Elkhart Lake is a classic American Midwestern lake resort community. It offers visitors its pristine marquee lake, dignified family-owned grand hotels, and the NASCAR magnet, Road America.
Warm welcomes are a proud, longstanding Elkhart Lake tradition. This vintage small town's charm keeps loyal vacationers returning year after year. Elkhart Lake has fewer than 1000 year-round residents, but it comes alive in summer. Spring and fall in Elkhart Lake have their fans, tooElkhart Lake is near Lake Michigan in the geographically notable Kettle Moraine. It is an hour north of Milwaukee and three hours north of Chicago, a location that makes Elkhart Lake an outstanding weekend getaway option.
Here, the best reasons for luxury travelers to visit Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Elkhart Lake's top attraction is Road America, which opened in 1955 and is still the world's fastest permanent road racing circuit. Also known as America's National Park of Speed, it draws over 700,000 patrons annually.
- Road America features a four-mile, 14-turn track spread across 640 acres
- Here, car and motorcycle enthusiasts can cheer the annual NASCAR Nationwide Series, club racing, and American Le Mans Series; and photograph the famous Corvette Bridge
- The VSCDA Elkhart Lake Vintage Festival after Labor Day attracts rare vintage cars to the village
- Visiting groups small and large enjoy go-kart races, geocaching golf cart adventures, and tours of the off-road UTV trails for birthdays or corporate team-building
- The Skip Barber Racing School teaches would-be racecar drivers how to safely pursue speed
- Some guests are permitted a sneak peak into the state-of-the-art race control room next door
- Elkhart Lake's primacy in sports-car racing goes back to 1950, when open-road racing was held on a stretch of road that is now clearly marked as the Historic Race Circuit
Elkhart Lake's second most popular attraction is its namesake, the cedar-ringed, crystal-clear, 292-acre lake. It is fed by mineral springs, creating a dazzling sapphire color.
- Watersports are busiest in summer. Gear is available for rental from Memorial Day to Labor Day: kayaks, sailboats, paddleboats, hydrobikes, water skis, wakeboards, bumper boats, and canoes. Motorboats are permitted on Elkhart Lake every day but Sunday
- Pontoon boats are also a great option for a relaxing floating party on the water. Expect with cocktails or a guided tour to learn the local lore and legends
- Fishing requires a license, which is easy and inexpensive to obtain. The 118 feet-deep Elkhart Lake yields a wide variety of aquatic species: muskie, walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, bluegill, crappie, and largemouth as well as smallmouth bass
Osthoff Resort, Elkhart Lake's peak accommodations, feels like a great uncle's oversized mansion. It is an all-suite property with the AAA Four Diamond rating. The property is repeatedly recognized by Travel + Leisure readers as one of America's best lake resorts.
- Osthoff Resort's 145 spacious lake-view suites come ready with vacation-friendly features like kitchens, fireplaces, balconies, and washing machines
- Osthoff Resort attracts families, couples, and international racing celebrities appearing at Road America
- During the busy summer season, Osthoff Resort is family-oriented, offering a myriad of lake activities
- Once a hideout for gangsters who smuggled hooch from Canada during Prohibition, Osthoff Resort opened in 1885, was rebuilt in 1995, and renovated in 2002. It has three pools (one indoors) and a private beach and watersports marina on the lake
- Osthoff Resort offers guests two restaurants, a cooking school, and the full-service Aspira Spa, with nature-inspired services and settings
Elkhart Lake offers a number of other gracious and comfortable waterfront digs.
- The Victorian Village Resort has one, two, or three-bedroom condos plus a private beach, pools, a theater, and an understandably popular barefoot tiki bar
- Siebkens Resort has been in the Siebkens family for four generations. Guests may rent condos (one to three bedrooms) with open floor plans, full kitchens, and a private lake beach. Siebkens Resort is catnip to visiting families. Its wraparound balconies are big enough to feel like a private "track" to little ones who race around on plastic trikes. Kids of all ages love Siebkens' Ice Cream Shoppe
Elkhart Lake's Vivid Culture & History
The lake defines the town and the Elkhart Lake visitor experience.
- Potawatomi Indians called the lake Me-shay-way-odeh-ni-bis, or Great Elk Heart Lake, because the lake's shape resembles an elk's heart
- Guests may take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the 1860s era that is alive and well at the Wade House Historic Site. The Wade House complex contains: a 27-room stagecoach inn, a sawmill, a blacksmith, and a carriage museum containing nearly 100 carriages, sleighs, and wagons
- Henschel's Indian Museum is located at an ongoing archaeological dig site. Its collection of Native American artifacts date as far back as 8,000 B.C.
