers to enhance their experience and safety while exploring Wisconsin's waterways.
  5. Conservation Awareness: Promote responsible wildlife viewing and the importance of preserving Wisconsin's natural beauty for future generations.

paddle board in wisconsin

1.) Namekagon River.

Glide through tunnels of towering timber along the Namekagon River as it winds through Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area. Scan the shallows for basking turtles and the thickets for white-tailed deer. Listen for the raucous calls of sandhill cranes and the drumming of ruffed grouse. Paddle in spring to witness the explosion of migratory songbirds, including over a dozen species of colorful warblers flitting through the budding trees.

2.) Willow Flowage.

Paddle through the maze of wooded islands and channels of Willow Flowage. Watch for great blue herons, green herons, and belted kingfishers fishing in the shallows. Scan the banks for white-tailed deer, beaver, and muskrat. In fall, listen for the calls of sandhill cranes and watch for migrating waterfowl overhead.ers. With luck, you may spot a black bear lumbering along the wooded shoreline.

3.) Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

Wind through the extensive maze of channels and islands in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Stop to admire massive old-growth oak trees along the backwaters and side channels. Scan the shallows for freshwater mussels and watch for river otters playing in the reeds. In fall, listen for the honking of migrating waterfowl overhead.

4.) Lake Noquebay.

Paddle the sparkling waters of Lake Noquebay in search of common mergansers and colorful black-crowned night herons wading along the wooded shoreline. Glide into quiet coves and keep watch for mink, beaver, and muskrat swimming by. In late summer, cruise offshore to see loons feeding their chicks.

5.) Peshtigo River.

Traverse the winding Peshtigo River as it cuts through the Peshtigo River State Forest. Peer into the dense thickets lining the banks for a glimpse of grey fox or white-tailed deer. Watch for great blue herons and belted kingfishers diving for fish. In autumn, listen for the distant bugling of bull elk.

6.) Eagle River Chain of Lakes.

Paddle through stands of wild rice on the shallow Eagle River Chain of Lakes. Scan overhead for bald eagles, osprey, and northern harriers patrolling for prey. Search the rice beds to spot feeding waterfowl like canvasbacks, redheads, and ring-necked ducks. In late summer, enjoy the spectacle of thousands of dancing dragonflies.

7.) Lower Wisconsin State Riverway.

Explore the labyrinth of channels and bays in the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. Search the shoreline for basking turtles and watch for river otters and beavers swimming by. Along backwaters, enjoy sightings of great egrets, great blue herons, and belted kingfishers snatching fish.

8.) Menominee River State Park.

Journey through the Menominee River State Park and keep watch for such forest dwellers as white-tailed deer, black bears, and bobcats coming down to the wooded banks to drink. Scan ahead for river otters playing in the rapids and watch for osprey diving for fish. In fall, listen for the bugling of rutting elk along the river.

9.) Crex Meadows Wildlife Area.

Paddle through wild rice marshes in Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, watching for feeding waterfowl like canvasbacks, common goldeneyes, and pied-billed grebes. Search the reeds for Virginia rails and soras. Scan open water for loons, grebes, herons, and bitterns. Moor your board and sit quietly to see sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, and even whooping cranes.

10.) Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest.

Glide across bays dotted with lily pads on the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest. Watch for common loons and pied-billed grebes tending to chicks. Search the shallows for basking Blanding's turtles and muskrat huts. With luck, you may spot a lazy river otter napping in the sun on a log.

11.) Petenwell Lake.

Glide across the expansive Petenwell Lake, one of Wisconsin's largest inland lakes. Watch for feeding river otters, great blue herons, osprey, and bald eagles. Search the wooded shoreline for white-tailed deer coming down to drink. Look for trumpeter swans and a variety of ducks on the open water.

12.) Mecan River.

Paddle along the meandering Mecan River through protected wildlife areas and wetlands. Watch for great egrets, green herons, belted kingfishers, and colorful wood ducks along the banks. Listen for the drumming of ruffed grouse and the chattering of red squirrels in the forest.

13.) Chippewa Flowage.

Explore bays and channels of the Chippewa Flowage, watching for feeding river otters, swimming beaver, and basking painted turtles. Avoid disturbing nesting loons and other waterfowl. In spring, enjoy colorful migratory warblers flitting through the pines along the wooded shorelines.

14.) Kakagon Sloughs.

Paddle through wild rice beds in Kakagon Sloughs to see stunning trumpeter swans, Sandhill cranes, herons, egrets, and more. Watch for northern pike prowling just below the surface and snapping turtles basking on logs. With extreme luck in spring or fall, you may glimpse a rare whooping crane among the flocks of sandhill cranes.

15.) Mazomanie Bottoms.

Explore Mazomanie Bottoms, watching for great blue herons, green herons, kingfishers, and nesting Canada geese. Scan the shore for fox, mink, and muskrat. In winter, witness stunning concentrations of bald eagles gathered along the open waters to feed on fish.

16.) Little Lake Butte des Morts.

Paddle through stands of lily pads dotting Little Lake Butte des Morts. Watch for loons, grebes, herons, bitterns, and marsh birds like sora and Virginia rail. Enjoy sightings of ornate box turtles basking on logs. In autumn, witness diving ducks like lesser scaup, redheads, and canvasbacks feeding in the lake.

17.) Green Bay.

Glide through Lake Michigan's Green Bay, scanning for diving and dabbling ducks, as well as loons, grebes, cormorants, and mergansers. Search the shallow, vegetation-choked Sturgeon Bay for glimpses of river otters, mink, and beaver. Avoid approaching nesting piping plovers along sandy beaches.

18.) Lower Wisconsin River.

Paddle the lazy oxbows and side-channels of the Lower Wisconsin River, watching for lounging river otters and signs of beaver activity. Scan ahead for great blue herons waiting patiently to spear fish and listen for the raucous calls of sandhill cranes. Peer into the dense thickets for white-tailed deer coming down to drink.

19.) The Yellow River At Necedah.

Paddle along the winding Yellow River as it flows through the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. Watch for trumpeter swans, herons, egrets, and cranes in the marshy areas. Scan for river otters, mink, and beavers along the wooded banks and backwaters. Listen for the pumping calls of bitterns and the percussive hammering of woodpeckers in the forest.

20.) Lake Puckaway.

Explore bays dotted with lily pads in Lake Puckaway. Watch for trumpeter swans, giant Canada geese, and a variety of ducks like redheads, canvasbacks, and common goldeneyes. Enjoy sightings of snapping turtles hauled out on logs. With extreme luck, you may witness a bald eagle snatching a fish from the water.


paddle boarding at night

As the setting sun sinks towards the horizon, you let out a contented sigh and turn your paddleboard back towards shore. Your memory card is full of incredible wildlife sightings and your spirit refreshed from a day immersed in nature. Whether it was the electric flash of a kingfisher's wings or the curious tameness of a young fawn at water's edge, Wisconsin's wild inhabitants have worked their magic. As you drift along the rippling water, you see the landscape with new appreciation. A great blue heron stands statue-still, waiting to strike. A muskrat nibbles on a shoot, oblivious to your presence. At water level, you feel part of the natural rhythm and flow. The wild lands, waterways, and creatures of Wisconsin have welcomed you into their world. Until next time...

Tips, Tricks, and Fun Articles await.

Here are a few quick links to help you keep going, don't forget to check our blog out for more tips and expert advice. For wildlife tips check out our blog and this article on Beginners Guide To Bird Watching. And don't forget to read our article on Stand Up Paddle Boarding and Wildlife Encounters. For a complete guide of where to paddle board in every state, this one is for you! The best places to paddle board in the United States a state by state tour of where to paddle board with Glide Paddle Boards.

Or perhaps something international is what you are looking for, then these two articles will help out. Check out the ultimate guide on finding places to paddle board near you for tips and tricks on finding new and exciting places near you! And for international spots Epic Spots Globally To Paddle Board is for you! And check out the Glide O2 Angler and why it makes an incredible platform for birding and wildlife viewing.