Point Beach State Forest features miles of sandy beach and the beautiful Molash Creek.
The door to Door County — Two Rivers is a treat.
Story and photos by Mike McFadzen
I'm zipping up Highway 42 traveling to Door County, arguably one of Wisconsin's most popular vacation destinations. Views of Lake Michigan fill my windshield as we pass through small communities and farmland sprinkled with picturesque barns and cows grazing in green meadows.
My wife Karen and I decide to take a break in the village of Two Rivers. It's soon apparent this quaint little town is blessed with big–time natural resources. We are pleasantly surprised to find miles of beautiful sand beach and two rivers (get it?) that bisect the town. There are state and city parks that rival the big boys up north and two delightful biking trails with panoramic lake exposure. Throw in Point Beach State Forest, which is annually recognized as one of the top beach experiences in the Midwest, and you might be asking yourself, why travel further?
Point Beach State Forest
Located 3 miles north of Two Rivers, Point Beach State Forest contains 6 miles of striking Lake Michigan shoreline, conifer and hardwood forests and a myriad of trail offerings. The 3,000–acre forest features a variety of natural features that are traversed by 17 miles of hiking and biking trails. Most visitors come for the day, but many take advantage of the 127 campsites the forest offers. From secluded camping to large outdoor group camps, the forest provides a wide range of camping opportunities as well as two reservable rustic cabins located on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Make reservations early, as summer and fall weekends fill up fast. Two kayak accessible walk–in sites are being added this summer as part of the Lake Michigan Water Trail. A handicap beach access ramp is located near the lodge.
Hundreds of visitors and a few canine friends were enjoying the cool air mass on the hot, steamy day we visited. As we walked over to the pet beach area, I waded into the lake and understood instantly why only little kids were in these bone–chilling waters. Yikes! Lake temperatures can be in the 50s until late summer or when warm water blows in on easterly winds.
Parks and trails abound
Want to hike, bike or ski nearby? Two Rivers has you covered. One favorite is a 5–mile segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Pick it up from Sandy Bay Road at Molash Creek and hike to the very picturesque Lake Michigan dunescape. The circuitous trail includes vistas of the stunning Molash Creek and a variety of unique ecosystems. Want more? Soak in beautiful fall foliage on the Ridges Hiking and Ski Trails where a loop system ranges from 3 to 7 miles. There are also excellent running trails, crossing the many swales, dunes and marsh areas. The Ridges Trails are groomed for classic skiing, while the 3.5–mile Red Pine Trail is groomed for skate skiing during the winter months.
Don't want to drive for your beach experience? Two Rivers offers miles of public beach within walking distance. Neshotah Park is the unofficial headquarters of the city beach scene with hundreds taking refuge when the temperature spikes. Kayaking the rivers and lakefront is a local pastime as the mercury climbs. The lake provides several surf–breaks due to the park's orientation to the lake. It's one of the few places on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan where westerly winds can whip up rollers big enough to surf. Good waves can be had throughout the year, but the best swells start building in September. The beach scene includes paddle and kite boarding.
Tale of two trails
The Rawley Point Trail winds east through town ending at Point Beach State Forest. This limestone trail travels 5.5 miles into the heart of the forest through swales, marshes, conifer stands and big canopied hardwoods. On the hot, sunny day that we visited, hundreds of inland refugees made the lakeside trip to chill–out on the beach or tackle the hiking and biking trails. The trail gets busier every year as more people find out about it, according to Point Beach State Forest Property Manager Guy Willman.
"Lake Michigan and the Rawley Point Trail are the most popular features in the forest," he says. "We have visitors from across the Midwest visit our forest to bike the trail. You have to remember, this isn't a rail trail. It winds across a large portion of the forest utilizing natural features and some boardwalks."
Not many trails have a sister, but Rawley Point does. A well–marked connector guides cyclists to the 6.5–mile asphalt Mariner Trail that runs the lakeshore from Two Rivers to Manitowoc. The trail hugs Lake Michigan, with miles of panoramic vistas, glimpsing beaches, creeks, local art work, beautifully landscaped flower gardens and natural flora. Award yourself with a visit to West of the Lake Gardens for a unique botanical experience.
Both trails are distinctly different, with the Mariner Trail offering up a unique, urban Lake Michigan experience, while the Rawley Point Trail has an enveloping forest feel, almost wilderness–like. Combine both trails for a 13.5–mile one–way experience. The trails have become a major tourist destination for Two Rivers and Manitowoc, according to Manitowoc County Chamber Executive Director Karen Szyman.
"Many people travel here specifically for the bike trails," she says, "It's been an excellent boost for tourism. Many cyclists stay for the night and enjoy our many restaurants. And most of the shoreline is dog–friendly."
Our Two Rivers visit ended at Kurtz's Pub & Deli surrounded by colorful locals and owner Jimmy Christensen. This third generation owner offered up food and beer recommendations, while locals Kevin Patrick O'Hair and Tom Jones (not the famous singer), described why they settled in this lakeside community, and generally had fun at each other's expense. Kurtz's is a top–ranked Trip Advisor.com establishment and earned its mettle with great food and wonderful German beers.
Two Rivers has had its share of economic woes. Manufacturing giants such as Hamilton's, Mirro and Paragon provided good jobs for decades, but no longer. Still, this little town isn't giving up. Incredible natural resources, good restaurants and wonderful parks are making Two Rivers a happening place.
I'm considering a return visit this autumn for Kurtz's Oktoberfest Celebration. It's hard to pass up this cool little lakeside town with fun festivals and perhaps an Oktoberfest beer on draft. Count me in!
Two Rivers is located 50 miles south of Sturgeon Bay on Highway 42. Check this little gem out on your next trip to Door County.
Mike McFadzen writes from Greenbush, Wis.