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Wisconsin's Elkhart Lake Is Packed With Surprises


By Doug Hansen

Wisconsinites would be justified in protesting Minnesota's marketing itself as the champion of lake states because, as it turns out, Wisconsin has many more lakes than its neighbor. Among them I discovered a real gem of a resort town in central Wisconsin -- Elkhart Lake.

With a population of only1,000, the eponymous town of Elkhart Lake is the definition of a small, picturesque and peaceful Midwest town. Naturally, the main attraction is the adjacent Elkhart Lake, a 300-acre, spring-fed lake that is reputedly one of the cleanest lakes in America. I'm told that on a clear, summer day its waters rival the splendid azure hues of the Caribbean Sea. A sunset pontoon boat cruise provided a leisurely introduction to the lake and views of the homes lining the shoreline.

I was surprised at the quantity and quality of hotel options, restaurants, bars, water sports, hiking and race-car related activities found there. I could see why race-car fans, fishermen and fun-seeking families come from near and far during the prime season, which stretches from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Compact beaches line the shoreline behind all three main hotels. Summertime visitors can rent kayaks, paddleboards or pedal-operated watercraft at two of the beaches to keep the fun flowing. The best spot I found to enjoy a view of the lake and a cold drink was at the Shore Club's Tiki Bar with its inviting wood deck and picnic tables perched above the hotel's private beach.

All three hotels have long pedigrees that stretch back well over 100 years. Each has a commendable restaurant, bar and other amenities, though only the more recently built Osthoff Resort offers a variety of luxury spa services. Stay at one hotel, but don't be shy about checking out the neighboring hotels' facilities.


The character of the town has been shaped by its car-racing history and the presence of Road America, reputedly one of the best racetracks in the world. Road races that wound through the streets of Elkhart Lake attracted thousands of fans in the early 1950s, but after the third year they were deemed too dangerous and stopped. Community leaders sprang into action and acquired the 640 acres where they built the country's longest, most active and diverse motor-sports track.

Throughout the summer season Road America offers visitors a wide variety of activities in addition to the car races, including go-karting -- which I thoroughly enjoyed -- disc golfing, camping and even inexpensive exercise evenings when anyone can walk, jog or ride a bike around the 4-mile racecourse.

Vintage automobile, motorcycle and car enthusiasts in general should not miss the Throttlestop Museum. The name is somewhat of a misnomer because in addition to a robust collection of old cars and motorcycles they also have an ever-changing display of jaw-dropping sleek and exorbitantly priced cars that are stored in their facility and occasionally offered for sale.

The options for spending time in town instead of the lake include a wine store -- Vintage -- with high-quality tasting options as well as more than 600 wines for sale. Gina's Fine Gifts and Framing should take a prize for displaying a plethora of well-chosen items in a limited space. On a hot day, head for the nearby Switchgear Brewery and indulge in one of their many varieties of craft beers.


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