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12 Best Beaches in Wisconsin

Written by Anietra Hamper
Updated Oct 21, 2021

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Wisconsin is bordered by Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, providing hundreds of miles of coastline surrounding the state. From the small, sandy beaches along the Door County peninsula and the island beaches on the Apostle Islands, a summer day playing beach volleyball and cooling off in Wisconsin waters is an easy find.

Besides the coastal shores that border the state, there are hundreds of inland lakes and beaches in state parks that give vacationers a great excuse to rent a kayak or take a hike between dips in the water.

Enjoy the views of the state capitol building while practicing the breaststroke in Lake Monona; sit on the rocks at one of Wisconsin's most unique beaches, Schoolhouse Beach on Washington Island; or go for a dive to explore shipwrecks from the 1800s. Whatever your ideal beach day looks like, you can find it in this scenic state. For ideas, read our list of the best beaches in Wisconsin.

1. Big Bay Beach

Big Bay Beach
Big Bay Beach |Photo Copyright: Travel Wisconsin

One of the most exciting beaches in Wisconsin is Big Bay Beach, which sits at the northern tip of the state on Madeline Island. The beach is located in Town Park on Lake Superior. There are nearly two miles of sandy beach, which is a popular spot for locals looking for a day of swimming, stand up paddleboarding, and kayaking.

Madeline Island is one of 22 Apostle Islands and the largest of them all. The island has a boardwalk that stretches along the beach. There is a 400-foot accessible ramp to the beach and a beach wheelchair available to use.

For families visiting Big Bay Beach, there is a nice one-mile boardwalk and hiking trails for some added activities. There is also a family campground available.

To get to Madeline Island, you can take a 25-minute ferry ride from Bayfield to the town of La Pointe, which has small eateries for lunch on the way to the beach. You can take a bicycle on the ferry to use as you spend a day on the beach.

2. Elkhart Lake

Elkhart Lake at sunrise
Elkhart Lake at sunrise | Photo Copyright: Travel Wisconsin

Elkhart Lake is a beautiful beach location because of its deep, clear, spring-fed aquamarine water. The water is so clear that you can see fish swimming and almost see the bottom, which extends 120 feet below.

In addition to swimming, you can try a variety of water sports on Elkhart Lake, like kayaking, hydro-bikes, paddleboats, and pontoon cruises. It is easy to find water sports and kayak rentals near the lake, or you might want to take a guided trip to get the lay of the land before settling down to relax for the rest of the day.

There is a Native American legend in the area that says the pristine water soothes the souls of those who enjoy it.

The entire area around Elkhart Lake is reminiscent of an 1800s luxury cottage getaway now adorned with modern resorts like The Osthoff Resort, with direct access to the beach. It is one of the more popular vacation and weekend getaway locations in Wisconsin.

3. Kohler Andrae State Park

Kohler Andre State Park
Kohler Andre State Park | Photo Copyright: Travel Wisconsin

Beaches in Wisconsin do not get much better than the sands at Kohler Andre State Park. It has the most expansive sand dunes in the state, stretching along Lake Michigan, which is one of the reasons it is a popular beach.

The beach has a two-mile sandy shoreline with scenic views and great swimming. There are beautiful sand dunes along the shoreline and wood-planked trails that are comfortable for walking to the beach.

Paddleboarding is a popular activity at this beach, and for families traveling with dogs, you can find a pet-friendly area of the beach in the park. Since there is a nearby wetlands, it is common to see many species of birds and waterfowl. You are just a short distance from Sheboygan, with restaurants, shops, art galleries, and other amenities.

4. Schoolhouse Beach

Schoolhouse Beach
Schoolhouse Beach | Photo Copyright: Travel Wisconsin

The Schoolhouse Beach on Washington Island is hands-down one of the coolest and most unforgettable beaches in Wisconsin. Instead of sand, the beach is made of limestone rocks. The beach is considered a geological wonder because of its unusual make-up.

While it's not the best beach for sunbathing (a bit bumpy under the beach towel) it has great swimming and diving opportunities. Multiple shipwrecks occurred in this area on the Door County peninsula in the 1800s, from small wooden schooners to large steam ships.

With depths that go to 225 feet, this is a popular spot for divers. Even if you don't get into the water, the beach is a quaint spot for a picnic in the park with a great view of the shoreline. Since the rocky shoreline is the unique quality of Schoolhouse Beach, Door County encourages beach-goers to leave the rocks where they are for future visitors to enjoy.

5. Nicolet Bay Beach

Nicolet Bay Beach
Nicolet Bay Beach | Photo Copyright: Door County Visitor Bureau

One of the most popular beaches in the state is Nicolet Bay Beach in Peninsula State Park. The park is located in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. Nicolet Bay is the only sand swimming beach in the park, located in a small cove.

Nicolet Bay Beach is perfect for families, since the swimming areas are safely marked with buoys, and the water only goes about waist deep in the marked areas.

You can rent kayaks or beach trikes on-site, or bicycles if you want to enjoy some of the trails in the park. Enjoy a game of sand volleyball on one of the two courts. Restrooms and concessions are close to the beach area.

