Along the Geneva Lake shoreline, you’ll find a 21-mile lakeside trail, sometimes longer due to the winding path, referred to as the Lake Geneva Shore Path. Geneva Lake is a freshwater spring-fed lake located in Southeastern Wisconsin. The lake is about 7.7 miles long and has a maximum depth of about 135 feet.
Here you will find several small communities surrounding the lake including the city of Lake Geneva and the villages of Williams Bay and Fontana.
We asked our friend Sarah from Explore More NC to cover this topic more in-depth. Sarah was born and raised in Lake Geneva, WI, and has enjoyed many walks on the Lake Geneva Shore Path over the years. Today, she resides in North Carolina but wanted to share her beautiful hometown with all of us!
History of Geneva Lake
The Lake Geneva area has been a very popular resort destination, especially for those living in the Chicago area. It was formed over 10,000 years ago as a result of glaciers in the area.
The land was originally called “Maunk-suck” (Big Foot) for the Potawatomi tribe leader who resided in this area at the beginning of the 19th Century. The original settlers referred to the lake as Big Foot Lake.
Unfortunately, Chief Big Foot and his tribe were compelled to migrate southwest to Iowa in 1836 due to the 1833 Chicago Treaty.
This area of land was then “owned” by the government and started to get surveyed in 1835 by John Brink. The area reminded him of Seneca Lake, which was in John’s hometown in Geneva, New York. He named the area Geneva. The town was later renamed Lake Geneva to avoid confusion with the nearby town of Geneva, IL, and the Lake was renamed Geneva Lake.
After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the Lake Geneva area changed rapidly. Many from Chicago retreated north to Lake Geneva to establish summer estates while they rebuilt from the great fire. There was a railroad that made it easy for those to travel from the Chicago area, which continued to expand to Williams Bay and even the far end of the lake in Fontana.
Many wealthy industrialists showcased their wealth by building exquisite estates on the lake. Geneva Lake has quite the most fascinating history!
Lake Geneva Shore Path History
The shoreline of Geneva Lake was used by early settlers of the region for footpath transportation between villages.
Later it was used as a trail for workers to follow from Lake Geneva to the estates of the wealthy Chicago families living here.
The first 20 feet of the shoreline have been preserved as public domain. Every private property owner is required to maintain this path, and you’ll see it uniquely displayed from each property to the next with personal touches added.
Hiking the Lake Geneva Shore Path
The total length of the shore path hike is about 22 – 26 miles. It will take an entire day to walk around the entire lake, so make sure to pack accordingly.
For the shore path hike, you can also do it in sections. There are several public access points where you can start or end within Lake Geneva, Fontana, Williams Bay, Linn, and Big Foot Beach areas.
One of the most common places to start is near Riviera Beach by the Lake Geneva Public Library, which is located in downtown Lake Geneva.
Part of the path here is paved if you want to do an easy portion of it. You can hike in either direction on the path. It’s entirely up to you!
The path is about 2 feet wide in most areas. If you love beautiful scenery and historic homes, then this is your trail!
You should only hike during the day.
No bikes, skates, or motorized vehicles are permitted on the shore path.
On part of the lake path, you will come across different terrain as you hike, varying from grass, cement, rocks, gravel, wood, and brick. Some areas can be very hilly!
I wouldn’t recommend hiking after rain or while raining since many sections can be a simple dirt path and turn muddy in wet conditions.
Wear comfortable shoes with good tread!
You are allowed to bring your leashed dogs, but please make sure to clean up after them.
Along the path, you will experience many wooded areas as you pass the historic estates on Geneva Lake.
To help you navigate and explore the historic Geneva Lake Shore Path, you can download the Lake Geneva Shore Path App from Visit Lake Geneva for an interactive journey, or when you arrive, you can find a printed copy of the Geneva Lake Shore Path Guide.
Distance between Public Access Points
- Lake Geneva to Chapin Rd is approximately 3.7 miles
- Chapin Rd to Williams Bay is approximately 3.5 miles
- Williams Bay to Fontana is approximately 3.3 miles
- Fontana to Shadow Ln is approximately 2.6 miles
- Shadow Ln to Linn Rd is approximately 3 miles
- Linn Rd to Big Foot Beach State Park is approximately 3.2 miles
- Big Foot Beach State Park to Lake Geneva is approximately 2 miles
Public parking is only available in Lake Geneva, Williams Bay, Fontana, and Big Foot Beach State Park.
Public Restrooms Access
Access to restrooms will vary depending on the season and time of day. You will find locations in Lake Geneva, Edgewater Park in Williams Bay, Reid Park in Fontana, and Big Foot Beach State Park on the south end of Lake Geneva.
You will find water fountains in several of these locations too.
Historic Estates on Geneva Lake
This is the largest estate to be built on Geneva Lake. Otto Young started building this home back in 1899 and was originally called Younglands. Otto was only able to enjoy the home for 5 years prior to his death.
