Paddling is one of the fastest growing sports in North America with sea/tour kayaking seeing some of the fastest growth (well that and SUP or Stand Up Paddling). And really, most people who have tried paddling agree there’s nothing better on a sunny afternoon than the splash of the paddle against the water.
Generally though, I like to paddle on rivers. Fairly shallow ones at that. I don’t even mind when I have to navigate around a few rocks jutting up into the stream. However, the challenge to paddle the mile from Nicolet Beach out to Horseshoe Island, was too exciting to pass up even though the water depth was way over my head!
Nicolet Beach is in Peninsula State Park, which is, of course, on a peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan in Wisconsin’s Door County. With 944 feet of sandy beach, it’s one of the main attractions for the more than a million visitors each year.
Check Out Nicolet Beach in the Photo Below
Peninsula State Park
Peninsula State Park was officially established as a park in 1910 by the Wisconsin Legislature. It was more than just a place for weekenders, though, as there were a number of semi-permanent summer structures in the park for people who were given “life leases” when the land was turned into a park. The park manager even delivered groceries and mail to the summer community. A girls’ summer camp, Camp Meenahga, taught young women horseback riding, dancing and drama in addition to the usual camp pursuits.
In its early years the park had a sawmill, Wisconsin’s first game farm, and a nine-hole sand green golf course. The park was the place to be — crowds as big as 1500 people often gathered on weekends for minstrel shows, bonfires and other activities.
In 1961 things started to change. Many of the life leasers had passed away or were no longer able to visit the park, so the buildings were moved or destroyed and the gardens abandoned. Modernization hits the park with flush toilets and shower facilities for campers.
Today, the park is a hub of activity! You’ll find boats of all kinds along the eight miles of shoreline that’s part of Peninsula State Park. Luckily for me, Nicolet Beach Rentals has lots of rental options for summer fun, including: kayaks (my choice!), sailboat, hydro bike, canoe, paddleboat, and paddleboard. Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor about Nicolet Beach.
Things to Do
The park is open year-round for visitors. In addition to water activities there are hiking trails, biking, lighthouse tours, fishing, archery, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and more!
Kayaking Adventures in Peninsula State Park
Since several members of our group were new to kayaking, we started out with a quick lesson. Even though I’ve kayaked a number of times, I appreciated the lessons as I hadn’t used such a shallow kayak before.
The day was relatively calm, making the water a lot less intimidating. However, since the boats docking at the marina next to the beach were large (in my opinion as a non-boater), the wake looked pretty big!
We all set off slowly, making sure the newbies were managing to get headed across the open water towards Horseshoe Island. Dip-dip, dip-dip. It didn’t take long to get a rhythm going. Well, that is until I got past the buoys where the motorboats had to slow down.
Then, it was time to draw on my whitewater rafting experiences to figure out the best way to take the waves. I pushed the paddle down into the water, held it to turn a little so I’d be facing the oncoming wave directly, and prepared for the adrenaline rush.
Whoosh, I was up and over. One wave, two waves, three, and … back to glassy water.
The next waves, when they came, were fun!
Our group fell into a line of follow-the-leader, paddling towards the island.
Hiking and Camping on Horseshoe Island
The photo at the top of this page is of our arrival at Horseshoe Island, a popular spot for paddlers to get out and explore. A mere 38 acres large, the island–shaped as you might expect–like a horseshoe, gives adventurers an opportunity to do some hiking and primitive camping.
A former hideaway for a wealthy family, the Foldas, who bought it for $500 in 1888, there’s little evidence left of the fancy summer lodge, Engelmar, that was moved away in the 1930s. The birch, balsam fir, and wildflowers all but cover the root cellar and lodge foundation
Visiting Peninsula State Park
Online at: Peninsula State Park
Visitors require a Wisconsin State Park Pass. There are camping fees for the Wisconsin State Park System. Hunting and Fishing licenses apply.
I was a guest of Door County, Wisconsin, while I had this adventure in Peninsula State Park.