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Milwaukee River in Wisconsin

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

Four of us met in Madison early on a cool 35 degree morning. We then drove to Kletzsch Park on the north side of Milwaukee. Our plan was to paddle part of the Milwaukee Urban Water Trail (MUWT). We dropped off all of our boats and two guys while the other two drove to the shuttle down to the Bruce Street Ramp, about 10 miles down river. After all of the shuttling and gear prep was complete, we were on the river at 9:10am.

We were blessed with a beautiful November day causing everyone to strip layers of clothes off. Minutes after leaving Kletzsch Park we encounter Kletzsch Park Falls which required portaging on the right side. Below the falls there were many fisherman trying to catch the Steelhead that were making their way upstream. Also below the falls we encountered our first sections of low water. I was very glad I was in a poly boat because I would have been upset by the scrapping rocks in anything else. With some reading of the river you could usually find the best water and make it through without having to get out.

About 2 1/2 miles into the trip we came to Lincoln Park and were greeted by hundreds of geese on the sandbars. The sky was flooded with them as they took off frightened by our approach. 3.8 miles into the paddle we encountered Easabrook Dam. The dam is usually closed from early spring until late fall, requiring a portage on the left side, but was open today allowing us to paddle straight through with no problems. The dam being opened explains the low water we encountered upstream.

About a 1/4 mile below the dam is Estabrook Falls which requires a portage on the right. It was a beautiful spot for a snack. Continuing downstream I was surprised by how undeveloped the upper sections of the river are. Most of the first 8 miles of the trip passed by wooded areas and small cottages. There was two sections of decent rapids. Not too difficult but enough to make you excited.

The first set is an old wood brewery dam that is falling apart. Stay tight to the left or right of the main shoot since there is a rock mid stream at the bottom. The second set is the old North Avenue Dam. This is a 200 yard section of swift water with two mid size drops. Stay on the far left going into the first drop for the best line.

Once through the remnants of the dam the river quickly changes into a big city river. The banks become 10ft high metal walls and buildings start to tower above. It was an amazing way to see the city! Every bridge that we paddled under, 13 or so, was a draw bridge. There are public docks scattered down the river so you can tie up and enjoy some of the riverside parks, walk downtown or even eat lunch at a local brewery. We stopped at the Rock Bottom Brewery for lunch. Our typical river lunch involved something easy that you could make and eat on a sandbar so this was big treat. It was quite a feat to get onto the floating docks that were 3 feet above the water from our kayaks.

After a fantastic lunch we continued downstream, past the mouth of the Menomonee River to our take out at the Bruce Street Ramp. The day still had about 3 hours of daylight and we were not ready to end so we turned east and paddled out under the Hoan Bridge and past the light house into Lake Michigan. The view of the city was amazing.

From there we paddled back to our vehicle talking about what an eclectic paddling day we had; slow river, rapids, skyscrappers, industry and finally Lake Michigan. It was a perfect day.


Put in has normal picnic accommodations and restrooms. The Bruce Steet Ramp is just a ramp. In the city there are multiple restaurants located directly on the river. Be sure that you are using public docks when tying up.


Take highway 43 north out of Milwaukee. Exit Silver Springs Drive West and take a right onto Milwaukee River Parkway. Kletzch Park is about 2 miles up the road. Do not park on the side of the road when you see the falls. Keep going another 1/4 mile and there is a road back to a better parking lot we decent river accessibility.


The following link is for the MUWT. You will find a detailed PDF of the water trail system.

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location