Sun, sand and ... race cars? Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, offers heart-pumping action in a pretty resort area.
Osthoff Resort sunset courtyard
Credit: Courtesy of Osthoff Resort

The village of Elkhart Lake (80 minutes north of Milwaukee) sports a crystal-clear, 286-acre lake, plus a world-renowned racetrack and irresistible culinary finds. Here's our guide for a two-day getaway.

Road America. Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Road America
| Credit: Courtesy of the Elkhart Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Day 1

Colorful cars zip around curves and over hills framed by lush green foliage. A far cry from a NASCAR speedway, Elkhart Lake's legendary Road America course has an atmosphere more befitting a Sunday picnic (admittedly, a rather noisy one!). The course—one of the world's longest (at more than 4 miles)—opened in 1955 and has been a favorite of amateur racers ever since. And it's a great place for amateur fans, too, with its many events and fun atmosphere.

But why does a little resort town have a race track? To learn, consult the historical markers around Elkhart Lake. Hundreds of thousands of people visited in the early 1950s to watch the nation's best drivers race through the village and surrounding countryside. You can still drive—not race!—the old routes.

Elkhart Lake
Credit: Courtesy of Elkhart Lake Tourism

Racing gives Elkhart Lake a distinct jolt of energy, but it's not the main draw. That would be the lake, and most people come here for quiet weekends of swimming, sunning, boating and waterskiing.

Just outside town, sprawling Kettle Moraine State Forest offers hundreds of miles of trails for biking, hiking and running. The popular 3.5-mile Parnell Tower Trail includes an observation tower with sweeping views of the glacier-carved terrain. A historic village in the park includes The Wade House, where costumed interpreters lead tours of a 19th-century stagecoach inn and visitors explore a carriage museum. For lunch, gorgeous lake views and alfresco dining complement great drinks, pizzas and sizzling burgers at Tiki Bar Elkhart Lake.

After a beachy afternoon, dinner at Siebkens' Stop-Inn Tavern is an affordable luxury and considered the best bar on the racing circuit; entrees include grilled swordfish and steaks. Plus, it's located in Siebkens Resort, the go-to hangout for the racing crowd. Its condo hotel offers elegant, Prairie-style units with fireplaces, full kitchens and balconies.

The Osthoff Resort Elkhart Lake Wisconsin
Credit: Courtesy of The Osthoff Resort

For a quieter night, try The Osthoff Resort. Families come for kid-friendly programming; adults luxuriate in the Aspira Spa's Thai massage and chakra balancing treatments.

Day 2

Spend the morning exploring village shops. Two Fish Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden has serious curb appeal: lush plants and fab artwork. The owners open their bungalow to display works from about 70 regional and national artists, as well as fair-trade art.

Lunch at Lake Street Cafe presents a choice: The casual dining side offers funky, beer-inspired decor and wood-fired pizzas; the fine-dining side has one of Wisconsin's longest wine lists and entrees like sesame-seared tuna.

For a special dinner, visit Paddock Club. The seasonal menu tends toward European: Smoked wild boar ragu pappardelle features a mushroom and  red wine-braised boar ragu over pappardelle noodles. In a town where many visitors are still in a hurry to zip around a famous track, it's delightful to find a place all about savoring a moment.