Archive for the 'Wisconsin Hikes' Category

Aug 09 2007

Article: Receding Lake Levels Spur Concerns

The Peninsula Pulse, a newspaper serving Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula, has a nice article on receding water levels in Lake Michigan.  Click below to read it:

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Jul 26 2007

Potawatomi State Park – Wisconsin

Published by under Wisconsin Hikes


According to the tourist brochures, Door County in NE Wisconsin has more state parks – five – than any other county in the United States.  They are generally small in size, but quite large in terms of natural beauty.

Potawatomi State Park sits about half-way up the Door Peninsula on Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay.  The “bay” is actually one section of a shipping channel that splits the peninsula in half.  Ships use the channel to save time and distance on routes to Green Bay.  So, the park allows for good freighter viewing.

The park also includes rocky hills and cliffs that are evidence of the peninsula’s limestone base.  Similar cliffs are visible across the bay from one of the park’s many scenic overlooks. 

Eight miles of hiking trails and nine miles of biking trails make parallel figure-eight-style paths across the park’s terrain.  These trails are never terribly far from the park’s circle road, but they allow for a good natural experience.  The Ice Age National Scenic Trail, a “national” trail found completely in the state of Wisconsin, actually begins within this park.

There are no sand beaches along Potawatomi State Park’s rocky shore.  But there is a 75-foot-tall observation tower that allows a visitor to see above the trees.  This is THE highlight of the park for me.

The park is only about three miles away from the 16+ mile Ahnapee State rail-trail, so bikers and long-distance hikers can create a good adventure in this area.  It would be wonderful if an off-road trail could connect these two systems with an off-road path.

Click on the links below for more details:

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Jul 25 2007

Whitefish Dunes State Park – Wisconsin

Published by under Wisconsin Hikes

During my recent visit to Wisconsin, I had the opportunity to walk a bit at Whitefish Dunes State Park and Cave Point County Park in the beautiful Door Peninsula.  For those who don’t know, Door County is the portion of Wisconsin that sticks out like a finger into Lake Michigan.  It is filled with beautiful parks, pleasant shoreline and plenty of unique and progressive resort towns.

Whitefish Dunes and Cave Point are essentially the same park.  Wisconsin is not blessed with the great dunes of Michigan’s western shore.  So, the medium-sized dunes inside of the park are maintained with great care.  Walkers are only allowed to the top of the largest dune.  The rest are off-limits.  Visitors can stay on the actual beach area or hike the beech forest inland of the dunes.  The park has more than eight miles of hiking trail.

What makes this park extremely interesting to me is the limestone point that juts out into Lake Michigan within the small county park.  This is a portion of the Niagara Escarpment.  I have blogged about this geological phenomena previously.  It is the same rock feature that makes Niagara Falls possible.  And, in fact, the peninsula would probably not exist without this limestone backbone.

In this corner of Wisconsin, the limestone of the escarpment creates a beautiful rocky shore.  Generations of visitors have hunted for brachiopods in this area.

The exposed nature of the point means that waves can be particularly fierce in the park.  Swimmers are advised not to swim in certain areas because of rip tides.  These powerful waves have undercut the limestone in several areas, creating neat sea caves.  Kayakers have a particularly good view of these features.

Together, Whitefish Dunes and Cave Point total about 900 acres in size.  Visitation is day-use only.  That said, there are plenty of opportunities for additional hiking, camping and lodging on the peninsula.  Be aware that Door County is one of Wisconsin’s premier tourist areas and reservations during the peak months can sometimes be difficult to secure.

Check out the links below for maps and additional information:

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Jul 22 2007

Mariners and Rawley Point Trails

Published by under Wisconsin Hikes


Most Michiganders are at least a little bit familiar with the S.S. Badger carferry.  It’s the boat that carries cars and people across Lake Michigan from Ludington to Manitowoc and back.  And most people have a gut feeling that it would be cool to take that trip one day.  And I would agree totally.  I have previously blogged about the Badger.  Click on that link below.

