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Day Tripping this Summer

Great places to go within two hours of Milwaukee

May. 23, 2017
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Lake Geneva

Day Tripper, you have no excuse for being bored as weather warms and the yearning to frolic increases. Within two hours of Milwaukee are good reasons to hit the road for a quick rendezvous that won’t flatten the wallet. Here’s how and where.

Calumet County, field to fork: On the rural side of Lake Winnebago, bumping into Wisconsin’s Holyland and its tidy hamlets, are farms that welcome visitors.

That includes Meuer Farm near Chilton, 150 acres of grass-fed cows, free-ranging chickens and organic crops with a pick-your-own option for strawberries and sugar snap peas. Or shop the farm store for flours and raw honey, handmade pasta and goat milk soap, meat and jams—all products of the neighborhood.

In stock at Bleating Heart Haven Farm, near New Holstein, is jewelry and rustic furniture to handspun yarns and woven clothing. You can meet some of the sheep, goats and rabbits responsible for the fiber arts.

Closer to Fond du Lac is LaClare Farms, whose goat milk turns into award-winning cheeses—sold at the farm’s shop, attached to a café. Time your visit to coincide with daily milkings.

Meuer Farms

Kohler free spaces: The state’s kingpin of high-end lodging, restaurants, golf courses and fine chocolates makes room for the rest of us, too.

Pay nothing for an up-close, three-hour Kohler Company factory tour on weekday mornings. Fashionable fixtures fill Kohler Design Center, but don’t ignore the basement’s mini museum about how far we’ve, uh, gone in the world of plumbing.

Look for art made with industrial tools and materials, then drive 10 minutes to John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan; each bathroom is a unique work of art. Admission? Free.

Same goes for colorful, fun and kid-friendly Bookworm Gardens, which the Kohlers helped build, and—en route to Kohler-Andrae State Park—the funky James Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden, one of many unusual artist-built environments that Kohler Foundation has identified and preserved.

Photo credit: Kohler Co.

Titletown transformations: Antsy Green Bay Packers fans/owners can size up the team for free during training camp, which starts July 26. Arrive early for a shot at Nitschke Field bleacher seating.

Then check out the burgeoning, $130 million Titletown District taking shape just one-half mile away. Lambeau Field already is a year-round point of pilgrimage; now the devoted will have room to linger and play everything from horseshoes to shuffleboard, bocce ball to ping-pong.

Contemplate the possibilities with a Packland Pilsner from the recently relocated Hinterland brewery, whose new digs are four times larger than before. My, how we’ve grown—and the three-mile, self-guided Packer Heritage Trail (22 plaques at spots significant to team history) drives that point home.

Think Wright in Racine: Frank Lloyd Wright’s devotees celebrate the 150th birthday of the iconic architect in June, and free-tour hotspots include S.C. Johnson’s block-wide Administration Building and Research Tower, which Wright designed in the 1930s and 1940s.

The site was significant enough to make the cut in a UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination, until the household products manufacturer asked to be removed. That’s because a lot of global attention comes with the elite honor, which would have imposed too many restrictions on the full-throttle corporate campus.

Five miles north is the 36-acre Wingspread retreat, designed by Wright as a peculiar home for the Johnson family. Now it’s a National Historic Landmark and, like the corporate headquarters, open for guided tours by appointment.

Gear up for the Kettles: Hop on a mountain bike and head to the Southern Unit of Kettle Moraine State Forest where the five loops of John Muir Bike Trails vary in length (1.25-12 miles), steepness and roughness of terrain.

A popular place to begin (and to unwind) is the rural La Grange General Store on U.S. 12 near Whitewater. Rent a bike if you don’t want to bring your own, talk over routes and maps, order sandwiches for the ride or sip a smoothie when you’re spent afterward.

To thoroughly reward yourself for the effort, head seven miles north to The Trout House at Rushing Waters Fisheries near Palmyra for fresh-as-it-gets fish and craft brews served in a park-like setting.

Photo credit: SC Johnson

Circle the lake: Ogle at mansion after mansion, church camps, bonfire pits and private beaches along a 21-mile walking trail that circles Geneva Lake. If that seems exhausting, tackle one chunk at a time. Access is free.

Distances and average walk times are: Lake Geneva to Williams Bay—7 miles, 3 hours; Williams Bay to Fontana—3.5 miles, 1.5 hours; Fontana to Linn Pier—5.5 miles, 2 hours; Linn Pier to Big Foot State Park—3.3 miles, 1.2 hours; and Big Foot State Park to Lake Geneva—2.5 miles, 1 hour.

Don’t expect mile markers, public toilets or clues about who lives where. All the little mysteries and surprises, in shoreline décor and demeanor, are what make the adventure more than an average walk in the park.

Madison freelance writer Mary Bergin (roadstraveled.com) is the author of Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook.

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