Looking for an outdoor vacation getaway that the whole family can enjoy? Then you surely will want to hit some of these locations this summer.
Modern life has a way of filling every week with activities that leave little time for fun and relaxation, let alone time for an extended vacation trip to a National Park or other far-off destination. Families today are busy, but regardless of how busy your family is, everyone will benefit from a vacation, no matter how brief. Here’s a look at several places right here in Wisconsin where you can take your family fishing for a weekend or longer, depending on your budget and available free time.
MERCER AREA LAKES
Located up north in Iron County, Mercer is a great four-season playground. In the summer, most folks come for the fishing. The area’s lakes range in size from less than 100 acres to the 14,000-acre Turtle-Flambeau Flowage. The flowage may seem formidable at first glance, but if you bite off a small corner of it, you’ll find it quite easy to manage. Structure in the form of rock humps, stumpfields and weeds is abundant there. The stumps and humps hold rock bass, crappies, walleyes and smallmouths, and the weeds harbor perch and bluegills. A jig tipped with a minnow or half a crawler will take most of those fish. If your kids are ready to up their game a notch, they can have fun catching bluegills along weed edges and suspended crappies on small jigs and plastics fished below slip-bobbers.
Several resorts on the flowage offer cabin and private home rentals, dining, swimming beaches and nature trails. Gateway Lodge is famous for delicious food, including their Friday Canadian walleye and Saturday prime rib specials. Gateway’s nine cabins, each with from one to four bedrooms, can accommodate from two to 16 guests, so this is a good choice for an extended family vacation. Fully equipped fishing and pontoon boats are available to rent. Details are at thegatewaylodge.com.
There is excellent fishing on many of the smaller lakes as well. Action for crappies, walleyes and smallmouths is good in the secluded bays and along rocky shorelines on 350-acre Spider Lake, where Pine Forest Lodge offers nine rustic and modern cabins that can accommodate up to 10 people. Rentals start at a very reasonable $100 per day. Pine Forest welcomes guests with special needs. Most of the cabins and many of the resort’s facilities are handicapped accessible. The lodge has a bar, piano, foosball table and games. There are basketball and shuffleboard courts and several nature trails that wind through the resort’s 40 acres. Canoes, kayaks, sailboats, sailboards and rowboats are available at no charge. Resort staff will also provide paddling lessons and drop off and pick up paddlers at no charge for nearby river trips. Get details at pineforestlodge.com/.
Watch The Video Gallery Above To Help you Improve Your Family Fishing Fun!
Along the Way: A wildlife study found the Mercer area has the highest concentration of common loons in the world, so Mercer calls itself the “Loon Capital of the World.” Visitors love to have photos taken with the 16-foot talking statue of “Claire de Loon,” which stands next to the Mercer Chamber of Commerce office on Highway 51. On the first Wednesday in August each year, “Loon Day” features a large arts-and-crafts fair, live music and dancing and a loon-calling contest. Mercer also hosts annual Lupine Junefest and Birdfest, and Can-Yak canoe/kayak fishing contest, both in June. Details can be found at mercercc.com/.
Another photo op is the giant red cap in front of the Stormy Kromer Company in downtown Ironwood, Michigan, a short drive north of Mercer on Highway 51. The iconic Stormy Kromer cap was designed in 1903 by railroad engineer George “Stormy” Kromer’s wife, Ida. The wind kept blowing Stormy’s hat off, so Ida sewed an ear band onto a wool baseball cap, and a legend was born. For decades, railroaders, and then loggers and other Northwoods types who worked outdoors, wore the cap. Today, the cap is worn by “Yoopers” and outdoors enthusiasts across North America. Find more details at stormykromer.com/.
With 15,000 acres of water in 10 lake basins, 140 islands and more than 200 miles of wild shoreline, Sawyer County’s Big Chip offers plenty of room to roam. The Chip’s 30 resorts and campgrounds provide a wide variety of vacation experiences, from luxury resort to tent camping.
The main attraction is the fishing: bluegills and crappies for the kids, walleyes, bass and muskies for adults. Floating bogs, shallow bays and creek mouths harbor the panfish and bass, while walleyes prefer deeper structure and river channels. These species, along with the muskies that feed on them, also hang out around the flowage’s many bars and weedbeds. This is a place where kids can catch a mess of panfish, with the distinct possibility that the next fish that takes a minnow might be a muskie.
The Treland family offers six vacation options on the flowage. The original Treelands Resort on Musky Bay, open from May through mid-October, caters to families and groups and welcomes special events, like family reunions and weddings. The resort’s Harbor View Restaurant has some of the best food in the area, including great grilled sandwiches, Friday fish fry and Saturday prime rib specials. Lodging options include 28 vacation homes with one to five bedrooms and 10 deluxe motel suites. The resort also has a swimming beach, playground, tennis courts, boat launch and fishing and pontoon boat rentals. Guests are welcome to use canoes, kayaks, paddle boats and standup paddleboards free of charge.
For information on resorts, campgrounds and events, call the Hayward Chamber of Commerce, 715-634-8662 or the Hayward Lakes Resort Association, 715-634-4801, or log onto haywardlakes.com. Contact Treelands at 715-462-3874 or treelandresorts.com.
Along the Way: Hayward is also home to the Lumberjack World Championships, held each July at the Lumberjack Bowl. More than 100 participants from all over the world compete in events like sawing, chopping, speed climbing, log rolling, boom running and more. This year’s event is set for July 19-21. For info or tickets, visit lumberjackworldchampionships.com.
