This view of Lake Winnebago is from Fond du Lac’s Lakeside Park.
This view of Lake Winnebago is from Fond du Lac’s Lakeside Park.

There’s more to the state’s largest body of water than what’s along the I-41 strip.

We don’t talk much about Lake Winnebago as a travel destination, especially the more rural eastern shoreline. Time for that to change. 

Wisconsin’s biggest inland lake–around 220 square miles–is best known for fishing, and no place in the world has a higher recreational harvest of sturgeon. The annual winter spearing season is possible because of longtime, diligent management of that ancient species.

Walleye, perch and bass are at home in Lake Winnebago too, and public boat launches are plentiful. But there’s more to find during a 75-mile ride around the lake. Follow U.S. 45 on the western side and Wisconsin 55 along the east.

Let’s start in Fond du Lac, proceed clockwise and have a look. Rely on tourism offices in Fond du LacOshkosh, the Fox Valley and Calumet County for additional ideas.

Wendt’s on the Lake, Van Dyne: Fried lake perch is the draw, available in single to triple portions. It’s on the menu whenever food is served at the family biz, open since 1962. Eat inside or at picnic tables.

The world renowned EAA Aviation Museum in Oshkosh is among the many places that have reopened their doors, but only after adding COVID-19 precautions.

Ardy and Ed’s, Oshkosh: The former A&W still serves root beer (in a refillable jug, if you’d like), but the drive-in restaurant’s bigger blast from the past is roller-skating carhops. Around since 1948 and still playing vintage rock. 

Menominee Park Zoo, Oshkosh: The modest zoo, which turns 75 years old this year, reopens June 6 with attendance limits. New is a year-round eagle exhibit. Visiting just for summer are a bobcat and coatimundi. Admission is free.

The peculiar Julaine Farrow Museum at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute showcases the history of how people with mental health concerns were treated since the institute’s opening in 1873.

The Bergstrom Mahler Museum of Glass in Neenah started with a young girl’s fascination with a single paperweight. Decades later, Evangeline Bergstrom’s fascination with antique glass led to a collection of glass artwork, special exhibits, and programs.

Waverly Beach, Menasha: Relax with an adult beverage outdoors, along 500 feet of lakeshore, and feel like you’re looking at a much larger body of water. Be aware that free music on Sundays, as weather permits, attracts a crowd.

High Cliff State Park, Sherwood: Size up Lake Winnebago from the Niagara Escarpment’s limestone cliffs. Look for Native American effigy mounds along 16 miles of looped hiking trails. Set up a tent or just stay for a swim.

Wisconsin’s Holyland: Take time to detour by seeking out rural churches and towns whose names include Jericho, St. Charles, Mount Calvary, Marytown. Download “Breaking Bread in the Holyland,” a booklet (with map) that explains area history, religion, supper clubs.

LaClare Family Creamery, Malone: Shop for award-winning, small-batch cheeses made with milk from goats grazing nearby. Also for sale: goat milk, soaps, lotions, more. The farm café, visitor center, retail store, outside patio, and self-guided tours are available Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m and Sunday 10am to 3 p.m. There are multiple events monthly, including all that feature the baby goats. A new Goat Silo attraction that was built this spring gives visitors a whole new way to view the goats.

Park Ridge Organics, Silica: It’s not the year to spontaneously browse and buy on the same day, but an online farm store shows the veggies, eggs and other products can be ordered ahead for pickup. 

Just Fare, Peebles: In the unincorporated community next to Fond du Lac is a nonprofit and faith-based, fair trade market with products of artisans from 50 developing countries. Organizers led efforts to turn Fond du Lac into Wisconsin’s third Fair Trade City too.

Think you’re done? Consider three more farm-based businesses, near the lake’s southern edge.

Holyland Donkey Haven, Mt. Calvary: Tours of the nonprofit sanctuary for 16 rescued donkeys happen by appointment only. Leave a message at 920-915-2873.

Kelley Country Creamery, Fond du Lac: Raspberry Bar-Graham Cracker ice cream – with a berry swirl and cheesecake bites too – is flavor of the month for June at the farmstead creamery. It began business 10 years ago and wins international awards. Look for the 150-year-old family farm’s cows whose milk helped make it all happen. 

Ledgerock Distillery, Eden: Next to a cornfield and within view of a 41-turbine wind farm is a distillery whose spirits are made with limestone-filtered water from the Niagara Escarpment upon which the business sits. Signature cocktails served on Saturdays. Hand sanitizer is made here too.

[This story has been updated to reflect operating hours at LaClare Family Creamery.]