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For boaters, the word “Winnebago” conjures up thoughts of floating fun more than it does visions of the famed line of RVs--and being on the water, rather than the road. Quite simply, Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago (and the chain of lakes they call the Winnebago System) is a boater’s paradise!

Located in east-central Wisconsin, the “Winnebago System” is comprised of Lake Winnebago, Lake Butte des Morts, Lake Winneconne, Lake Poygan, and the Fox and Wolf Rivers. Famed for it’s fishing (especially walleye and lake sturgeon), boating the Winnebago System leads to world-class experiences on and off the water.

Lake Winnebago is Wisconsin’s largest inland lake and the second largest freshwater inland lake in the Lower 48 (behind Florida’s Lake Okeechobeee). It’s about 28 miles long and 11 miles wide (totaling around 138,000 acres), with a contrasting shoreline and unique communities on and near it. It has a maximum depth of 21 feet and an average depth of just 15 1/2 feet. This can sometimes make boating a bit tricky in bad weather or winds.

Fond du Lac, a community of 42,000, hugs Lake Winnebago’s southern tip. Appleton and the Fox Cities embrace its northern shoreline. In between Oshkosh and Neenah are on the west side and little unincorporated towns and sparse residential settlements lie along the eastern shoreline.

At 8,857 acres and maximum depth of about 19 feet, Lake Butte des Morts is located west of Oshkosh and south of Winneconne. Lake Winneconne is the smallest of the upriver lakes (at 4,507 acres and about nine feet maximum depth) and it’s located immediately north of Winneconne and east of (and connected to) Lake Poygan. At 14,102 acres, Lake Poygan northeast of Winneconne and south of Fremont--it’s the largest of the upriver lakes and reaches a maximum depth of 12 feet (averaging just five to seven feet).

The Fox River runs from the Eureka Dam downstream to Lake Butte des Morts and then to Lake Winnebago through Oshkosh. The Wolf River flows from New London to Lake Poygan and from Lake Winneconne to Lake Butte des Morts.

All of this lake and river water makes for some superior boating from spring to fall. A wide array of marinas and boat launches, as well as cities and towns with every amenity and activity imaginable, make the Winnebago System an ideal boating destination (and place for boaters to live).

The Lake Winnebago System was originally referred to as the “Highway to the Interior.” Early North American explorers and traders could start in the Atlantic Ocean, enter the St. Lawrence Seaway, make their way through the Great Lakes, come down the Fox River to Lake Winnebago, continue on the Fox to the Wolf River, then take Portage Wisconsin to the Wisconsin River, and finally meet up with the mighty Mississippi for passage to the Gulf of Mexico.

Towns and areas of special interest to Lake Winnebago System boaters include Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, Stockbridge, the small towns of Calumet County, and the Fox Cities (14 small communities). In these areas (and several smaller locales and locations on the lakes and rivers), marinas, restaurants, and attractions await. Along with the friendly towns and lots of marinas all around the lake, highlights of Lake Winnebago include: Fond du Lac’s Lakeside Park (full-service marina and a walk-up lighthouse); Fond du Lac’s Walleye Weekend Festival (each June); the Niagara Escarpment; High Cliff State Park; Oshkosh’s Menominee Park (full-service marina and a great location); windsurfing; and many more attractions on and off the water. In addition, lots of sailing regattas, powerboat poker runs, and a Mercury Marine walleye tournament are held each summer.

In winter, world-class ice boating and windsurfing are a unique regional favorite (contact Dave Lallier at Fond du Lac’s Lakeside Park; 920-921-8345). Lallier reports that the world record for ice-yachting (143 mph) was set in the late-1930s and still stands today!

Located on the north shore of Lake Winnebago, High Cliff State Park is an especially interesting boating destination (including an excellent marina with ramps and 95 boat slips). Part of the Niagara Escarpment that starts at Niagara Falls, dolomite limestone cliffs make for a beautiful boating backdrop. Fishing, a sand beach, and cliffs exploration are among many highlights. Seasonal overnight stays at the marina (920-989-1349) are welcome.


A new “Boating Lake Winnebago” section is being added to the excellent “Lake Winnebago Road Trip” website (www.lakewinnebagoroadtrip.com) and it may eventually become a stand-alone website. Additionally, these four community websites provide a wide array of boating information and more: www.oshkoshcvb.org (Oshkosh); www.fdl.com (Fond du Lac; www.calumetcountytourism.com Calumet County); and www.foxcities.org (Fox Cities).