Harrington Beach State Park — the Quarry Lake, the Great Lake, and Wisconsin’s Mining Past.

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A chilly late spring afternoon is the setting for the first hiking plus camping trip of the year. With high temperatures in the lower 60’s and the promise to be colder and windier on the lake, we planned to make the most of the weekend.

Between Milwaukee and Sheboygan on the shores of Lake Michigan is a Wisconsin State park rich in beauty and history. Harrington Beach State Park offers camping sites, hiking trails, fishing, swimming, horseback riding trails, and more.

Helpful Park Links:
Main Park Website
Park Map
Trail Descriptions

The area on which the modern-day park was built is rich with local history. Visitors wanting to learn more about the picturesque area only need to stop by the numerous signs and displays throughout the park. Keeping in mind that I’m no history buff, please enjoy this insultingly brief synopsis of the local history.

What is now the park’s quarry lake was once a dolomitic limestone quarry (limestone containing magnesium) from the 1890’s to the 1920’s. At it’s deepest point, the quarry is about 45 feet deep. Limestone was carted out by mules, processed locally, and hauled away on Lake Michigan. To accommodate the influx of migrant workers, a mining company town named Stonehaven flourished around the area until the quarry’s closure. In 1966, the area was designated as a state park. The park was named after Cornelius Harrington, a superintendent of Wisconsin state parks who worked on early public policy for forest recreation, protection, and management from 1923 until 1958.

Alright, enough of that, let’s hike.

The first thing I noticed while planning this trip was how oddly labeled the online park map was. Trails were named by circled letters, but the letters didn’t correspond to any trail names in the legend. Perhaps this online map was taken from a different map that did contain this information, but for us virtual map users, the trail names remained a mystery. Once I attempted to put the map into action, I noticed how the map didn’t completely line up with the actual trails. I found myself on connecting segments that didn’t exist on the map. Despite the outdated map, the park is easy enough to navigate.

We left from the campsite for the first trail of the afternoon.

Bobolink Loop Trail

Length: 1/2 mile loop
Difficulty: Easy – flat and gentle
Description: A birdwatcher’s delight, this wide grassy trail loops through an area of open prairie.

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Beginning from the park road, this pleasant loop trail takes hikers on a short, easy walk through a grassland environment rich with a variety of plants and birds. The trail begins through a patch of Red Osier Dogwood, a plant abundant throughout the park.

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As the trail continues, the short grass gives way to taller grass. The rustling of the tall grass on either side of the trail paired with the loud songs of the numerous nearby birds allows hikers to lose themselves and enjoy a calming experience with nature.

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After leaving the longer grass, the trail continues on to meet back up with the starting point. On the way it passes near a pond, offering the chance to see additional water loving birds.

What this trail lacked in difficulty and stunning views it made up for with serenity. I really enjoyed the trail for this and found it was a really nice way to start the afternoon of hiking ahead.

Whitetail Trail

Length: 1/2 mile linear
Difficulty: Easy – flat and gentle
Description: A wide, dirt, tree covered trail that acts as a connecting trail from the Puckett’s Pond Picnic Area and parking lot to the scenic Quarry Lake.

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After finishing the Bobolink loop, we met up with the Whitetail Trail to make our way to Quarry Lake, a must see at the park. This trail was a nice change from the previous prairie one as it brought us into the trees.

Quarry Lake Trail

Length: 3/4 mile loop
Difficulty: Easy – flat and gentle
Description: This trail circles the scenic Quarry Lake and offers opportunities to get closer to the water along the quarry ledges or on fishing piers.

0HB5(If you look closely, you can make out a tiny waterfall across the water.)

Circling the lake that was once a quarry on a flat crushed rock path, hikers can leave the trail in sections to walk along the limestone ledges along the water. There is no swimming allowed, save that for the larger lake to the east. Fishing is allowed and it seems to be a popular activity.

0HB7(This guy was checking us out as we got closer to the water.)

0HB9(A nice spot for a picnic on the water’s edge)

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I was struck by how smooth the water looked. It is easy to see why this trail and a visit to the lake is considered a must do while visiting the park, even with one of the Great Lakes so close by.

0HB6(As always, a trailside fern pic)

After completing most of the loop, we left the quarry trail on the northeast side to head towards the Lake Michigan. For those wanting to learn more about the mining history of the area, this section of the park is the place to do it. Numerous signs explain what the land was used for and the remnants still seen today, such as the limestone pot kiln below.

Lakeview Trail

Length: 3/4 mile linear
Difficulty: Easy – flat and gentle
Description: This narrow linear trail runs from the northernmost park boundary along the lake to the south picnic area offering lake views along the way.

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Oh the freezing waters of Lake Michigan. This was not a warm day for hiking to begin with and as we neared the lake, the air temperature drop was drastic. What had been on the lower end of the pleasant temperature for hiking range now became downright chilly. Despite this, walking near the lake listening to the sounds of waves is always an excellent hiking experience.

This trail didn’t follow the lake the entire time, but instead offered glimpses of the lake and shorter trails to lead to the water every so often. We noticed a group of people playing in the water off one of the beaches despite the 50 degree air temperature. True troopers making the most of the precious Wisconsin summer.

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Overall I really enjoyed this park and the hiking it had to offer. While the trails weren’t overly long or strenuous, they did offer some wonderful water views and taught hikers willing to stop and read about the history that helped shape the landscape before them. Being a short drive north from Milwaukee, this park looked like it was built to get busy in the summer. With lots of grills, picnic tables, shelters, and beach space, I can see this park being a great way to spend a warm weekend afternoon away from the city.

Happy hiking!

Shout out to the sources that assisted me with the history section of the post: Wisconsin Historical Society and Wisconsin Historical Markers

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