A Natural Escape To Elkhart Lake, WisconsinApr 28, 2023 ● By Lisa Kivirist
Photos by John D. Ivanko Photography
Nestled adjacent to the turquoise waters of its 290-acre namesake lake, the second-deepest in Wisconsin, is the resort community of Elkhart Lake. First settled by the Potawatomi, the area later became a popular resort town dating back to the early 1800s. Today, a cluster of world-class resorts, exceptional dining and plentiful recreation beckon both on the water and land.
City-weary residents have escaped to Elkhart Lake for more than a century for good reason: just a three-hour drive north of Chicago, visitors feel worlds away. Surrounded by the magnificent and diverse Kettle Moraine and touching a segment of the more than 600-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the small town is filled with white-painted Victorian homes and quaint cottages, plus several luxury resorts adding to the scenic beauty, along with deluxe amenities for a relaxing getaway.
Healing Waters and Relaxation
The name Elkhart Lake is taken from the Native American “Me-shay-way-o-deh-ni-bis,” meaning, “Great Heart Lake,” after the shape of the lake, which resembles an elk’s heart, a gift from ancient geology as moving glaciers scooped out the area. More than 20,000 natural springs fill the lake, replenishing her waters with a fresh purity that makes it rank as one of the top 10 cleanest lakes in the United States.
When the sun hits the lake, the waters turn a vivid, Mediterranean blue. The large number of springs keep the water cool in the summer and late to freeze in the winter, adding more reasons why this place holds such a strong recreation vibe. Conservation of this natural gem remains a priority of the community, including regulations that no building can take place within 70 feet of the shoreline to prevent erosion, which adds to showcasing Mother Nature’s beauty out on the water.
One way to tap into the water’s healing powers is at the Aspira Spa at the Osthoff Resort. Aspira embraces the healing wisdom of indigenous peoples from around the world for a holistic, organic approach to the spa experience through celebrating earth-based elements of stone, wood and water. Aspira’s signature Sacred Waters Energy Massage provides a balancing of mind, body and spirit by creatively using the healing waters of the lake. Using light pressure, muscle tension is released from the back, letting go of past tensions. Sacred native pouches holding the healing crystal-clear Elkhart Lake water are placed on the body’s energy centers to restore a grounding flow of energy to the chakra system.
Bond with Mother Nature
First and foremost, Elkhart Lake needs to be experienced while on the water, and fortunately, there are multiple ways to do that. Osthoff Watersports at the Osthoff Resort offers a menu of options including a relaxing pontoon cruise skimming over the crystal-clear lake waters. Or try something completely different: “bike” the blue waters pedaling a unique hydro-bike. Kayaks, paddle boards and popular swan-shaped paddle boats are also available.
Don’t miss a hike along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail by heading to the nearby Kettle Moraine Forest Northern Unit, providing trails that go into the heart of some of the best examples of landforms created by the glaciers of the last Ice Age. Pick up the trail at the northern tip of the Northern Unit, just 10 minutes south of Elkhart Lake.
“The natural diversity here is mind-boggling; a literal mosaic of plants; it’s where grasslands meet northern and eastern hardwoods, pockets left by the glaciers,” shares Jackie Sharfenberg, a naturalist on staff with the Kettle Moraine Forest. “Look below as the ice age also created the erratic geology of the area, with rocks as big as a house.”
Hikers will undoubtedly work up an appetite after all that outdoor fun, and Elkhart Lake delivers with a range of gourmet treats. Before supper, pop by Vintage Elkhart Lake, owned and operated by award-winning certified sommelier Jaclyn Stuart. When deciding what to order, Stuart has a unique Wine-o-Matic wine lounge with 16 wines “on tap” to conveniently enjoy multiple samples.
The popular Paddock Club offers a changing seasonal menu curated with love by the team of sibling owners. The menu offers flavorful twists showcasing seasonality, including fresh pasta dishes such as a taleggio and ricotta agnolotti touched with prosciutto, butter and chives. Don’t miss the signature Paddock Club Hazelnut Crunch Cake for dessert, savoring layers of chai cool milk chocolate cream, chocolate chiffon cake, ganache and a hazelnut crunch crust.
Another delightful culinary surprise in Elkhart Lake is Siebkens Resort, the oldest continually running hotel on the lake, with an old-school hospitality history dating back to 1880. In the 1950s, Elkhart Lake was an internationally known destination for sports car races, traversing a 6.5-mile loop around the lake that went right past Siebkens. For safety reasons, the racing circuit moved to nearby Road America, but visitors can still experience the vibe at their Stop-Inn Tavern, where drivers still “stop in” and gather post-race amidst cozy pub walls adorned with a rainbow of racing flags and team stickers. This is the place to splurge and have some vacation culinary fun with classics like their wild-caught walleye filet fish fry, served daily, along with onion rings and Wisconsin cheese curds, all with a crispy and gluten-free batter.
Spend the Night
Elkhart Lake offers a range of accommodations to suit a vision of what lakeside relaxation is all about. The newly renovated Shore Club Wisconsin updates its historic roots of welcoming guests for more than a century by showcasing a modern maritime decorating style that gives the relaxed setting the vibe of a little waterside village. Stop by their restaurant, Cottonwood Social, Elkhart Lake’s closest restaurant to the lake, to dine alfresco amid the cottonwood trees and views of azure waters.
For a more secluded stay off the
resort path, check out the immaculate, spacious and luxurious VRBO property
owned by Vicki Paulsen. It provides the perfect
respite, right down to the hammock, airy rooms and complimentary kayaks or
canoes to ply the lake waters. Or better yet, make a cup of coffee in the
sunlit kitchen and lounge in the cherry-red Adirondack chairs in the front yard
and let the peacefulness of Elkhart Lake truly sink in.
Lisa Kivirist and John D. Ivanko are the authors of Farmstead Chef, Homemade for Sale, ECOpreneuring, and Soil Sisters. They run the completely solar-powered Inn Serendipity Farm, in Wisconsin.