Public Water Access
Milwaukee’s connection to the water runs deep. In fact, the name comes from a Potawatomi word Minwaking meaning “gathering place by the waters.” The City of Milwaukee encourages residents and visitors to gather by and on the water. The rivers are lined with public docks ensuring residents and visitors alike access to the rivers and lake. The water can be enjoyed by boat cruises, kayak and stand up paddle board rentals, and a variety of urban kayak trails. Explore Milwaukee’s water access options with VISIT Milwaukee.
Another great resource is the Milwaukee Urban Water Trail Map, which includes access points, portages, hazards, and resting sites (sites accessed only from the water), and also includes information on historic, cultural, ecological, or scenic points of interest along the way.
Kayakers on the Milwaukee River Downtown
Water Education through Art
Milwaukee Water Commons, a cross-city network that fosters connection, collaboration, and broad community leadership on behalf of Milwaukee’s water, educates residents using community outreach and art. Working closely with residents, Milwaukee Water Commons uses art as a way to connect people to water and foster environmental stewards to help protect our common waters.
Milwaukee Water Commons also extends its outreach throughout Milwaukee by facilitating community mural paintings, recycled sculptures, and other art installations and educational tools such as the Watershed Wagon, Water Cycle, and Mobile Filter Sink. Frequently seen alongside Milwaukee’s scenic waterways, farmers markets, and community events, unique traveling interactive displays educate Milwaukee residents and visitors about water.
"We Are Water" Art Installation of the Great Lakes (Photo: Pat Robinson)
A Gathering Place at Bradford Beach
Milwaukee has worked diligently to restore a once underutilized beach to one of America’s top urban beaches.
Bradford Beach is now a gathering place for the entire community and is considered an asset and source of pride by everyone. Offering everything from tiki huts and cabanas to 35 sand volleyball courts for over 500 summer league teams, residents can now enjoy the fresh water and soft golden sand.
Bradford Beach in the Summer (Photo: VISIT Milwaukee)
The RiverWalk as a Connector
Access to Milwaukee’s three rivers—the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic—has started to be reclaimed with the help of Milwaukee’s stunning RiverWalk. Instead of a collision between the built and natural environments, the RiverWalk combines nature with the historic city.
While strolling along the river you will pass historic bridges and Milwaukee’s Art Walk, an outdoor art gallery that includes both permanent pieces, such as “Gertie the Duck” and “The Bronze Fonz,” and temporary installations that change periodically. Plans are in place to extend the RiverWalk south from the inner harbor to Bay View. Incorporating the rivers into city life celebrates Milwaukee’s culture and has created unique restaurants, bars, parks, and other entertainment spaces for residents to gather.
Milwaukee RiverWalk in the Third Ward
Strengthening Community in the Inner Harbor
Continuing to reconnect residents to Milwaukee’s fresh coast, an enormous effort is underway to transform Milwaukee’s inner harbor into a vibrant and productive waterfront that strengthens the community and regional economy.
In partnership with many organizations, most noteworthy the non-profit Harbor District, Inc., huge strides have been taken to turn the harbor into a center of prosperity and enjoyment for Milwaukee residents. The innovative projects of the Harbor District, such as the Harbor View Plaza, Kinnickinnic River Trail, Greenfield Bridge Mural, and expansion of the Milwaukee RiverWalk, are making successful progress in gathering residents by the water.
Harbor View Plaza, the first waterfront public park in the Harbor District