A bushel full of adventures in Walworth County

Posted September 6, 2006 at 8:15 a.m.)

Whether its apple picking, visiting a winery and sampling blueberry, pear or cranberry wine, enjoying apple pie baked in a paper bag, riding the rails through the countryside on a restored electric street car or careening down one of the Midwest's top trails for mountain biking, Wisconsin's Walworth County offers a bushel of fall pursuits for all ages and interests.

The East Troy Electric Railroad (www.easttroyrr.org), located 20 miles north of the famed resort town of Lake Geneva, affords railroad enthusiasts the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the autumn hues as antique electric rail cars take visitors on a 10-mile excursion from the town of East Troy to the Elegant Farmer in Mukwonago.

The railroad, home to 20 rail treasures including locomotives, streetcars and interurban coaches, celebrates autumn at its annual Fall Color Spectacular October 21 - 22. Hayrides aboard open-air railcars are offered throughout the weekend with apple picking available at the end of the line.

Apple Picking and Winery Tours

The Elegant Farmer (www.elegantfarmer.com), home to the famed apple pie baked in a paper bag, begins its apple picking season on September 9. The farm's annual Autumn Harvest Festival, featuring tractor-pulled hayrides, pumpkin and apple picking, and freshly baked delicacies, continues on weekends through October 22.

"This year's crop and varieties will be one of our best featuring a bounty of sweet and tart flavors," said John Bauer, Elegant Farmer owner. "The real delight for us each year is seeing the kids running from tree to tree picking, tasting and laughing. It's a magical time on the farm creating wonderful memories for generations of families each year." The Elegant Farmer also offers make-your-own caramel apples and a marketplace featuring seasonal fruits and vegetables, and award-winning cheeses.

Celebrating its 18th annual Apple Fest, the Apple Barn Orchard and Winery (www.applebarnorchardandwinery.com) is another option in Walworth County to pick apples straight from the tree. Located just outside of Elkhorn, the family-run farm grows 12 varieties of apples including the popular Honey Crisp and Cortland.

According to Judy Jacobson, whose family has owned the land since 1848, all of the wines produced at the winery are made in small batches to ensure richness and quality. The winery offers a variety of homegrown fruit wines including apple, blackberry and mulberry, pear and cranberry, as well as tours and wine tasting.

Serene hiking and extreme biking

The 21,000-acre southern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest located near Eagle and Whitewater (www.dnr.state.wi.us/ORG/land/parks/specific/kms/trails.html) offers some of the best mountain bike trails in the country. The John Muir trail system consists of five different loops, each of varying length and difficulty, while the Emma F. Carlin trail has three paths that are regarded as more challenging by avid bicyclists.

Highly regarded for its extensive trail system, the forest provides for a unique outdoor recreational resource. The hiking trails that wind through the park's glacial depressions are open throughout the year and are especially popular during the fall when the leaves are at peak color. There are six main trails in the southern unit, including one trail that is handicap accessible.

Walk through the backyards of mansions

In the Lake Geneva area, the 21-mile Geneva Lake shore path allows residents and visitors the opportunity to literally walk through the back yards of striking century-old mansions. According to Wisconsin history, the region's earliest settlers dictated that the 20 feet of land directly up from the shoreline be deemed public domain. Today their edict provides walkers with a unique view of the fall foliage and some of the most beautiful dwellings in the Midwest.

To gain a different perspective of the region, visitors can board a twin-stacked Mississippi paddle wheel steamer or other vessel operated by Lake Geneva Cruise Line (www.cruiselakegeneva.com). During the fall season, the cruise line offers fully guided hikes on the shore path from downtown Lake Geneva to Williams Bay. Following the four-hour walk, the tour continues via boat along the remaining shoreline back to port.

Walworth County is located in southeastern Wisconsin, less than 90 minutes from Chicago and 45 minutes from downtown Milwaukee. For a complimentary guide of area activities and accommodations, contact the Walworth County Visitors' Bureau at (800) 395-8687 or visit its web site at www.visitwalworthcounty.com.

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