By Elle Grant x Vaughn Lowery
As summer winds down and fall arrives, many find themselves itching for one last summer getaway, or rather, that first autumn weekend away. 360 Magazine was able to take advantage of such a trip, visiting Wisconsin’s Elkhart Lake this past September. Located in the heart of Kettle Moraine State Forest, Elkhart Lake is the ideal natural getaway, being home to lake activities as well as canopied hiking and biking trails.
Elkhart Lake, located on the east side of Wisconsin, is both a stunning sojourn into nature and also a historical destination. With a population just under 1000, the village maintains a cozy quality, with local shops, restaurants, and activities maintaining a small-town, yet polished feel. Yet during the summertime, the town swells and comes to life. First inhabited by the Potawatomi Indians, the name Elkhart stems from the description Native people had of the area that the lake resembled the shape of an elk’s heart. Native American culture can easily be explored in the area through local tours and at the Henschel’s Indian Museum. Elkhart Lake is also a significant historical destination in terms of its relationship to racing, reaching its peak in the mid 1950s.
Our stay at the Shore Club was nothing short of superb. The new owners, Tom and Kristin Pagel, have done an incredible job renovating the hotel. Renovations include adding updated technology to enhance guest stays such as Netflix, Alexa, a digital concierge through the Whisper app, and luxury motor sports for those interested. Peloton bikes will soon be available for the additional fitness convenience of guests. Furthermore, the site also boasts an indoor pool, a game room with ping pong tables and vintage arcade games, and a gym. For those interested in seeing Elkhart Lake on two wheels, free bikes are available for guest use at the front desk. The restaurant on-site, the Cottonwood Social, offered consistently well-done meals, including the perfect weekend brunch.
We began our lake escape with a pontoon cruise on the namesake of the area, Elkhart Lake. Before departing, we sipped and snacked on the Osthoff’s signature cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. On the pontoon boat, we were able to view the lake’s crystal-clear lake waters and receive a tour that included information of the area’s history, legends, and folklore. The evening air aboard the boat made this the perfect way to begin a stay. Following the pontoon ride, dinner at the Osthoff Resort’s newest restaurant, Concourse Restaurant and Lounge, proved to be a unique culinary experience. With specialties such as honey balsamic trout, seared scallops with sweet pea risotto, and veal schnitzel with pickled cucumber relish, there was a delicious and refined option for every set of tastebuds. The restaurant’s décor, a tribute to the area and Osthoff’s vintage racing roots, also deserves special note.
Elkhart Lake is famed for its historic roots as a racing circuit in the 1950s. During this decade, the village of Elkhart Lake transformed into an open-road race circuit where top sports car drivers traveled from all around the world to take on the unique terrain. Likewise, thousands of fans were drawn to the area, eager to see the athletes and vehicles alike. The racing today is focused at Road America. The historic circuit is marked with signs denoting Wacker’s Wend, Kimberly’s Korner, and Dicken’s Ditch. This auto focused tour of the area isn’t to be missed. Road America also offers an opportunity to join in on the fun with options such as go-karting and ATVs at this world-acclaimed facility.
Road America and Elkhart Lake are famous as one of the oldest, largest, and most iconic tracks in the world. Currently, its original course is registered on the National Register of Historical Places, emphasizing its significance. Gaining popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, the post-World War II economy spurred on the influx of sporting luxury automobiles. For Elkhart Lake specifically, the notable Sports Car Club of America was the main organizer of their races. Incredibly popular races such as the RoadAmerica 500, SCCA National Sports Car Championship, the United States Road Racing Championship and the IMSAGT Championship took place here. Today, it continues to host luxury races and draw motorsports fans and can even be found in numerous racing video games!
Following a wild time racing, spend time winding down at the Aspira Spa. Inspired by local Native American practices and traditions, the spa has fused these with modern technology, science, and comfort. The inside space of the Aspira is thoughtfully designed and embraces the concept of Feng Shui as well as the natural elements. 360 recommends the Element Facial. This facial features a mask focused in traditional Chinese medicine representing the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Harmony can be restored through the combination of colored light and essential oils inspired by these elements. By exalting the healing practices of indigenous cultures around the world, Aspira is able to provide a holistic, organic, and thorough approach to healing and relaxation.
Travel back in time once again with a visit to the Carriage Museum at Wade House – back to the 1860s stagecoach era located within this Wisconsin Historical Site. To get a full experience of the period, we were able to travel in a horse-drawn carriage! The museum also features Wisconsin’s most diverse collection of transportation of this kind with over 100 horse-and-hand drawn vehicles. For the transportation enthusiasts, this isn’t to be missed.
When one thinks of wine country, Wisconsin might not exactly spring to mind. Yet award-winning sommelier Jaclyn Stuart operates Vintage Elkhart Lake, a charming shop where she hand-selects all wines available. The tasting at her bar came paired with cheese plates, potato chip flights, and other delectable pairing bites. The shop, beyond wine unique to the area, also sells other local delicacies for those interested in bringing home a taste of Wisconsin.
It would hardly be a trip to Elkhart Lake without time spent fishing. Elkhart Lake is 119 feet deep and 292 acres wide, providing the perfect home to a variety of fish species: musky, walleye, northern pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, bluegill and crappie. Going with a licensed guide like Jay Brickner will aide in explaining all of those numerous species. Below the surface isn’t the only place to find remarkable species – a variety of endangered bird call this estuary home including bald eagles. Whether or not fishing is an interest, time spent on this beautiful, blue lake is worth taking a boat out for. Closer to shore also boasts some of the lake’s best charms. From the time when Native Americans lived along its banks, Elkhart Lake’s pristine quality has been appreciated. Taking advantage of more advanced activities like a hydrobike or other watersports can be a more adventurous way to embrace lake life. Other options include standup paddleboard, jet skis, and speedboats. Even taking a walk in the sand along the shoreline is a great way to embrace all the lake has to offer.
The natural beauty of Elkhart Lake is its most obvious draw, but the culinary scene isn’t to be underestimated. Lake Street Café, serving California Bistro style fare, also offers Wisconsin’s third largest wine list ensuring the perfect pairing for any dish. Quit Qui Clubhouse features classic pub and grill fare with a Wisconsin twist, including homemade soups, chili, sandwiches, burgers, and more. Siebkens Resort and 67 Saloon are also phenomenal dinner options reflecting inspiration from the area.
Elkhart Lake proved to be a much-needed September getaway. The natural beauty paired with the historical aspects of the Native American culture, coupled with the scene of luxury racing and delectable eats makes this an incredibly well-rounded destination.