Destination: Two Rivers Wisconsin
By Michael McFadzen
Editor’s Note: Having been to Two Rivers with my family, I wish I had then the information that follows. Mike McFadzen’s Destination stories will not only show us why we should go, but also what to expect, gems to experience, and how to better enjoy our travels.
I’m driving up Hwy 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, farmland sprinkled with picturesque barns, cows grazing in green meadows. My wife, Karen, and I decide to spend a couple days in the village of Two Rivers, located 50 miles south of Sturgeon Bay and 90 miles north of Milwaukee.
It’s soon apparent that this quaint town is blessed with big-time natural resources. We are pleasantly surprised to find miles of beautiful sand beach, and the two rivers that bisect the town. There are state and city parks rivaling the big boys up north, and two enjoyable biking trails with panoramic lake views. Throw in Point Beach State Forest, which is annually recognized as one of the top beach experiences in the Midwest, and you might ask yourself: Why travel farther?
Parks and Trails Abound
The Manitowoc/Two Rivers logo is “Coast for a While,” which really fits. Point Beach State Forest is located 3 miles north of Two Rivers, encompassing 6 miles of striking Lake Michigan shoreline, conifer and hardwood forests, and a myriad of trail offerings. The 3000-acre park features a variety of natural features traversed by 17 miles of hiking and biking trails. Many visitors come for the day, while some take advantage of the 127 campsites that Point Beach State Park offers. From secluded camping to large outdoor group camps, the park provides a wide range of camping opportunities including two reservable shoreline cabins and kayak-accessible sites which are part of the Lake Michigan Water Trail. Make reservations early as summer and fall weekends tend to fill up early.
Hundreds of park visitors and a few canine companions were enjoying the cool air mass on the steamy day Karen and I visited. When we reached the dog beach area, I waded into the lake and understood instantly why only little kids were in these bone-chilling waters. Lake temperatures can be in the 50s until late summer. or when warm water blows in on easterly winds.
“Visitors may be surprised when they see the beach this summer,” said Guy Willman, former Point Beach State Forest Superintendent. “Record high lake levels have eroded some sand dunes and, depending on the height of the waves, there may be little beach. Record water levels are predicted to last through August of 2020.” Plans are underway to repair a handicap beach access ramp damaged by spring storms.
Two Rivers has you covered for bike, hike, and ski trails. One favorite is a 5-mile segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail at Point Beach. Pick it up at Sandy Bay Road at Molash Creek and hike to the picturesque Lake Michigan dune-scape. Be prepared to get your feet wet or bushwhack around some wet trail segments due to high water levels. The circuitous trail includes vistas of the stunning Molash Creek and a variety of unique ecosystems. Soak in beautiful summer/fall foliage on the Ridges Hiking and Ski Trails, where a loop system ranges from 3 to 7 miles. These also are excellent running trails, crossing the many swales, dunes, and marsh areas. During winter, the Ridges Trails are groomed for classic skiing, while the 3.5-mile Red Pine Trail is groomed for skate-skiing.
Back in Two Rivers, I was charmed by miles of public beaches within walking distance of anywhere in town. Neshotah Park is the unofficial headquarters of the City Beach scene, with hundreds taking refuge when the temperature spikes. A recently built public pavilion hosts concerts and other activities. There are 13 designated beaches spanning twenty miles of shoreline between Two Rivers and sister city Manitowoc.
Bring your water craft along as the rivers and lakefront offer up tons of paddling opportunities. 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, with the beach scene including paddle and kite boarding.
A Tale of Two Trails
Rawley Point Trail winds east through town, ending at Point Beach State Park.
This crushed limestone trail travels 5.5 miles into the heart of Lake Michigan forest land, through swales, marshes, conifer stands, and towering canopied hardwood forests. “The trail gets busier every year as more people find out about it,” according to Willman. “Lake Michigan and Rawley Point Trail are the most popular features in the park. Visitors from across the Midwest come to bike our trail. This is not a rail trail; it winds across a large portion of the park, utilizing natural features and cool boardwalks.”
