Monday, June 9, 2014

Point Beach State Forest

To escape the hustle and bustle of our city home, I packed up the car for a 3-day camping trip and headed east to Point Beach State Forest last weekend. Not only did I want to enjoy sunshine, sand and seagulls on the shore of Lake Michigan (with a designated dog beach!), but another segment of the Ice Age Trail awaited us inside the park!

Upon arrival, our first stop would be the dog beach just south of the Rawley Point Lighthouse, one of Lake Michigan's biggest and brightest lighthouses. After a short hike along a trail leading to the dog beach, we found that there wasn't much "beach" to be found; mostly sand dunes with a short drop-off to the waves below. This sure wasn't going to be the picturesque walk along the beach I had imagined, but Charlie didn't seem to care. We headed south down the beach away from the crowded main area and found a secluded spot a little ways down where we played a game of frisbee. The park ranger had informed me that the entire 6-mile stretch of beach south of the lighthouse was open to dogs, so there is plenty of room to spread out and enjoy your own slice of shoreline.

The campground consists of over 120 sites, pit toilets, water faucets and a couple of shower buildings. There is a nature center with a concession stand and a few picnic areas with access to the beach right across from the main campground. In fact, the beach is only a short walk from many of the sites!

My first impression of the campground was that there were a LOT of dogs here! And also the mosquitoes were very large and extremely relentless! I sprayed down with bug spray immediately after exiting the car and reapplied often throughout the weekend. I even had to apply some to Charlie a couple of times because she was getting welts from the mosquito bites.

Considering there are so many campsites here, they are surprisingly well-spaced with quite a bit of privacy. Our site, #42, was large enough to fit two tents and two cars easily and had a nice walking path all along the back side within the pine trees. We even heard deer running along the path a few times.

On the Ridges Trail.
After setting up camp, Charlie and I headed off to hike the nearby Ridges Trail. I quickly realized why there were so many mosquitoes in this park: the trail followed along the top of a small ridge with marshes, also called swales, on both sides. The still, stagnant water is a prime breeding ground for the pesky bugs. It turned out the campground was also interspersed with these swales, some of them right next to campsites!

The next morning, Charlie and I warmed up around the campfire and ate a hearty breakfast in preparation for hiking the Point Beach Segment of the Ice Age Trail. Because I wanted to have time (and energy) to spend on the beach, we planned on hiking only the section within the park, and not the entire segment.

In all honesty, I wasn't looking forward to hiking this segment at first; the idea of stagnant marshes were a bit unappealing to me. But once I got on the trail, I fell in love with the scenery and the peacefulness surrounding me. Since most people come here for the beach, the trails were quiet and uncrowded. I began finding tiny treasures, like a small skull, dainty flowers and bright green marsh plants that were like nothing I'd ever seen before. The trail curved around old trees and rolled along a low ridge with water-filled swales on either side. Sounds of birds and frogs filled the air and a refreshing breeze from the big lake swirled through the woods. The sandy soil, covered with a thick blanket of pine needles, muffled my footsteps allowing me to concentrate on the sounds of the forest.

Swale along the Ice Age Trail - Point Beach Segment.

Mosquitoes were thick, but if you kept moving it was not too bad; understandably it is still early in the season and they will most likely get worse as the summer wears on. Benches were available to take in the scenery and there were occasional cordwalks leading off the trail to the dunes and beach beyond.

Charlie and I took a long break at the beach to play in the sun and surf. But when it was time to head back to the trail for more hiking, Charlie decided to throw a tantrum! Just like a small child, she did not want to leave the beach. I had to agree with her; the water was an enticing blue-green color and the bright sunny skies reflected sun sparkles along the crashing waves. It was too inviting not to stay a little while longer.

Here is a VIDEO of our trail walk and playtime on the beach:

This area is an outdoor enthusiast's playground with so many things to do! There are miles of shoreline trails offering an opportunity to enjoy the cool Lake Michigan breeze while taking in the scenery.

Bring your bicycle or rent one, to explore the 6-mile long Mariner's Trail connecting Manitowoc and Two Rivers and then continue on the additional 6-mile long Rawley Point Trail all the way up to Point Beach State Forest. Once you're at the forest, there are additional trails to explore inside the park.

Walk along the cordwalk to Rawley Point Lighthouse located at the entrance of Point Beach State Forest and learn about the maritime history of the area.

A short drive to nearby Manitowoc and Two Rivers will bring tons of shopping opportunities and plenty of restaurants to choose from. Take a scenic walk out to Manitowoc's Breakwater Light and watch the car ferry depart while letting your dog run inside the small fenced-in dog park located at the end of the trail.

We had a fun-packed weekend and I was so pleased to see how dog-friendly this area is. Not only are dogs visible everywhere, but they are welcome most places too. While dogs have certain restrictions - like being on-leash inside the state forest and only being in designated areas - people are making their dogs a part of their everyday lives, including vacations. As we travel and explore our state, I'm so happy to see dogs and their people enjoying the outdoors!

A tired Charlie is ready to go home.

*A portion of travel costs were sponsored by Katzenbarkers Natural Pet Food and Supplies. Thank you for supporting me and Charlie on our adventures to encourage other pet owners to get active with their dogs outdoors!