Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin is the type of place where everyone — from toddler to octogenarian — can find something enthralling to savor in a friendly, gorgeous setting any time of year. Each season unfurls its own treasures in Elkhart Lake, and summer is especially thrilling, so whether you’re interested in world-class race cars at Road America, French cooking classes at the Osthoff Resort’s L’ecole de la Maison, wine tasting, fishing, golfing, hydro-biking, hiking the many Ice Age national scenic trails, touring cheese factories, biking, shopping, exploring museums, reveling in ancient Native American-inspired spa treatments or live theater, you’ll definitely find something unique to experience. Find your favorite hotel fit below, followed by local insider foodie recommendations, and choice cultural activities to enjoy. Note to the engaged: if you’re planning a wedding, this is an ideal spot.
To set the scene: Elkhart Lake itself is a green-clay, spring-fed, clean water lake filled with a variety of fish (the walleye and trout are tasty!), ringed with a gorgeous necklace of cedar trees, multi-million dollar homes, and three major resorts: The majestic Osthoff Resort, Siebkens, and Victorian Village. The serene Elkhart Lake is three miles in scope on 350 acres, and is so clean that it’s translucent in the shallow parts. You’ll love hydro-biking, fishing, canoeing (there are glass bottom options), relaxing on a pontoon ride, or swimming through its clear water. Kids can spend sunny days splashing in and exploring Elkhart Lake, with a home-made ice cream stand nearby to complete the awesomeness.
The three major resorts in town each have their own flavor — and are family-run, which retains their originality, authenticity, and welcoming atmosphere. Here’s what makes each one distinctive, along with a delightful Bed & Breakfast recommendation:
The largest of the three is The Osthoff Resort (shown above), which was originally built in 1885 and completed rebuilt in 1995. This AAA Four Diamond, all-suite hotel is a sprawling, lovely example of the very best in hospitality. With an upscale Elk Room lodge offering spectacular views for evening cocktails and fresh morning coffee and pastries, and the Aspira Spa with treatments inspired by Native American healing rituals and herbs, the L’ecole de la Maison cooking school, Otto’s Restaurant and the grand Lola’s on the Lake, and many other dining options, the Osthoff is an experience you won’t soon forget.
The Aspira Spa at the Osthoff — which embraces an organic, holistic approach with and emphasis on wood, metal, fire and water — fuses beautifully designed and decorated rooms with truly unique Native American-inspired healing treatments. Many of the rooms offer relaxing views of nature, and the deep tissue massages are the perfect remedy after a day enjoying water sports, hiking, or go-karting at nearby Road America. Conducive to relaxation, this is an atypical spa with myriad treatment options. Great for wedding parties, too! Choose your favorite treatments: aspiraspa.com.
It’s no secret that Wisconsin is dairy farm country, so when dining at The Osthoff’s Lola’s on the Lake restaurant, meat eaters should definitely opt for the incredible steak. The scallops and Walleye fish are also remarkable, and the pasta concoctions are equally delectable. (Speaking of delectable, see also L’ecole de la Masion at The Osthoff under Activities below). To read more about everything you can find at The Osthoff and Lola’s on the Lake, visit osthoff.com.
Situated across from The Osthoff is the neighborly Siebkens resort, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and has been family-run for four generations, complete with its own line of fresh dark bread and other home-made family recipes. The atmosphere at Siebkens is ultra-friendly, casual, and even a bit rollicking with its fun Stop-Inn Tavern and lauded race car driver bar patrons. And when summer sets in, everyone in town eventually heads to Sissy’s Coffee and Ice Cream Shoppe at Siebkens, near the lake.
At Siebkens you can opt for a Lakeview condominium hotel suite with laundry facilities, a refrigerator and kitchen, private beach, one-to-three bedrooms, open floor plans, and outdoor pool. A stone’s throw from the beach, the people at Siebkens will make you feel as though you’re part of their family, and visiting for the summer. For their Centennial Summer Celebration, Siebkens will present “100 Days for 100 Years,” with live music, beer garden revelry, Twofer Tuesdays, Margarita Madness, free Beanie Babies with Kids Meals, DJ Dance parties, Mimosa Bars, Polka dancing, a festive parade, and more. Read about it at siebkens.com.
Not far from Siebkins is the ultra-charming Victorian Village, which lives up to its name with white New Orleans-style Victorian architecture flourishes and a rustic, welcoming atmosphere that includes live theater (shades of the cult fave movie Dirty Dancing), a Back Porch Bistro restaurant with lake views, and tons of fresh-faced, friendly college interns. Try the Bloody Mary here, which is generous and arrives festooned with a spike of olives, lemon wedge, a beef stick and a pepper. The fresh fish is also incredible, and the cuisine is home-made from locally grown ingredients.
Porch Bistro view of lake at Victorian Village
For lodging, you can find spacious one -, two- and three-bedroom condominium-style rooms, located a stone’s throw from Elkhart Lake. You can’t go wrong at this grand 11-acre resort that hails back to 1872 (rebuilt in 1891, and recently renovated, expanded and updated. A private beach, outdoor swimming pools, the Barefoot Bay Tiki Bar and much more conspire to ensure your good time. Read more about this gem of a resort at vicvill.com.