Of course, the question then arises: What should I do when I get to Wisconsin?  Well, here’s an idea.  How about riding a bike along the Lake Michigan shore for 10 or 12 miles on a nice path between two neat little cities with lighthouses, hotels, endless beaches and several wonderful parks?

If you like that idea, then you’d probably like the combined Mariners and Rawley Point Trails that connect the cities of Manitowoc and Two Rivers, WI with Point Beach State Forest.

The trail begins not too far from the Badger docks in the center of Manitowoc.  Manitowoc is not the prettiest town around, but it does have some nice shops and restaurants.  The city also boasts a submarine and maritime museum.

North of the town, a biker or walker will see miles of beach and crashing waves along the Mariners Trail.  This is not a wilderness bike trail.  The trail sits quite close to state highway 42 and businesses line the roadside across the street from the beaches.  However, this is pleasant development, not unlike what one might see in Tawas City or other pleasant shorefront towns.

At this point, it is probably important to say that the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan is less dramatic than the Michigan side.  Although many of the beaches are sandy, there are few dramatic dunes to climb.  That should not, however, be a deterrant to a visit.  The Wisconsin shoreline has its own charms.

Two Rivers, Wisconsin is the second town on the Mariners Trail.  It is supposedly the place where the ice cream sundae was invented.  I have my doubts, but I really like Two Rivers.  Locals call it “Trivers” and it has a windswept, sleepy quality.  The area has a pleasant downtown, a nice hotel – the Lighthouse Inn – and a state forest.

I will blog about Point Beach State Forest in the future, but I do have to mention that the Rawley Point Trail follows the park boundary for its entire five mile length.  Trail users have several opportunities to jump off the bike and hike several miles of natural-surfaced park trail along some dune areas.  The end point is a beautiful set of beaches on the north end of the park.

Here are some links with trail information and maps:

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Jul 22 2007

Kewaunee Beach Hike

Published by under Wisconsin Hikes


Every time I visit my wife’s family near Kewaunee, WI, I am drawn to the nearby Lake Michigan shore.  On several occasions I have had the chance to hike the beaches in the area.  And I am always amazed by how much sandy shore is open to walkers.  In the past, I have been able to walk much of the shore between Sandy Bay Road and the Kewaunee Pier.  This is a distance of almost eight miles.

There are some complications to this hike.  First, the shore in this area is not a part of a public park.  Public access stems largely from the Northwest Ordinance, the document that ceded control of much of the Upper Midwest to the territories and, later, states like Michigan and Wisconsin.  A major point of the Ordinance is the idea that Great Lakes bottomland is publicly owned and cannot be ceded by state and local governments.

Of course, this public ownership is not as simple as it first appears.  Water levels ebb and flow.  Wind and weather might submerge a piece of land one week and uncover it the next.  Does wet sand constitute bottomland?  The question of bottomlands has been the subject of much case law, especially in Michigan and Ohio during the past few years.  Some of the Great Lakes states allow access up to the ordinary high water mark, essentially the area of visible wave impact on the beach.  Others require a hiker to keep his or her feet “wet” in the shallow surf or wet sand areas.  Even in areas with a restrictive legal interpretation local officials and residents often maintain an informal good-neighbor policy of open access.  Click on the link below for some information from the Indiana Law Blog:

Another challenging aspect of the Kewaunee beach hike is the presence of nuclear power plants in the area.  The Kewaunee nuclear power station and the Point Beach nuclear power plant are within five miles of each other about nine miles south of Kewaunee.  Given the post-911 situation, beach restrictions have closed access to some of the shoreline near the plants.  These closures can vary depending on the whims of power plant operators and local officials.

A third complication is the presence of several small streams between Sandy Beach Road and the Kewaunee pier.  At times of heavy rain, it may be difficult to cross some of these streams.  I have not, however, found them to be impossible to navigate.

