Chicagoans and Milwaukeans have made Elkhart Lake a favorite weekend destination for well over a century thanks to its clean beaches, clean waterways, lush scenery, Ice Age-carved hiking trails and Victorian-era setting that recalls a simpler time. That said, it is best known internationally by racing enthusiasts for Road America, a complex containing its globally televised speedway, as well as go-carts, a zipline and numerous auto-related activities. At the motorway and beyond, Elkhart Lake has plenty of fuel to drive a memorable family vacation in the American heartland.
Even in the digital age, there’s something about trains that excites the kid in everybody. At Village Square Park, just across the street from the old town depot and an antique caboose, kids can travel back in time with their imaginations, the slides and swings and a replica of an old-time schoolhouse.
Families interested in taking a journey deeper into history — the Ice Age — will enjoy exploring the Kettle Moraine State Forest Northern Unit’s 30,000 acres of forest, weather-carved trails and fascinating greenery and wildlife, especially with the aid of a guide or materials and maps from the park’s visitor centers. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are available in the winter, while hiking, fishing and camping are favorite activities in the warmer months.
Ages 5 and Up:
Retrace the historic tracks of road racing within Elkhart Lake village with landmark markers that punctuate the streets of the Elkhart Lake Road Races. Staged between 1950 and 1952, the races drew the greatest drivers of the era and made way for the 1955 opening of Road America. Several restaurants, including the Lake Street Café and Stop Inn Tavern, further capture the excitement and pop cultural impact of Elkhart Lake’s race culture.
The Osthoff Resort offers the ultimate Wisconsin experience, from its on-site vegetable and herb gardens to its own beachfront and to its involvement in the area’s beloved Christmas market. While parents enjoy a treatment at the Aspira Spa, Osthoff’s Pleasures Program for kids 4–10 stages numerous activities highlighting Wisconsin’s natural attributes, including crafts, cooking, fishing and painting. Parents can also register the kids for a pajama party so they can enjoy a night on the town or at the resort.
With Wisconsin cheese heralded as a national treasure, a visit to Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese is a must. The fourth-generation, family-owned factory features a museum, free self-guided tours on weekdays, samples of fresh cheese curds and award-winning cheddar.
It’s appropriate the family-owned and -operated Quit Qui Oc Golf Course (translating from a combination of Menomenee Indian and French to, “land along the crooked river.”) has “Glacial Nine” holes shaped by Ice Age glaciers and plenty of incentive for kids to learn the game with its fleet of skilled instructors and specials, including $1 for kids playing Sundays after 3 p.m. with an adult. From the first snow to the spring thaw, the course becomes a winter wonderland with snowshoe rentals, available Thursday through Sunday.
Ages 15 and up
Back at the Road America track, parents can invest in their young drivers holding a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit with a day in its Teen Driving Program. This revved-up educational experience puts participants in common emergency situations while in a safe, controlled, off-street environment. Participants practice collision avoidance techniques that include emergency lane changes, braking, skid control and a variety of other fundamental car control drills in such American-built cars as the Chevrolet Cruze, Impala and Malibu.
The Osthoff Resort is also in tune with its pre-teen and teen visitors, and offers them activities (based on season) such as paddle boarding, kubb, teen yoga, pastry making and dance instruction.