16 Best Lakes in Wisconsin
Author Anietra Hamper traveled throughout Wisconsin taking advantage of its outdoor experiences and uncovered some of the best lakes to visit throughout the state.
Wisconsin is a lake lover's paradise. With more than 15,000 lakes throughout the state, take your pick from swimming in the clearest waters of Lake Geneva or enjoy the best fishing for the elusive musky while watching eagles soar overhead in the Northwoods.
The lake diversity in Wisconsin gives you so many options. Paddle along the rocky shores of Lake Michigan in Door County, take the boat out on a summer day on Lake Superior, tackle the urban scene in the lakes around the capital of Madison, or marvel at the dramatic and rocky landscape at Devil's Lake.
Whatever your personality, find an ideal place to visit with our list of the best lakes in Wisconsin.
1. Lake Michigan
Visiting Lake Michigan is a given when you're considering lakes in Wisconsin. It is one of two Great Lakes that border the state and is located on the eastern side of the state off the shores of Door County.
There are 300 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline along the Door County peninsula, making it one of the best lakes for vacations in the state. It is the best area to experience the lake, whether you are kayaking around Cave Point, swimming in one of the dozens of public beaches on Lake Michigan, or diving to see some of the 275 shipwrecks in the waters around Door County.
Farther south from Door County, you can access Lake Michigan from Milwaukee and Sheboygan and catch a fishing charter out to deeper water. Lake Michigan is one of the best lakes to fish for perch and walleye, and it has become the place where anglers make an annual trek for epic salmon fishing, too.
Since the shores of Lake Michigan stretch down to southern Wisconsin, you can also enjoy the waters and sunsets from North Beach near the city of Racine, which has 2,500 feet of sandy shoreline.
2. Geneva Lake
The beautiful spring-fed Geneva Lake is one of the most pristine and cleanest lakes in all of Wisconsin, which is why it is a popular area for cottage homes and beautiful lakefront resorts. The clear lake has more than 5,000 acres for swimming, boating, fishing, and relaxing shoreside.
There are four public beaches around Geneva Lake including the City of Lake Geneva Public Beach and Big Foot Beach State Park Swim Area. There is a state park near the beach where you can hike, swim, and picnic waterside.
Geneva Lake is one of the best lakes to live on, so the surrounding village of Lake Geneva is an area where you can find quaint shops and restaurants, and it is also one of the nicest small towns in Wisconsin. The Lake Geneva village is a great departure point for kayaking, renting a fishing charter, or taking a sunset boat cruise.
3. Green Lake
One of the deepest lakes in Wisconsin is Green Lake, located in the east-central part of the state near the city of Green Lake. Not surprisingly, it is one of the best lakes to fish in Wisconsin since it drops to depths of 237 feet. Anglers come to Green Lake for largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, Northern pike, walleye, and trout.
There are three public beaches at Green Lake (Hattie Sherwood Beach, Dodge County Park Beach, and Sunset County Beach) and eight boat launches including a canoe launch. Green Lake is a great place to plan a day of outdoor recreation, and there are a number of public parks that surround the 27 miles of shoreline. For lodging and a bite to eat, head into the city of Green Lake.
4. Lake Monona
The beautiful Lake Monona is the centerpiece of Wisconsin's capital city of Madison. The 3,359-acre lake is one of the top places for recreation and leisure in the city. What makes it particularly unique and stunning is the backdrop of the capitol dome as you kayak, windsurf, or sit on a park bench to watch the sunset.
In the winter months, you will see Madisonites ice fishing, ice-skating, and snowkiting across the lake. During the summer, you can access Lake Monona for swimming from one of seven public beaches, as well as boating and fishing from 18 parks and green spaces around the water.
There are many miles of walking and bike trails around the lake and even more great hiking trails near Madison that are easy to access. Madison has a walkable downtown area, so you can easily work in lake activities and other attractions in the same day.
5. Lake Winnebago
As one of the largest inland lakes in the United States Lake Winnebago is one of the most spectacular lakes to visit in Wisconsin. With nearly 132,000 acres, it is the largest inland lake in the state.
Lake Winnebago is convenient to access since it is located in Fond du Lac and only an hour from other top Wisconsin cities like Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Madison. You can make a base in one of these cities and take a day trip to the lake.
