Come for the historic churches, stay for the fish fry and auto races in this scenic region between Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan.
Vacationers racing up Interstate 43 and US Highway 41 headed for Door County and the Northwoods miss one of the most unique areas of Wisconsin: The Holy Land.
In this scenic area between Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan, the glaciers left a field of drumlins—each hill, it seems, topped by its own church. The German settlers who came in the 1840s named the towns for their Catholic churches and places in the real Holy Land, resulting in the area’s own St. Joe, St. Peter, St. Cloud, Mount Calvary, and Jericho.
In the surrounding area, there’s plenty to do besides attend mass.
You won’t go hungry in the Holy Land, which is home to some of Wisconsin’s most iconic supper clubs.
Don’t be discouraged if you pull into tiny St. Anna and see hundreds of cars parked outside the Schwarz Supper Club, known for its steaks and generous cocktails (brandy old fashioned being the most popular, of course). The place has a huge capacity and waiting for your table is part of the fun. Even being called to your table is an event, as the hostess sings your name over a sound system that can be heard out on the street: “An-der-son, party of four. I have a table for four for An-der-son.”
Over the ledge on the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago, Jim and Linda’s Lakeview Supper Club in Pipe draws boaters from Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, and beyond. You can drive there in a car, too. Just get there early if you want to score one of the outdoor tables, where you can eat an awesome fish fry while watching the sun set over the lake and listening to the band playing at the outdoor tiki bar.
Up the road in Calumetville, the Cedar Lodge is known for large portions of excellent food, ranging from pasta to cedar-planked fish.
You’ll know they’ve let the kid goats loose in the outdoor yoga class when the yoga breathing from your classmates turns into squealing and baby talk: “Ooooh, you’re so cute.” “Did you want to nibble my toes?” “Oh, did you need to tinkle? That’s okay!”
You have to cut the kids at LaClare Family Creamery in Pipe some slack. They’re only a week or so old, some so young they still have umbilical cords attached. They wander the grass among the yoga mats exploring the yogis and searching for “Maaaaaaa.”
Clare Hedrich, the “Clare” of LaClare (“La” is husband Larry), has been offering goat yoga classes on warm weekends for about five years. “It’s a way to get people playing with goats,” she said.
The creamery also offers “Kid Yoga,’’ which is modified for youngsters and teaches poses in which they imitate various animals. And of course, class comes to a squealing halt when Hedrich brings out the little cuties. Animal lovers shouldn’t miss this.
“I regularly have people say it was the best day of my life,” Hedrich said.
Classes cost $20 and tickets are available at https://www.laclarefamilycreamery.com/
In addition to watching them make 15 cheeses on site, LaClare offers plenty for a family outing: a petting farm, a deli called the “Chevre Shack,” and an ice cream stand featuring rich goats’ milk ice cream. There’s a nice outdoor seating area where you can watch goats climb a silo while you eat your ice cream.
Elkhart Lake is one of Wisconsin’s oldest resort communities. Its mansion-like cottages were built by industrialists escaping the city heat of Chicago and Milwaukee.
Beginning in the 19th century, Elkhart Lake was connected to the two cities by the Milwaukee and North Railroad, which deposited vacationers, gangsters, and race car drivers to relax and live it up in this scenic town.
Today, the Osthoff resort, with its golf course and restaurants, is the premier attraction. Take a paddle or walk the path that goes part way around the lake to see the “cottages.”
That low roar you hear in the background at Elkhart Lake could be a Lamborghini taking on a McLaren at the Road America track, a Holy Land destination for 70 years. Back in the early 20th century, the winding roads around Elkhart Lake hosted many European style road races. When these were banned in the 1950s, the Road America track was built.
Today. more than 800,000 visitors a year make the trek to Elkhart Lake to watch Formula One, NASCAR and other types of races. Coming up in September are the Ferrari Challenge weekend and a vintage car show. You can even take to the track yourself, as Road America offers high-performance, teen, winter driving, and motorcycle driving schools.
Just south of the Holy Land, the northern unit of the Kettle Moraine Forest, with its lakes and hiking trails, beckons visitors. The Ice Age Trail has several segments that wind over the glacial landscape that make this part of the world unique. The Parnell segment follows the 4-mile Parnell Esker, a ridgetop trail with lake views.
Other trails will take you to the Greenbush kettle and the Dundee kame. Fall is the perfect time to take the Kettle Moraine scenic drive, which winds from Elkhart Lake in the north to West Bend in the south. And in March, the whole region turns out for a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dundee that more than triples the population of the tiny town.