For years we have talked about driving the circumference of Lake Michigan. But the talks never turned into an actual trip. Until now.
I grew up not far from the lake, but aside from a couple of beaches only miles apart, I never saw much of the lake. When we made the decision to visit family and friends in my hometown in northern Indiana, we decided THIS was the time to do the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. 2016 was the year for circling! Or something like that.
We left Jeff’s family in Cedar Lake, IN and started the journey clockwise around Lake Michigan. We zoomed past Chicago. We have been there many times before and opted to skip it this time around. We didn’t travel along the actual circle tour route until we were in Wisconsin and away from Chicago traffic.
Our first stop was in Racine, WI. We stayed at Cliffside Park campground which is attached to the county park. We had a spacious spot with lots of land on both sides, big clean bathrooms and showers, lots of kids to play with and hiking with views of the lake. When we arrived, Jeff had issues getting into the spot. Maybe it was the long day, maybe he was tired, maybe it was bad luck or a combo of it all. The front of the trailer hit the toolbox in the bed of the truck and ripped the panel off. Needless to say, this put a damper on spirits that afternoon. After a lot of gorilla tape, a talk with the insurance company and a good night’s rest and we were back to our normal.
We spent a day at the Racine North Beach. There were a lot of people but not too bad for it being the summer still. We were able to grab a plot of sand without being encroached upon. The water was cold! Not cold enough to keep me out completely. But cold enough where after 5 minutes my cold feet went numb. Brrrr! The kids didn’t seem bothered by it. Adjacent to the beach was a huge, wooden playground with a pirate theme that we spent quite some time at before we went swimming. Also nearby was the Wind Point Lighthouse. It was built in 1880. The beautiful gardens surrounding the lighthouse, combined with the spectacular lake views made for a calming late afternoon. We weren’t able to go inside the lighthouse but there are random opportunities to do so throughout the year.
One day we took a short day drive to Milwaukee. We didn’t have much planned and ended up at the Swing Park which is built under an overpass, utilizing otherwise wasted space. It’s next to the Milwaukee River and there was a gorgeous foot bridge that spanned the river, connecting the park to the riverwalk on the other side. We stumbled upon the Brady street area where we wandered and had lunch. Later we stopped at the Veterans Park. Here we enjoyed views of city skyline, the lake and flew our kite!
We continued north, eventually getting off the interstate and onto the smaller roads that follow the circle tour. I don’t remember exactly where we made this transition but I believe it was near Manitowoc, but it could have happened sooner. The Circle Tour is actually a marked drive with signage. Our GPS naturally wanted to route us along the main highway instead. Once we figured out the tour had signs, I checked for an low lying underpasses and we were able to drive the shore. We saw tiny towns, quaint homes, farms, rolling hills. Sometimes we played peekaboo with Lake Michigan. Other times we stared at it for long stretches. At a roadside rest area we were treated with wild raspberry bushes, ripe with juicy berries.
Once we got to Sturgeon Bay, the GPS routed us through the town instead of on the highway. Talk about almost having a heart attack! There were cars on both sides of the road, tons of people (I think there was a festival or something that day) and then we missed our turn and blindly turned down a road before the GPS even had a chance to tell us if we could go that way. Towing a 33ft trailer with a long bed, extended cab truck isn’t very forgiving when it comes to crowded space or tight curves and turning around is out of the question. Luckily, the road we chose guided us she we needed to be and we headed to our destination for the next few days: Fish Creek.
Fish Creek is in Door County which is a peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan. I read somewhere that it is the “Cape Cod of the Midwest”. Whatever that means. I’ve never been to Cape Cod. Rolling hills and farms fill the interior, while tiny coastal towns dot the coast. Sail boats, picturesque villages & homes, perfectly manicured landscapes and flowers, shops and restaurants line the streets. We drove most of the coastline. We didn’t take many pictures of the towns unfortunately but we enjoyed seeing them. Some were heavily busy with tourists, others were calmer. We spent a late afternoon at Peninsula State Park on Sturgeon Bay. The park had a beautiful drive through it. The water had a lot of seaweed and was murky. But the kids didn’t seem to notice. Down the road from the campground was a drive-in movie theater. The kids were treated to their first one ever and they thought it was the neatest thing ever! I have fond memories of the drive-in that we would frequent when I was a kid. We want to visit as many of these theaters as we can while on this venture of ours. I’m happy that there are people willing to save and revamp these historical places.
We picked cherries. We saw goats on the grass roof top of a restaurant. We stacked rocks, hiked, took scenic drives and swam in the lake. The days were warm, the waters were not too frigid and the evenings were cool enough for a campfire to end our evenings. This was a great intro to a Wisconsin summer and beginning of our Lake MI circle drive. We ended our time here with a visit to Cave Point County Park and Whitefish Dunes State Park; both adjacent to each other.
Next up: Michigan!