We’re pretty surrounded by major waterways here in Wisconsin and long before we had cars or workarounds, we were taking to the water to bridge the gaps. The Dairy State is home to six different ferries crossing Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, the Mississippi River and the Wisconsin River. Some of them are necessary just to get where you want to go, while others are leftover vestiges of a time gone by. These ferries are an awesome part of living in Wisconsin and offer a great way to see our wonderful state from another perspective.
There are six different ferries in Wisconsin - two across Lake Michigan, one from the tip of Door County to Washington Island, one from Bayfield to Madeline Island, one across the Wisconsin River at Merrimac and one across the Mississippi River at Cassville.
1. Lake Express High Speed Ferry from Milwaukee to Muskegon
The swankiest of the ferry options, it takes just 2.5 hours to cross Lake Michigan in this high speed ferry. At the height of summer, there are three round-trip options. They leave from Milwaukee at 6 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets start at $93 for adults one way and $103 for a car one way. There are all kinds of upgrade options and parking available at both terminals.
For more information about the Lake Express Ferry, check out their website
2. Cassville Car Ferry to Iosa
In spring and fall, the ferry only operates on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but through the summer, it's a seven-day-a-week operation. It runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. when open and the last boat leaves for Iowa at 7:20 p.m. and returns at 7:40 p.m. There's a push button at either end to signal the ferry of a pick up. Fares are only accepted in cash. Cars are $15 and walk-on passengers are $2.
The Pride of Cassville Car Ferry connects two National Scenic Byways: the Great River Road and the Iowa Great River Road. The ferry served the early settlement as far back as 1833 and it continues today, making the same trip back and forth across the mighty Mississippi. It is the oldest operating ferry service in the state of Wisconsin.
To learn more about the Cassville Ferry, check out their website
3. Madeline Island Ferry Between LaPointe and Bayfield
Madeline Island Ferry Line provides passenger, bicycle and car transportation between the picturesque towns of LaPointe and Bayfield. The 25-minute trip provides spectacular views of the Lake itself and several of the 22 Apostle Islands.
This ferry boat is unique because the pilot house is located in the middle of the vessel and there is a screw and rudder at either end. It can be operated in either direction so it is never necessary to turn it around when in the tight quarters of the City Dock in Bayfield.
During peak season, the ferry runs every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with additional runs before and after those times. The docks are in Bayfield and LaPointe.
Rates are $14 for adults round trip and $25 per car round trip. Learn more about the Madeline Island Ferry at their website
4. S.S. Badger between Manitowoc Wisconsin and Ludington, Michigan
The S.S. Badger is the last coal-fired passenger steamship in operation in the United States. She has provided a fun, reliable and affordable shortcut across beautiful Lake Michigan for more than 60 years and has transported millions of passengers since her re-birth in 1992.
In 2016 she received the nation’s highest historic honor when the Department of Interior officially designated the Badger as a National Historic Landmark. Fares start at $59 per adult and per car one way, or book in advance and receive two adult fares and a car for $177 one way.
Originally designed primarily to transport railroad cars, the 410-ft ship can carry 600 passengers and 180 vehicles. This crossing takes about four hours and the ship has staterooms available for rent for as low as $49, to catch a nap or help you wrangle your kids. For more information about the SS Badger, check out their website
5. Washington Island Ferry from Northpoint Pier
At the very tip of the Door County peninsula, where Highway 42 ends, is Northport Pier. This is where you can board the Washington Island Ferry, which began running in 1940 and today makes up to 25 round trips a day during high season and two round trips per day in winter.
After vehicles and passengers are safely on board at the Northport ferry dock, the ferry will embark on a 30-minute ride past Plum, Pilot and Detroit Islands.
The passage between the tip of the county and the island was known as Death's Door by the Native Americans who first used it because of the craggy rocks that make it a dangerous crossing.
For more information about the Washington Island Ferry, check out their webiste
6. Merrimac Ferry across the Wisconsin River from Sauk to Columbia county
The Merrimac Ferry, which crosses the Wisconsin River between Sauk and Columbia counties, is Wisconsin's only free ferry. It shuttles WIS 113 traffic between Okee, on the east bank, and Merrimac on the west.
Ferry service has been provided in this area for more than a century. In 1844, four years before Wisconsin became a state, Chester Mattson, the second settler on the site of the village of Merrimac, obtained charters to provide ferry service at this location. The ferry was operated long before the development of a regular roadway.
The trip takes about seven minutes and the line for the ferry can get quite long, despite the fact that a bridge now exists a few miles down the road.
For more information, check out the Merrimac Ferry website