Kayaking the Sheboygan River

April 19, 2021

When most people think of outdoor recreational activities in Elkhart Lake, the crystal clear, spring feed waters of Elkhart Lake are at top of the list. And for good reason. 

However, what many tourists (and many locals alike) don’t know is that near Elkhart Lake the Sheboygan River meanders its way through a rural landscape and provides a relaxing retreat for kayakers and canoeists. 

Beginning in eastern Fond du Lac county, the Sheboygan River flows for approximately 80 miles into Lake Michigan in Sheboygan. The best, more scenic portions of the river are located a few miles east of Elkhart Lake as indicated in the below map.

The float described in this post began with a short drive from Elkhart Lake and putting in the river at County Highway EH (there is a bridge over the river and ample parking space just before or after the bridge – simply park your car on the side of the road and walk down to the river). Another car was parked down river in the small community of Johnsonville which has ample parking off of County Highway JM.

Water flow is obviously dependent on weather conditions, but in most months (April – November) the river has a nice, steady flow and rarely exceeds four feet in depth. 

Floating a river provides a unique perspective on the landscape and the width of the river (generally less than 50 feet in most locations) provides an intimate way to experience nature and see (and hear) the many bird species which frequent the river and its banks. Indeed, on this specific float a bald eagle was spotted in a tree along the river.

As you continue your float in a general southeasterly direction, you pass through the unincorporated community of Franklin and its feed mill (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) and come to appreciate how a water source was an important historical asset for many communities. 

As you exit tiny Franklin, the river continues its twists and turns through rural landscape and you eventually arrive in Johnsonville, another unincorporated community that just happens to be world famous as the location of the Johnsonville Sausage Company and its succulent bratwursts. At Johnsonville, the river passes over a small dam that is appropriately marked and there is an exit opportunity near a concrete barrier on the right bank of the river. 

On this day, the float ended at Johnsonville – approximately a 3-4 hour paddling journey from the beginning off of County Highway EH depending on water conditions and paddling vigor. However, if you want to continue your journey down the Sheboygan River you can continue for several more hours of enjoyment and the next logical stopping point is just after the river crosses Highway 23 as there is a small park with ample parking just off of Meadowlark Road.

The Sheboygan River is truly a “hidden gem” and provides yet another enjoyable way to experience the outdoors in and around Elkhart Lake.