If charming inns are to your liking and more your speed, then the Jay Lee Inn bed & breakfast may do the trick. This Victorian-style B&B serves an authentic and traditional High Tea with finger sandwiches, tea cookies, unusual teas (as well as the longstanding favorites) that will both enhance your visit and elegantly transport you back in time. Book your lodgings at 920-876-2910.
Another option for a modern inn with a boutique hotel feel is Christi’s Inn & Home Rentals, conveniently located just off the town square, and offering private beach access. Rent a home or enjoy this inn, which is fully furnished with modern amenities, only two miles from Road America, and within easy strolling distance of the town’s best restaurants and shops. Read more at http://www.christisinn.com.
Paddock Inn crab appetizer
Elkhart Lake is a food-lover’s paradise, offering locally grown fare and fresh ingredients, combined with fine wines and spirits. Here are just a few of the recommendations:
Lake Street Cafe
Lake Street Cafe
Garnering multiple Wine Spectator awards over the years, The Lake Street Cafe offers California bistro-style fare, wood-fired pizzas with local toppings, and one of the most expansive and impressive wine lists in the state. Daily specials are whimsically presented inside the covers of oversized children’s books, and the upscale fare is served in a casual, relaxing, and convivial atmosphere. Peruse the menu at lakestreetcafe.com.
Salmon Tartare at the Paddock Club
Another Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner, The Paddock Club is a family-run restaurant with superb gourmet cuisine and a personable, inventive chef who may even stop by your table to see how you like her food. Named after infamous gambling club in the area in 1900, everything on the menu here is outrageously delicious — so from the appetizers to the entrees and clear through to dessert, you simply cannot go wrong. Seasonal ingredients are married to European culinary traditions, and the atmosphere here is typically Elkhart Lake: warm, inviting, casual, and thoroughly enjoyable. Read more at paddockclubelkhartlake.com
Quit Qui Oc Golf Club
If you’ve spent the day pursuing your favorite sport (golf, of course!) on the uplifting, rolling hills of the Northern Kettle Moraine Forest, you’ll want to celebrate your swings and score at the Quit Qui Oc Golf Club, which serves up tasty local fare, home-made soups, and Fish Fry Fridays. Check out quitquioc.com for more info on dining apres-golf.
Vintage Elkhart Lake Wine Shop & Tasting Bar
Part wine, craft beer and gift shop, part wine-tasting center, the Vintage Elkhart Lake Wine Shop & Tasting Bar pulls double duty as a perfect spot for snagging souvenirs and a source for learning more about wines (and tasting them, too!). Certified sommelier and award-winning owner Jaclyn Stuart, originally from California wine country and passionate about her craft, can walk you through the lights and darks, tastes and sniffs of various wines. To set up a tasting event, or browse the store: http://vintageelkhartlake.com. Find more than 150 wines here, and you’ll also love the selection of artisanal local WI cheeses, craft beers, cigars, wine accessories, olive oils, Palo Popcorn, and more.
Gesserts Ice Cream & Confectionery is an old-fashioned ice cream parlor that has been a local summer staple since the 1920s. Scoop into any of 20 different had-packed super premium ice cream flavors, or order phosphates, ice cream sodas, home made fudge, thick shakes, malts, sundaes, candy and chocolate.
Located at 99 South Lake Street.
Hydro-biking on Lake Elkhart
Where to begin? There are so many options that you could easily spend a few weeks in Elkhart Lake and not exhaust them all, but here are some recommendations anyway:
Race to Road America: Elkhart Lake’s history is steeped in car racing – it’s part of the region’s DNA. During the 1950s it was the national and global destination for open-road racing, and drew luminaries from around the globe as well as the fastest, most elegant cars. Thousands of people would converge in Elkhart Lake to watch the racers take steep turns and sharp corners. In 1955, the public road racing was shifted over to Road America’s 640 grassy acres, for obvious safety reasons. Its verdant 4-mile, 14-turn track has been dubbed “America’s National Park of Speed,” and in the summertime, people camp out in its green, wooded acres to watch the races and explore nature. Tough Mudder races take place in the Fall, and 800,000 visitors enjoy Road America each year.
At Road America, families, wedding parties, friends, and business associates can go-kart race each other to see who’s the official King or Queen of the Road. Trust me, even if you don’t think go-karting is your cup of tea, you’ll find it exhilarating. Give it a whirl — you won’t regret it. Teams can also challenge each other in slower car races that involve balancing a tennis ball on a platform on the front of the car, and various cone twists. Road America offers enclosed track viewing in a theater-style restaurant that serves excellent fare. Road America is a must-visit! Also, enjoy paintball, motorcycle school, driving school, ATVs (all terrain vehicles), geocaching and corporate adventure programs. Read more at: RoadAmerica.com.
