Paddling and portaging on the Milwaukee River

Written by Danny Pirtle
    Tuesday, 03 July 2018
Paddling and portaging on the Milwaukee River

Canoes and kayaks are, without a doubt, the most popular items in our equipment lending program. Every weekend throughout the summer months, our boat racks are completely empty, as our members enjoy paddling up and down the Milwaukee River and all throughout our community.

Our Riverside Park branch being situated on the Milwaukee River makes it the perfect spot for a paddling adventure. Since our boats are so popular in the summertime, it is especially important to call ahead so our receptionist can make a reservation for you! The majority of the canoes and kayaks at Riverside Park are located on the boat racks outside of our center, which is about a quarter of a mile away from our boat launch. In order to help you get your boat down to the launch, we have specially designed carts that you can place under the boats in order to wheel them down to the launch. The carts are small enough to fit inside of your boat while you are paddling down the river.

From the Riverside Park boat launch, you can paddle about a mile south before you hit the North Avenue rapids. We do not allow our members to take our boats through the rapids – you will have to portage.


The portage is located on the west bank of the river, just before the North Avenue bridge.

Once again, if you brought a cart with you, portaging should be much easier. Once you’ve portaged past the rapids, you can place your boat back into the water at the River Revitalization Foundation boat launch. From there, it’s a straight shot all the way downtown, where you can dock at a public dock and go shopping or enjoy a meal before returning northwards.

If all that portaging sounds exhausting to you, we have a couple of other options. At the Riverside Park boat launch, we have a single kayak and an aluminum canoe, both of which you can borrow. So, instead of lugging the boats from the building down to the boat launch, the boats are ready to put right into the river. Just be sure to stop by the building first to pick up your life jackets, paddles, and the keys.



New this year, we also have a canoe docked at the River Revitalization Foundation! This is a great opportunity because it allows you to paddle all the way downtown without having to portage at all. Just come to Riverside Park to get your paddles and life jackets, drive to the boat launch, and you are on your way!


Urban Ecology Center YouTube Celebrity and paddling expert Terrance Davis recently took the Visitor Services team paddling on the Milwaukee River.

Enjoy this video of our trip, which includes information about paddling, portaging, and how best to enjoy your time on the Milwaukee River with a UEC kayak or canoe. Happy paddling!  

Danny Pirtle

Danny Pirtle

Danny grew up on the shore of Lake Michigan in Racine, Wisconsin. After spending time studying the natural world (and seeing a whole lot of birds) in Minnesota, California, Indiana, and Australia, Danny returned to Milwaukee and is now the Animal Care Coordinator at the Urban Ecology Center. Danny’s favorite bird is the Pigeon Guillemot and their favorite nature sound is the trill of the American Toad. When away from UEC, Danny can be found walking with Sara (their partner) and Reydog (their dog) on the Oak Leaf Trail, hosting trivia downtown, or curled up with the latest Star Wars novel.


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