Outdoors enthusiasts and wildlife lovers who just want to get away from civilization are in for a treat.
- Sheboygan Marsh Park offers unique views of the county's rich 14,000-acre wildlife area. The park's 80-foot wooden observation tower is Wisconsin's tallest. Marsh Park is open year-round and offers fishing, hunting, canoe rentals, hiking trails, and campsites
- The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a 1,200-mile sylvan foot path that winds though Wisconsin, featuring hills and depressions (kettles) created by glacial ice flow more than 12,000 years ago. The glaciers sculpted a dramatic landscape that contrasts starkly with the flatlands and gentle rolling terrain typical of the upper Midwest
Hearty country fare is a tradition in the Badger State. Elkhart Lake has its share of enjoyable country eateries, many updated with a fashionable contemporary spin.
- Otto's, at Osthoff Resort, serves a solid breakfast menu including steel cut oats, the omelet with everything in it, cappuccinos, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. When weather permits, diners may sit out on the balcony overlooking Osthoff Resort's pond and Elkhart Lake
- For lunch, Off the Rail creates made-to-order sandwiches and panini in the heart of Elkhart Lake's shopping area. A favorite vegetarian option is the Ghost Train, a cold sandwich with hummus, red peppers, alfalfa sprouts, havarti cheese. Also available are specialty coffees, teas, beers, baked goods, a kids' menu, and free wifi
For fine dining at Elkhart Lake:
- Lola's on the Lake is at The Osthoff Resort features indoor and outdoor lakefront dining. Good choices at Lola’s include Wisconsin local foods such as the Cheese Plate and the Pan-Seared Rushing Waters Rainbow Trout. Lola's bar spotlights dessert wines and Ports
- Lake Street Café is a spirited spot serving California-style light dishes like bistro classics like Braised Beef Short Ribs and wood-fired pizza. The wine list has been honored by Wine Spectator
- Paddock Club, in a restored historic building, features an open kitchen and century-old bar. Favorites: mussels and hanger steak. Paddock Club's wine list, also recognized by Wine Spectator, includes over 20 red and white wines by the glass
- Antiques-furnished Back Porch Bistro was a speakeasy during Prohibition. Now, it serves artisnal brews, fresh fish, and satisfying Pork Weinerschnitzel. The side that shines is tomato spinach orzo. The dessert pick: Lemon Poppy Seed Cake with Berry Sauce and French Buttercream
Pottery, cooking, and antiquing captivate crafty visitors to Elkhart Lake.
- Pat Robison is a long-time pottery professor and also the groundskeeper at The Osthoff Resort. Pat and his wife Karen, a mixed media artist, run Two Fish Gallery, a well-edited art space full of original art, and set in a colorful Mission-style Bungalow
- Two Fish Gallery also hosts raku and stoneware pottery classes in a studio behind its sculpture garden. Finished pieces can be glazed, fired, and shipped home if need be
- L'école de la Maison is the cooking school at The Osthoff Resort. It holds kitchen workshops and courses ranging from two hours to two days
- Classes are organized by theme, such as French Desserts or Northern Italian Trattoria. In French Bistro, aspiring cooks of all levels learn to make classics like Coquilles St. Jacques au Gratin from scratch
- L'école de la Maison classes are taught by patient chef-instructor Scott Baker and a professional support staff
- Hennings Cheese Factory produces award-winning cheddar and Colby cheeses, Wisconsin cheese curds, and gigantic cheese wheels weighing up to 12,000 pounds. Tours allow guests to observe the production process and to sample and purchase various varieties. (By the way, Wisconsinites don't really mind being called cheeseheads)
One measure of Elkhart Lake's sophistication: its excellence in wine. Vintage Elkhart Lake is a down-to-earth yet ultra-savvy wine shop and tasting bar run by respected Certified Sommelier Jaclyn Stuart.
- Stuart can talk wine with the crème de la crème. And she can convey the excitement of wine to anyone, as co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Food and Wine Pairing (check it out). Vintage Elkhart Lake offers tastings with wines, craft beers, cheese, and chocolate pairings.
- Also on tap: specialty olive oils, vinegars, cigars, and established local brands like Sartori cheese and Palo popcorn
For visitors whose idea of a great club is a nine-iron, Elkhart Lake offers Quit Qui Oc Golf Course, with one-of-a-kind geography and moderate greens fees.
- The course includes a vintage 18-hole course designed in 1927 by Tom Bendelow. More recently, The Glacial Nine was inaugurated: 9 holes that snake around Ice Age glacial formations in Northern Kettle Moraine Forest
- Practice opportunities include a driving range, putting green, and practice sand bunker
Find out more about Elkhart Lake on its official travel site