Looking for an authentic Northwoods experience where Old Fashioneds flow like the nearby flowage, the people are as genuine as aunt Edna and you can experience any one of a number of outdoor activities like paddling, hiking and biking? The Minocqua – Arbor Vitae – Lake Tomahawk – Woodruff area offers all of this plus throw in a zip line that runs over a forest canopy, breweries where you can mingle with brew masters and family-run restaurants that serve the same mouthwatering dishes they did decades ago.
Here are some of our favorite genuine Minocqua area experiences.
1. Take a Hike!
You could spend days exploring the Minocqua area's innumerable trails, which wind through both fragrant pine woods and lush hardwood forests. A good option is to head for the Northern Highland American Legion (NHAL) State Forest, where there are more than 75 miles of trail. Distances vary, which means there's a trail to suit everyone's taste and ability.
The one-mile Star Lake Nature Trail is a great place to start. It meanders through the state's first tree plantation, a red pine plot started in 1913. Experienced hikers might want to tackle the scenic, 12.5-mile Lumberjack Trail, which unspools along the edge of the Manitowish River, Fishtrap Flowage and White Sand Lake. Backpack camping is allowed.
2. Hop on Your Bike
If cycling is more your style, you can pedal pretty much anywhere in the region. But the star attraction is the 18-mile Bearskin State Trail, which tumbles southward from downtown Minocqua through Hazlehurst, Goodnow and Harshaw. It connects with the 14-mile Hiawatha Trail and can be taken all the way to Tomahawk.
3. Hit the Water
With one of the largest concentrations of fresh water bodies in the world, you will want to explore area lakes. They are perfect for stand up paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing, as well as fishing and just relaxing by. There are so many lakes in the area that it’s not uncommon to have one all to yourself, except for those instances when you may find yourself in the company of the resident deer, bald eagles and other critters.
4. Discover Local Crafts
Bootlegger Al Capone and his cronies frequented Wisconsin's Northwoods, including the Minocqua area. So perhaps a visit to a local brewery or distillery is in order. At nanobrewery Rocky Reef in Woodruff, you can sample eight handcrafted brews plus some seasonal varieties. Then sit down and enjoy a pint of your favorite, while playing one of the games Rocky Reef has on hand, such as ping-pong, shuffleboard and a giant version of Jenga. When it's time to leave, purchase a growler to go.
Minocqua's Northern Waters Distillery is a small-batch operation, where every spirit is carefully made by hand. A visit to the tasting room ($10) nets you a view of the distillery's operations, plus product samples. Looking for a behind the scenes tour? On a limited basis, the distillery offers opportunities to participate in a production day that includes mashing, fermenting and distilling. Call ahead for a schedule and pricing.
5. Fry ‘em Up
Make sure to take in a quintessential Wisconsin fish fry at one of the local supper clubs, like The Plantation Supper Club in Woodruff. Operated by the same family since 1970, its Friday fish fry includes deep-fried and broiled cod, deep-fried walleye, and deep-fried lake perch. Over at Mama's, an institution for 60 years, you can nosh on beer-battered or broiled haddock, plus haddock Parmigiana. Or pass on Mama's fish fry and tuck into a heaping plate of spaghetti or fettuccine Alfredo. It is an Italian eatery, after all.
6. Seek Adventure
At the Northwoods Zip Line, adventurers can experience nine different zip lines and cross five adventure bridges. Tours take you 1,000 feet over the ground, high above the forest canopy and across a lake. New this year, an Argo ATV tour takes you on a 16-mile tour through scenic wilderness. Take the wheel yourself or hang out as a passenger.
7. Rest Your Head
When it's time to hit the hay, cabins or cottages are the way to go for Northwoods authenticity. One great option is Big Arb Resort in Arbor Vitae. Its two- and three-bedroom cabins are pet-friendly, and sit right on sparkling Big Arbor Vitae Lake. You could also rent a cottage at Indian Shores, which sits on the north end of sprawling Lake Tomahawk.
No matter where you land, relax lakeside before you go to bed. As you sit outside, with millions of stars twinkling overhead and the water gently lapping at the shore, you'll be vacationing the true Wisconsin way.