Neighbors this spring are providing a three-month home to an older teen who is nearly 6,500 miles from home. How would you entertain this young man, quell homesickness and help him form positive, lasting memories of all that is special in Wisconsin?
A sense of connection to a place, experience or group of people is enough to satisfy me, but I think of teens as thrill seekers who need more than exposure to a stimulating landscape, meal or Sunday drive.
Here are a dozen ways to entice thrill seekers of any age, especially as weather warms.
Drive the Road America track. Professional racers maneuver the four-mile and 14-turn track near Elkhart Lake, but so can average people. Ages 16 and older can follow a pace car in their own vehicle or get strapped into a Corvette for one or two laps at higher rates of speed. Eight-hour, high-performance driving workshops happen monthly. Pro races begin with vintage vehicles on May 17-19. For details and prices: roadamerica.com (see “fan info”), 800-365-7223.
Ride the Screaming Hyena. New at Kalahari Waterpark, Wisconsin Dells, are this freefall slide and the 65-foot-tall Sahara Sidewinders, looping waterslides that whisk riders 25 mph. No place else in the world has more waterparks, per capita, than the Dells. For more about the 22 indoor and three outdoor options: wisdells.com, 800-223-3557.
Climb cliffs at Devils Lake. Inside Wisconsin’s most-visited state park, near Baraboo, are beautiful and rugged quartzite cliffs that rock climbers can’t resist. Park staff don’t ban or hype rock climbing; proceed safely by using an outfitter for instruction and support. Choices include the Apex Adventure Alliance, which assists beginning to experienced climbers: apexadventurealliance.com, 608-434-3360.
Confront whitewater rapids. Book a cottage or campsite at Thornton’s Whitewater Rafting Resort, near Crivitz. Resort operators arrange guided group rafting on the impetuous Peshtigo and Menominee rivers, where rapids are classified up to Class IV (as in “very difficult’). For more: thorntonsresort.com, 715-757-3311.
Catch the Harley spirit. Live vicariously at the Harley Davidson Museum, Milwaukee, and learn what makes the 110-year-old motorcycle manufacturer’s products roar. The weekend Shop Class Experience, offered monthly, pulls the curtain on mechanics and includes VIP treatment. For more: harley-davidson.com, 877-436-8738.
Paddle in, near Milwaukee. Try out a canoe, paddleboard or kayak during the annual Paddlefest, May 18-19 at Laacke and Joys’ downtown store. That means floating along the Milwaukee River. Experienced navigators at other times can follow the Lake Michigan shoreline, thanks to the new, 75-mile Lake Michigan Water Trail (which eventually will loop the lake, involving four states). Maps at dnr.wi.gov outline trail access/entry points; learn more at lmwt.org or ljoutdoors.com, 414-271-7878.
Fish for salmon. Learn to fly fish for salmon on the Sheboygan River or take a seat on a charter fishing boat, to test Lake Michigan waters. It’s supposed to be an especially good year for Chinook salmon. Wolfpack Adventures offers both types of fishing options to small and large groups. For more: wolfpackadventures.com, 920-918-9653.
Bike the Northwoods. Use a mountain bike and follow dirt paths. In Sawyer and Bayfield counties are 70 miles of new trails, developed by the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association. That makes more than 300 miles to roam. The annual Festival of Trails, May 31 to June 1, includes the 30-mile Mt. Borah Epic race and several other events. Details are at cambatrails.org, 715-798-3599.
Explore true wilderness. Members of the Sierra Club’s John Muir Chapter head to Sylvania Wilderness, 18,000 acres of national wilderness near Watersmeet, Mich., to remove invasive thistles June 14-18. So it’s a volunteer work trip, but backcountry canoe camping also is a part of the deal. Reservations are needed by May 30: wisconsin.sierraclub.org, 608-835-5144.
Study a shipwreck. The Milwaukee-based Shipwreck Explorers conduct dive trips on lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron. Thousands of ships have sunk with loads of personal and commercial cargo; qualified participants dive to find and study these remains. Wisconsin exploration sites are near Milwaukee, Sheboygan, Manitowoc and Sturgeon Bay. Learn more at shipwreckexplorers.com, 414-807-8233.
Play pirate. The exhibit “Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah” remains at the Milwaukee Public Museum until May 27. The slave ship turned into a pirate ship for two years in the 1700s and was discovered near Cape Cod in 1984, full of buried treasure plus a history of poverty and plundering before plummeting into the Atlantic Ocean. For more: mpm.edu, 414-223-4676.
Get hooked on ziplines. It’s certainly not a Wisconsin-only experience – ziplining thrills travelers from Africa to New Zealand – but treetop views of Badger landscapes are a thrill and possible in several locations, including Door County, Wisconsin Dells, Lake Geneva and Niagara. Search for details at travelwisconsin.com, 800-432-8747.