Despite these complications, a Kewaunee area beach hike can be quite interesting.  Below is a hike report that I once posted on the Great Lakes Hikes Yahoo group about this beach hike area:

Kewaunee Beaches

“My girlfriend – now wife – grew up on a farm near Kewaunee, WI.  Every time I go to visit, I am impressed by the almost mythical presence of Lake Michigan as it meets an almost endless expanse of family farms.

When I mention how beautiful this area is, Kathy’s family says, “Oh, yeah, you can walk the beach all the way up to Kewaunee.” Whenever I’ve checked maps or hike books, however, it doesn’t appear that this hike is publicly protected in any way.

Basically, the farmlands in this shore area are on a bluff about 50 or 60 feet off the lake. This bluff is set back from the actual shore by about 20 yards of beach. The beach can’t be farmed, so it’s left in its natural state. There seem to be very few cottages in this area – mostly just farms. And the community ethic of the area seems to have made this into a de facto park for area residents.  Although it doesn’t seem public in any way, there is a well-maintained dirt parking area at the intersection of Sandy Bay and Lakeview Roads south of Kewaunee. There is also a garbage can at the beach that someone seems to empty. The trail entrance from the lot is posted “No Hunting.”

The start of the hike is perhaps the most challenging. The trail shoots down the bluff to the beach. Then a stream crossing is necessitated by a 2 or 3 foot deep stream.  A log has been placed across and we crossed with the help of a large branch. From here, it’s just a long, lonely beach hike.  Occasional rocks crop out from the water. Alewives were present in small batches. Most unusual were the cliff-dwelling birds who created hundreds of nests in the dirt at the top of the sandy bluffs. These birds appeared to be swallows and each had created a small hole for a nest. In some spots, several hundred birds had created nests in close proximity.  It had the look of an avian Mesa Verde. These birds darted back and forth. I wondered if the holes might be connected in some sort of subterranean bird colony.

Kathy and I hiked out about 2.5 miles, for a total hike in the neighborhood of 5 miles. However, if it is true that the beach goes to Kewaunee, then we could have hiked 7 or 8 miles one way. It seems possible that this hike once connected to Point Beach State Forest.  However, two small nuclear plants are now in the way. Their beach areas – once open to the public – are now closed to public access.  Osama stole my hike.

With a few visits, I might be able to ascertain if this type of informal beach park is present in other, nearby coastal areas.”

Here is the Microsoft Virtual Earth map of this 7.77 mile one-way hike route:!279&encType=1

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Jul 13 2007

High Cliff State Park – Wisconsin

Published by under Wisconsin Hikes


For about two years, I commuted once per month to Appleton, Wisconsin.  I also spent several summers there.  This meant that I began to amass local knowledge of hiking areas in and around the Appleton/Green Bay/Door County area.

One of the most astonishing aspects of that area is the impact of the Niagara Escarpment on the terrain.  The Niagara Escarpment is one of the great wonders of our region.  It is a nearly continuous limestone cliff that starts in New York State, passes through much of southwestern Ontario up through the Bruce Peninsula.  It follows the coast of Manitoulin Island in Georgian Bay.  Then, the escarpment passes through southern sections of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, before creating Door County in Wisconsin and Lake Winnebago near Appleton.

Image:Niagara Escarpment in Red.png

The best analogy used to explain the escarpment is a stack of kitchen bowls.  The Great Lakes region has been the home of lakes and seas for many thousands of years.  During each time period, sediment slowly accumulated at the bottom of these lakes and seas.  The material that settled to the bottom was determined by the plants, animals and inanimate substances that populated the lakes and seas during each period.

So, think about each period of history as a separate bowl on the stack.  After thousands of years, you end up with a stack of bowls, each made with a slightly different composition.  Time and pressure formed this sediment into rock.

As the lakes and seas receded to their present levels, the edges of these bowls became exposed to wind, rain and other erosional forces.  The “bowl” edges began to wear down.  Since they were made of differing materials, the bowl edges eroded at different rates.  The softer “bowls” simply washed or blew away.  The harder bowls remained as cliffs.

