DELAVAN—Some sensations can't be duplicated.
The blend of shock and joy that comes with the first leap off the dock is one of them. The moment in that blue-green calm before you surface for air is another. Best of all is the transformation that takes place the second you hit the water: Summer's sweaty crankiness dissipates into cool relaxation.
Summer in Rock County means a trip to the municipal pool. Summer in Walworth County means a trip to the beach. Both are joyous parts of summer, but they are entirely different experiences.
We took a road trip around Walworth County to see what its beaches had to offer.
—Mill Pond, Waterworks Drive and Highway 11, Delavan.
First impressions: Travelers on Highway 11 might bypass this little swimming hole, worried that its small size means the water gets stagnant by midsummer.
That is a mistake. The Mill Pond is spring-fed, and the water circulates through the pond and out into the creek, explained Delavan parks director Tom Klug.
Water features: Plenty of shallow areas with sandy bottoms for little kids. Past the rope line, two floating inflatables provide entertainment. It is harder than it looks to run across the squashy inflatable log, and when you fall in, pre-teens will laugh at you.
Also, don't be deceived by the size of the inflatable slide. It is steep enough to fling an adult into the water. That will cause the adult to shriek like a startled monkey. Not that I tried it.
Other attractions include shade trees on a well-kept lawn, picnic tables, shelters, and a sandy beach with water and sand play structures.
Lifeguards are on duty.
Accommodations: Clean bathrooms, changing rooms, two outdoor showers for rinsing off. Drinks and snacks are available for sale.
Details: Noon to 7 p.m. through Aug. 16. Cost is $2 for residents, $4 for nonresidents. Parking is free.
Overall assessment: The Mill Pond is the least expensive and most overlooked swimming hole in the area.
—Riviera Beach, 626 Geneva St., Lake Geneva.
First impressions: On a Thursday before a holiday weekend, the last place you want to be is at the intersection of Highway 50 and Center Street in Lake Geneva. But the beach and the shady park that overlooks it are beautiful.
Water features: A sandy bottom with a few pebbles is easy on the feet, and the swimming area is huge. Two old-fashioned rafts provide entertainment.
Lifeguards are on duty during beach hours.
Accommodations: Clean restrooms, areas to change and showers to rinse off. Beach toys, beverages, candy and food are available for sale. Parking is $1 per hour on the street, and it is obsessively monitored.
The American Legion Canteen, located in the park in front of the library, offers a variety of food, including a Chicago hot dog with mustard, cucumbers, tomatoes, relish, onions, sweet peppers and celery salt for $3.50. It's the food of the gods.
Details: Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day. Admission is free for children ages 6 and younger, $4 for children ages 7 to 12 and $7 for everyone else. Visitors pay admission fees at pay stations. The stations give vouchers that are exchanged for wristbands at the beach house.
Overall assessment: The lovely setting and the American Legion Canteen almost make up for the traffic, crowds and parking fees.
—Big Foot Beach State Park, 1550 S. Lake Shore Drive, Lake Geneva.
First impression: That can't possibly be the beach.
Water features: The “beach” is a strip of sand that measures 18 reporter flip-flops from the edge of Lake Shore Drive to the water. That's 162 inches or 13.5 feet of alleged beach. And yes, I do shop at the clown store for shoes.
Take an accidental step backward from the “beach,” and you could end up pancaked under a SUV with Illinois plates. For pity's sake, don't bring any toddlers.
The swimming area looks like a rope of buoys thrown halfheartedly from the shore.
No lifeguards are on duty. Why would they be?
Accommodations: The restrooms across the road are slightly dilapidated but clean. A soda machine is also available.
Details: The beach is open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day. A state park admission sticker is required. Day passes are $7 per vehicle.
Overall assessment: Excellent beach for launching a kayak or canoe.
—Fontana Beach, Fontana Boulevard.
First impression: You'll be charmed. A wide swath of soft sand is complemented by an even wider swath of well-kept green lawn. Red maples provide shade and a good napping spot away from the water.
The teenagers staffing the beach house are cheerful and friendly.
Water features: The swimming area is large and long, perfect for swimming laps. The boats motoring into the nearby marina provide enough waves to be entertaining for the little kids near shore, but they're not so large that they disturb the lap swimmers closest to the buoys.
Lifeguards are on duty during beach hours.
Accommodations: Out of all the Walworth County public beaches, Fontana has the cleanest and brightest bathrooms. Its outdoor showers have rainfall-type showerheads. A variety of drinks, ice cream, snacks and beach toys is available for sale.
Details: The beach is open 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day. Admission is free for children ages 5 and younger, $4 for children ages 6 to 11 and $8 for everyone else. Parking is limited and costs $1 an hour.
Overall assessment: You'll want to stay there all day.
—Williams Bay Beach, Geneva Street, Williams Bay. Located east of Edgewater Park.
First impression: A pleasant but slightly smaller beach compared to the others on Geneva Lake.
Water features: Many of the details from other Geneva Lake beaches apply here, just less so: friendly staff, long stretch of shallow water and shady spots to rest in. Lifeguards are on duty.
Accommodations: Clean bathrooms and changing areas, spots to rinse off, snacks available.
Details: Beach hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Children 5 and younger get in free. Admission is $4 for children ages 6 to 11 and $7 for all others. Parking is limited but free.
Overall assessment: Nice.
—Community Park, Highway 50, town of Delavan.
First impression: New visitors will be surprised by the great views of the lake and the park's extensive frontage.
Water features: The beach, while not glamorous, gets the job done on a hot day. Booms keep the lake weeds off the beach, and the town is diligent about keeping the area clean.
No lifeguards are on duty.
Accommodations: Bathrooms are open during beach hours.
Details: The beach is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the cost is $3 for nonresidents. Parking is free.
Overall assessment: A lake great for fishing and OK for swimming.
—Kettle Moraine State Forest, southern unit, W7796 Kettle Moraine Drive, Whitewater.
First impression: Well, who knew? In the middle of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, just outside Whitewater, is a quiet swimming hole that's perfect for families.
Water features: The beach is nestled into a cove on Whitewater Lake. A line of buoys marks the swimming area, but kids—and plenty of adults—swim where they please.
On a Thursday before a holiday weekend, about a half-dozen kids were in the water, while others played in the sand or on the large sloping lawn that leads to the beach.
No lifeguards are on duty.
Accommodations: Composting toilets are available near the parking lot.
Details: $7 for vehicles with Wisconsin plates.
Overall assessment: Quiet and mostly undiscovered, the beach is a good spot for novel readers, families with small children and anyone who wants to get away from it all without driving far.