At Wilderness Walk Zoo & Recreation Park, just south of Hayward on Highway 27, kids can observe wild animals, play with baby farm animals, pan for gold, and explore the Mystery House and a maze. The park is open from mid-May through Labor Day. Get info at wildernesswalkhaywardwi.com, or call 715-634-2893.
OJASKI & POKEGAMA LAKES
Located in Barron County, these lakes don’t make much of a blip on Wisconsin anglers’ radar screens, but mention that they are part of the Chetek Chain and people know what you are talking about. These are among the best panfish lakes in the state, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better fishing destination that knows how to cater to families.
Every year, hundreds of panfish are tagged and released for the annual Fish-O-Rama. Buy an entry button and catch one of these fish, and you could win a cash prize of up to $1,000. Fishing for dollars is not the best reason for wetting a line, but the cash incentive is sure to keep the kids interested!
Ojaski and Pokegama, along with the three other lakes in this 3,800-acre chain, are loaded with nice panfish. Crappies and bluegills are abundant and easy to find — just anchor off one of the many weedbeds and toss out a slip-bobber and jig baited with a grub or plastic tail. Both shorelines of Pokegama have good weeds. For dad, both lakes have plenty of pike, a few walleyes and lots of nice largemouths.
You can dock your boat on Pokegama and walk into the city of Chetek for lunch or shopping. There are beaches, ski shows, gift shops, golf courses and even a paintball field nearby, so no one in the family should get bored. The area boasts more than 30 resorts that offer everything from camping to full-service accommodations.
You can get information on the Fish-O-Rama contest and buy buttons at the Rod & Gun Shop in Chetek,. For details go to chetekrodandgun.com, or 715-924-4181. For lodging information contact the Chetek Area Resort Owners Association at chetek.net, or 800-224-3835.
Along the Way: For those in your family with a sweet tooth, a visit to Chetek Chocolates on 2nd Street in downtown Chetek is a must. Owner Hilary Nichols specializes in hand-crafted artisanal fudge and confections. Fudge flavors include Moose Ear Maple, Pokegama Peanut Butter, and Fishin’ In The Dark. With a little notice, she will whip up a custom batch if you crave a particular flavor. To order, visit chetekchocolates.com or call 715-642-0188.
CASTLE ROCK LAKE
One of two large flowages on the Wisconsin River in central Wisconsin, Castle Rock offers a variety of fishing opportunities and much more. The Yellow River arm of the flowage has great fishing for white bass, crappies, bluegills, perch and walleyes. Look for panfish near the fish cribs off the state park shoreline and walleyes in the river channel and wood structure along both banks. You can explore the many side channels and inlets by canoe.
Two county parks, numerous boat landings, several marinas, resorts, motels and other services provide everything you might need. For information, contact the Castle Rock-Petenwell Lakes Association at castlerock-petenwell.com.
Along the Way: Buckhorn State Park, located on the peninsula where Castle Rock’s two arms meet, has a beach, group and backpacking campsites, hiking and nature trails and summer programs for kids. For information, call 608-565-2789, or log onto dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/parks/specific/buckhorn. For camping reservations, call 888-WI-PARKS, or log onto reserveamerica.com/usa/wi/buck/.
If your family is into off-road motorized fun, take them to Dyracuse Recreational Park. Located in the town of Rome in Adams County, on the east side of Castle Rock Lake, Dyracuse offers more than 10 miles of motorcycle and ATV trails on 410 acres, along with Peewee, MotoCross and SuperCross tracks. Camping, lodging and food are available nearby. Details are available at dyracuse.com, or 715-325-8017.
Located in Yellowstone Lake State Park, this is the largest of several man-made lakes in the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin. Its 450 acres harbor lots of panfish, along with bass, pike, walleyes and muskies. A dam on the Yellowstone River regulates the lake level. The river below the dam is a good smallmouth stream, by the way.
The lake is shallow, with the old river channel providing what little deep water there is. Fallen trees and other shoreline structure afford cover for fish. Yellowstone is a good place to take kids who want a chance to catch a big fish, along with some eating-sized panfish. A catch-and-release rule on all game fish makes this a very interesting fishery. Since they must be immediately released (it’s OK to take a quick photo), game fish grow big. They keep the carp population in check and also eat small panfish, and so adult panfish reach good proportions, too.
You can camp right in Yellowstone Lake State Park or in one of two private campgrounds, both of which have bait shops. Nearby Darlington has other services. For information, call the Darlington Main Street Program, 888-506-6553. For information on Yellowstone Lake State Park call 608-523-4427, or log onto dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/parks/specific/yellowstone. For camping reservations, call 888-WI-PARKS or log onto reserveamerica.com/usa/wi/yell/.
Along the Way: Just a half-hour drive to the north, near Blue Mounds, Cave of the Mounds National Natural Landmark is worth a visit on your way to or from Yellowstone. Known as the “jewel box” of American caves, Cave of the Mounds offers daily guided tours on paved, lighted walkways, where visitors can see a stunning array of colorful crystal formations. Kids can sift through mine tailings for gemstones, fossils and arrowheads or dig for crystals, all of which they can take home. The site also features a visitor center, gift shop, nature trails, a restored oak savannah, a butterfly garden and more. Details can be found at caveofthemounds.com, or call 608-437-3038.
For information on more great vacation destinations, contact the Wisconsin Department of Tourism at travelwisconsin.com/ or call 800-432-TRIP.