Although tourists agree the area is beautiful year-round, hospitality professionals at Elkhart Lake tend to have a soft spot for the summer months, when families with children arrive.
“I’m a mother and grandmother, and it warms my heart to see kids roasting marshmallows, running around under the stars playing games and having breathless fun, just like children should,” said Judith Salzwedel, owner of the Victorian Village Resort on the lake.
Families find tons of opportunities for family fun around Elkhart Lake. Here are some favorites:
Catch fish and learn about Native Americans at Henschel’s Indian Museum and Trout Farm located just outside Elkhart Lake. A fishing license is not required at the trout farm and visitors pay by the pound for the rainbow trout they catch from spring-fed ponds. Poles and bait are available, and owner Gary Henschel will clean the fish and put them on ice.
The attraction is on land Henschel’s ancestors purchased in 1849, when Potawatomi and other Indians still camped on a lake that adjoined the property. In 1979, he created the museum as a place to display the thousands of artifacts picked up by his family and unearthed during an archaeological dig. Henschel can answer questions while visitors check out arrowheads, projectile points, tools and pottery fragments dating back more than 10,000 years.
Curious kids would find it difficult to stump park ranger Jackie Scharfenberg of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, an expert on the landscape and vegetation of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. It winds its way through the 30,000-acre Kettle Moraine State Forest, which showcases the rolling terrain left behind by glaciers during the last Ice Age. Stretching south from Elkhart Lake, the state forest offers biking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, boating, picnicking, swimming, wildlife viewing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Sugar maple, hickory, cottonwood, red and white oak and ironwood are among the trees young naturalists can identify during a hike of the Ice Age Trail, a 1,000-mile footpath through Wisconsin, and wildlife includes coyotes, badgers, gray and red squirrels, weasels, otter, mink and deer. Transient black bears and wolves sometimes wander down from the north, Scharfenberg said.
“Glaciers picked up rocks and gravel and made holes,” Scharfenberg said. “They called them kettle holes and kettle lakes. There are 12 lakes in the forest. Glaciers also created lakes by damming up ancient rivers.”
Road America, a destination in itself, is also a lucky perk for families who vacation at the resort. A private four-mile course created in the 1950s after city fathers deemed the use of public streets too dangerous for road racing, Road America has grown into a world-class 600-acre venue that holds nearly 400 events a year, from NASCAR to indie car to motorcycle races. Ziplining and geocaching round out the offerings for young visitors and their parents.
Here are some other fabulous attractions in the Elkhart Lake area:
Guided fishing on Elkhart Lake with Jay Brickner. The lake is 119 feet at its deepest and yields walleye, northern pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill, yellow perch and crappie. Go to www.JaysGuideService.com.
Wade House Historic Site and Carriage Museum. Tour the 27-room stagecoach hotel and Wesley Jung Carriage Museum and take a ride in a horse-drawn wagon. Learn more at www.WadeHouse.org.
Henning’s Cheese Museum in nearby Kiel. Watch cheese being made on weekday mornings. Go to www.HenningsCheese.com and call (920) 894-3032 for tour hours.
Where to Stay:
Victorian Village Resort is an 11-acre resort with indoor and outdoor pools and 600 feet of lake frontage where colorful playground equipment is nestled between padded wicker chairs and cots designed for soaking up the sun.
Elkhart Lake Water Sports is located on the Victorian Village beach and offers skiing, wakeboarding and tubing on the lake and rents pontoons, paddleboards, kayaks, hydrobikes and canoes.
Victorian Village offers 12 lakeside suites and another dozen luxury condos, as well as 49 hotel-style rooms designed for families on a budget and connected to the indoor pool, which Salzwedel said comes in especially handy on rainy days.
The Osthoff Resort and Siebkens Resort also offer private beaches on the 292-acre lake.
Osthoff, a AAA Four Diamond all-suite hotel, features a spa and two restaurants where produce is supplied by Osthoff’s own vegetable and herb gardens. The resort’s 500-foot lakefront has a playground, volleyball courts, grills and a bonfire area. The resort’s watercraft rentals are also available to the public.
The one, two and three-bedroom condos at Siebkens have full kitchens, and the resort also houses restaurants including Sissy’s Ice Cream and Coffee Shop, an outdoor pool and hot tub and the popular Stop Inn Tavern, known for its Siebkens Sandwich.