Throughout the years, Stone Manor was donated as a church camp and school for girls, then a restaurant. Today, the property is divided into luxury condominiums, but the exterior pretty much has stayed the same. It’s on the National Register for Historic Places.
You cannot miss this home from the water.
Casa Del Sueno
The original Spanish-style estate was built in 1893 and was known as Galewood. In 1928 it burned down and was rebuilt in 1930.
The Stark Family, of the Stark Piano Company, owned it until 1952. It’s changed hands several times over the years, including to one of the writers and producers for the TV soap operas “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
Lake Geneva Library
Not only is this a great public access point for the shore path, but it’s also a beautiful building that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s protege, James R. Dresser.
It overlooks Geneva Lake and is located in downtown Lake Geneva.
Here you will find a paved section of the path in the library park.
Black Point was built in 1888 as a retreat for beer baron Conrad Seipp. It is situated on 28 acres and was private until 2007.
Today, it’s open to the public and you can tour this elegant Queen Anne-style mansion. Tours are currently closed until May 2023. You will need to arrive by boat though.
The Lake Geneva Cruise Line offers a 45-min scenic boat ride with your admission. You get to hear more history of the Lake Geneva area and view it from the water, which is one of the best ways to take in all the beautiful estates on Geneva Lake.
Flowerside Inn was built in 1898 for the family of Simeon Chapin.
Chapin was the founder of the Geneva Lake Water Safety Patrol in 1920. The grounds were well known for their beautiful gardens, and the present-day owners had to employ 15 gardeners to tend to the landscape and bring them back to its former glory.
Built in 1892, a well-known radio show “Amos ‘n Andy” was taped here on occasion in the 1930s.
This club was established in 1882 and was formed by a group of wealthy Chicagoans who lived on Congress St. They wanted to find a spot where they could all vacation together.
Here at the Congress Club, they built 10 cottages on 10 acres. The cottages were completed in the late 1880s. None of the cottages had a kitchen because they wanted to have a clubhouse that would serve as a community kitchen and dining area.
Since then, kitchens have been added, but the clubhouse still serves as a place for gathering.
This manor was built in 1856 and served as a summer residence for several prominent Chicago industrialists. Both Ulysses S. Grant and Nancy Reagan have stayed here.
There was also a hidden speakeasy in the basement.
Today it’s been transformed into a boutique hotel with luxury rooms located in Lake Geneva.
House in the Woods
Located in what is called “The Narrows” on Geneva Lake, this house was built under a Ringling Bros. circus tent during the winter of 1905.
P.T. Barnum kept the circus nearby in Delavan, WI during the off-season so the tent was able to be borrowed. There was a rush for the project as he had to finish on time to be a surprise for his wife’s birthday in the spring.
Other Activities to do in Lake Geneva WI
Take a cruise on the Lake Geneva Cruise Line
Don’t feel like walking the entire Lake Geneva lake shore path? Then opt for one of the full lake tours via boat.
They even have a fun tour where you can join them in delivering mail in the summer. The boat pulls right up next to the piers of the private homes to deliver the mail! It’s quite the sight, and you might even see them fall into the water or miss jumping back onto the boat. The boat will not stop for them!
The cruise takes off from the Riveria pier, and you can buy tickets in advance on their site.
Swim at the Riviera Beach
Enjoy the beautiful waters of Geneva Lake at the public beach in downtown Lake Geneva.
Enjoy Shopping in Downtown Lake Geneva and Nearby Restaurants
Want to find some restaurants or local shops while you are in town? Lake Geneva has all that and more!
If you are looking for waterfront dining, stop by the Oakfire or enjoy some roasted chicken at Popeye’s on Lake Geneva. Near Flat Iron Park in downtown Lake Geneva, you can also dine at Lake City Social and take in some water views.
While in Williams Bay on the lake path, you will come across a couple of restaurants, as well. PIER 290 is along the water, and another location just off the path is Harpoon Willie’s.
While you are in Fontana on the west end of the lake, stop by Chuck’s Lakeshore Inn for a burger or Gordy’s Boat House.
Finally, if you are near Big Foot Beach back on the east side, stop by The Boat House Bar & Grill, which is right next to the Big Foot Beach State Park and has a beautiful view of Geneva Lake.
I hope you can get out there and explore the Geneva Lake area. It’s a lot of fun and a great place to enjoy the magnificent estates along the entire shore path.
If you don’t have all day, just hike a portion of the path. The south side of the path is more challenging than the north side.
Just remember you are walking near private property owners, so please take all your trash with you and leave no trace. It’s one of the most beautiful lakes and we want to keep it that way!
Lake Geneva is about an hour and a half away from Chicago, IL, and an hour away from Milwaukee, WI. Add it to your list of must-visit midwest destinations today!
If you are ever exploring outside of the Midwest area, especially the North Carolina area where Sarah now resides, make sure to visit Explore More NC.