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Wisconsin's Waterways

Wisconsin's Waterways

Wisconsin's location--bordered on three sides by commercially navigable waterways--makes our state perfectly situated to enable Wisconsin companies to benefit from water transportation.  Wisconsin's commercial ports handle more than 40 million tons of international and domestic cargo valued at over $7 billion.  Along with agricultural products, these commodities include coal for our power plants, iron ore and wood pulp for our industries, and the salt that helps keep our roadways safe.

Wisconsin is directly connected to two major waterway systems.  The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System extends 2,340 miles--from Duluth, MN, eastward to the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the Atlantic Ocean.  It connects the five Great Lakes serving 17 states and providing access to 15 major international ports. Wisconsin port cities on this system include: 

  • Duluth-Superior
  • Marinette
  • Green Bay
  • Sturgeon Bay
  • Manitowoc
  • Milwaukee

The Upper Mississippi River System is a 1,300 mile waterway linking five states to the Gulf Coast.  Each year, about 80 million tons of cargo travels the river route between Minneapolis and the mouth of the Missouri River.  A system of 29 locks and dams accommodate the movement of commercial and recreational boat traffic.  Agricultural goods, petroleum products and coal are leading commodities with farm products accounting for half the total tonnage moved along this vital water route.  Wisconsin port cities on this system include:

  • La Crosse
  • Prairie du Chien

Moving bulk commodities by water is both efficient and environmentally friendly.  A 1,000-foot lake carrier can move a ton of freight more than 1,400 miles on one gallon of fuel.  State-of-the-art shipping and port facilities are equipped to efficiently and cost-effectively handle machinery, liquid and dry bulk, steel, containers and heavy-lift cargo. 

Not only are Wisconsin's harbors deeply rooted in our state's proud history, today's modern port facilities serve as multi-modal distribution centers--linking cargo-carrying vessels with an extensive land-based transportation network of highways and railroads.



Passenger Travel Options

In addition to serving Wisconsin businesses, water transportation in Wisconsin fulfills a variety of passenger travel needs including an ever-growing cruise ship industries and six ferries.  Along with enhancing the state's tourism industry, ferries also connect island communities with jobs, schools, hospitals and other destinations.  The links above provide details on Wisconsin's cruise ship and ferry operations.


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