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a group of kayaks paddling on the Milwaukee River next to a condo complex

Photo essay: Downtown Milwaukee’s river of kayaks

September 2, 2019  |  Topics: Places

By Eddee Daniel

Milwaukeeans love kayaking! At least that’s the impression I’ve gotten when I’ve witnessed the throngs of kayakers on warm summer days in, of all places, downtown Milwaukee. And so, to brighten up your Labor Day, the traditional end of summer, I bring you a photo essay to celebrate what seems to have become a favorite summer pastime in our city: kayaking the Milwaukee River. I’ve never seen so many people kayaking in such a short stretch of waterway (not counting special events.)

I asked Beth Handle, proprietor of the Milwaukee Kayak Company, which is located on the Milwaukee River, if I was right in thinking the numbers are higher. She said, in an email, “Yes, we’ve definitely seen an increase in kayaks and other personal watercraft on our rivers since we opened 7 years ago. Our rivers downtown have become a destination for outdoor recreation.”

Handle added, “we outfit people from all over our area and around the world. Some have a lot of experience and some have none. These people are all different ages and ethnicities. We have many beginner kayakers renting from us as we provide a safe and comfortable atmosphere. We care deeply about our watershed and our city. I think that message has grown and for paddlers especially, kayaking on our rivers has become a form of recreation that people enjoy. We clean up our rivers, spend time on them and enjoy time with family and friends while enjoying time outside kayaking. It’s a fun and positive experience!”

A kayak on the Milwaukee River at the wooded shore of Turtle Park near downtown Milwaukee

Our visual tour begins in the “up north” of downtown, here at the downstream end of the Milwaukee River Greenway. Just below North Avenue, where a pedestrian bridge connects Caesar’s Park on the east bank with Turtle Park on the west, is the former site of the North Avenue dam. From here we’ll follow the river through the tall buildings of downtown right out into Lake Michigan, with an eye out for kayakers.

A kayaker paddling next to a concrete flood wall on the Milwaukee RIver
Below the condos near the Humboldt Street Bridge
two kayakers, one waving, paddlng next to a steel flood wall on the Milwaukee River.
Happy to see you!
Kayaks docking and people lining the river walk at Lakefront Brewery on the Milwaukee River.
Lakefront Brewery, a favorite watering hole accessible from the river
four kayaks paddling upstream along a wooded shoreline towards a distant bridge on the Milwaukee River.
Yes! A wooded shoreline provides a break from the condos near the Holton Street Bridge, seen in the background
a boy in a kayak with a large paddle next to a wooded shoreline on the Milwaukee River.
That’s quite a paddle!
two kayaks paddling in tandem with bridges in the background on the Milwaukee River.
Synchronized paddling!
two young women in a two-person kayak paddling next to a steel floodwall on the Milwaukee River.
kayaks and a motorboat passing under raised drawbriges in downtown Milwaukee
Bridges up!
six kayaks appear tiny below the bridges of downtown Milwaukee on the Milwaukee River.
Bridges down
Taking it easy.
two kayaks and some motorboats on the Milwaukee River in downtown Milwaukee with the Fiserv Forum in the background
The heart of downtown
a male kayaker paddling
Heading downstream
a female kayaker paddling
Heading upstream
The Wisconsin Avenue Bridge
Under the bridge
two young men in a two-person kayak next to the Riverwalk on the Milwaukee River
Near the St. Paul Street Bridge
two kayaks on the Milwaukee River with downtown buildings in the background
At the confluence with the Menomonee River
a young woman in a kayak taking a selfie
Selfie time!
The old swing bridge
Regal reflection from the Sail Loft restaurant at the mouth of the river
four men in kayaks floating out in the middle of Lake Michigan and waving
Greetings from Lake Michigan!

Eddee Daniel is a Milwaukee-based photographer and board member of Preserve Our Parks. Website: