This post has been adapted from its original format as it appeared on Northerly Collective, but has been tweaked a smidge for Lake Effect Co. by the authors. I first began to notice amazing northern Wisconsin content a few months ago, and after following their first few posts, I knew good things were coming with Northerly Collective. The site is curated by two friends, Becca Bartling + Elizabeth Gering, who share a love of life in northern Wisconsin and all it entails. I am constantly impressed by their sense of adventure and eye for all things beautiful. Follow along on their social channels (Facebook, Instagram), sign-up for their newsletter “The Current Collective”, and by all means, allow them to take you on a tour of their home, Manitowish Waters, WI. This is the Northwoods through their eyes, so take it away girls!
Nestled between the pine trees and surrounded by water, Manitowish Waters is a place you visit and never want to leave; with spotty cell service and “Northwoods” internet speed, uncovering the area’s best kept secrets is sometimes just tough. With tourist season revving up, we queried the best kind of insider sources - local residents with an adventurous palate - on how to get off the beaten path to discover a few of northern Wisconsin’s hidden gems. And for a more comprehensive guide to the area, visit their Best of Manitowish Waters List or Weekend Guide to the area.
Only have time for one “must-do” - we’ve each selected a top pick, as it’s actually impossible to play favorites with options this fun:
Becca’s pick:Powell Marsh Wildlife Area - This is my (and my golden retriever, Ruby’s) go-to spot for a morning walk with coffee, an afternoon bike ride, or just to explore. With wide open spaces to clear your mind, fields of golden wildflowers, and winding trails through the woods, the marsh is beautiful in all seasons and in all weather. You’ll be planning your next adventure here, I promise.
Elizabeth’s pick: The Manitowish Waters Challenge. This is a family tradition and one of my all time favorite things to do every summer. We usually pick a hot summer day when we don’t have any other plans, and we pack a cooler with canned rosé and cheese + crackers. The best part - you never know who you might meet along the way. By the end of the day we have had a parade of five boats on the quest to complete the challenge. Everyone is family in the northwoods!
A rustic cabin with vintage Hamm’s signs and colorful sombreros sets the atmosphere for Chico’s North of the Border, located at the end of a quiet road after a twenty-something minute drive from Manitowish Waters. Surrounded by tall pines, this northern Wisconsin Mexican oasis will leave you with a story to tell over and over again. Local tip - Sit at the bar and start with a pitcher of their famous margaritas. You’ll be back again, we promise.
Walk among giants as you wander through an old growth hemlock forest to clear your mind and appreciate Wisconsin’s natural beauty at Van Vliet Hemlocks State Natural Area. Tip: Find directions before departing, located at the end of a backroad without good cell phone service. Always open and beautiful in all seasons.
THREE - THE MANITOWISH WATERS CHALLENGE
Swim in every lake on the Manitowish Chain of 10 Lakes as an annual celebration of summer in northern Wisconsin. Go at your own speed and on your own time (seriously, any day works!) for this local bucket list item. Bonus points if the dip includes a rope swing (we see you, Spider Lake), jumping off a friend’s swim raft, or going down a waterslide (hint: Alder Lake). As you cruise the water trying to complete the task in ONE day, we recommend chatting with the local crowd, learning which sandbars to relax on, where the late night destinations are, and... just maybe, you will make such great friends along the way, you’ll scrap the challenge altogether. But that’s the point, get out and enjoy.
Make the short drive through the woods to enjoy the evening as the sun slips beneath the horizon at Sandy Beach Campground. Head for the beach on the eastern shore, we suggest bringing a picnic and a bottle wine.
Join the ever-growing group of members in the Hurricane Club at Blue Bayou Inn, a Louisiana cookery located on the shores of Manitowish Lake. A signature rum drink created in New Orleans post-prohibition, the Hurricane is dangerously tasty so per Rita’s rule, you can only have 2 per night. With prizes after every few drinks, you’ll be hooked and quickly become a regular.
After a night on the town, head to Howling Dog Saloon to experience the local culture alongside pizza, egg rolls, and other bar time favorites. Be prepared to turn up the jukebox and have a great time. Remember cash, no plastic here.
Experience bluegrass music from Traditional Acoustic to Americana right in Manitowish Waters! The Cozy Cove Tavern hosts the MidSummer Bluegrass Festival every summer, attracting famous artists from across the country. Come for the entire festival or stop in late evening to listen to lively tunes. Act like a local and order a ham sandwich, just don’t expect the lunch kind, you’ll be served a Hamm’s beer and 2 shots of Jagermeister.
With over 4,000 acres of flowages, unforested wetlands, grassy uplands, and restorative forest trails, Powell Marsh Wildlife Area takes the cake for the best kept secret, hidden just under your nose. Grab your camera, lace up your shoes, and head out for a stroll, the marsh offers something for everyone. Spring on the marsh brings birds, otters, and blossoming plant life; summer changes to fields of gold as wildflowers bloom (on my list as a top area favorite!) and berries ripen. Powell Marsh Trails near Spring Pond/Sherman Lake are great for walking the dogs or exploring the ridges on your mountain bike.
Enjoy homemade soups and sandwiches surrounded with northwoods memorabilia. Make sure you save room - some of the best pie and ice cream shakes come from their kitchen! While you’re there, walk through L’Array and Chucky Lou’s Last Dance antique shops for a glance into the past and some up north finds.