Kayaker Apostle Islands National Lakeshore via Flickr by Tim Wilson

3 Ways to Get Active in Wisconsin This Summer

Winter is finally over and it’s time to get active again! With state parks and natural areas featuring hundreds of hiking trails and bike paths, Wisconsin is a great place to explore the outdoors. However, without the limitations of a trail, there is so much more to discover. Leaving the trails behind can lead you to experiencing truly unique things and give you a view of nature that you’ve never seen before.

Ready to go beyond the basics? Here are three outdoor sports to get you off the beaten path.

Rock Climbing

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Image via Flickr by Brady Wieland

Rock climbing is a great way to get off the trails and immerse yourself in nature. You can go almost anywhere in the state and find climbing areas, but Devil’s Lake State Park is by far the most popular climbing spot with thousands of climbs for every skill level.

There are plenty of rock climbing gyms and climbing guides in Wisconsin to help you get started. Joining a gym is a great way to ease yourself into the sport and build your confidence if you’re not quite ready to scale a rock formation, while a climbing guide will help you jump right in and have you up a bluff in no time. Either way, you’ll be sure to meet new climbing buddies and make lasting memories.

Kayaking

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Image via Flickr by Tim Wilson

Wisconsin is bordered by Lake Superior and Lake Michigan and has more than 15,000 lakes and 43,000 miles of rivers, meaning there are plenty of places to go kayaking.

Water trails can take you to campsites that are otherwise inaccessible, making your camping trip an exclusive event. Lake Michigan and Lake Superior both feature water trails and several state parks and forests have marked water trails or water trails that are unmarked, but can be found on a map.

Don’t have your own kayak? The Travel Wisconsin website can help you find the perfect place to rent one. Buckhorn, Council Grounds, Devil’s Lake, Mirror Lake, and Perrot State Parks all offer adaptive kayak rentals so a disability won’t slow you down.

Scuba Diving

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Image via Flickr by Robert Hornung

Scuba diving is a pricy sport, but well worth the cost for a chance to visit the underwater world.

A quick online search can point you toward a scuba shop near you where you can sign up for lessons. A mixture of classroom work and practice in a pool will have you ready to hit the lake for your certification dives in just a few weekends.

Once you’re certified, all you need is some equipment and a dive buddy and you’re ready to explore the world below the water’s surface. If you’re not ready to buy your own gear, you can rent everything at your local scuba shop whenever you have a dive planned. You can find a dive buddy by having a friend take lessons with you, meeting someone in your scuba class, or just by hanging out at your dive shop.

There’s so much of Wisconsin that can’t be seen from a  hiking trail or bike path. There are plenty of sports that will help you immerse yourself in nature. Rock climbing, kayaking, and scuba diving are just a few ways to begin a life of adventure.

Traveling the Northwoods

This weekend my boyfriend, Bryce, and I are going Up North. My family’s cabin is in one of the towns just north of Minocqua, WI, so we will be doing plenty out on the lake. Unfortunately, it’s getting cold early this year, so we probably won’t be doing much swimming.

Kayaking is one of my favorite things to do at the cabin, so I’m sure we’ll take plenty of trips around the lake. There’s so much wildlife to see no matter the time of year. At the beginning of the summer there were some loons nesting on the lake. There are also beavers and sometimes otters who live on the lake and eagles who next in the trees on the shore.

The woods are great for hiking, even with all the mosquitos. Northern Wisconsin is home to white deer. If we’re lucky, we’ll catch a glimpse of one. The white deer are just regular white tail deer with a genetic trait that makes them all white instead of brown.

On Friday we will probably head a few towns over to Manitowish Waters to eat at Little Bohemia Lodge, where John Dillinger had a shootout with the FBI in 1934.

There is so much to do in the Northwoods and it’s a beautiful place to visit. Every lake is different and it’s so fun to explore them all. If you ever get a chance to spend a weekend Up North, I encourage you to do so.

Eating at Kate’s Pizza Amorè in La Crosse

On Friday Bryce and I decided to go to Pizza Amorè on Main Street in La Crosse, Wisconsin. We weren’t sure what to expect from the restaurant since pizza places are usually pretty casual, but I knew it was a Kate’s on State restaurant, which is a nicer place.

When we walked in, we were greeted by a hostess who immediately took us to a table. The aesthetic of the restaurant is more upscale than I usually expect from La Crosse. The hostess left us with two menus, a drink menu, and a seasonal menu (a super adorable chalkboard).

Our waitress was amazing. She made sure to go through the whole menu with us and had some great suggestions when Bryce told her he is vegetarian, since she is also a vegetarian. She was really knowledgeable about the beer menu as well. I always love when the wait staff knows about beer since I don’t know anything about beer. I think Bryce ended up getting a tap beer from the Pearl Street Brewery. I got the Cucumber Basil Fizz, which is a seasonal drink you need to try before the end of summer.

