This Small Wisconsin Town Is the Perfect Midwestern Getaway — With Charming Hotels, a Jewel-toned Lake, and Lots of Beer and Cheese
Elkhart Lake offers the best of the Midwest.
Neighboring Minnesota might be known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but Wisconsin is no slouch when it comes to watery wonders. Beyond its Great Lakes shoreline, numerous inland lakes make for ideal getaways. One such small town, Elkhart Lake, rises above the rest as a long weekend destination. And with easy access from major cities like Milwaukee (one hour away) and Chicago (2.5 hours away), Elkhart Lake is poised to become the next great Midwestern getaway.
The jewel-toned, spring-fed lake, named for its distinct shape, is surrounded by privately owned cabins and the picturesque village itself (think historic resorts, a microbrewery, and farm-to-table restaurants all within walking distance). Outside the cute town lies plenty more to see, from a cheese factory and museum to a storied racetrack. Read on for our guide to Elkhart Lake.
Best Time to Visit Elkhart Lake
Like most lake towns, the high tourist season for this Wisconsin treasure is Memorial Day to Labor Day. Sweet summertime means hot temperatures in the Midwest, especially in July, with an average high of 81 degrees. This is the best time to visit in terms of lake recreation, like swimming and boating, but if you’re hoping for a quieter getaway, the other three seasons have their draws. The changing fall foliage, especially against the aqua backdrop, is stunning for an autumnal trip. Winter brings holiday festivities, including the annual Old World Christmas Market. And idyllic spring awakening helps with cabin fever after being holed up all winter. While the water is generally too cold to swim in during the spring, hiking and golf are great outdoor options for this time of year.
Best Things to Do in Elkhart Lake
There’s plenty to do in this little town, though the 300-acre, crystal-clear lake is the star of the show. The area’s hotels offer private beaches for guests, but a large public stretch, Fireman’s Park and Beach, makes the water accessible for everyone. A sandy beach, swimming area, sand volleyball court, grills, and picnic tables can all be found here.
For recreation, consider a guided kayak tour with Ecology Outfitters or a pontoon boat cruise (featuring an optional captain) with Elkhart Watersports, which also offers canoe and stand-up paddleboard rentals. Winter visitors can enjoy a five-hour ice fishing experience courtesy of Inland Waters Fishing, though they also provide year-round fishing excursions. And those interested in fly fishing may want to consider booking with Tie 1 On.
Hiking enthusiasts are in for a treat, too, as a segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, one of just 11 trails in the country with that distinction, runs through Elkhart Lake. There are also a few biking options in town, with vintage bikesavailable for rent at The Shore Club. For seasoned cyclists who bring their own bicycle, Elkhart Lake has a mountain biking trail and popular village-to-village route.
Likely the most famous of Elkhart Lake’s offerings, the storied Road Americaracetrack is a must-see. If you can’t make it there for a big race, check out the 600-plus-acre campus for its driving school or go-karting, or rent the whole track to experience it firsthand. Plus, every Monday and Wednesday evening, the track is closed to motor vehicles and opens for 4 Miles of Fitness, when walking, biking, and running are permitted.
After a day of exploration, travelers can pamper themselves at Aspira Spa at The Osthoff Resort. A full menu of services, including facials and massages, is available to guests.
No visit to Wisconsin would be complete without a cheese experience. The fourth-generation, family-owned and operated Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese in nearby Kiel offers just that. With a cheese store to stock up on the good stuff, a museum featuring historic cheesemaking equipment, and a master cheesemaker in charge of it all, this spot is a fantastic way to learn more about the state’s most famous export. Try a fresh, squeaky cheese curd for a true Wisconsin moment.
Finally, golfers will enjoy the Quit Qui Oc Golf Club, conveniently located right in the village of Elkhart Lake with 27 holes.
Where to Stay in Elkhart Lake
When it comes to accommodations, three central hotels hug one edge of the pretty lakeshore: The Shore Club, The Osthoff Resort, and Siebkens Resort. The Shore Club offers a more modern take on hospitality with newly renovated rooms and fun common spaces. Both The Osthoff and Siebkens give "Dirty Dancing" vibes as old-school resort getaways. The Osthoff is the larger of the two and is more upscale than the quaint Siebkens, which feels like a charming step back in time and boasts a stellar tavern on the property.
Where to Eat and Drink in Elkhart Lake
Elkhart Lake has a lovely and elevated dining scene for such a small village with less than 1,000 year-round residents. Longtime favorite Lake Street Cafe, a bistro-style eatery with an impressive wine list, is a must-try. The goat cheese salad and tomahawk pork chop are menu highlights. Another winner is the Paddock Club, with seasonally inspired offerings sure to please. The fresh pasta options are always solid, and the mushroom arancini makes for a beautiful start to any meal.
For a more laid-back feel, consider The Cottonwood Social at The Shore Club, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The most authentic dish is the Wisconsin fish fry dinner, though a massive pretzel with beer cheese appetizer also makes a compelling case. Visit the tiki bar on the same Shore Club property to imbibe with a beautiful lake view and live music.
Coffee drinkers, meanwhile, can find a pleasant cup at the local spot called Off the Rail, which also makes tasty breakfast sandwiches. And what’s a stay in the land of beer without Wisconsin’s signature beverage? Check out SwitchGear Brewing Company, which offers a choice of craft beer on tap. The Platinum Blonde Coffee Stout, Resorter red ale, and Pontoon Pounder wheat beer are all excellent. Ask for special seasonal brews, too, as an ever-rotating selection is available.