Not many trails have a sibling, but Rawley Point does. A well-marked connecting route guides cyclists to the 6.5-mile asphalt Mariner Trail that runs the lakeshore from Two Rivers to Manitowoc. The Mariner edges along 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.
The Mariner also offers a unique, urban Lake Michigan experience, while Rawley Point has an enveloping-forest, almost wilderness feel. Combined, the trails offer a 13.5-mile, one-way experience.
According to Karen Nichols, Executive Director of the Manitowoc County Chamber, the trails have become a major tourist destination for Two Rivers and Manitowoc. “Many people travel here specifically for the bike trails,” she said. “It’s been an excellent boost for tourism. Many cyclists stay the night and enjoy our many restaurants.”
Dog owners will be happy to know that most of the shoreline is dog friendly.
Two Rivers 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 must-go-to destination.
Our Two Rivers visit ended at Kurtz’s Pub & Deli, a top-ranked Trip Advisor.com establishment. Kurtz’s has earned this designation with good food, draft beer selections, and service, as well as the colorful locals who create an entertaining bar scene. I’m considering a return visit this autumn for Kurtz’s Oktoberfest Celebration, held on September 19, 2020. It’s hard to pass up this cool little lakeside town with its festivals, perhaps with a Hacker-Shore Oktoberfest draft in hand.
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More to do at Two Rivers
Woodland Dunes Nature Center
A 1500-acre nature preserve located on the West Twin River, with 7 miles of hiking trails. Its 14 ridges and swales are home to a variety of bird species, and an important stopover habitat for neo-tropical songbirds, Monarch butterflies, bats, amphibians, mammals, and over 400 plant species. The Center also hosts a 5K running race every April. www.woodlanddunes.org.
West of the Lake Gardens
An unforgettable garden experience awaits you on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The estate of John and Ruth West boasts several types of gardens, with more than 900 feet of herbaceous borders and colorful annuals on 6 acres. www.westofthelake.org.
The Two Rivers Historical Museum
Located on the Maritime Trail, the Historical Museum serves up good ice cream and provides a historical glimpse into Two River’s past. I learned that the area’s first settlers included the Potawatomi, Menominee, and Ottawa tribes, lured by an abundance of fish and handy waterways used to travel inland for hunting and trapping.
Other Notable Stops
The Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum, the Historic Farm Museum, Lester W Bentley Art Collection displayed at the Lester Public Library, the Rogers Street Fishing Village, and the Great Lakes Coast Guard Museum.
June 30 through Aug. 25, 6-7 PM: Every Tuesday, enjoy Yoga on the Beach at Neshotah Beach in Two Rivers
July 18/19—Scenic Shore 150 Bike Tour: A two day, 150-mile supported cycling event open to riders of all ages and abilities. Saturday offers a 75-mile ride from Mequon to Manitowoc, staying overnight in Manitowoc. Sunday, a 75-mile ride from Manitowoc to Sturgeon Bay.
July 17-19—Beach Volleyball Tournament: Held at Neshotah Park, more than 80 teams of professional and amateur players compete for cash prizes.
Sept. 5 and 6—Kites Over Lake Michigan: Experience visual masterpieces featuring hundreds of kites and ground displays, including professional kite-flying teams. Includes food, music, and fireworks.
Sept. 19—Ethnic Fest: The celebration starts with a parade of flags down Main St. Vendors sell items from every continent, with diverse offerings of food and ethnic-orientated live entertainment.
Dec. 5—Global Fat Bike Day: Enjoy an annual ride adjacent to Point Beach State Park starting at Port Sandy Bay. The ride is sponsored by Broken Spoke Bikes in Green Bay.
June 2021—Holy Family Maritime Marathon: Run the shoreline of Lake Michigan. This Boston qualifier marathon event features a marathon, half marathon, and four-person relay.
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