I love fall in Wisconsin. The air is a little cooler, the leaves are drop-dead gorgeous (literally), and pumpkins and apples permeate all foods and festivals.
But around this point of the season — when all of a sudden I'm wearing a hat and gloves and shoes that cover my toes — I start to panic and realize winter is no longer a distant probability but an impending inevitability. Soon I'll have to pack away my mountain bike and summer sleeping bag and say goodbye to some of my favorite summer activities until next year.
So if you're like me and want to squeeze in a few outdoor activities before the snow flies and the lakes freeze, here are 10 ideas.
1. Take a long walk along the beach at Kohler Andrae State Park. 1020 Beach Park Lane, Sheboygan, (920) 451-4080.
This popular beach can be packed on a warm summer day but is just as beautiful and much less crowded in the fall. Follow the 2-mile Dunes Cordwalk trail along Lake Michigan for a look at the dunes, wetlands and a white pine forest, or walk right along the beach. Furry friends are allowed on the beach north of the Sanderling Nature Center and designated sections of the cordwalk.
2. Stargaze with people who actually know what they're looking at. UW-Milwaukee Physics Building Observatory, 1900 E. Kenwood Boulevard, Milwaukee.
Expand your knowledge of the night sky by attending a free stargazing session Nov. 13 from 8 to 9 p.m. on the roof of the UWM Physics Building. Staff from the university's Manfred Olson Planetarium will be on hand to help point out visible constellations as well as line up the telescopes to find star clusters, nebulae and possibly planets.
"Fall is the best time to view the night sky because of the crisp, clear nights making the stars shine bright," said Jean Creighton, an astronomy professor and the planetarium's director.
The event is free and open to the public, but donations are appreciated. Visitors are encouraged to dress warmly.
3. Squeeze in a final trail ride on the Glacial Drumlin State Trail. Access the trail between Waukesha and Cottage Grove.
This 52-mile rails-to-trails route is paved for 13 miles from Waukesha through Dousman and crushed limestone for the remaining 39. Snowmobilers, skiers and snowshoers traverse the unpaved portion of the trail in the winter, so bundle up for a final fall ride before then.
4. Beat the freeze for a paddle on Ottawa Lake. S59-W36530 County ZZ, Dousman; (262) 594-6200.
No motorized boats are allowed on the shallow, 27-acre Ottawa Lake, located in the Kettle Moraine State Forest's Southern Unit, allowing for a calmer surface for an easy canoe trip.
The eight-stop Ottawa Lake Self-Guided Canoe Trail covers about half of the lake's circumference and takes half an hour to complete, providing information on the glacial lake and its wildlife.
It's advisable to wear at least a partial wet suit andpersonal flotation device — just in case someone rocks the boat.
5. Fly a kite along the lakefront at Veterans Park. 300 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive, Milwaukee; (414) 273-5483.
Bring your own kite or buy one from Gift of Wings and work on getting maximum flight time with the help of some lake breezes.
Having trouble getting your kite off the ground? Winds 5 to 25 miles per hour are best for flying, and a partner can help. Have a friend stand 100 feet downwind and hold the kite in the air while you maintain a tight line. As your partner tosses the kite into the air, pull the line. Slowly let out more line as the kite gains altitude.
6. Take a haunted hike along the Seven Bridges Trail at Grant Park. 100 E. Hawthorne Ave., South Milwaukee; (414) 762-1550.
An inscription on the covered bridge at the entrance to the Seven Bridges Trail reads, "Enter this wild wood and view the haunts of nature."
Stories of mysterious sounds and apparitions have surrounded the trail for decades, but you'll have to hike the trail and decide if it's haunted for yourself. Follow the 2-mile trail over the river, through the woods and across numerous wooden bridges through Grant Park. Spurs lead to lookouts along the bluffs above Lake Michigan, as well as access to the beach.
7. Raise a stein to the end of fall at a beer garden. Estabrook Park, 4600 Estabrook Drive, Milwaukee; The Landing at Hoyt Park, 1800 N. Swan Blvd., Wauwatosa.
These Milwaukee County beer gardens shut down for the season Nov. 3, so squeeze in a final stein before the taps run dry.
Pack a picnic and choose from a selection of beer from the Munich Hofbräuhaus at Estabrook, which is open Monday through Friday from 3 to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. (last call at 9 p.m. both days).
The Landing serves up local brews such as Lakefront Riverwest Stein, Big Bay Long Weekend IPA and Point Oktoberfest, in addition to red and white wines. Bundle up for a beer at Hoyt Wednesday through Sunday from 3 to 9 p.m.
8. Spend a day at the Milwaukee County Zoo for free. 10001 W. Blue Mound Road, Milwaukee; (414) 771-3040.
While the zoo is open year round, some warm-weather creatures, such as the zebras, head into winter quarters (not open to the public) when temperatures drop.
Visit Nov. 2 for Family Free Day, when all visitors get in free (parking fees still apply).
9. Explore the James Tellen Woodland Sculpture Garden. 5634 Evergreen Drive, Wilson.
Follow a path through the woods to enter the mystical world of James Tellen, a furniture-factory worker who died in 1957.
Tellen created more than 30 historic, religious and mythic sculptures and placed them here in the woods around his summer cottage near the Black River south of Sheboygan.
Today the Kohler Foundation maintains the sculpture and the property, which includes Tellen's original log home.
10. Catch glimpses of migrating birds at Horicon Marsh before they head south. W4279 Headquarters Road, Mayville; (920) 387-2658.
Canada geese may not be fun when they leave presents on your lawn, but they're a pleasure to watch in the air and on land during fall migration.
This 32,000-acre marsh — the largest cattail marsh in the U.S. — is one of the best spots to see the hundreds of thousands of migrating geese, as well as other rare birds. Grab some binoculars and a field guide from the visitor center before heading out to explore.
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