Tourists flock to Wisconsin’s Elkhart Lake in the summer, their high season. But the village, population 967, is serene and full of healthy travel opportunities during the fall, winter and spring. This peaceful haven, about an hour from Milwaukee, provides an escape from city hustle.
There’s a history abuzz of mobsters vacationing in Elkhart Lake decades ago but the village was put on the map because of car racing. Back in 1950, auto racing was taking center stage in Elkhart Lake. By 1952, it was illegal to race on the streets so Road America opened a 640-acre racing destination with 4.5 miles of track.
Much like the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Road America plays host to NASCAR and Indy races, among over 600 events per year. Texans who love a good hot rod spin or have a car fascination might consider Elkhart Lake a bucket list destination. Their average program costs $300-400 and you’ll see racecars, private cars and even go-carts spinning their wheels at this track.
But we went in search of wellness in Wisconsin and found it in spades.
Come on Inn
Elkhart Lake is full of Victorian-style inns, with white wooden exteriors like you’ll find at the large Osthoff Resort, Victorian Village and Siebken’s Resort, sitting side-by-side on the edge of the village, lakeside. Siebken’s Resort is now run by fourth-generation sisters who have kept the style of their German ancestors throughout the three-story inn.
Guest rooms are found among Siebken’s three buildings, most of which are 1, 2, and 3-bedrooms condos. I enjoyed the layout of my 2-bedroom condo (which felt overly spacious for little ole me!). My bedroom sat on the corner, flanked by a wrap-around porch with a view of Elkhart Lake. My only regret of my short visit was not finding time to sit out on the porch with a novel and a glass of wine.
My condo also featured a kitchen/dining room/ living room combo, one bathroom, a second bedroom and washer/dryer.
A Breath of Fresh Air
The fall beckons a Texan to get outdoors and explore here. The leaves change in early October and temperatures are idyllic for a brisk jog along the lake and through the village. I love exploring a new area on a jog, a walk or cruiser bike. As long as you’re not battling rain or the unusual mosquitos they have experienced lately, you can get out and do all three.
Elkhart Lake is great for cycling but when the leaves (or snow) fall, roads can be slippery. So, head indoors to SOEL cycling studio. Right in the heart of the village, SOEL offers spin classes (and yoga) in a rustic setting. Owner and trainer Lynn told us she’s not a fan of the big city’s intense spinning with loud music so her pace is a little more relaxed.
A trip to Elkhart Lake would not be complete without a few restorative activities for your mind and spirit. The Ostoff’s Aspira Spa will be where you want to restore for a minimum of a half-day, if not more. There’s yoga on a daily basis, or try a treatment like their signature Cedar Massage.
Cedar gets a bad rap in Texas for inducing allergies, but this massage brings out cedar’s energy properties. The 80-minute treatment combines medium pressure massage with aromatherapy, cranio-sacral massage and deep energy touching. After I heated up like a furnace, my therapist told me I was full of energy, which she described as an inner power.
Also spend time at the spa’s amenities: the meditation room (a dark feng shui room with the sound of trickling water), sauna, large, multi-jet showers, and my favorite—the outdoor hot tub.
A much less common restorative practice, pottery making, is also offered in Elkhart Lake at Two Fish Gallery. Owner Patrick Robinson and his wife are both retired teachers (she’s a botanist and responsible for the lush sculpture garden that surrounds the gallery and studio) who have made a name for themselves for over two decades as Elkhart Lake’s only gallery.
I thoroughly enjoyed creating my own drinking vessel pottery. Pat made it look really easy (and it was not) but I did find it therapeutic as I pounded out the clay and molded it into my very unique souvenir. Pat glazes and fires them and I’ll receive my coffee mug in the mail. (Stay tuned to our Facebook and Instagram pages to see the final product! )
Farm to Table at the Lake
Dining while traveling does not need to be heavy and unhealthy. You’ll find plenty of healthy eating options throughout the village for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No wellness vacation is complete without delicious healthy foods. Use this retreat to be good to your body by way of culinary fuel, too.
Lake Street Café, sitting in the middle of the village, is one part casual café, one part fine dining restaurant. I love that their menus are presented inside old classic books. I started with a delicious appetizer of Brussels sprouts topped with a Sartori SarVecchio parmesan and feasted on the shitake chicken. This is a dish that, if I lived locally, I would crave and return for on a weekly basis. I paired this with a crisp chardonnay for a dinner that felt healthy and filling.
The Paddock Club, just down the block from Lake Street Café, is a refined dining experience within a casual setting. Live music entertained part of the restaurant, where the bar is situated. However, we were in another room and couldn’t even hear there was music because the house was so full. We sampled many of their courses but what stood out to me, being a Texan, was the brisket cannelloni, a smoky silky pasta treat (filled with kale, mozzarella and a spicy sweet bell pepper sauce). Lighter dishes include the zebra tomato salad and their bubble and squeak (kale, zucchini, mushroom, potato, lemon, with an over-easy egg).
Back Porch Bistro within Victorian Village has the feel of an old movie set (the theatre next door features dancing shows put on by summer staff, like in the movie “Dirty Dancing”). Its homey interior called me to order a bit of comfort food (since the temperatures were in the 60s). I feasted on bruschetta, braised short ribs (deliciously tender), and finished with a cheesecake of my choice — turtle, of course. All three courses paired perfectly with a bold Joel Gott cabernet.
When you’re ready for your splurge meal, head over to Otto’s in the Osthoff Resort for crispy cheese curds (you can’t go to Wisconsin without getting your fill of cheese)—little bites of heaven. Pair this snack with a Spotted Cow ale from Madison, Wisconsin, and this will also serve as a retreat for your spirit. Throw in some brats for good Wisconsin measure!
Another thing I loved about this healthy escape is that I was in bed by 9pm every night! Sleep is an integral factor in good health, something we all love on vacay!
Cover | The Osthoff Resort is a centerpiece to the village of Elkhart Lake | Courtesy photo
Marika Flatt is the Travel Editor of Texas Lifestyle Magazine.