Amenity-rich Heidel House Resort & Spa, on the shore of Green Lake. For more photos, check out the gallery »
A photo tour of our ten waterside retreats
MORE DESTINATIONS »
Nine other Midwest getaways
GREEN LAKE, WISCONSIN
DRIVE TIME: 3.5 HOURS
LOCATED BY: GREEN LAKE
BEST FOR: NATURE LOVERS
Things have changed at Heidel House since 1980, the last time I was there, a teenager sulking mightily at the prospect of spending spring break stuck with my parents in Green Lake County, Wisconsin. Back then, the place was more no-frills hotel than opulent resort. There was no spa, no white-tablecloth restaurant perched over the water’s edge. But while the Heidel House amenities have become more luxurious over the years, the basic reason for going remains the same: that glorious 7,346-acre lake. On my trip there years ago, the sunset over Green Lake—a fire-hued watercolor, flaming fingers grasping over the ripples before going under—was an unexpected mood elevator. It turned the week rosy.
Heidel House today is a posh improvement on the 1980 version. The five-year-old Evensong Spa (just say yes to the hot rocks massage) is the latest upgrade. The grandest is the restaurant Grey Rock, a 1989 repurposing of the mansion of one Brigadier General Mason Brayman. Inhaling cocktails and maple-marinated lamb while watching the sun go down through floor-to-ceiling windows? Don’t mind if I do. Heidel House also added the Lac Verde Lodge, where suites with wet bars and whirlpools have elegant French doors that open to spectacular views. From your suite’s patio, you can stroll directly onto the one-and-three-quarter-mile Heidel Hike, a winding path that meanders in and around the resort, past the 111-year-old Tuscumbia Golf Course, and through meadows where deer sometimes outnumber people.
The Heidel Hike might be one of the easiest ways to get from your room to the truly great outdoors of Green Lake. But there’s much more to explore within a ten-minute drive of the resort—including three county-maintained public beaches, seven public boat launches, three more golf courses, and a 27-mile bicycle trail that loops around the lake. But besides the buzzing waterways and manicured links, Green Lake offers the allure of pristine wilderness: Since 1997, the nonprofit Green Lake Conservancy has bought more than 175 acres of environmentally fragile land and set them aside as protected open space.
Look out from Judson Tower, the century-old 180-foot stone column serving as an architectural exclamation point to the Green Lake Conference Center, the area’s other big resort. Instead of a Dells-like pileup of fudge shops and strip malls, a sweep of woods, meadows, and water unfurls almost as far as the eye can see. It’s a view that’s emblematic of the area, says Larry Behlen, the president of the Dartford Historical Society and a Green Lake resident of more than 30 years. “This isn’t a place to come if you want excitement,” he says. “It’s a place to relax. To put your feet up. Fish. Watch the sun set. Not many places you can do that anymore.”
Given the choice today between Miami’s South Beach and the beach at Green Lake’s Dodge Memorial Park? Easy. I’ll take Wisconsin.
Nature hikes abound, all easily found on a map: Less than a quarter of a mile from Heidel House, Daycholah Point offers a shore-to-shore view across the lake from a single bench; stroll the floating boardwalk that cuts through the chin-high maze of cattails in Norwegian Bay Wetlands; off Hillside Road, about seven miles from Heidel House, Hammer’s Trail goes over five small bridges and puts you within arm’s length of bounding deer; at Mitchell Glen, clamber down the ravine to the waterfalls (groups only; make reservations through the Green Lake Sanitary District: 920-295-4488). Craving an offbeat shopping experience? Less than half an hour’s drive from Green Lake, Princeton hosts Wisconsin’s largest weekly outdoor flea market (920-295-3877, princetonwi.com) in the village’s city park Saturdays through October 15th; admission and parking are free.
643 Illinois Ave., Green Lake; 920-294-3344, heidelhouse.com
Summer rates in the Main and Lac Verde Lodges range from $149 to $400 a night. Heidel House also offers the four-bedroom Stable House (full kitchen, two oversize whirlpools, three bathrooms) starting at $899 a night; the ten-bedroom, ten-bath guesthouse starts at $1,639 a night.
Photograph: Courtesy of Heidel House Resort & Spa