The L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School Experience
Whisk Into French Cooking Classes: the Osthoff Resort’s cooking school, L’ecole de la Maison, is another memorable and distinctive group activity option. Overseen by Executive Chef Scott Baker, trained at the CIA (the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY), the cooking school will send you home with some serious skills, thanks to Chef Baker’s patience and superb recipes. Step into the kitchen of your dreams and enjoy every piece of equipment that you wish you owned for mastering traditional dishes such as Classic French Onion au Gratin soup, Parmesan Crisps, French Gougers, Coquilles St. Jacques au Gratin, Beef au Poivre, Crepes Suzette and French Baguette. And you get to eat your creations!
If you love to cook (or even just to eat French food), another L’ecole de la Maison class you’ll appreciate is the Tarts & Pastries Class, in which you’ll tackle Raspberry Tarts, Lemon Swiss Meringue Tartlets, Chocolate Hazelnut Tart, Pastry Swans with Ganache and Chantilly Cream, and Poached Pear-Almond Tartlets. And of course, you’ll sample them as well. These culinary workshops are short 2 to 4 hour classes, but you can also try a one-day course, or even a two-day course to glean even more in-depth preparations. Take your next group to this incredibly useful and fun activity: cookingschoolatosthoff.com. Or call 888-789-2811.
Hike an Ancient Trail: Immerse yourself in nature and fresh air as you hike the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, a thousand-mile foot path that offers hills and valleys (“kettle” depressions, sculpted by glacial ice flow more than 12,000 years ago). Spot toads and wildflowers such as trillium and marigold, delicate birds and puffballs as you hike, jog, horseback ride, or bike through the trails. Read more at iceagetrail.org.
Say Cheese: Elkhart Lake is officially located in cheese country, and Wisconsin is the country’s most lauded cheese center. Picturesque dairy farms dot the rural landscape around Elkhart Lake, lending a timeless air, so a trip to Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese to see how it’s made is a great opportunity to learn about curds, wax sealing, sweet and savory cheses, and more. This is a fourth generation, family-owned cheese factory that produces award-winning cheddar and Colby, as well as Wisconsin cheese curds and enormous, 3,000-pound wheels. Bonus: sampling the cheeses, and the bargain gift shop prices! henningscheese.com.
Creation at Two Fish Gallery & Sculpture Garden
Artful Sculpting: Take a pottery class at the thoroughly original Two Fish Gallery & Sculpture Garden with master potter, artist and teacher Pat Robison. Located in town within easy walking distance of the resorts, the Two Fish Gallery is also a fantastic gift shop, offering one-of-a-kind creations such as bird-houses, artwork, ceramics, and jewelry. Say hello to the house cat, and learn a thing or two from Pat Robison about creating your own vases, mugs, plates, statues, bowls and more. Check out the wares at http://www.twofishgallery.net.
The Mystery of History: Elkhart Lake is rich in Native American history, which you can explore at Henschel’s Indian Museum, perched atop an archeological dig site. Pore over the collection of Indian copper, pottery, and other artifacts that date back to 8,000 B.C. Learn more at HenschelsIndianMuseumandTroutFarm.com.
Stagecoach it: The Wade House Historic Site & Carriage Museum enables you to step back into the 1860s stagecoach era, as you tour the site in your own stagecoach for authenticity. The Wade House features a 27-room stagecoach inn, Herring Sawmill, Dockstader Blacksmith Shop, and Wesley Jung Carriage Museum. Examine more than 100 horse – and hand-drawn vehicles at this site; for more info, visit WadeHouse.org.
Chill on a Pontoon: Coast merrily along the lake as the sun sets on a pontoon, and check out the eye-popping resort homes that line the shore. Let the Captain, an official guide, tell you a bit about the area’s fascinating history, dating back to when it was a high-end gambling destination. Learn about the lake, its fish, its legends and lore, the origins of the resorts, and about some of the people who call it home. To book your tour, contact the Pontoon Tour of Elkhart Lake at 608-347-2922. Ask for Captain Jim Benson — he’s a veritable font of knowledge.
Go Fish: Take a guided fishing tour on the serene blue waters of Elkhart Lake, which is 118 feet deep and 286 acres. Catch your own musky, northern pike, walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, bluegill, crappie, and more. To set up a fishing outing, contact Jay Brickner of Jay’s Guide Service: jaysgideservice.com or jay.Brickner@yahoo.com.
Rent a bike at The Osthoff Resort and pedal around town, or combine bike riding with shopping at the various boutiques in the quaint village, which include a Nordic shop, cafe, Vintage Elkhart Lake’s wine, cheese, and chocolate offerings — and sculpture, art and jewelry at Two Fish Gallery & Sculpture Garden, and so much more.
Tee Off: Love to golf? Golf at the lush Quit Qui Oc Golf Club. http://www.quitquioc.com.
ELKHART LAKE LOCATION
2.5 hours from Chicago
1 hour from Milwaukee
2 hours from Madison
1.7 miles from Road America
Start packing — your Elkhart Lake adventures await! Read more at http://www.ElkhartLake.com.
An Elkhart Lake wedding at the Osthoff Resort