Leaf peeping and hiking in the Northwoods of Wisconsin is an obvious autumn travel goal, and so are snow sports in the winter. But what about some unexpected, maybe quirky options? That’s what Cultural Heritage TravelingMom headed north to experience, discovering towns with charming names–Manitowish Waters, Land O’Lakes and St. Germain, and cranberries, supper clubs and art classes.

September/October harvest season the t ime to plan a Northwoods WI trip.

Harvesting cranberries from Wisconsin marshes unusual travel sight. Photo by Cultural Heritage TravelingMom Christine Tibbetts

Discovering the Supper Club in Northwoods of Wisconsin

Seems a bit extreme going to the Northwoods of Wisconsin for supper, but when the reason are as full of cultural history as culinary curiosity, why not? SUPPER CLUB is the specific force driving my desire and I found what I wanted in the tiny town of St. Germain.

Good place to be feeling sociable because this is not about isolated dining, texting friends from a high-backed booth. Supper clubbers head to the bar and it felt to me like the conversation was the reason. Food happens later, abundantly.

TravelingMom Tip: Comfy shoes important since standing with chatty groups is more likely than sitting elbows-on-the-bar style.

Supper clubs are a Northwoods of Wisconsin tradition unifying friends and family.

Groups gathering: that’s the supper club theme. This carved fellow moves around year-round. Photo courtesy Eagle Waters Resort

Even when my traveling companions are interesting, I like meeting local folks. Supper clubs made that easy. The people in Vilas County on the top of Wisconsin are quick to tell you they claim the rights as the center of the supper club universe.

Supper Club Tips To Act Like An Insider

I can’t document that, but I can tell you how to be an insider when you go:

  • Appreciate the owner asking you about the family when you arrive. This is tradition, not prying.
  • Prime your taste buds for celery because it’s always on the relish tray served right away.
  • Whisky or brandy old-fashioneds are the fave libations
  • Hang out at the bar as long as you like because you can place your dinner order there and go to the table only when food’s ready.

Supper club food should be a steak, but liver and onions are popular too, or fish on Fridays. Walleye is a local catch.

Salad? Sure. With cinnamon rolls or sticky buns, piping hot from the oven. Seemed to me this supper club combination of flavors defined the enduring tradition. No need for trendy fusion courses here after 50 years.

Eat a big steak, or local catch fish in a supper club in Wisconsin Northwoods.

Portions are generous, and so is conversation in Wisconsin supper clubs. Photo courtesy Eagle Waters Resort.

Ice cream heads the dessert list. The favorite is liquor spiked, intended to sip not spoon.

Supper clubs might look a bit like sports bars except the TVs are not turned on unless the Badgers, Brewers or Packers are playing.

Source cranberries from the marsh

Cranberry harvesters never invited me in the waist-deep water with them, but didn’t mind me hanging out at the edge. They look strong.

In Wisconsin this is called a marsh. “Out East” growers call the same system a bog.

Fascinating this process of dikes and sunken planting beds. Tours happen at the Vilas County Cranberry Farm on Fridays after the Fourth of July, and harvests only mid-September through mid-October.

This is not a Wisconsin winter event!

Cranberries bounce, and enliven food, drinks and cosmetics.

Find touches of history in cranberry farm operations. Photo by Cultural Heritage TravelingMom Christine Tibbetts

The front porch of the shop has a five-minute continuous loop documentary detailing the entire process and I’d recommend watching with or without a tour.

I used to think of Maine as a berry state but Wisconsin claims largest-producer status for cranberries. Families helping one another launched that effort in 1946.

This Vilas County story is a nice one to share with the kids on a trip here: five families each with a ten-acre plot shaped the local economy by helping one another start up and nurture a cranberry crop.

The Folsom and Bartlett families are still going strong!

TravelingMom tip: The best cranberries bounce. Not sure I want the kids checking that out, but it is an interesting feature of the processing equipment.

Fave Cranberry Recipe 

Cranberry Salsa from Cranberry Square Farm Market

Appetizer dip sure, but snazzy on a roasted turkey sandwich or chicken wrap.

  • 3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar

Combine water and sugar in saucepan. Bring to a boil, add cranberries. Return to boil and cook gently for 10 minutes without stirring.  Pour into bowl to cool slightly.

Add:

  • 3-4 green onions, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • ¼ cup canned jalapenos, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice

Thoroughly combine all ingredients.  Best when made several hours ahead of serving.

Iconic Wisconsin birch trees inspires budding artists.

Watercolor skills surprised travelers in Land O’ Lakes art classes! Photo by Cultural Heritage TravelingMom Christine Tibbetts

Land O’ Lakes Serves Art, Not Butter

I was two hours into painting my watercolor scene of white birch trees before I quit looking for the butter. Seems Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, is not the dairy town.

With a population of 800, this Northwoods of Wisconsin community embraces creativity, and the Artisans Center is as much a handsome, diverse gallery as a retail store. I recommend also lingering on the front porch where artists with good humor strung life-size dolls in funny get-ups on bicycles when I was there in October.

Add half-a-day in your holiday and sign up for the watercolor class. Really. I’m a klutz in the world of drawing and painting; buying art is more my bent.

However, the Land O’ Lakes Artisans Center workshop studio must be infused with special energies because I actually painted.

Warmest wool used by Northwoods of Wisconsin artisan knitters.

Artisan-knitted caps among functional art in Land O’ Lakes WI. Photo by Cultural Heritage TravelingMom Christine Tibbetts

America encourages the study of science, technology, engineering and math, using the acronym STEM.

Land O’ Lakes adds two more letters to the equation and actively reinforces their philosophy. A for art and A for agriculture. STEAAM is their word and philosophy.

TravelingMom knows some lodging options and hikes in Northwoods of Wisconsin too.