Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin is a lake vacation destination about an hour outside Milwaukee. With history everywhere, it is steeped in culture, good food, and lake life. While known as a summer destination, Elkhart Lake is a jewel to visit year round.
I recently had a chance to visit Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin as a guest of the local Convention and Visitors Bureau. Being a Wisconsin-native (transplanted to Atlanta) I jumped at the chance to go “home.” And everything about this lake vacation spot reminds you of home, even if you’ve never been here before.
Where is Elkhart Lake?
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin is about an hour outside of Milwaukee on the eastern side of the state. Built by sturdy German settlers in the 1800s, it has retained its salt-of-the-earth personality while also providing quite a bit of culture. The food and drinks are unbelievable, as is the friendliness of those who live there.
This little town of 1,000 people packs quite a punch in the culinary scene. Think you will just have to survive on brats and beer? No way. You can find everything from seared tuna at the tapas bar, Lake Street Cafe, to an heirloom tomato salad with fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes at the Paddock Club, to the best fried cheese curds you’ve ever had at a lakeside Tiki Bar in the Victorian Village Resort. But of course, there is lots (and lots) of beer and spirits to wash down all the good food.
Elkhart Lake itself is one of the largest lakes in Wisconsin and is used all summer long for every water activity you can think of, including boating, fishing, water skiing, tubing, stand up paddleboarding, kayaking, and swimming. Though the lake temperature may seem chilly to those accustomed to southern waters, the 70 degree reading in August was pretty typical. And anyone visiting the Midwest knows that lake vacations are only partially about the lake. Check out even more reasons to visit this unique destination.
Why Visit this Lake Vacation Destination?
1. It is off the beaten path.
There are places in the world that everyone seems to know about and visit continuously. Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin is often not one of those places…until it is. Elkhart Lake is just a 70 minute drive from the closest major airport in Milwaukee. It is only about 3 hours north of Chicago too. While not far from these big metropolitan cities, it couldn’t be more different. Many people visit this lake destination for the first time and wonder how they could have missed this jewel of city in the past. They make sure to not miss it again.
2. You can enjoy a slower pace.
We are so used to being on the go and moving around with 100 things on our to do lists. Not at Elkhart Lake. This place forces you to slow down and get back to yourself. There’s not a big game room, but there is a big field to run in. You may not find the the newest technology in every hotel room, but you might get an actual key on an actual key chain. (Don’t lose it.) People here aren’t rushing through dinner. If there’s a wait, that just means they get to savor their Old Fashioned a little longer.
3. You can take advantage of the lake.
Elkhart Lake is simply beautiful. It is one of the largest lakes in Wisconsin, but not too large that it seems overwhelming. You can rent a kayak, take a pontoon boat out, or just splash in the refreshingly cool, crisp, clean water.
4. History lives here.
History is not just something you read about in books in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. It is all around. The hotel where I stayed, Victorian Village, dates back to 1867. That’s 150 years ago! While history is everywhere, the owners of the hotels, restaurants and shops in the area have continued to upgrade the area. It’s really the best of both worlds.
5. Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin is a walkable town.
There is no need to drive once you get into town. Park once and get around town the old fashioned way…with your own two feet. Everything is in walking distance. Stop rushing. No need to load the kids in and out of the car. Get out and walk!
6. This is authentic Wisconsin.
Rustic and luxurious with absolutely no pretentiousness, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin is a great representation of the state. You get cheese at locally-made cheese shops like Hennings Cheese, and you can find Wisconsin-made cranberry wine (along with hundreds of other options) at Vintage Wine Shop. There are no Starbucks here and no fast food restaurants. The fields of corn and gardens full of tomatoes you drive by on the way to town are probably the source for your dinner.
7. You can get your speed on.
One of the coolest things I participated in while visiting this lake vacation destination has nothing to do with the lake. I loved going to Road America. This motor sports track routinely hosts more than 500 events per year, including many nationally-televised NASCAR races. It is one of the world’s fastest permanent road racing tracks. I got to race go-karts that went up to 40 mph and I also was able to participate in the “champagne slalom” challenge. This challenge allowed me to drive one of their test cars through a curvy course without letting a ball drop from the cup stuck on the hood. I won, by the way.
8. Luxury can be found in abundance.
Don’t let the small town vibe fool you. This is a city that takes care of visitors well. For a full luxury resort experience, you can stay at the Osthhoff Resort. Do not miss a chance to experience the spa. The fireplace in the treatment room was something I hadn’t seen before. You can spend the whole day here! Both Victorian Village and Siebkins Resort offer condo-style units with upscale amenities without the pomp and circumstance of a hotel. The oversized multi-bedroom units are great for families.
Elkhart Lake: Where there are no chain stores.
During my time at this lake vacation destination in Wisconsin, I realized that sometimes you just have to go where no one knows your name, but they’re still glad you came. It’s good to go to a place where the hotels have funny names and there are no chain restaurants in the entire city. Sometimes exploring a small town gift shop or enjoying a handcrafted ice cream sundae or learning why it’s good for your cheese to “squeak” can create the type of memories you’ll always carry with you. And you’ll find that in Elkhart Lake.