Last summer I was lucky enough to spend a week hiking, camping, and exploring in the Porcupine Mountains. Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park as it’s officially known is Michigan’s largest state park with a whopping size of 60,000 acres. If you love hiking, this destination is for you. With over 90 miles of trails in the park, there is a trail for everyone to explore.
Having covered a lot of ground (quite literally,) I’m going to spend the next few posts recapping and looking back on the hikes I did and how we camped in this stunning and massive park.
I start the adventure recap with my personal favorite hike in the park, the Escarpment Trail.
I’ll be honest, the Kettle Moraine forest is kind of overwhelming to me. It’s so large and has so many different campgrounds and trail systems, I never feel like I know where I’m going or what I’m doing. When I make the choice to explore it, I just pick a place, do minimal research, and try it out. That’s how I ended up here, at Pike Lake!
The Kettle Moraine State Forest, or “the kettles,” is broken up into two units; the northern unit and the southern unit. The focal point of this trip, Pike Lake, is located in the northern unit, just outside the town of Hartford, WI. Covering more than 30,000 acres, the northern unit is the larger of the two and has some form of recreation for just about anyone. The Pike Lake Unit is only 678 acres of that 30,000 acres. See? Overwhelming!
Once upon a time I worked in the city of Beaver Dam, WI. Living in Madison, I didn’t love my 50 minute commute each way, but I did love my work. Part of my job allowed me to work in several of the local rural schools. While this meant even more driving on top of my commute, it also meant I could explore an area of the state I wouldn’t otherwise find myself in. It was these drives to the schools that brought me by and introduced me to the Horicon Marsh.
At 33,000 acres, the Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States. This area was formed by glaciers and is known for its high volume of drumlins, or elongated small hills. (Fun fact, if you look up drumlins on Wikipedia, the first photo is of the Horicon Marsh.)
Sometimes a camping trip takes you way off grid and out of cell service. Sometimes a camping trip brings you closer to civilization. The latter seems to be especially true around tourist hot spots. Think Peninsula State Park in Door County, Rocky Arbor State Park in the Dells, and, the campground we’re talking about today, Big Foot Beach in Lake Geneva.
While it’s definitely nice to get away, disconnect, and forget the problems of the world for awhile, sometimes it’s nice to have a low cost lodging option near the hustle and bustle of restaurants, shows, beaches, and other summer fun.
If you’re planning a trip to Lake Geneva in the summer and are a fan of camping, I encourage you to check out Big Foot Beach State Park as a low cost lodging option while you explore the area.
Hikes come in all shapes and sizes. From that Colorado 14er to a boardwalk trail through a marsh, hiking can be whatever you make it. Which is why I present a unique form of hiking today: hiking through rich people’s backyards, legally, of course. If this sounds interesting to you, Lake Geneva’s Shore Path is your next hiking destination.
Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva is a popular tourist town that comes alive in the summer. After seeing the lake, the beauty and popularity of the area is apparent. Why this small Wisconsin town is filled with multimillion dollar mansions was less immediately apparent to me. The reason for this is the close proximity to Chicago. Beginning in the 1800’s, wealthy Chicago residents flocked to the lake to build stately homes after the Great Chicago Fire to escape the period of rebuilding. These homes became summer homes and the idea of Lake Geneva as a summer destination was born. So much so that Lake Geneva earned the nickname, “Newport of the West.”
So now we know why Lake Geneva is full of mansions, but why do we get the opportunity to walk on their lawns? Well, to keep history alive and to keep the lake accessible. Dating back to 2500 BCE, Native American groups used the lakeshore path as a way to travel between villages. Later, the lake shore path was used by workmen to travel to their site of work. Today, the lake shore path stays alive thanks to a local ordinance that requires property owners to maintain and keep the portion of the path that runs through their property open.
From jet fighter base to bird sanctuary, Richard Bong State Recreation Area is the park that almost wasn’t. Named for Major Richard Bong, Wisconsin’s own American air hero, it’s fitting that the park almost operated as a jet fighter base between metro Milwaukee and Chicago areas. And when I say almost, I mean 72 hours. Three days before the concrete of the 12,500 foot runway was set to be poured, the project was nixed.
Who was Richard Bong? Major Richard Bong was known as the “Ace of Aces” for his spot as the top flying ace during WWII. He is credited with the downing of a confirmed 40 enemy aircraft during his fighter pilot career. In December 1944, he received the medal of honor from General Douglas MacArthur. What a cool way to honor this local man.
This park is a state recreation area rather than a state park and boy, does it live up to the name. The park’s website lists a whole host of activities, including ATV/UTV, biking, boating/kayaking, camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, off-highway motorcycles, picnicking, swimming, training hunting dogs/sled dogs/falcons, horse riding, and winter activities. The list also contains a “special use zone” which, upon further inspection, is it’s own list of potential air activities, including flying model air planes, rockets, hang gliders, and hot air balloons. The area that was flattened for construction of the runway remains for use of smaller recreational craft. Seriously, what can’t you do at this place!