Let’s start with the fact that it’s all about the water. The fresh air, hospitality and great food are important, but let’s face it ... we come for the water. To be in it, on it or see it. Thanks to the glaciers of ages past, the Minocqua area has the highest concentration of lakes in the world. Everywhere you turn, people are out enjoying the fun. It’s good for the soul, being witness to such joy.
That’s why, when we visit Minocqua for a long weekend, we begin with the water. Where we stay, the toys we bring, the gear we rent, where we dine — everything centers around the cool blue stuff. A day spent frolicking in sun, sand and water creates the perfect line of demarcation from the hustle of the work-a-day world.
Lodging on the water runs the gamut from hotel room to condo to cottage to lodge. Most places offer some form of water recreation, whether it’s a rowboat or kayak, a pontoon or a personal watercraft. Or you can find them for rent at several places throughout town.
Our perfect first day calls for checking into our lodgings, unpacking swim suits and racing for the lake. First one in gets to choose where we have lunch. In short order, we’re all dripping wet and laughing. An hour of swimming, sand castles and soaking up the rays, and we’re famished.
Minocqua has tons of options. Will we stick with main street classics, venture out to a lakeside bar and grill or choose a downtown spot on the water? Greek specialties or Mexican? Burgers or fish sandwiches at a lakefront bar and grill setting? Coffee shops abound with great lunch menus, and there’s no shortage of pizza. For dessert, we’ll have to make perhaps the toughest decision: the deliciously difficult choice between goods from a homemade candy shop or from a specialty ice cream parlor, or maybe we’ll just have both.
Next stop: the World’s Largest Penny and the Dr. Kate Museum in Woodruff. Dr. Kate was a legendary Northwoods doctor in the first half of the 20th century. She made house calls any way possible, arriving by canoe, snowshoe or snowmobile. Her dream of having an area hospital came true when local children launched a million-penny campaign to raise $10,000 to build the hospital. The Lakeland Memorial Hospital opened its doors in 1954 — and Woodruff got the World’s Largest Penny.
Time for more water, so we head to our home away from home and repeat the morning’s beach routine. After a fish fry overlooking the water, we stroll down the street to catch the Min-Aqua Bats water ski show. An exquisite pink sunset over Minocqua Lake caps off a happy Day One.
On Day Two, the early risers sneak out for a quick dip before we pile into the car for the short drive to Wildwood Wildlife Park. Kids love being up close and personal with the animals, and there are enough activities to keep them happy for days — a paddle boat adventure, safari train, nature trail boardwalk and more. We catch our breath over lunch at the Hungry Bear Hut or the new Jambo Hut (lunch with a giraffe!).
By mid-afternoon, it’s time for more rigorous recreation. We rent stand up paddle boards and kayaks, and paddle through glittering sun diamonds dancing across Minocqua Lake.
Clouds gather on Day Three as we head into town for a hearty breakfast. We seize the grayish day for shopping at our favorite boutiques. Downtown Minocqua offers shopping for just about anything … from antiques to home décor, to beautiful jewelry, and both casual and upscale fashion.
Hooray! The sun’s back out. Time to regroup. We grab lunch on the fly, rent bikes and hit the Bearskin Trail. This old railroad bed is now part of Wisconsin’s Aldo Leopold Legacy Trail System. It starts in Minocqua and follows the Bearskin Creek some 18 miles south, crossing so much water that there are 13 trestles along its length. A state trail pass is required for bikers over 16 (dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/trailpass.html).
Over a leisurely meal and a brew, we use a napkin to make the inevitable “Wish we had time for …” list for our next visit. The events calendar at minocqua.org is a good place to start choosing dates for our return visits, because it’s clear one visit is never enough.
When The Snow Flies
The Northwoods is laced with mile after mile of trails penetrating deep into forests and skirting lakes and streams. They’re beautiful any time of year, and especially so in winter. The quiet feels inviolate, and pristine snow under blue sky seems to glow with radiance. The flash of a blue jay or the bass tap-tap of a pileated woodpecker only deepens the romance of the winter landscape.
Miles of state forest and parkland trails invite a variety of winter pursuits. An average annual snowfall of 65 inches ensures great snowmobiling on the area’s more than 1,600 miles of public and private trails. Minocqua Winter Park has 45 miles of groomed ski trails, nearly eight miles of snowshoe trails, and a tubing hill, complete with lift equipment. There’s even an ice skating pond reminiscent of Currier & Ives. After the fun, warm up and get a bite to eat at Rick’s Hardwax Café in the park’s chalet. For fees, activities and equipment rental, visit minocquawinterpark.org.
Get a comprehensive look at winter recreation in the Minocqua area, including trail activities, ice fishing, indoor ice skating and tubing at minocqua.org/northwoods-winter-activities.
The allure of the Minocqua area has endured for centuries. Many have come to treasure this area of natural beauty, which provides endless outdoor recreational opportunities for four seasons of fun. Visitors return again and again, generation after generation.
From trappers defeated in their search for the mystical Northwest Passage, to fur traders rerouted to the Upper Mississippi River highway, early settlers found passage by way of one long water route through the Lakeland Area. Today, this water passage is known as the Minocqua Chain of Lakes.
The Minocqua area went on to be rich in logging lore. At the turn of the 19th century, loggers arrived to harvest the wealth of timber in the virgin forests. In 1887, the area sprung up as a major logging town. As the logging industry dwindled, the resort industry began and the railroads brought visitors by the hundreds to take advantage of the area’s many recreational opportunities.
Businesses prospered as more and more people found the area a delightful place to live. The businesses in Minocqua were originally established on Front Street, but a devastating fire leveled most of them in 1912. Some business owners rebuilt, but most of the regrowth was on Oneida Street, the main street of town today.
Today, the Minocqua, Arbor Vitae, Woodruff, area (often referred to as the Lakeland Area) is a flourishing tourist destination with a variety of accommodations, fine dining, unique shopping, popular attractions, historical museums and abundant outdoor recreation.