The Niagara Escarpment, thus, is the hardest “bowl” in the stack.  It is a giant semi-circle made of limestone.  And it provides great hiking terrain in areas like Niagara Falls in New York State, the Bruce Trail in Ontario, some little known cliff areas in the U.P. and places like High Cliff State Park in Wisconsin.

High Cliff forms the eastern edge of Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin.  The lake is formed by the flow of the Fox River.  I used to live by the Fox in Illinois.  This same river flows north parallel to the shore of Lake Michigan.  During the Ice Age, a glacier dammed the flow of this river before it could reach Green Bay.  Water pooled behind the ice sheet in the lake.  The Niagara Escarpment served as a natural barrier on the eastern side of the lake.

Today, Lake Winnebago is a major resource for the communities on its shore.  Places like Appleton, Neenah and Menasha draw their drinking water from the lake.  Many recreationalists fish and boat on the lake.  And hikers like to move up and down the cliffs at High Cliff State Park on the eastern lakeshore.

Hikers at High Cliff will find a number of interesting attractions.  The most noticeable is the observation tower at the top of the escarpment.  From the top, it is possible to see many miles in each direction.  Hikers will also see a modern monument to the area’s Native American population, as well as mounds related to past Native American settlement.

The park was once the site of a lime kiln.  The remains of the lime kiln furnace and the accompanying quarry sites are all within the view of visiting hikers.  The Niagara Escarpment also provides some rock scrambling opportunities.  In some locations, small caves and crevices provide for a unique terrain-navigating experience.

Hikers will find about 7.5 miles of trail within the park.  The .3 Indian Mound Trail is the easiest.  It is handicapped accessible and provides views of the Native American Effigy Mounds.  The 1.3 mile, dirt-surfaced Forest Management Trail loops through a forest on the north end of the park’s property.  It is not particularly scenic, but the trail is useful in adding some natural miles to a park hike.

The most interesting trails in the park are the Lime Kiln Trail, at 2.3 miles and the Red Bird Trail at 3.7 miles.  The Lime Kiln Trail passes by the previously mentioned lime kiln ruins, but it also moves up and down the actual escarpment.  This is the most beautiful park trail and it leads down to the actual shore of Lake Winnebago.  The Red Bird Trail stays on top of the escarpment and provides for dramatic views across Lake Winnebago.

There is an additional trail in the park labeled for bike and horse use.  It has its own trailhead on the eastern side of park property.  The trail is open to hikers, although most don’t give it a thought.  The trail is fairly long at 8.5 miles.  It sticks mostly to interior sections of the park, with open fields and small forested areas as the dominant terrain features.  However, the most southern sections of the trail head towards the escarpment.

This southern section also provides for a “secret” trail.  If a hiker looks closely, there is a trail that follows a set of switchbacks down the escarpment and away to the south.  I have not had the time yet to hike this trail.  However, I have read some bulletin boards that suggest the trail leads all the way to Calumet County Park just to the south of High Cliff.  I have verified that a trail leads north along the shore from Calumet, so I believe this to be true.  I question the legality of this trail.  There is a block of private property that separates the two parks.  But the shoreline territory is separated from this property by several hundred feet of cliff.  Whatever the case, the trail seems to be well-used.

High Cliff, in itself, is not a good enough reason to travel to Wisconsin from Michigan.  However, there are many great little parks and villages along the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin.  Also, the city of Appleton has a vibe not unlike that of Ann Arbor in Michigan.  And, of course, a sports fan might like to take a picture with Vince Lombardi at Lambeau Field.  A combination of these elements can make for quite a nice excursion.

Here is the High Cliff park map:

Here is the main High Cliff park website:

This is the Wikipedia entry about the Niagara Escarpment that includes the above map.  Thanks to the creator for allowing non-profit use of the image.

If you love terrain lines, check out this topo map of High Cliff State Park:

Here are some hike reports about High Cliff that I originally posted on the Great Lakes Hikes yahoo board:

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