Escape the Texas Summer Heat in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

Last year I read “Tom Lake” by Ann Patchett, one of my favorite contemporary authors. It’s set in a fictional lakeside town in Michigan, a place that Patchett paints as close to perfect with a cool, swimmable lake, a community theater, restaurants, and nature all around.  I’d never been to a place like that and wasn’t sure it existed until I went to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

An hour’s drive north from Milwaukee, Elkhart Lake is an idyllic town with a cool, swimmable lake, restaurants, nature all around and so much more, including a world-renowned auto racing center which is home to one of the world’s fastest road-racing tracks.  All that and a much cooler climate for those late summer, early fall getaways.

Elkhart Lake isn’t on the tongue tips of Tik-Tokkers or travel influencers, but it is a place to consider for escaping the heat.

Wealthy upper Midwesterners started going there in the late 1800s to take in “the cure” from the spring-fed waters of the lake. Though it’s modernized since then, there is still a very retro vibe here, from the historical lodgings to speakeasy-themed restaurants and bars to the welcoming attitude.

Spending three days in Elkhart Lake, I fell in love with the town and the legend and lore about generations who have spent summers there. Many of the town’s seasonal employees grew up going there. It’s so communal it made me wonder if people who aren’t from there will be welcomed all the same.

Park Cities resident Robyn Galerston and her husband have a second home in Elkhart Lake, though neither are from there.  “Friends have a condo at The Osthoff and we visited them there. We fell in love with the town and bought a place for ourselves,” she said.  With so many generational families that summer there, I asked if she’s ever felt like an outsider.

Absolutely not, she said. “People are extremely friendly.”

I experienced the same when I went for lunch at the adorable Lake Street Café, then ice cream at the historic Gessert’s ice cream parlor. I saw a man walking a huge Great Dane, or maybe the Great Dane was walking him, anyway, we chatted and turns out, he’s from Colleyville, Texas. His wife grew up coming to Elkhart Lake and they bought a place there. A surprising number of Dallasites have familial connections to the village.

So, why should you consider visiting Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin? The climate, accessibility, local and regional activities, and a sky-blue lake that centers the town.

The climate in late summer is perfect through September. It gets chilly and quiet November through March, but otherwise, the weather is nice.

It’s relatively accessible. Fly from Dallas to Milwaukee on either Southwest or American Airlines and rent a car for an easy drive to Elkhart Lake. Make it your home base and explore the area and take a day trip to Sheboygan.

The Salt Room PHOTO: Courtesy

The Osthoff Resort is a full-service luxury property with single guestrooms, suites, and condos for larger groups. It’s traditionally elegant and offers amenities such as restaurants and bars and Aspira, a gorgeous award-winning spa which has a luxurious salt room.

The Siebkens Resort also offers flexible accommodations, including larger spaces for families.  There are restaurants and bars affiliated with the resort, including The Stop-Inn Tavern, a favorite watering hole for racing teams in town to compete at Road America.

The Shore Club offers spacious, clean rooms, an indoor heated swimming pool and a large arcade stocked with board games, video games, and other activities for indoor fun. Adjacent to the Shore Club is the Tiki Bar, the lakeside gathering place and a theater where you can catch local singing sensations and bands.

Fine dining is not readily available in Elkhart Lake, but you must visit a Wisconsin Supper Club while you’re there. Though not fine dining, the Supper Club is a unique part of Wisconsin culture. Schwarz’s Supper Club is a short 10-minute drive from Elkhart Lake and a must visit. Bring your appetite, some cash for the ubiquitous Pull-Tabs and brace yourself for an Old Fashioned cocktail made with brandy and garnished with your choice of a maraschino cherry, pickled mushroom, or olive.

You can’t visit Wisconsin without sampling its most famous export: Cheese. Cheese curds are on every menu and, if you visit Henning’s Cheese which happens to sell its cheeses locally, including to Central Market, you can see how they are made. If goat cheese is more your thing, tour LaClare Creamery.

PHOTO: Road America

Racing History
The main attraction to the area is Road America. In the 50s, downtown Elkhart Lake was the setting for open road car races, with Porsches and Jags screaming around the town, skimming the aforementioned hotels, and giving spectators a very up-close view of auto racing. Fortunately, after two years, someone got wise and decided to move the races to a safer setting.

Opened in 1955, Road America hosts racing events throughout the year. From Indycar races to motorcycle races, the track elicits speed. Dario Franchitti holds the record for Road America’s fastest track lap at 145.78 MPH. Motorcycle races see speeds up to 200 MPH. Impressive indeed with a 4.048-mile course that has 14 turns.

In addition to the races, you can bike and walk the course at certain times, rent Utility Terrain Vehicles and explore some of the hilly 525 acres in the complex.

Elkhart Lake is a clean crystal blue lake that offers rentals for sailboats, pontoons, paddleboats, jet skis, and other water toys. The Ice Age Trail offers easy hikes and up-close exploration of the remnants of glaciers from 12,000 years ago. Peak season for fall foliage is in October. Lake Michigan is a 30-minute drive from the town center and worth a day trip.

Golfers of various abilities can hit the links here. The local golf club, Quit Qui Oc is welcoming and a great place to play or hit some balls. No need to bring your clubs, you can rent them there. If you’re an advanced golfer, the region’s most exclusive courses, such as Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run, are close by.

Consider somewhere other than Colorado to escape Texas’ August and September heat, and look into Elkhart Lake. It’s a surprising destination with history and local and regional attractions that are worth a visit.

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Kersten Rettig

Kersten Rettig is the only DFW Food/Travel writer with luxury hospitality leadership experience and a former restaurant owner, employee, and chief marketing officer. Kersten's worked on the inside and has the insight and experience to tell the stories to the outside. She's a Park Cities resident, mom, wife and a decent cook. Follow her on Instagram @KerstenEats.

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