Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Runs at Full Throttle On and Off the Track

Boats and beachfront at Victorian Village

Boats and beachfront at Victorian Village

The southern Wisconsin town of Elkhart Lake is known for its road racing history and as home to Road America, one of the nation’s premier racing venues. Road America’s motto, “Come for the experience and stay for the race,” invites some 700,000 visitors a year to enjoy a variety of activities at the track, from driving schools to Go-Karting and paintball. But its message also draws upon Elkhart Lake’s long history as a lakeside resort, famous for crystal clear, blue-green waters and endless outdoor recreation.

The spring-fed, 290-acre Elkhart Lake has been a mecca for swimming, fishing, and boating since the late 1800s, when railway lines made the area accessible for Midwestern city dwellers seeking a relaxing retreat. Victorian-style resorts and inns were built around the lake, and those that remain today offer guests a blend Old World charm and modern amenities. Newer resort activities, including a state-of-the-art spa, indoor and outdoor pools, cultural arts, and holiday festivities, as well as the quaint village center, have made Elkhart Lake a year-round destination.

Exterior of the historic Osthoff Hotel

Three historic properties—The Osthoff, Siebkens Resort, and Victorian Village—invite lounging on sandy beaches and swimming in designated areas. All kinds of boats from canoe to paddle boat and hydro-bike are available for rent, and guests can learn to paddle board or take a guided kayak excursion with Ecology Outfitter’s tours. Guided fishing for walleye, pike, and bass is also available.

Learn to paddleboard on Elkhart Lake

For pleasant hiking, the 1,000-mile Ice Age Trail, a footpath that winds throughout Wisconsin, runs through Kettle Moraine State Forest, a short distance from Elkhart Lake. Hikers can learn about the hills and depressions (kettles) sculpted by glacial ice flow more than 12,000 years ago. The marked trails can be also accessed in winter for cross-country skiing.

Hiking on the wooded Ice Age Trail

Arranging a round of golf in Elkhart Lake is easy; the Quit Qui Oc Golf Club is within walking distance of the village. The family-owned course offers 27 holes—the original 18 built in the 1920s by renowned architect Tim Bendelow. Stay for lunch and grab a clubhouse favorite, grilled quesadillas.

Osthoff, Siebkens, and Victorian Village, all within walking distance of one another, offer a choice of restaurants from casual to elegant. In the village, innovative contemporary cuisine can be found at Lake Street Café, with a California bistro-style menu and Elkhart Lake’s largest bar selection, and at a favorite locals’ hangout, the Paddock Club, featuring creative small plates made with seasonal ingredients.  

Ravioli dish at the Paddock Club

Off The Rail in the original rail depot specializes in healthy, homemade baked goods, and Sissy’s at Siebkens is fun for an ice cream treat. Siebkens is also home to the landmark Stop-Inn Tavern, an internationally renowned hotspot among the car racing set. For happy hour and the best lake views, grab a stool at Victorian Village’s Barefoot Tiki Bar.

Off the Rail, located in the original train depot

Wine aficionados will want to visit or schedule a tasting at Vintage Elkhart Lake, a wine and fine foods boutique that also carries cigars, craft beers, locally made cheeses, gelato, gourmet Palo Popcorn, and other treats. Owner and certified sommelier Jaclyn Stuart is eager to introduce customers to new tastes and share her knowledge and enthusiasm for complementary flavors.

Signage for Stop-Inn Tavern

Osthoff Resort offers cooking classes in the well-designed kitchen of its L’ecole de la Maison cooking school. A variety of classes are offered including “French Bistro,” Italian Cuisine, and French Pastries under the tutelage of chef Scott Baker. Spend a morning cooking and indulge in fancy Pastry Swans stuffed with ganache and Chantilly or something more traditional such as lemon Swiss meringue tarts. 

Four trays of tarts made at L’ecole de la Maison

Ever wonder what makes Wisconsin cheese superior? A tour of the fourth generation family-owned Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese in Kiel will reveal some techniques that influence quality and flavor. Henning’s produces award-winning cheddar and Colby cheeses, the famous Wisconsin cheese curds, and giant cheese wheels of up to 3,000 pounds. Visit the small museum, watch the process through a glass wall, and sample a variety of savory cheeses in the retail shop.

Text about Wisconsin master cheesemaker Kerry Henning at Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese

Shopping is made simple with unique items in the village boutiques. Those you won’t want to miss are Elkhart Lake Outfitters for outdoor gear and cool clothing, Nordic Accents for Scandinavian imports, Two Fish Gallery & Sculpture Garden for great local pottery, and Vintage Elkhart Lake for culinary finds.

For relaxation and rejuvenation, a spa treatment is a must at Osthoff’s Aspira Spa, one of the Midwest’s premier spas. Aspira, meaning “infused with spirit,” takes a holistic approach to the spa experience and offers an expansive menu of traditional and signature treatments and salon services. Ever had a Hammam, Thai massage, or Chroma Lift color therapy facial? Aspira is the place to try something new, followed by relaxation in the uniquely designed meditation room. Aspira’s amazing spa-suites offer the chance for couples and friends to enjoy spa treatments together in a private space with a fireplace, whirlpool, and shower.

Old print of the Osthoff Resort and Aspira Spa

Take a scenic pontoon cruise on the lake aboard the Elkhart Queen, captained by 50-year veteran Jim Benson, and learn the legends and history of Elkhart Lake. On land, visitors can cruise by bike or car on the original road race circuits of 1950-52 that brought Elkhart Lake its race town fame. Fourteen historic markers dot the route, which is now listed on the Wisconsin and National Register of Historic Places. 

A sign marks “The Hard Left” on the race circuit

But when the need for speed arises, head to Road America for Go-Karting or Sunset Cruise in your own vehicle. Better yet, stake your spot along the course and watch the pros at one of the world’s fastest permanent road racing tracks.

Go Karts on the race track at Road America