6. Bradford Beach

Summer at Bradford Beach
Summer at Bradford Beach | Photo Copyright: Travel Wisconsin

While Milwaukee has several small beaches, Bradford Beach is one of the most popular. It is the largest public beach in the area, where swimmers, sunbathers, and beach volleyball leagues congregate on summer days. The social charm of Bradford Beach is one of its best attributes.

There are regular outdoor events on the beach, like the Bradford Beach Jam, and other excuses to hang out on the sand with friends. The convenient amenities like restrooms, a bathhouse, and several concession areas are also why people love coming to Bradford Beach.

Other beaches close to Milwaukee are Grant Park Beach and family-friendly Atwater Beach.

7. Meyers Beach Recreation Area

A beach on Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
A beach on Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

The Meyers Beach Recreation Area on the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is one of the most scenic beaches in Wisconsin. The area is operated by the National Park Service and is located on Lake Superior, near Cornucopia, Wisconsin.

The beach area is comfortable, with plenty of space to swim or just relax by the water. The true draw of this beach is the artistic natural sea caves about two miles away. One of the best ways to see them is from above by hiking the Lakeshore Trail and walking the two miles back along the beach.

The sea caves of the Bayfield Peninsula are a must-see when you visit the area. Take your pick from walking atop the caves to look down at the water or enjoy them from below as you paddle along the coves in a kayak.

8. Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva with fall colors
Lake Geneva with fall colors

Lake Geneva is a small respite for day tripping at the beach in an area that has become a hot vacation and resort destination in Wisconsin. The lake itself is located within the Big Foot Beach State Park, so you will have plenty of other options beyond swimming, like hiking and picnicking.

There are plenty of picnic areas near the beach and watercraft that you can rent near the park entrance. Lake Geneva is one of four beaches in the area. You can also check out Riviera Beach, Williams Bay Beach, and Fontana Beach.

If you plan to visit longer than a day, you can enjoy some of the upscale flavor of the town of Lake Geneva, which is surrounded by golf courses, restaurants, and large homes.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Lake Geneva

9. Bernie's Beach

Madison Skyline and Lake Monona
Madison Skyline and Lake Monona

For a cool beach experience in Wisconsin, why not swim with the backdrop of the Madison skyline and the stunning state capitol rotunda at Bernie's Beach on Lake Monona?

The beach is a popular summer spot for locals, and its convenient location means that you can spend a few hours swimming and then pack up and enjoy the rest of your day or evening in the heart of the city. There is a lifeguard on duty at the beach during official operating hours.

Kayaking and paddleboarding are also popular things to do at Bernie's Beach. There is plenty of green space surrounding the water for quiet strolls, and most everything in downtown Madison is within walking distance. Street parking is easy, and you can walk to a variety of local restaurants for a bite to eat before you leave for the day.

10. North Beach

North Beach
North Beach

The waterfront scene on North Beach in Racine County in southeast Wisconsin is one of the nicest beaches in the state. Regularly rated as one of the top beaches in Wisconsin, North Beach has 2,500 feet of shoreline, and great swimming water.

It is located on Lake Michigan and has received the Blue Wave environmental certification for conservation efforts. You will find many beachgoers taking part in a game of volleyball at one of the waterside courts or getting some respite from the sun at the snack bar.

North Beach is known as one of the top family-friendly beaches in Wisconsin for its nearby amenities, like restrooms and the Kids Cove playground. There's often live music to enjoy on the Beachside Oasis stage during the summer.

11. Baileys Harbor

Baileys Harbor Beach
Baileys Harbor Beach |Richie Diesterheft / photo modified

The beach at Baileys Harbor in Whitefish Dunes State Park is a quiet beach for those who want to add a little exploration and nature into the day. The beach is on the shores of Lake Michigan surrounded by wilderness, nature trails, and more than 6,000 acres of public land.

The park is located on the Door County peninsula, so the winds are perfect for kiteboarding on the water or flying a kite on the beach.

You can take a tour of one of several lighthouses nearby or just enjoy a stroll along the water to soak in the beauty of a Lake Michigan sunset. Be sure to walk into the small town of Baileys Harbor, which has boutique shops and waterfront eateries.

12. Simmons Island Beach

Simmons Island Beach
Simmons Island Beach | Photo Copyright: Visit Kenosha

A beach that is a little more off the radar is Simmons Island Beach in Kenosha. Even though this beach is located within a city, it is less populated than other beaches in Wisconsin. Simmons Island Beach sits on the shores of Lake Michigan with well-groomed sand that is comfortable.

The scenery at Simmons Island Beach is part of its appeal, with two historic lighthouses within view: the North Pier Lighthouse and the Southport Lighthouse. A boardwalk by the beach can take you all the way to North Pier Lighthouse if you want to visit.

This beach has a nearby playground for kids and an open-air picnic pavilion that is great for some midday shade and a packed lunch. If you have a bicycle to ride to the beach, you can take advantage of the nearby paved bike trail to add to the day.

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imageWisconsin Travel Ideas: Discover destinations for a couple's escape with our article on the Top Romantic Getaways in Wisconsin. Plan an upscale getaway with our article on Best Luxury Resorts in Wisconsin. And, if you prefer to spend your time in Wisconsin with a fishing rod in your hand, have a look at our piece on the Top Fishing Lakes in Wisconsin.

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