Abundant in beauty, history, and culture, the Green Lake area is best explored by bicycle. Green Lake has 18 miles of paved and compacted-gravel bicycle paths and endless miles of rolling, low-volume, scenic town roads. The published bicycle paths and routes assure that you can sample Green Lake in two hours, but to see the best will take a week. Many visitors ask their hosts, where should we ride tomorrow? The answer is, how many tomorrows do you have?
Loop the Lake is the most popular route. It’s 23 miles long and generally follows the lakeshore. There are beautiful views of the lake through landscaped and wooded lots. You can get down to the shoreline at the many public landings, parks, and conservancy properties. You’ll be tempted to get off your bike and dabble your toes in the refreshingly cool waters, but for the most part, simply sit and watch sailboats racing and children whooping it up on colorful tubes towed by all manner of boats and pontoons filled with friends basking in the sun. At Tichora natural area, you can walk the trails to sandstone cliffs sliding into Green Lake and then visit a small spring-fed lake a few hundred yards away. In the fall, all the maple trees arching over Sandstone Avenue create a tunnel of gold, red, and orange, becoming the most photographed and painted stretch of Green Lake.
But to sample the best of the Green Lake area, get the family out on Lauree’s Trail. This is part of the longest and most beautiful nonmotorized recreation trail in the region. This trail is really an interconnected system of paved and compacted-gravel trails connecting the communities of Green Lake, Ripon, Rush Lake, and Berlin. The historic main street restaurants and shops of each community are easily accessed from the trailheads. The trail is paved and extends from the Green Lake Conference Center through Green Lake to the Northwestern Trail in Ripon, a total of 7.6 miles. The section of Lauree’s Trail east of Green Lake is only two-thirds finished. Park at Fortify Bank at the northeast corner of State Highway 23/49 and County Highway A. After riding about a mile east on the newly finished section of Lauree’s Trail, there’s a delightful 2.5-mile detour around the unfinished middle section of the trail. Head north on Forest Ridge Road to Brooklyn J Road and then east to the finished terminus of the trail.
The Northwestern Trail is then accessed 300 yards north of this point on County Highway PP. The Northwestern Trail is a shaded compacted-gravel trail that invites riders and walkers alike to get out and be active. It ends at the Ripon Public Library, just a couple of blocks north of Ripon’s historic downtown. Whether you are into boutique shops, hunger for the world’s best roast beef served up with the best local beer, want some Texas barbecue, or just want a great ice cream cone, bike-friendly Watson Street is well worth the detour.
The City of Ripon has marked low-volume city streets with signs to get riders out to the Mascoutin Valley State Trail. This 11-mile compacted-gravel trail is truly a multiuse trail. Bikers, joggers, horseback riders, and dog walkers have used this trail for years. In the winter, it’s a vital part of a three-county snowmobile system. Be on the lookout for the family winery around mile 3; it’s hard to pass up enjoying the fruits of their labor. The rest of the trail is a mecca for birders. It passes along and through several state-protected wildlife areas and wetlands. Rush Lake is the largest prairie pothole east of the Mississippi and a vital waterfowl habitat. The trail also crosses Koro Prairie and the Berlin Fen State Natural Area. Benches are conveniently placed for viewing nesting sandhill cranes and territorial geese patrolling their areas.
The trail terminates on the south side of Berlin. Follow city streets along the banks of the Fox River to get to the old Berlin Lock and Dam, or visit downtown and then head north on River Street to the beautiful Riverside Park. There’s a plaque in the park telling the history of Berlin. Not told is why the railroad stopped here and never crossed the river. You’ll have to visit the historical society to learn that answer.
Berlin and the Fox River were historically important to the Ho-Chunk (also called the Winnebago) and other nations as they travelled their territory between Green Bay and Portage. Father Marquette described a large village of several thousand Mascouten somewhere just west of the terminus of the trail and what is now Strong’s Landing. No artifacts have ever been found, however, to confirm the location.
The Green Lake Conservancy has preserved lands around Green Lake important to the native peoples. Most of these places are along the Loop the Lake route. The Winnebago Trail and Assembly Springs (Hammer’s Trail) on Norwegian Bay in the Green Lake Conference Center were used by the Ho-Chunk. Tichora, across the lake, was a gathering place for the Ho-Chunk. Burial and effigy mounds are found around the lake, some next to or covered over by older homes.
John Muir grew up in this part of Wisconsin. He arrived in Kingston at age 11. Most of the notable places mentioned in The Story of My Boyhood and Youth can be seen by bike. Visit John Muir Nature and History Route online or go to muirboyhoodhome.oncell.com/en/map-78321.html .
Barry Rogers is the treasurer of Green Lake Greenways.