Now that you’ve eaten your weight in turkey and all the fixings that come along with a Thanksgiving feast, it’s time to get moving.
And here’s the perfect place to shed those calories: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The nearly 22-mile path around the circumference of what’s technically called Geneva Lake is the Midwest’s best treadmill.
My husband and I make a point of walking it, in its entirety, once every autumn, when the look of the leaves takes your mind off your tired feet.
When we traversed it last month, my husband wore a heart-rate monitor. He burned a little north of 4,000 calories during our eight-hour expedition around the whole path, a route once used by Native Americans who settled in this picturesque part of Wisconsin.
Chicagoans have been flocking to this resort town, about an hour and a half’s drive from the city, for more than a century. They came north of the border for summer parties and an escape from the city’s oppressive heat. Visiting at this time of year means you have the place virtually to yourself.
Gently sloshing water is the perfect soundtrack as elaborately painted Victorians and Queen Annes give way to clapboard cottages, cozy boat houses, modern mansions, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired homes and jaw-dropping estates dating to the late 19th century. The ginkgoes, sugar maples and oaks scream fall colors.
Boat tours are a popular way to see Geneva Lake’s impressive real estate portfolio. But they’re no substitute for standing right in front of Chicago financier Richard Driehaus’ red brick, white- columned Georgian mansion or getting a voyeuristic gawk at the 18,000-square-foot Italianate palace converted into luxury condos — one of which was owned by convicted political fundraiser Tony Rezko, whose houseguests included Barack and Michelle Obama.
Homeowners are responsible for maintaining the section of the shore path that slices through their property. Some do a better job than others, building flagstone or brick walkways flanked by flowers and shrubs.
In other spots, the path is pretty much invisible, but you’ll have no problem spotting the “private property” and “no trespassing” signs. Don’t be put off: You have the legal right to walk the shore, just like the Potawatomi tribe did. And most homeowners respect that. Some downright encourage it, like the folks who painted Joan Baez quotes along their white fence and set up a guest book for passersby to sign, as well as a brass bell you’re supposed to ring to “make miracles happen.”
“If Wrigley’s having a wedding in his yard and you want to walk right through it, you can. And people do,” Grace Eckland, a longtime Lake Geneva resident once told me. “A lot of people have joined a lot of parties that way.”
IF YOU GO
WHERE TO STAY: Fontana, Wis., on the west edge of Geneva Lake, is about 85 miles from Chicago. It’s easy to access the shore path from the Abbey Resort, 269 Fontana Blvd., which has more than 300 guest rooms — and a spa, which will come in handy for those sore muscles. Lodging options abound on the opposite side of the lake in Lake Geneva.
SHORE PATH: You don’t have to walk the entire path, of course. Some of the best scenery stretches for eight miles along the north shore between the towns of Lake Geneva and Williams Bay. (If you are going to do the entire path, I recommend going in the opposite direction from Lake Geneva, so you hit the easier stretch by Williams Bay toward the end of your trip instead of the beginning.) From May to mid-November, Lake Geneva Cruise Line runs boat tours on the lake. You can arrange to be dropped off at Williams Bay and walk the path back to Lake Geneva or vice versa. Abbey Resort guests also can arrange free pickup or drop off in Lake Geneva. Sturdy but comfortable shoes are a must. Sections of the path can be muddy. Dress in layers and bring water, a cellphone and Band-Aids for potential blisters. Food and bathroom facilities are a bit spread out, so this isn’t a great walk for people who need frequent pit stops. Allow eight to 10 hours to walk the entire path.