Hank Aaron State Trail – Milwaukee, WI

We thought we’d start at the western end of the Hank Aaron State Trail, but we followed a sign off the freeway to a trailhead that turned out to be a few miles east at 71st street. There we found a large parking lot next to a cement-surface RV park in an industrial area only a block from the trail.  So, we missed a few miles of the trail in the west, but we made up for it on the waterfront.

Initially, the Hank Aaron Trail ran slightly downhill through older neighborhoods on the outskirts of town, past single family post-war homes visible through the trees. It was a tree-lined, single car-lane sized concrete trail, meaning there was room for two bikes across, but not three. So, ever chivalrous, Jim fell back whenever a biker or pedestrian approached.

We were warned by another biker not to miss a sharp left turn ahead, which we found (following him) as we neared the very cool American Family Insurance Stadium.  This gave Jim an opportunity to regale Kellie, as he rode, with facts about the Brewers and Hank Aaron’s career with the former Milwaukee Braves.

Continuing towards the waterfront, we passed under lots of very high raised freeways which we’d noticed driving into the city.  At this point, the trail became a wide sidewalk alongside a fairly quiet industrial avenue lined with unused railroad boxcars.  Beyond them was an active railroad yard and tracks that we crossed as the Milwaukee skyline came into view.

Winding our way along the sidewalks, we passed three geodesic domes with pink glowing rims on top that we later learned were part of the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory. Each housed a different microclimate and plants native to it.

Rising ahead of us was a towering, white 1970’s-era building with the word “Potawatomi” on top. We realized as we got closer that it was a casino hotel (oops! designed in 2012) with a large Native American’ish building beside it (the bingo and casino hall) that featured large, torch-like wire sculptures on top. Later in the evening, we saw a flame projected on the top of the hotel. Fun fact: Wisconsin is one of 18 states that permit casinos now.

At 4-1/2 miles from our starting point, we saw two large smokestacks looming in the distance next to an oddly situated arch running beneath the overhead highways. Nearing downtown and the beginning of several waterways where small pleasure boats were moored, we passed the Harley Davidson Museum.

Signage got very spotty as the route became more complicated and we had to refer to TrailLink a couple of times after we crossed over the downtown river. We ended up riding on the city streets and sidewalks of the Historic Third Ward area, where outdoor restaurants and 6-8 story apartment buildings seemed to be teeming with the city’s hip Millennial population. At that point, we abandoned trying to follow the trail (it ended somewhere nearby) and headed toward a descending drawbridge over a canal lined with sailboats.

Kellie had never been to Milwaukee (or even to Wisconsin!) and was very impressed with the waterfront promenade, the large grassy parks, Lake Michigan, and the variety of lagoons, rivers, ponds, inlets and canals. While walking/biking paths crisscrossed the entire area, we rode close to the rocky revetments and corrugated iron seawalls that kept the Lake at bay.

There appeared to be lots to see and do on the Lakefront: we passed an outdoor amphitheater, a small red lighthouse, other performing venues, a building designed to look like a large ship’s prow (Milwaukee Art Museum), Discovery World science and technology center, and more. The promenade eventually ended on a long, wide jetty, beyond which was McKinley Marina.

There was much more to explore north of McKinley Marina, but the sun was going down. So, we meandered back and sprinted across the tree-lined Lincoln Memorial Drive that separates the downtown buildings from the parklands. Such a huge and lovely Lakefront!  

Dinner and drinks that night were at Lakefront Brewery north of downtown. We arrived just as their very popular Trivia Night was ending, so the cavernous hall was full. In addition to the indoor seating, there was a waterway out back where patrons sat on stools at a very long counter watching the boats pass.

We finally got to try the city’s famous (and the brewery’s award-winning) fried cheese curds. They were pretty decadent. Sort of like globular-shaped fried mozzarella sticks, but more buttery and delicious!

Kellie had their Honey Brown Ale, which paired perfectly with both the cheese curds and bratwurst on a pretzel roll.  Jim had their Hazy Rabbit IPA, which was a denser version of a West Coast IPA, but still refreshing.

There’s lots to love in Milwaukee, so share your favorites in the Comments below.

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