Lake Winnebago has a public beach for swimming and there are 13 public parks from which to access the lake for fishing and boating activities. A mile of the Lake Winnebago shoreline runs through the High Cliff Escarpment State Natural Area, where you can see some dramatic limestone cliffs created by the escarpment, and rich forests that have various species of fern and unique flowers due to the habitat.
If you are an angler, then Lake Winnebago is probably already on your radar for its lake sturgeon population, making it one of the top fishing lakes in Wisconsin. No matter the season, there are also nice populations of walleye and pike.
6. Lake Superior
Wisconsin is bordered by two of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, which are also two of the top lakes to visit in the state. Lake Superior, located on the northwest border of Wisconsin near Superior and the Bayfield Peninsula, is the largest freshwater lake in the world. It is a popular lake for fishing, boating, swimming, kayaking, and all water sports.
You can access public beaches and the waterfront from the city of Superior, which is a great place to base yourself if you want to plan an outdoor vacation. There is a four-mile sandbar in the harbor, which is a great place to see Lake Superior sunsets reflecting off of the water.
While water activities top the list of things to do at the lake, there are many other itinerary-worthy items in the area, like Big Manitou Falls, in nearby Pattison State Park, the tallest waterfall in Wisconsin and one of the top waterfalls in the state. While you are in the area, you might want to take a scenic drive along the Bayfield Peninsula Byway.
7. Lake Pepin
The waters at Lake Pepin are some of the most natural in the state. It is a lake on the Mississippi River that borders western Wisconsin and Minnesota. The 24,500-acre lake is said to be the birthplace of waterskiing, and water activities are popular.
There are seven boat landings around the lake, but the easiest to access from the village of Pepin is the Pepin Town Landing. Lake Pepin is popular for boating, fishing, and swimming. There is preserved parkland close to Lake Pepin, which is nice to visit if you are spending time at the lake.
Lake Pepin's source is the Rush River Delta State Natural Area. It is a beautiful natural area popular for bird-watching but it is primitive, so there are no public facilities like restrooms.
8. Devil's Lake
The draw of Devil's Lake is its dramatic appearance, with 500-foot-high bluffs created by a glacier during the last ice age. The 975-acre lake in southern Wisconsin near Baraboo is popular for swimming and sightseeing, since the views of the natural landscape are spectacular from the cliffs. This is a beautiful place for photography.
The lake is located in Devil's Lake State Park, which is the largest state park in Wisconsin. There are two public beaches at Devil's Lake on the north and south sides. Both beaches have bathhouses for changing.
Fishing is another popular activity at the lake since the water is clear. It is one of the best fishing lakes in southern Wisconsin for Northern pike, largemouth bass, and walleye. There are two no-fee boat launches around the lake.
9. Lake Mendota
Lake Mendota is one of five lakes around Madison and is a hot spot for water recreation. Summers on the lake mean wakeboarding, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, and fishing. In the winter, the 10,000-acre lake is just as popular for ice fishing, ice boating, ice hockey, and cross-country skiing.
There are seven public beaches around Lake Mendota, which are common hangouts for the locals. Since boating is one of the top activities on the lake, there are 10 launch ramps on various sides for easy access.
One of the nice features of Lake Mendota is its location. Not only is it in the state capital, but it is close to 11 parks, including Governor Nelson State Park, which has eight miles of walking trails, picnic areas, and a sandy beach.
10. Elkhart Lake
The blue-green tint of the clear waters in Elkhart Lake is one of its hallmarks. The lake has many cottages, vacation homes, and luxury resorts for those looking for a quiet retreat on the water, and it is a nice spot for peaceful aquatic recreation.
The nearly 300-acre lake drops to 119 feet in some areas, and the serene setting surrounding it is what draws people to it for kayaking, tubing, paddleboarding, fishing, and swimming. Due to the pristine surroundings, Elkhart Lake is a popular spot for ecology tours that take visitors by kayak to experience some of the natural nuances of the area.
One of the best spots for swimming at Elkhart Lake is at Fireman's Park and Beach, which has a sandy waterfront, concessions, and restrooms. The nearby village of Elkhart Lake is a nice place to visit after a day at the lake for a scoop of ice cream at one of the local creameries.
11. Lake Namekagon
Northern Wisconsin has some of the most beautiful lakes in the state because the natural setting supports it, which is why Lake Namekagon ranks high on the must-visit list. The lake is in northern Wisconsin, close to the town of Cable and in the middle of the Chequamegon National Forest.
