We Kayaked the Milwaukee River: An Afternoon with Milwaukee Kayak Co.



Shortly after Michelle and I met, while talking on the phone, we discovered we had the same birthday. At the time, this little fact seemed charmed–a reason to keep talking despite the distance between us and the longshot prospects for a relationship.

Ten years on, that charming fact–August 3 being our shared birthday, I’m three years older–seems like more like a burden to bear. We always struggle to determine where to go and what to do.

As this past birthday approached, I decided to be proactive. I wanted to do something fun and memorable. I’d seen images on social media of people kayaking the Milwaukee River and I thought, if we were able to stay upright, it would be the perfect way to spend our day and take in a unique view of our city.

I looked online and found Milwaukee Kayak Company. For only $25 each, we reserved four hours in our kayaks on the river. Guided tours are also available, but we chose to go it alone.


My biggest fear was falling in. The helpful people at Milwaukee Kayak Company assured me that the kayaks were very stable and thought of all the things we hadn’t. I’d brought a plastic bag for my cell phone, but the proprietor told me there were probably a lot of cell phones at the bottom of the river right now in plastic bags, while loaning me a waterproof, floating bag.

On the warm, sunny Sunday, I slid myself off the dock and into my kayak, trying to keep my center of gravity as low as possible, I understood why they said that the vast majority of people who fall in do so when they are getting in or out of the craft.


We launched from Walker’s Point, near where the Milwaukee and Kinnickinnic Rivers meet and flow through the harbor and into Lake Michigan. There is no set route, some people opt to head south, down the Kinnickinnic to Barnacle Bud’s and Horny Goat. Others head west, up the Menomonee into the Valley, past the new Harley Museum and up to the Domes. We opted to head north, through downtown.

Paddling was easier–and less taxing–than I thought it would be, especially since we were headed up river. Michelle and I had a horrible experience riding a paddle boat upstream on the Fox River once, so I was relieved at how easy and smooth kayaking was.


Michelle was a bit slower than I was. So I would slow down and wait for her, but once she caught up I was ready to go again, but her arms needed a break from working hard to catch up. After a while, we got into our groove.


We made it through downtown while being passed by a few motorboats–kayaks are supposed to stay towards the banks and out of the middle. We passed beneath downtown’s many angled bridges–necessary due to the feud between the first two settlements in our area, Kilborntown and Juneautown, who hated each other so much that they took care to ensure their streets didn’t line up. The feeling, now, was peaceful and serene.


We decided to keep our options fluid, not deciding if we were going to stop anywhere. As we floated north past Lakefront Brewery, I wanted to stop, but was resolved to the idea we wouldn’t. It would require too much: docking our boats, tying them up, getting out and then getting back in. However, things had gone so smoothly, that by the time we turned back south, near Humboldt Avenue, I was determined to make it work.


We carefully exited our kayaks and managed to get out. But I worried that we wouldn’t tie them correctly and they would dislodge themselves and float downstream without us. Even though Michelle knows how to tie nautical knots, we lifted our kayaks out of the river and sat them on the dock.

When we got into Lakefront, Michelle ordered her favorite beer, Riverwest Stein. I ordered a beer called Hop Trial #17. When the bartender realized it was our birthday, he gave us the pints for free! I love Lakefront Brewery!


We carefully lowered our kayaks back into the river, and more carefully lowered ourselves, but we made it without falling in.

We continued back through downtown and it truly is a remarkable, unique view of our city, its history and its architecture.


Since we still had about an hour once we got back through downtown, we decided to stop at the Milwaukee Ale House. This time, after we disembarked, I trusted Michelle to tie our boats up. After a refreshing beer–I had the Ulao wit and Michelle had the Outboard cream ale–we walked back out to the dock and our boats were exactly as we left them.

We got back in, once again avoiding falling in the drink, and we were off to soak up the final 20 minutes of our journey.


We paddled past Milwaukee Kayak Company, and into the Milwaukee Harbor. After taking in a great view of the Hoan Bridge, we turned north once again to dock and turn over our kayaks.

Throughout the years, the legend has been widely spread of all kinds of nasty things they’ve pulled out of the river. During our time on the river, I saw a plastic syringe and a couple floating beer cans, but beyond that, the river didn’t smell and seemed fine.

I was right, this kayak adventure was the perfect way to spend our birthday! It was one of my favorite memories of this past summer and we’ll be back next summer to explore the KK and the Menomonee.


One comment

  1. Katey Higgins · December 8, 2014

    Fun article Nick! We bought kayaks this summer (I fell in the Rock River on our second time out) and they are fun and I always wanted to try it on the Milwaukee river for a cool change of scene. I’m glad I’m on your email list to stay connected in a way, to some of my old friends at Bethesda, miss you guys and hope all is well! Date: Tue, 9 Dec 2014 04:32:51 +0000 To: katey1799@hotmail.com

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