Elkhart Lake for weekend family vacations

Lake Geneva, Wis., might be the recognized name among Chicago residents seeking a weekend getaway up north, but Elkhart Lake, Wis., has everything Lake Geneva has without the crushing crowds or inflated prices.

If you go

In fact, it offers everything from nature hikes to see the blazing fall colors at Kettle Moraine State Forest to heart-thumping speeds at Road America’s four-mile race track. (You can drive your own car on the track, with the kids strapped into their car seats if you want to do something more than watch other drivers have all of the speedy fun).

This small Wisconsin town an hour north of Milwaukee is an easy weekend destination from the Chicago metro area. Staying there comes with a wide range of options, from the high-end and beautiful Osthoff Resort with its world-class Aspira Spa to a host of affordable camping venues.

If you like to cook, show your kids what they would have eaten in 1860 at the Wade House Historic Site. On Sept. 16, you can help cook (then eat) breakfast on the hearth and period cookstove from 8-11 a.m., followed by a baseball game played by 1860 rules featuring the Greenbush Dead Citys. If you can’t make the breakfast, aim for a Hearthside Dinner on Oct. 20 and 27 and Nov. 10 to help prepare and eat an 1860s lunch. Call for reservations: (920) 526-327.

If you like history more than eating, visit the last weekend in September for a Civil War re-enactment, or take the kids Oct. 13-14 to learn about the history of Halloween costumes and take an open-air wagon ride.

My family is drawn to Elkhart Lake for its small town feel (population: 967). A stroll around the Saturday morning farmers and artisans market, a gentle paddle around the 292-acre spring-fed lake in a rented canoe, or a ride along the country roads on rented bikes is all it takes to get us to slow down and enjoy life a little more. (A few hours for Mom at the Aspira Spa while Dad takes the kids to the lake doesn’t hurt, either.)

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