The landscapes and wildlife in the area are as much of a reason to go as the lake itself. That is why water recreation, like kayaking and canoeing, is popular on Lake Namekagon. The lake is 2,800 acres surrounded by six parks, including the national forest and the Fairyland State Natural Area.
It is one of the best places to fish in the state for species like Northern pike, walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and the state's prized musky. There are seven boat launches around the lake.
12. Wazee Lake
While many lakes in Wisconsin are known for their beaches, boating, and kayaking opportunities, Wazee Lake is probably best known for scuba diving. The man-made northern Wisconsin lake is close to Black River Falls and the small town of Brockway.
Wazee Lake is the deepest lake in the state at 350 feet, which makes sense because it was once used as a quarry. Today, the lake is part of the Wazee Lake Recreation Area and one of the best spots in the state for scuba diving.
Wazee Lake is not only deep but it is also clear, so scuba enthusiasts and those working for certification can enjoy diving to explore some of the mining remnants below the water. There is a beach and a boat ramp at the lake for those who want to swim and enjoy other water activities.
13. Rock Lake
The reasons to visit Rock Lake near Lake Mills in south-central Wisconsin are numerous. It is a 1,300-acre lake with two public beaches, so it's a great spot on a hot summer day. Water sports like boating and kayaking are easy, with four boat launches, and anglers like this lake for the panfish.
Many people say that Rock Lake resembles a figure-eight shape versus a traditional open water lake. Some of the more unique aspects of Rock Lake include the Aztalan pyramids, which still remain under the water, and a section of the Glacial Drumlin State Trail that crosses through it.
There are several parks and protected wildlife areas that surround the lake, so it is a nice location to explore more of Wisconsin's natural side beyond just Rock Lake.
14. Castle Rock Lake
Castle Rock Lake is a massive lake in the Central Sands Prairie Region in central Wisconsin. It covers over 16,600 acres. The sandy banks of the lake create several beaches along the shoreline.
The best way to access Castle Rock Lake is from Castle Rock County Park in Friendship, Wisconsin, which has a boat launch, public beach, playground, and comforts like restrooms and concessions. There are 300 campsites available with quick access to the lake.
Much of the lake's coastline is still undeveloped, allowing for great viewing of local wildlife, especially birds like sandhill cranes, ducks, and herons. Castle Rock Lake is close to Buckhorn State Park and Wilderness Area, which you can visit while you are in the area and enjoy additional wildlife viewing in the undisturbed habitat.
15. Pike Lake
Pike Lake is a beautiful glacial lake in southeast Wisconsin near Hartford and just a short drive from Milwaukee. The 522-acre lake is surrounded by forests, and you can take advantage of the hiking and recreation activities in Pike Lake State Park when you visit.
The lake is popular for boating and fishing. Anglers come to Pike Lake to fish for northern pike, bass, and walleye. There are three boat launches, including a kayak/canoe launch. Since the lake goes to a maximum depth of 45 feet, it is a perfect lake to enjoy paddlesports.
Around Pike Lake, you can chill at the public beach, walk at the public park, take the family to the playground, or plan a full outdoor weekend by staying at the campground.
16. Beaver Dam Lake
Beaver Dam Lake is a nice recreational lake in central Wisconsin and an easy drive from both Milwaukee and Madison. With nearly 40 miles of shoreline and over 5,500 acres of water, the man-made lake has lots to offer.
Beaver Dam Lake is shallow, with a maximum depth of only five feet, so it is great for fishing and kayaking. You can find public launch ramps along the shoreline and at the marina.
While many of the best lakes in Wisconsin are surrounded by forest, Beaver Dam Lake is bordered by farmland. The lake got its name from beavers that created natural dams on the river in the 1800s, which inspired the series of dams that were created in the 1800s to power a local gristmill and sawmill.
Map of Lakes in Wisconsin
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Wisconsin Outdoors: There are many outdoor experiences to enjoy in Wisconsin. If you are visiting in summer, you'll discover the state has numerous great beaches, miles of hiking trails, and some good fishing spots. The natural areas are some of the biggest attractions here.
Where to Stay in Wisconsin: Make the most of your trip by finding the right accommodation. You might enjoy staying in some of Wisconsin's top resorts during your visit or find a bed and breakfast in one of the charming small towns. If you want to stay in one of the bigger cities, you can find great hotels in downtown Madison, Milwaukee, and nice small resorts in Door County.