Tucked away by a pristine lake is the lovely village of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. You may never have heard of this charming vacation spot in the middle of the Kettle Moraine, and only about three hours from Chicago, but I can guarantee that you are going to love it. The first and most important thing about the location is the absolutely crystal-clear, spring-fed lake.
Surrounded by lush trees and quaint lake cottages, it’s the perfect place to lounge on quiet sand beaches or get into more active water sports like water skiing or kayaking. I spent an afternoon kayaking for the very first time with Ecology Outfitters and absolutely loved it. There was a guide with our group who made sure everyone was confident in their kayaks before we headed out to paddle our way around the lake, enjoying the gorgeous fall day. We also spent an evening cruising around the lake on a pontoon and the view of the brilliant orange red sunset on the lake was just incredible.
Where to Stay in Elkhart Lake
When it comes to selecting a place to stay in Elkhart Lake, you will have several choices but the most interesting are the three lakeside resorts all of which have fascinating histories that include gambling, prohibition and a race track which ran right through the middle of town. Any one of the resorts would be a perfect place to stay but we were at the Victorian Village Resort which we absolutely adored, mainly because we were in one of their lakefront suites.
These suites are actually quite large condominiums with from one to three bedrooms, full kitchens and even a washer and dryer. Not only that, they all have a large wooden porch which overlooks the lake. What a great place to relax with a glass of wine and watch the sunset! Visit the tiny theatre right on the grounds for a show and enjoy a free breakfast every morning at the Back Porch Bistro. Check out the Barefoot Tiki Bar for live music and enjoy a meal out on the open deck overlooking the lake. The resort also has both an indoor and outdoor pool and plenty of other accommodation choices including the original Victorian Inn and the Grand Victorian Lady.
Although we didn’t stay at the Osthoff Resort, also located lakeside, we did visit for several different activities, including a completely fabulous dinner at Lola’s On the Lake. We also spent time at the Aspira Spa where we had “Sacred Water” massages which incorporated water from the lake which was once considered sacred by the Native Americans in the area. I also tried out some cooking at the resort. L’Ecole de la Maison is a world-famous cooking school which is open to guests of the resort or anyone looking to improve their cooking skills. I couldn’t believe we actually created an entire French meal from the pile of raw ingredients with which we started – and it was delicious!
Where to Eat in Elkhart Lake
If you can bring yourself to leave your resort, the downtown area of Elkhart Lake is not more than two blocks away and includes a variety of interesting little shops and restaurants. Grab lunch at Off the Rail where they have wonderful sandwiches and homemade soup, then stop in Vintage Elkhart Lake where you can taste local wines.
We had dinner downtown at two different but equally wonderful restaurants. The Paddock Club and the Lake Street Café both had wonderful menus, fabulous food and friendly, helpful staff. The fact that they are within easy walking distance of the resorts makes it a very pleasant evening as you stroll to dinner and back to your accommodations!
Race America Fun
One of the best days we had during our visit was the one we spent at Road America. I would not have thought I would enjoy visiting a race track but I could not have been more wrong. Back in 1950, a group of car racing enthusiasts decided that Elkhart Lake was the perfect place to run a race. A beautiful little village, friendly people, a perfectly gorgeous lake, and plenty of open country with quiet roads where the racers could really get up their speed combined into the perfect ingredients for a race track.
The first race was held on a 3.35 mile circuit north of the lake and, astounding as it may seem, the race actually ran right through the center of town. Because Elkhart Lake is very proud of their racing history, there are markers all over to show the location of this first race – and part of the race track is in front of the Osthoff Resort where a closed pedestrian walkway by the lake provides a scenic area to stroll by the lake. They raced on the open roads for a few years but when the state legislature banned racing on public roads, leaders in Sheboygan County got together and decided to build themselves a race track and Road America was born. Built on 640 acres south of Little Elkhart Lake, the natural rolling and lovely topography of the glacial Kettle Moraine was emphasized and a track four miles long was built, which makes it the longest road racing track in the country.
Drive through the gates of Road America today and it becomes obvious that this is not just a race track but a big business. Over 700,000 visitors come to the track every year from all over the world and Road America has been smart enough to diversify with events and programs offered all year round. We were amazed when they told us that they welcome campers – and you can camp almost anywhere at Road America (charges and locations vary). When they have a big event, the grass is covered with everything from small tents to huge RV’s. Visit the Road America website to get up-to-date information on camping fees and locations.
There were no races going on when we visited but they had no problem keeping us entertained with both Go Karts and UTV’s. The staff at Road America could not have been nicer as we first toured the grounds which are incredibly beautiful – picture an amazingly maintained state park that just happens to have a race track.
They also offer driving and motorcycle schools, as well as a variety of competitions and other events and these are all in addition to the regular car racing. More than 400 events take place each year at Road America, so there is pretty much something for everyone here.
We really had a blast with the Go Karts. It wasn’t actually a race; just a fun way to spend an afternoon jetting around the track on a beautiful fall day. It would be the perfect thing to do with a group of girlfriends although they were careful to tell us this was not bumper cars! We also had a great time driving a UTV off road. UTV stands for Utility Terrain Vehicle and the ones they have are side by side, which means two of you can ride and just take turns driving.
So whether you want to stay active with kayaking or Go Karts, shop, dine or relax at a spa, lovely little Elkhart Lake truly has it all. And you will be absolutely amazed at the beauty of that crystal clear lake!
Jan Ross is a freelance travel writer who has been traveling the world since way back before she can even remember. Her dad was in the Marine Corps so she is used to packing up at a moment’s notice! She loves writing hotel and restaurant reviews since it means she gets to stay in fabulous places and eat wonderful food. She especially loves writing spa reviews because that means she gets phenomenally pampered and, seriously, who does not like that? She has visited lots of places but still gets a thrill of excitement when she boards a plane, steps into a new hotel room, or sees a new location for the first time. And she hopes that thrill never, ever goes away.
For more information on Jan, visit her website at WanderlustWonder.com.