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Always the prettiest drinks. 🍹

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The specialty pizzas can’t be split in half. Half pepperoni, half green olive is our usual pizza, so that limited us. Since Bryce doesn’t eat meat and I’m extremely picky about what goes on my pizza, that limited us. Nearly all of the vegetarian pizzas have mushrooms on them, which I don’t eat.

We ended up getting the Margherita pizza, which we knew we would both like. It was a safe option, but it ended up being a great option. The pizza was incredibly good. We walked in not being that hungry, but we ate the whole pizza and probably would have eaten more if the pizza had been bigger.

I would definitely recommend Pizza Amorè if you’re in La Crosse and looking for a restaurant that has the aesthetic of being more upscale, but the safety of definitely having something you know you’ll like.

The only risk is that a lot of the pizzas on the menu have shellfish in them, but I did not have any problems with allergies. I always try to mention my shellfish allergy to wait staff to make sure there’s no cross-contamination and the most issue I’ve had is having to decline a side of fries because the deep fryer can’t be properly cleaned. Pizza Amorè, like most restaurants, had no issue making sure there was no possibility of shellfish contaminating our pizza.

If you’re in the La Crosse area, Pizza Amorè is a safe choice if you’re looking for a restaurant where you can make a safe choice or a more adventurous choice, since there are so many options on the menu. The pear and gorgonzola pizza sound fascinating to me, but I’m not sure if I would like pear on a pizza, and it has chicken, which Bryce wouldn’t eat.

Have you been to Pizza Amorè in La Crosse? Which pizza is your favorite? What do you think I should try the next time I’m there?

Hiking Roche-A-Cri State Park

If you follow my YouTube channel, you know that I hate the Wisconsin DNR website. A lot of the hiking areas on the site don’t have maps or information about what kinds of plants and animals are in the state parks.

They did a little bit better with Roche-A-Cri State Park in Friendship, Wisconsin. There’s even a map of the park showing all the trails.

The first stop I’m going to make on my trip to Roche-A-Cri is at Ship Rock. Ship Rock isn’t in the park, but it’s a wayside on Highway 21 just east of the park. There isn’t much to see there, but I’ve driven past Ship Rock several times and I’ve always wanted to stop to get some pictures.

At Roche-A-Cri Park, I plan on hiking the Mound Trail, which is 0.3 miles. There are stairs up to an observation deck on top of Roche-A-Cri Mound. Since the mound is a State Natural Area, you can’t leave the stairway and observation deck in order to preserve the area for everyone to enjoy.

After the Mound Trail, I’m going to take Chickadee Rock Nature Trail, which is another 0.3 miles. This trail is also handicap accessible.

At Chickadee Rock, I’m going to go right on the Acorn Trail and go back around the mound to see some petroglyphs. The Acorn Trail is 3.55 miles, but I won’t hike the whole thing.

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Hiking Devil’s Lake

Devil’s Lake State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Wisconsin. It’s known for the beautiful pink quartzite bluffs that overlook the lake as well as all the activities the park has to offer. Camping and swimming are some of the most popular activities. The park also has 29 miles of hiking trails, including sections of the Ice Age Trail, and the bluffs make Devil’s Lake one of the best rock climbing areas in the midwest.

My boyfriend, Bryce, and I are planning a day trip to Devil’s Lake this sunday. We’ll just be hiking and maybe swimming, since rock climbing isn’t my thing.

The last time I was at Devil’s Lake was last October, when I hiked the Balanced Rock Trail with a group of other hikers. The fall colors were out in force in October, so I’m excited to get some sunnier pictures this trip.

 

This time I want to do the Potholes Trail, which is extremely difficult and steep, but has amazing rock formations, making the hard climb worth it. The trail is only .3 miles, but the difficulty of it means it should take about two hours to hike.

#FashionFriday: What I wear for a summer day hike

If you subscribe to my YouTube channel or follow me on Instagram, you know that I do day hikes because I’m not a fan of sleeping on the ground and not properly showering or washing my hands. Hand sanitizer is great for a little while, but I like to end my day with actual soap and water.

Even casual hikers need proper gear, though. I’m a strong believer that the deer care how you look, so I try to seek out gear that’s cute as well as functional. Here’s my standard outfit for a summer day hike.

The Outfit

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Obviously the first thing you need to look good on the trail is the right outfit. Rascal and Moky are always effortlessly dapper in their tuxedos, but we can’t all look that good.

The boots

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I got my Hi-Tec boots at a store in Mildura during my study abroad in Australia in 2014 (check out the Edge of the Outback program if you like photography). Mine are the Meridien WP Women’s in size 8.5. It looks like Hi-Tec discontinued this particular style, because the only place I found it was this out-of-stock one on Amazon. The accent color on the Amazon one is purple, but mine are light blue. I love that they’re mostly brown/beige because it’s so much easier to put together an outfit without having to worry if my boots will clash.

