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Trip Report: Wisconsin’s Fox River Valley -- History, Culture, Outdoor Fun

Fox River LocksThe Fox Cities are the cities, towns, and villages along the Fox River Valley, which flows from Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin's largest inland lake, down to Lake Michigan’s Green Bay. It offers historic charm, natural beauty, and lots of outdoor activities.

Located in northeastern Wisconsin, I made the trip recently with my chocolate lab Tank. We found a plethora of natural areas to explore as well as wonderful museums and charming downtown areas in Appleton, Menasha and Neenah, the main cities along the Fox, and many charming little villages. Country Inn and Suites, a Fido-friendly establishment, was centrally located and offered a nice area in back to walk Tank.

For outdoor enthusiasts, a trip to High Cliff State Park, the state’s third-busiest state park, is a must. Located on the shore of Lake Winnebago a hike on the Red Bird Trail along a limestone cliff that’s part of the Niagara Escarpment offers panoramic views of the lake and surrounding area. The escarpment stretches from Wisconsin, across Michigan’s UP to Niagara Falls.

There are over eight miles of hiking trails at the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve, which features one of the state’s largest tracts of lowland white-cedar swamp. Take a stroll at Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, a 76-acre urban nature preserve, located within Appleton city limits. There are over two miles of boardwalks. The preserve is home to numerous species of reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. We saw many birds, turtles, and deer on our walk.

Nature Preserve WisTank really enjoyed the Outagamie County Pet Exercise Park, which is a 17-acre fenced-in wooded park where he could run off-leash and meet other dogs to play with.

Tour the History Museum at the Castle, which details life in the Fox Cities, and the Houdini exhibit is an interesting look at the performer’s career. This is where he lived when he first started performing. The Paper Discovery Center details the area’s history as the world’s leading producer of paper for more than a century. The Hearthstone Historic House Museum was the first home in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity in 1882.

Take a relaxing cruise through the historic Fox River Locks, which is one of only two hand-operated lock systems in the United States. It was built in the 1800s and offers a great look at the busy Fox River.

Enjoy dining at Pullmans on the Fox River, great seafood; Antojitos Mexicanos, street-vendor style food and fine dining; Cannova’s for pizza; and Zuppas Market & Café, featuring local ingredients and creative dishes.

For those from Michigan and Ohio, consider taking the S.S. Badger car ferry from Ludington across Lake Michigan to Manitowac. It shortens the drive and you enjoy a boat trip on the Great Lakes. 

 Photos: Top -- Cruise through the Fox River Locks; Left -- Hike through Heckrodt Wetlands Preserve; Bottom: Bottom -- The scenery is something to savor on this road trip. (Photos by Mike Terrell)

Scenery Wis

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