May 20, 2011

Easy Outdoors

You don’t have to be athletic or adventurous to enjoy the great outdoors

Family Biking TogetherWhen you open up a copy of any magazine focusing on hiking, bicycling or paddling, you’ll see pictures of high cliffs, snowy mountain tops and raging whitewater. You’ll see hikers marching up nearly vertical rocky paths, Tour-de-France-ready bicyclists racing down the road and kayakers fighting their way through whitewater. For the average person looking to enjoy the outdoors, these images can be a little intimidating.

Having fun in the outdoors is for everyone. Here are some ideas to help you enjoy summer in Wisconsin, regardless of your fitness level or experience.

Level Ground Bicycling

For many would-be bicyclists, hills are the deal breaker. Even with an assortment of different gears, getting up a hill can be daunting to many riders. Luckily, Wisconsin is home to a number of fantastically flat and super scenic state bicycle trails.

The reason for the abundance of level trails is the “rails-to-trails” program, which converted former railroad beds into bicycling and hiking trails. Because railway lines are built over the flattest terrain possible, the resulting trails are generally quite flat. That means virtually no hills and very easy riding.

The perfect example of a rails-to-trails project is the Eisenbahn State Trail in West Bend. This 25-mile trail takes its name from the German word for railroad. It follows a level course through the hilly countryside known as the Kettle Moraine, a landscape of hills, ridges and small lakes formed by the last glacier that passed through the area about 10,000 years ago. The paved segment that runs through West Bend is a great place to hop off the bicycle and grab lunch or enjoy the Riverwalk and the West Bend Sculpture Walk. For beginner bicyclists, the Eisenbahn State Trail is a very good choice.

Perhaps the most breathtaking rails-to-trails project is the Great River State Trail in Onalaska. Running for 24 miles along the Mississippi River and through beautiful wetlands, this trail is one of the best riding experiences in the Midwest. A 287-foot span of trail running along a former railroad trestle is one of the highlights of this exciting trip. The Great River State Trail links to the La Crosse River State Trail, which follows the meandering course of the La Crosse River from Onalaska eastward into the hills of the Driftless Area of Wisconsin.

Stillwater Paddling

Paddling at Boulder JunctionWhen most people think of canoeing and kayaking, they think of whitewater or long expeditions through the backcountry. But one of the best aspects of paddling is the serenity that can be found on slow-moving rivers, quiet ponds and peaceful wetlands.

One of the biggest stillwater paddling experiences in Wisconsin is the Horicon Marsh. The largest freshwater cattail marsh in the U.S., the Horicon Marsh offers the paddler thousands of acres of winding channels, secluded sloughs and open water. Gliding along glassy water with walls of cattail stalks on either side is a memorable experience. Paddlers can rent canoes at the southernmost tip of the marsh at the Hwy 33 bridge in Horicon.

Another good place to drop a canoe or kayak in the water is Boulder Junction. Surrounded by dozens of quiet lakes, a paddler has many choices. One of the best is Allequash Lake, a 426-acre piece of peaceful water surrounded by forests. Try paddling this lake in the evening and enjoy a sunset over the pines.

Hiking is Just Walking With Better Scenery

Hiking Trail in MiddletonHiking is probably the most overused word in the world. What most people call hiking is actually just walking along a trail in a forest, field or wetland area. The number of hiking trails in Wisconsin that are actually rugged and challenging is rather small compared to the trails that are easy and inviting.

There are probably a thousand different hiking trails in Wisconsin, ranging from less than a mile to more than 100 miles. Where to start? A great place is Middleton, where the award-winning community trail system makes it easy to walk all over town. The nature trails at Pheasant Branch Conservancy are a highlight of this city-wide trail system that includes paths and sidewalks.

The Northwoods of Wisconsin is a great place to take a walk. You’ll find more than 50 different hiking trails in Oneida and Vilas counties. Most are fairly level trails, but some have some rolling terrain.

This summer, take it easy and enjoy the natural beauty of Wisconsin. With so many opportunities for recreation, you’ve got no excuse not to have fun in the outdoors.

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