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Counties with the most boat launches

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Counties with the most boat launches

Boat launch on lake water from trailer.

There are 11.8 million recreational boats in use across the country as of 2022, according to the Coast Guard, meaning about 1 in 11 U.S. households own a vessel. Who knew having a boat was so popular in the United States? Well, despite stereotypes about boating, in reality, it’s not just a leisure reserved for the 1%—the annual household income for 3 in 5 boat owners in the U.S. is $100,000 or less, the National Marine Manufacturers Association reports.

In 24 U.S. states, as well as in Washington D.C., boating and fishing are the largest outdoor recreation activities, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the country overall, it’s the second-largest, at $32.4 billion, with Florida, California, and Texas contributing to that overall amount the most.

In recent years, however, droughts have unfortunately affected boating in many areas of the country, meaning getting vessels into the water is no longer a given. Extended periods of drought impact many Americans’ access to boat ramps, lakes, and reservoirs.

In October 2021, 90% of the western U.S. experienced extreme droughts. Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir by volume, had dried up to just 35% capacity. On other reservoirs and lakes across states like Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Minnesota, and Illinois, boat owners could not access sufficient water to launch, with many boating and water sporting businesses suffering as a result.

The drought situation has since improved slightly. Total drought in the U.S. has dropped to 16.6% as of February 2024, and Lake Mead’s water levels are at their highest in three years, thanks in part to particularly heavy snow this winter. As warmer months approach, the effects those rising water levels will have on the boat industry will become clearer.

To see where boat launches are most prevalent in America today, CitizenShipper used 2022 Geological Survey data to rank the 25 counties in the U.S. with the most boat launches. (Note: The data has location information for nearly 25,000 boat launches across the country, but these numbers should be interpreted as estimates, as it does not feature every boat launch nationwide.)


More freshwater sources often mean more boat launches

Map showing Great Lakes region offers thousands of boat launches. Minnesota, the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, has over 2,300 launches.

Boat launches tend to be clustered around lakes and reservoirs, so it’s no surprise that the Great Lakes region has the highest concentration of launching sites—however, not necessarily for the reason you might assume.

Although the Great Lakes region does dominate other areas of the U.S., it’s not necessarily due to boats being launched on the lakes themselves but rather on many smaller reservoirs that dot the geography of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

The most boat launch-sparse section of the country encompasses Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, which is to be expected, considering those states have some of the driest climates in America. However, due to drought conditions in the western U.S., some states are considering constructing more reservoirs to hoard water, which could result in more boat launch sites in the future.

In coastal areas, there are options to launch boats into shallow depths of the ocean itself, often using the shelter of coves or bays, like the boat launch-dense Barnstable County along Cape Cod, Massachusetts’ famed Atlantic getaway. Even near the saltwater ocean, there are often reserves of freshwater rivers, lakes, and waterways—like the Dora Canal and St. Johns River in Lake County, Florida—that rank among the U.S. counties with the most boat launches.

Read on to find out where else to head if you want to set sail—whether by lake, river, reservoir, or sea.

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#25. Lake County, Florida

Beautiful sunset over the 561 bridge near Lake Minnehaha.

– Total boat launches: 58
– Waterway with most launches: Lake Griffin (8)

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#24. Douglas County, Oregon

Road to crater lake with scenic view of Mt Thielsen.

– Total boat launches: 60
– Waterway with most launches: Umpqua River (14)

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#23. Douglas County, Minnesota

Sunset on a dock with pontoon boat on Lake Reno.

– Total boat launches: 61
– Waterway with most launches: Lake Carlos (3)

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#22. Grant County, Washington

A sunset over Moses Lake.

– Total boat launches: 65
– Waterway with most launches: Lower Crab Creek – Potholes Reservoir (10)

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#21. Sawyer County, Wisconsin

Pier jutting out into reflections of an island in the Chippewa Flowage.

– Total boat launches: 68
– Waterway with most launches: Nelson Lake (4)

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#20. Hubbard County, Minnesota

Sunset with Fishing Boat and Dock.

– Total boat launches: 69
– Waterway with most launches: Long Lake (3)

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#19. Polk County, Wisconsin

Morning sunrise of a kayak on a calm McKenzie Lake.

– Total boat launches: 71
– Waterway with most launches: Balsam Lake (4)

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#18. Sabine County, Texas

A view of the Sabine Lake Bridge.

– Total boat launches: 73
– Waterway with most launches: Sabine River – Toledo Bend Reservoir (31)

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#16. Barnstable County, Massachusetts (tie)

View over the harbour of Provincetown.

– Total boat launches: 74
– Waterway with most launches: Bass River (6)

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#16. Barron County, Wisconsin (tie)

Scott Lake Public Boat launch and dock.

– Total boat launches: 74
– Waterway with most launches: Red Cedar River (7)

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#15. Marinette County, Wisconsin

Reflection of autumn forest in a lake.

– Total boat launches: 75
– Waterway with most launches: Menominee River (16)

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#14. Aitkin County, Minnesota

Close up of a truck pulling in a boat.

– Total boat launches: 77
– Waterway with most launches: Mille Lacs Lake (12)

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#12. Burnett County, Wisconsin (tie)

Winter view of Wolf Lake in near Grantsburg.

– Total boat launches: 83
– Waterway with most launches: Saint Croix River (8)

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#12. Oconto County, Wisconsin (tie)

Docks along the Oconto River.

– Total boat launches: 83
– Waterway with most launches: Oconto River (8)

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#11. Lane County, Oregon

Sailboats on a late afternoon on Fern Ridge reservoir.

– Total boat launches: 84
– Waterway with most launches: McKenzie River (21)

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#10. Becker County, Minnesota

Sunrise on wooden fishing dock.

– Total boat launches: 87
– Waterway with most launches: Detroit Lake (4)

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#9. Washburn County, Wisconsin

Docks on a lake in Washburn County.

– Total boat launches: 99
– Waterway with most launches: Long Lake (4)

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#8. Crow Wing County, Minnesota

Canoe with paddle on shore of a lake.

– Total boat launches: 105
– Waterway with most launches: Mississippi River (6)

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#7. Otter Tail County, Minnesota

The Orwell Dam and part of the Ottertail River.

– Total boat launches: 114
– Waterway with most launches: Dead Lake (4)

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#6. Polk County, Florida

Kayaks at the boat launch on Mac Lake.

– Total boat launches: 127
– Waterway with most launches: Saddle Creek Park (5)

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#5. Cass County, Minnesota

Autumn Minnesota aerial foliage and swampy lake.

– Total boat launches: 134
– Waterway with most launches: Leech Lake (16)

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#4. Oneida County, Wisconsin

Fall Scene on the Wisconsin River.

– Total boat launches: 137
– Waterway with most launches: Rhinelander Flowage (5)

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#3. Vilas County, Wisconsin

Forest trees frame a scenic view of Mabel Lake.

– Total boat launches: 148
– Waterway with most launches: Big Lake (3)

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#2. St. Louis County, Minnesota

Sunset around the Duluth Lighthouse.

– Total boat launches: 184
– Waterway with most launches: St. Louis River (9)

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#1. Itasca County, Minnesota

Mississippi River flowing under railroad bridge on sunny morning.

– Total boat launches: 192
– Waterway with most launches: Mississippi River (12)

Story editing by Jaimie Etkin. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.

This story originally appeared on CitizenShipper and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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