Cruising Destinations

Four Great Midwest Boating Destinations

Man holding fish, fisherman with large trout

Anglers know the bounty that awaits them in the Midwest.

For those who wonder how Midwesterners put up with the region’s long winters, experience a summer in the area and you’ll understand. 

Summer in the Midwest is unlike anywhere else, with beautiful waters and with few exceptions, some of the best boating and fishing anywhere. If you want to experience some of the best boating in the Midwest, here are four stand-out destinations.

Door County, Wisconsin

With mighty Green Bay to the west and Lake Michigan to the east, Wisconsin’s 70-mile-long (112.65 km) Door County Peninsula is a popular destination for boaters and anglers. The warm waters of Green Bay are famed for producing giant walleye, smallmouth bass and muskie, while the cooler waters of Lake Michigan are home to king salmon, lake trout and steelhead.
Each body of water is massive and can kick up when the wind blows, but having easy access to both sides of the Door County peninsula usually means you can find a place to boat or fish that’s out of the wind.

boat on lake, boat alone on lake

Boaters can usually find calm conditions on one side of Door County peninsula. 

Popular ports on the Green Bay side of Door County include Sturgeon Bay, Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Ephraim, Sister Bay and Gill’s Rock. Top ports for accessing Lake Michigan include Sturgeon Bay, Baily’s Harbor and Rowleys Bay (smaller craft only at Rowleys). 

Comfortable accommodations, great restaurants, public boat accesses and fueling options are available throughout Door County. Book early because summer is peak tourist season.

Lake Vermilion, Minnesota

Northern Minnesota is home to hundreds of beautiful wilderness lakes, none more impressive than 39,272-acre Lake Vermilion. Thanks, in part, to Vermillion’s 365 islands and hundreds of bays, Vermilion boasts the longest shoreline of any lake in Minnesota — 290 miles (466.71 km).

It’s also one of the region’s most scenic lakes. Its tannic waters are surrounded by dense stands of pine, aspen and birch. The Ojibwe is called Vermilion Nee-Man-Nee, which means “the evening sun tinting the water a reddish color.”

Scenic lakefront, Vermillion lakefront

Lake Vermillion has some of the most picturesque scenery in the Midwest.

Wildlife viewing is exceptional with whitetail deer, black bear and timberwolves calling the area home. Vermilion is well known as a fishing destination, offering superb fishing for walleye, smallmouth and largemouth bass, crappie and muskie. Private cabins and resorts dot the shoreline, offering visitors a variety of lodging options.

driving a boat, boat driver looking at chartplotter

An updated chartplotter will help boaters steer clear of any obstacles beneath the surface.

Nearby towns of Virginia, Cook, and Tower make it easy to stock up on supplies during your trip. There are several excellent restaurants in the area. Lake Vermilion has a max depth of 76’ (23.16 m), but much of the lake is shallow and rocky. To avoid issues, make sure you have a quality chartplotter with mapping and sonar while on the lake.

Table Rock Lake, Missouri/Arkansas

It’s nearly impossible not to be wowed by the sheer size of Missouri’s Table Rock Lake. Built in 1958 by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this impoundment is nearly 80 miles (128.74 km) long and covers more than 43,000 acres. Like most reservoirs, it features hundreds of protected creek arms and coves. 
Table Rock is an easy drive from virtually anywhere in the middle of the country, and with tourist hotspot Branson nearby, it is popular with boaters and anglers.

Table Rock Lake, photo at water's surface

Table Rock Lake is close to Branson, MO, and a popular spot for boating and fishing.

The White, James and King rivers flow into Table Rock, creating a fishery that’s been highly prized by generations of anglers. It’s home to three species of bass, largemouth, smallmouth and spotted as well as crappie, catfish and a variety of sunfish species. Navigating Table Rock is relatively easy. A good chartplotter is key, and Table Rock has mile markers along its length to help you determine your position.

catching a fish, releasing a fish

There are many species of fish to chase throughout the Midwest. Catching and releasing is smart for conservation.

West Okoboji Lake, Iowa

Few think of Iowa as a great boating destination, but the state is home to some spectacular natural lakes, especially in the area around the town of Spirit Lake.
Big Spirit Lake, at 5,684 acres, is the state’s largest, followed by West Okoboji with 3,847 acres. A printable lake map of Okoboji can be found at the Iowa DNR website.
West Lake, as it is known by the locals, is a glacial lake that’s 7 miles (11.27 km) long and 2 miles (3.22 km) wide, with a max depth of 136’ (41.45 m). It’s a popular destination for boaters and anglers with exceptionally clear water and more than 47 species of fish.

boat on a lake, man fishing from boat

The Midwest offers lots of wide-open waters for chasing fish.

The most popular fish with area anglers include yellow perch, smallmouth and largemouth bass, muskie, crappie, sunfish, walleye and northern pike, trophy fish are caught regularly.
West Okoboji has multiple boat accesses available, as well as campsites, picnic areas, fish clean station and other visitor amenities.

fishing at sunset, catching a small-mouth bass

Long warm days mean hours of fishing in calm evening conditions.

Spirit Lake is the hometown of Berkley Bedell, founder of Berkley® Fishing, making the area a bucket list destination for many serious anglers.
If you have not yet had the chance to experience fishing and boating during a Midwest Summer, this is your year. Any of these outstanding locations are sure to bring smiles to faces and generate many happy memories on the water.