At 430 miles, the Wisconsin River is the state’s longest river. There are about 25 towns to discover along the way, all of which offer a myriad of things to do both on and off the river. Whether you’re into exploring your surroundings in a more slow-paced setting or you prefer a bit more of a high-energy vibe, here are 10 things to do in various communities along the river’s edge:
Try Bow-Fishing at Dusk in Adams County.
I first heard of the sport of bow fishing via my dad, who regularly practices the sport down in Florida, where he now lives. I have since learned that it’s a fast-growing sport up here in Wisconsin, too. My co-host, Jake actually took on bowfishing for the first time in Adams County. I am an adrenaline junkie so this sport appeals to me: It’s essentially hunting combined with fishing. There are only certain species you can bowfish for legally so find a guide to show you the ropes if you’re new to the sport.
Attend a concert along the riverfront in Stevens Point.
During the summer months, the Pfiffner Park bandshell is a lovely spot to gather with friends for events, including the City Band Concerts. Consider stopping by Sunset Point Winery right across the street for a little vino sampling before enjoying music in the park.
Cast a Rod in the Boscobel area.
Located in the Driftless Area in Wisconsin’s southwestern corner, Boscobel is a renowned destination for fly fishermen. The lower Wisconsin River flows along the north edge of Boscobel and is both shallow and wide. There are also plenty of sandbars, too, for rest areas and camping.
Explore the river by kayak or canoe in Prairie du Chien.
If you’re looking to slow things down a bit, look to the Prairie du Chien section of the Wisconsin River. Hop in a kayak or canoe and prepare to be amazed by the unparalleled scenery. Bring your own canoe or kayak, or rent one from one of several canoe liveries, which also offer shuttle service. Bring binoculars and a camera and don’t be surprised if you spot wildlife such as white-tail deer, hawks, sandhill cranes and otters.
Take a Standup Paddleboard History Tour in Wisconsin Rapids.
Squeeze in both a workout and a history lesson when you sign up for a standup paddleboard history tour on the Wisconsin River in Wisconsin Rapids. SUP the Rapids offers two-hour “Historical River Tours,” wherein you’ll learn about the past and present of Wisconsin Rapids. Favorite trivia fact from my tour? I learned Wisconsin Rapids once consisted of two towns called Grand Rapids and Centralia. The citizens changed its name to Wisconsin Rapids after growing tired of their mail ending up in Grand Rapids, Mich. Who knew?!
Enjoy a walking history tour in Wisconsin’s third oldest city: Portage.
The notion of balancing oneself on a board above water gotcha feelin’ anxious? No need to join the standup paddleboard trend. Head to Portage for a traditional walking history tour. Wisconsin’s third oldest city has a colorful past. Learn all about it when you tour the historic downtown district and along the waterfront.
Go Waterskiing (or attend a show!) in Tomahawk.
While we filmed a segment of Discover Wisconsin in Tomahawk last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting a few folks from the Kwahamot Ski Club. (Fun fact: Kwahamot is Tomahawk spelt backwards.) Naturally, that interview turned into me receiving lessons on land, which resulted in a handful of sloppy attempts on my part to achieve what I’m told is called an “adagio trio.” (Thanks many times over to the two gentlemen who kept me from face-planting right in to the Wisconsin River.) The point is: Waterskiing is so engrained in Wisconsin’s summer culture and I love it. Whether you throw on a pair of skis yourself or prefer to watch from the sidelines, don’t overlook the many talented waterski show teams scattered across our state.
Hike the trails right off the Wisconsin River in Merrill.
Just 25 minutes south of Tomahawk is the small community of Merrill. Find the River Bend Trail by foot or bike—enjoy vistas brought to you by Wisconsin River and follow the trail to downtown Merrill. If time allows, stop in at the Merrill Historical Society while you’re in town. Don’t leave without visiting Council Grounds State Park, where you might consider making a temporary home out of one of its 52 campsites.
Spot a bald eagle or two in Sauk Prairie.
During the winter months, bald eagles are drawn to open water for better fishing, undeveloped shoreline with large trees for perching and protected valleys for roosting at night. For these reasons, the Sauk Prairie section of the Wisconsin River is a haven for bald eagle watching in the winter. To increase your chances of spotting one for yourself, head to a viewing scope at Ferry Bluff Eagle Council’s Overlook in Prairie du Sac Eagle during the morning hours, when eagles are most active.
Compete in the quirky PaddleQuest event in the Stevens Point Area.
Awesomely weird and unusually exciting, PaddleQuest in Stevens Point is the “world's only fantasy paddling adventure.” Even Rolling Stone Magazine wrote a piece on this annual tradition on the river. This choose-your-own-adventure scavenger hunt asks players (AKA questers) to choose alliances, search for totems and challenge one another to games in order to become protectors of the backwaters. So what will it be? Are you aligning with the pirates or the gypsies? This year’s event is August 19-21.
Mariah Haberman hosts the nation’s longest-running tourism TV show, Discover Wisconsin. She hails from Evansville, where she was brought up in a family of seven in a small farmhouse outside of town. Some of her favorite memories include Lake Michigan fishing trips with her Dad, showing sheep at the Rock County Fair and buzzing around the farm on an ATV with her little brother. Watch Discover Wisconsin Saturdays at 10 a.m. on FSN Wisconsin’s outdoor block. (Twitter: @DiscoverWI)