Winter beach days — when crowds (and bugs and smells) are almost nonexistent — offer a nice bit of solitude among some beautiful seascapes.
The state is home to plenty of beaches along Lake Michigan that are a great getaway any time of year, including Point Beach State Forest in Two Rivers north of Manitowoc.
The 3,000-acre forest sits along six miles of Lake Michigan coastline, cream-colored sand rising up in rolling, grass-covered dunes against a backdrop of evergreens.
The forest is home to three state natural areas, including Point Beach Ridges, which consists of 11 alternating ridges and swales, the high and low points of sand dunes formed by the changing Lake Michigan shoreline. The swales are occasionally filled in with water, or ice in the winter. The western dunes have now been overtaken by mixed conifers and hardwoods, creating a beautiful, rolling landscape.
Also in the state forest: Rawley Point Lighthouse, built in 1894. The white, steel lighthouse stands next to a two-story, red-roofed lighthouse keeper's quarters, part of which served as the original lighthouse built in 1853. At 113 feet, it's the tallest octagonal skeletal lighthouse on the Great Lakes. It's still operational and is not open for tours, but you can snap some nice photographs of the picturesque structure from the beach.
Things to do: A highlight of the property is, of course, the shoreline. While the beach is more narrow in recent years thanks to higher Lake Michigan water levels, it's still nice to walk along in winter and take a cool dip in summer.
Point Beach is located along the Lake Michigan Water Trail, a water route that follows the lake's shoreline and that organizers hope will eventually be the longest continuous freshwater kayaking loop in the world.
Wisconsin's 523-mile segment is the state's first designated water trail and follows the shoreline from the Wisconsin-Illinois border north past Point Beach and around the Door County peninsula.
One goal of the trail is to provide public access points and campsites at intervals of no more than 10 miles along the lake. In 2014, the state Department of Natural Resources opened two new kayak campsites at Point Beach.
The wind and waves of Lake Michigan are not for beginners —- you'll need a sea kayak and open-water kayaking experience to paddle the Great Lake.
But plenty of other activities can keep landlubbers occupied at Point Beach.
More than 17 miles of hiking trails meander through the forest, including a nearly 10-mile segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. In the winter, the Ridges Trail — with loops of 3, 5.5 and 7.25 miles — is open for cross-country skiing.
Bikers also will enjoy the Ridges Trail or the 5-mile, limestone-packed Rawley Point Trail, which connects with the 7-mile paved Mariners Trail at the forest's southern edge and continues south through Two Rivers to Manitowoc. In the summer, you can rent bikes from the concession stand at the northern end of the forest.
A wooded campground is popular in the summer and fall, when the changing leaves add another element of beauty to the lakeside forest. If you want to snag a spot for next summer, make a reservation now.
In the spring and fall, the forest is a prime spot for watching migrating shorebirds and raptors.
While you're there: Learn more about the area's marine legacy at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc. Tour the USS Cobia, a World War II submarine docked at the museum. Tours are offered daily except Tuesday and Wednesday in the winter. Call (866) 724-2356 or see wisconsinmaritime.org.
The Rahr-West Art Museum is housed in a late 19th-century Queen Anne-style Victorian mansion in Manitowoc and is home to 19th-, 20th- and 21st-century contemporary and decorative art. It's also home to a replica piece of the Russian satellite Sputnik IV that crashed outside the museum in 1962. Call (920) 686-3090 or see rahrwestartmuseum.org.
Getting there: Point Beach State Forest is at 9400 County Highway O, Two Rivers, about 95 miles north of Milwaukee.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Point Beach State Forest is a great getaway any time of year