I’m normally a 7.5, so I went a size up to compensate for the thick socks I usually wear when I’m hiking. I’ve had these boots for a few years and I’ve never had any issues with them in any terrain. I’ve hiked through thick woods, mountainous and bluff regions, lava fields and more and these boots are easily keeping up with me. They’re also waterproof, which is great since the Midwest gets plenty of storms during the summer and even when the weather is nice, there are a lot of streams and puddles to wade through.

One thing to remember is that shoes need to be broken in and blisters are a fact of life. Whenever you get new hiking boots, wear them around for a while so your feet know the boots and the boots know your feet.

The socks

Thick socks help cushion your feet when you’re hiking. There are a lot of brands that are pretty comparable. I have some Fits socks that I really like. Most socks designed for hiking incorporate Merino wool, which is great for wicking away moisture to keep you from drowning in your own sweat.

I personally don’t like the crew style that most hiking socks come in. You can get high-end brands like Fits in a quarter height, but I actually like a brand called SeoulStory7 that I found on Amazon better. SeoulStory7 socks are much cheaper than high-end brands sold at specialty stores like Erehwon or REI and there’s a reason for that. They aren’t made with wool and they’re thinner than socks from more recognizable brands. I would only wear them in summer because they aren’t anywhere near warm enough for a fall or spring day in the Midwest, but I like them enough that I’ve purchased multiple pairs.

The pants

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I think most pants designed for hiking are super ugly, but jeans aren’t really comfortable to hike in and leggings and yoga pants don’t provide much protection against brambles and can snag easily.

The pants I wear are sold by a company called Angel Cola on Amazon, but are actually made by a company called Komont, which appears to be Korean. I personally think these pants fit really well and I love that they come in so many fun colors, but a lot of the reviews on Amazon complain about issues with quality and fit. I’m very thin, so women with an average or heavier build may not like these pants as much as I do.

The lightweight pants that I wear in summer are very thin and some colors can be see-through, which I found out the hard way. To avoid showing off a little too much in see-through clothes, find underwear or a bra in a color as close to your skin tone as possible. White underwear and bras can still be seen through thin clothing, even if you’re as pale as me.

The best thing about these pants is that they’re super durable. Again, many reviewers on Amazon had a different experience than I did and have complained about these pants ripping at the seams, but I’ve found that I can charge straight through the woods without worrying about getting cuts and scrapes from twigs and brambles.

The top

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I’m not really a t-shirt kind of girl, so I usually wear tanktops on hikes. I got this one from Old Navy several years ago. I tend to cut the tags off my clothes, so I don’t actually know the fabric content of this top, but it’s super comfortable.

The sports bra I’m wearing underneath the top is also really comfortable. It’s from Fruit of the Loom and is 95% cotton and 5% lycra. Cotton is a great fabric for hiking and other outdoor activities because it’s breathable, so it doesn’t trap your body heat or sweat (super important on hot days). It also doesn’t retain smells as much as other fabrics, so if you’ve been sweating all day or sitting by the campfire all night, you won’t smell it as much when you’re still wearing your shirt and the smells will come out easier when you wash it.

I do keep heavier outer layers and waterproof layers in my backpack as well. In the midwest it’s important to have all kinds of clothing because you can’t trust the weather.

If you like the scenery in these pictures or just want to see more of Moky and Rascal, check out my video of our trip to Wildcat Mountain State Park in Wisconsin here.

 

How to help a tropical diver through their first lake experience

This past weekend I went diving with a guy whose only diving experience was in the tropics. He began diving when he was kid and was a very good dive buddy, but we both learned a lot about the differences between diving in warm ocean waters and diving in Midwestern lakes.

The first thing I had to explain to my buddy was that freshwater lakes are not nearly as boring as he expected them to be. You won’t see any coral reefs or super colorful fish, but perch and bluegills can be exciting too, and we do have freshwater jellyfish, though they’re rare. The idea of seeing a jellyfish got him excited, though they’re a very unusual sight.

Then we got him set up with gear. I had to explain to him why he probably didn’t want to wear full-foot fins when diving in Wisconsin and Illinois in September and October. Full-foot fins are fine if you don’t need lots of neoprene layers to keep you warm, but Fall in the Midwest is not the time or place for them. I helped him try on some boots and open-heel fins so he would be completely comfortable in the water.

Once we got to the lake, I walked him through how to put on all his layers. He had brought both swim trunks and compression shorts because he wasn’t sure which would be better under a wetsuit. I told him to wear the compression shorts because trunks will bunch under the wetsuit and be uncomfortable, an issue I have with the ties on my swimsuits.

I’m glad I was able to help my buddy through his first lake dives. In the Midwest, part of being a good dive buddy is helping with your buddy’s wardrobe, whether they need a zipper to be zipped, a hood tucked in, or they have no idea where to begin with all the layers.

My buddy may have been a little overwhelmed at first, but he really enjoyed his first lake dives and is looking forward to diving a wreck on Lake Michigan next weekend.

And yes, he did see a jellyfish.

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Post-dive selfie. #dive #divebuddy #selfie

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