Lake Geneva is a very popular vacation spot located in southern Wisconsin. It is surrounded by beautiful homes. Very few visitors are aware that there is a footpath which goes around the entire lake. Property owners are required to maintain a pedestrian right-of-way. This right-of-way doesn't have to be nice, just passable. In some cases the property owner will simply mow the grass, while in other cases the right-of-way was clearly designed by an architect and is beautifully landscaped. Occasionally the trail will leave the lake, but I'd estimate that 90% of the time you are close enough to the water to hear the waves lapping up on the shore. If you choose to complete this walk you will walk over grass, cement, asphalt, bricks, flagstone, crushed red granite, plank decking and more.
One thing to keep in mind: a hike around a lake is pretty much an all-or-nothing kind of thing. If you choose not to finish your hike, you have only one choice: to turn around. If you have any doubt about your ability to do the entire hike then go with some friends and drop off a car half way around the lake in case you need to bale.
There are very limited opportunities to get a drink or to go to the restroom. I'd guess that in some parts of the lake you will be five miles between water faucets and restrooms. Carry plenty of liquids. I carried 2 quarts of water and 2 quarts of gatorade and drank most of it. I had perfect conditions on the day of my hike - approximately 70 degrees and low humidity. If you go later in the year, you'll definitely need appropriate liquid refreshments. And don't think you can just duck into the woods to go to the restroom: this is expensive real estate and most of it is developed.
A friend recently gifted me with a pair of Keen's sandals. These things are so comfortable. I've wanted a pair for a long time but couldn't justify spending that much money on sandals for myself. I decided they might be good for a long walk, so I tried them on this hike. Now I'm not recommending that you try anything new on a 21+ mile walk, but that's what I did. They worked well for me. I don't know that I'd wear them on a long walk over rough terrain, but for this walk they worked fine. I did wear some Smart Wool socks as well. I had a couple of blisters which didn't come to the surface until I got home.
I'm not really sure how long this hike is. On the internet I see mileages ranging from 21 to 26 miles. I finished the walk in 7 hours 45 minutes. I was very pleased with the results, especially when I consider that just two months ago I needed my wife or son to help me walk from the bedroom to the bathroom while I was recovering from cellulitis in my leg.
Post script, July 2010. I received an email from Ann Day of Paddock Lake, Wisconsin, who shared the photos from her hike around Lake Geneva. She consented to me posting this link to her photos: http://www.associatedcontent.com/slideshow/56002/the_21_mile_shore_path_around_lake.html?cat=32
Copyright © 2007 by Bill Qualls. Last updated July 11, 2010.