Thanks for this guest post by Ed Makowski. We hope it inspires you to try an overnight bike camping trip.
A camping adventure within a bike ride of Milwaukee awaits you at Menomonee Park. The 464-acre Waukesha County Park is located on the western side of Menomonee Falls, which is less than a 25-mile ride from Lake Michigan. Menomonee Park has long been known as Lannon Quarry, as the 16-acre swimming and fishing lake is a lannon stone quarry that long ago filled with water.
When you arrive at Menomonee Park, there are a plethora of activities to choose from. The park features a swimming beach (which includes a roped-off shallow area) complete with beach house and shower facilities, fishing, scuba diving, an archery range, and many miles of trails to explore. In winter, one can cross-country ski, snowshoe, and go sledding.
Sure, you could make life easy and drive there within half an hour from anywhere in Milwaukee, but I like to make the entire trip an adventure. So I put my nine-year-old onto our tag-a-long bicycle, affixed a night’s worth of camping gear, and off we pedaled.
The route we took to Menomonee Park included the Oak Leaf Trail, then we headed west on Bradley Road. Bradley Road wasn’t very busy, certainly less so than Good Hope Road, which is nearly a straight shot to the park. If you’re accustomed to riding in the city, these streets won’t be any different. There were cracks and potholes here and there, but I never felt like the ride was dangerous, even with a kid on the back.
Once you pass underneath Interstate 45, Fond Du Lac Avenue features a generous shoulder, and beyond that you’re on relatively sleepy two-lane roads. We left at 10:30am, and after lunch and setting up our tent, we were swimming by 3:00pm. I’d recommend riding during these hours, as they are between rush hours, leading to a safer and more pleasant trip.
To keep our weight on the bike minimal, we stopped for lunch, as well as breakfast, on the way back. We packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for our stay at the park. With PB&J, we didn’t have to haul cooking equipment, extra water (which, it turns out, one can easily find in the campground), or the weight of extra food.
About five miles from arriving at Menomonee Park, we stopped at Pop’s Custard for lunch, a perfect “we’re almost there” reward. They have burgers and fries, but also vegetarian options – and their chocolate shake may have been the best I’ve ever had.
My ride was probably not as stiff of a bicycle as one might want to take on this sort of bike trip, the frame tubes are a little thin for the added weight, but we made it just fine. For curious bike nerds I was riding a Salsa Casseroll and my nine-year-old was astride the Burley Piccolo, which attaches to the Burley Moose rack. For the average fair-weather rider with a rack on their bike and one or two days of gear and food (and perhaps lacking an 80-pound child), this trip is absolutely doable.
Toward the west side of Menomonee Falls, you turn onto the Bugline Trail, a former railroad line repurposed into a recreational trail. A few miles later, the Bugline leads you into Menomonee Park. If you’re feeling adventurous, and would like to camp for a second night, the Bugline Trail starts in Menomonee Falls and ends 16 miles later in the Town of Merton. Although we didn’t ride the distance of the Bugline on this trip, we did last year, and the Bugline is a marvelous 32-mile round trip.
The swimming area at Menomonee Park is open through Saturday, September 30, 2017. Beginning August 17 there aren’t lifeguards, and the policy is “Swim At Your Own Risk” from sunup until sundown. Although there weren’t many swimmers on the 65-degree early September afternoon, the scent of cocoa butter still wafted through the beach house.
Menomonee Park has 30 family camping sites, plus seven large group camping sites. Five of the family sites are slated for campers without a reservation and check in/out is 3:00pm. Family campsites cost $18 per night, and a healthy delivery of dry firewood is just $7. In order to camp, one must create an account with Waukesha County, which can be done online or via phone.
The trees surrounding campsites are tall, providing plenty of wind protection. The night we stayed, the overnight temperature was about 55 degrees, perfect tent sleeping weather.
In the morning, we woke up at 5:00am to go fishing. Aside from catching a beautiful sunrise, my son caught a two-inch panfish and his score was the catch and release haul of our trip. That probably has more to do with my fishing skill than the lake’s inhabitants.
We took a nearly identical route back to Milwaukee, and the ride was equally as pleasant. For breakfast, we stopped at Ally’s Bistro, where service was quick and Leanne’s Breakfast Special was the perfect amount of fuel for a ride.
When we turned south onto the Oak Leaf Trail our spirits soared as we felt like we were taking a victory lap toward home. We stopped in the Estabrook Beer Garden for a snack and to refill our water bottles. Even though we had just left the previous morning, we saw so much on the trip that I felt like three or four days had passed.
I’d go beyond saying that riding from Milwaukee to Menomonee Park to bike camp is a good idea. For anyone in Milwaukee who enjoys riding bikes or camping, this ride is simply a must-do. I can’t believe I waited this long. Riding the tree-lined streets and bike trails from Milwaukee to Menomonee Park is a wonderful whirlwind way to explore the city and beyond.