Midwest Lake Vacation Spots: Wandawega Lake Resort

A summer-camp–like stomping ground just two hours from Chicago

Rope swings at Lake Wandawega
Rope swings at Lake Wandawega. For more photos, check out the gallery »
 

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ELKHORN, WISCONSIN

DRIVE TIME: 2 HOURS
LOCATED BY: RED CEDAR LAKE
BEST FOR: NATURE LOVERS

If your idea of a lake getaway involves cabins, beers resting in an ice-filled cooler, and a rope swing, Wandawega Lake Resort in Walworth County is your summer camp away from home. Minutes from the shopping and dining options of Lake Geneva and the hiking and biking trails of Kettle Moraine State Forest, Wandawega has a colorful history. The site served for decades as a retreat for Latvian priests, until two creative directors at Ogilvy in Chicago bought it in 2004. Tereasa Surratt, one of the owners, has described the resort’s carefully cultivated vibe as “cottage chic at its best. In fact, camping indoors is a nice way to think about it.”

Actually, calling Wandawega a resort may be a tad grandiose, considering that Surratt warns visitors they may encounter ladybugs or caterpillars on their pillows or small critters in the shower. During my stay there one hot summer weekend, I encountered no such pests. In fact, my husband and I spent a long afternoon in the lake and on the dock, serenely unbothered by intruders. When evening came, we bought a pizza (although secluded on 25 wooded acres with a private beach, the resort is still close to civilization) and enjoyed it on our cabin’s deck. The cottage itself was utterly charming, as if Martha Stewart had redecorated an authentically rustic campsite with cheery linens, blankets, books, photos, and quirky ephemera. An air conditioner stood at the ready, but we never turned it on. It is possible to rough it even more by renting the vintage Boy Scout tents, which are canvas cabins on wood platforms, outfitted with beds and chairs.

Perhaps dangling your feet in the lake over the edge of an inner tube doesn’t provide enough stimulation. There’s also basketball, shuffleboard, volleyball, tennis, bonfires, fishing (for panfish, largemouth bass, and northern pike), horseshoes, rowing, and hiking. When Surratt and her husband, David Hernandez, are around, which is most weekends, guests may visit the main lodge and partake of its amenities—billiards, darts, and movies. Here’s a fun idea: Get a crew together and rent the whole place for a weekend. We’ll join you.
 

DAY TRIPS

Kettle Moraine State Forest’s Northern Unit (262-626-2116) offers tons of hiking and biking trails through the glacier-formed hills of Wisconsin; the Ice Age Visitor Center (920-533-8322) explains it all. If you’re craving classic tourist stuff—fudge shops, adorable boutiques, great restaurants—Lake Geneva is close by; don’t miss a boat tour of the mansions on the lake (800-558-5911, cruiselakegeneva.com). Many of the fab vintage items adorning the Wandawega cabins come from the Elkhorn Antique Flea Market (Walworth County Fairgrounds, 411 E. Court St.; 414-525-0820)—Surratt’s favorite. Catch it if you happen to be around on June 26th, August 14th, or September 25th. Elegant Farmer (1545 Main St., Mukwonago; 262-363-6771, elegantfarmer.com) is a local grocery that’s been lauded by The New York Times and Gourmet for its homemade apple pies baked in paper bags.
 

THE DETAILS

W5453 Lake View Dr., Elkhorn; wandawegarentals.com
Rates are $200 to $300 per cabin per night (two-night minimum), with discounts for multiple rooms or by the week. Also available are Boy Scout canvas cabins: $100 per tent, must rent all three tents for two-night minimum.

 

Photograph: David Robert Elliott

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