Exploring the Shore Path of Lake Geneva: A Great Way to Beat Cabin Fever
If your family has exhausted Chicago's best winter outings and cabin fever is starting to set in, there’s a quick fix less than two hours away. Take a day trip just over the border of Wisconsin to explore the shores of Geneva Lake with kids. Along the way, you’ll see historic homes, lush gardens, boats, and wildlife in the crystal-clear water. My family and I have been coming up to Lake Geneva for years from Chicagoland to walk the shore path and explore the lake. Here are my inside tips to making this a day trip your kids love so much it becomes a tradition for your family, too. Read on for the best starting points, must-see sights, and the low-down on strollers, bathrooms, and pets.
So many choices, so many wonderful walks.
The Best Shore Path Starting Point: Downtown Lake Geneva
The most popular place to start on the Shore Path of Geneva Lake is in downtown Lake Geneva. Lake Geneva is less than two hours away from almost any suburb in Chicagoland and even closer from the city itself. No matter what ages your little ones are, it’s a great distance for a day trip if you’re looking for something free to do outdoors.
When you’re starting on the path from downtown Lake Geneva, there is public parking available downtown and in front of the beach. In the summer months, you’ll need to pay the meter but in the off season, the parking is free and plentiful.
If you’re going straight to the path, park near the Lake Geneva Public Library. The path is adjacent to the library. The path isn’t marked with a large sign, so you’ll need to walk a bit before you see it start. The entrance to the path is near a small boat launch.
There is a public bathroom available right at the start of the path. The first mile of the path is also paved making it great for young kids and strollers. Further than this, strollers will be difficult to push. From here, the path continues 26 miles around the entire lake.
In the summer, there are grassy areas and boats on the lake. In the winter, the scene has a different stark beauty.
Additional Access Points To the Shore Path
In addition to the Lake Geneva Public Library, there are additional access points located in downtown Fontana, Williams Bay, and Big Foot State Park. The start of the path is paved from each of these public access points for one mile. The remainder of the path varies in elevation and terrain.
The south side of the lake near Fontana and Williams Bay is where you’ll find more challenging hills. In Williams Bay, the public access point is located in Edgewater Park. In Fontana, the entrance is located at Reid Park, and the final access point is located at the Big Foot Beach State Park in Lake Geneva.
Some parts of the path are perfect for strollers, but for longer outings a jogging stroller or baby carrier is best.
Making the Most of the Shore Path with Strollers and Pets
While the first mile of the path is paved from the public entrance, the rest is a bit tricky for strollers. We’ve typically brought a running stroller and a baby carrier so we could go a longer distance. When starting from downtown Lake Geneva, you’ll be able to push the stroller without any issues for about 10-15 minutes. From there, as long as you’re able to pick it up over a step or two, you can keep going.
When we want to go with our one, two, and four-year-old, we bring a baby carrier for our two-year-old. With the baby in the stroller, our two-year-old was able to walk for a bit with our oldest. Once we turned around, we opted for the baby carrier to speed the trip up.
The kids loved walking along the water, jumping on stepping stones, and watching the boats go by. While most of the path is well maintained by the homeowners, parts are a little overgrown. (These are always the most fun parts for kids!)
Some of the homeowners have paved their portion or put out a gravel sidewalk. Others have benches to sit on, statues, and fun signs and art to admire along the way.
Pets are welcome on all of the 26-mile path. We bring our half lab who loves sniffing along with us. On hot days, you can even let your dog swim off leash at the start of the path in downtown Lake Geneva. There is a free dog beach right behind the Lake Geneva Public Library.
Any season is the perfect time for a walk around the lake.
Find More Challenging Terrain for Older Kids
If you have older kids or adults looking for a more difficult terrain, consider starting out on the south side of the lake near Fontana or Williams Bay. These areas are in the hills, so you’ll have a much more challenging hike. And the views are breathtaking. It’s also far less crowded, if you’re looking to get away from it all.
Bathrooms and Restaurants along the Shore Path
Never fear, near each of the public access points you’ll find public restrooms. After that, the path goes along private property, so you’ll need to go back to a public entrance for a bathroom.
Restaurants and coffee shops are also only located in the towns. The path winds down the lake in front of residential homes, so you won’t find anything along the way. In each of the quaint towns, however, you’ll find a variety of restaurants, coffee shops, and seasonal snack shops near the beach for a quick hot dog or snack.
Leave time for a sandy beach outing in the warmer months.
Stay for the Day or Weekend near Geneva Lake
If you’re looking to stay longer near Geneva Lake, there are three public beaches located in downtown Lake Geneva, Fontana, and Big Foot State Park. These are open seasonally and day passes are available.
Downtown Lake Geneva has several cute boutiques, art galleries, cafes, a candy store, and great ice cream options. There are multiple resorts in the area including The Grand Geneva, The Cove, and the Geneva National. The Grand Geneva and Geneva National offer home and townhome rentals as well. We’ve stayed at both for numerous family vacations with large groups
The Grand Geneva has several restaurants, a water park, golf, indoor and outdoor pools, horse stables, and a spa on the property. The Cove is much more centrally located downtown, however, so if you’re looking to walk to the beach and shopping area, this location is better situated for walking.
If you’re looking to stay in Fontana, The Abbey Resort has restaurants, a spa, indoor and outdoor pools, a private beach, as well as a boat launch and rentals. There are also off leash dog parks and nearby state parks for even more exploration.
COVID-19 Safety on the Shore Path
Most walkers wear masks near the access points and downtown. Almost everyone is courteous about moving over to allow for social distancing on the path as well. The path is roomy enough to let people pass if anyone got too close. During the off-season, you’ll only run into a handful of locals walking dogs or exercising so it’s a great place to let the kids run wild without worrying about crowds.
Photos by the author