Seven Wonders of Wisconsin: Eagle River / chain of lakes
It's accurate to say that just about every morsel we put in our mouths during our visit to Eagle River was a superb taste experience.
On our first night, we had a delicious dinner at Eagle Waters Restaurant and Bar. Eagle Waters' decor is very Northwoodsy with log walls, high ceilings and adorned with interesting antiques like canoes, sleds, steamer trunks, picnic baskets, tools and ice skates. There are two pianos, a fireplace and a model train layout onsite, as well.
The Eagle Waters Restaurant is located on the grounds of the first settlement in Eagle River.
All of the entrees are under $20 and include options like pork chops, ribs, walleye and pasta. We had a delicious grouper fillet for $15 and it came with a choice of potato (twice baked; no brainer), a side of asparagus and a trip to the massive and fresh salad bar.
We also had a classic fish fry dinner at Twelve Pines Restaurant, located on the shores of Catfish Lake. The all-you-can-eat fish fry offered three choices of baked or fried fish. The side of baked beans with chopped onions was particularly delicious. Twelve Pines has a screened tiki bar attached to the restaurant oozing with an Easy Breezy Vacation Feeling.
After dinner at Twelve Pines, we stopped at The White Spruce Inn, a great place to have a classic Northwoods experience, too. Since we just ate, we did not sample the cuisine in the supper club-like restaurant, but we did enjoy a drink on their sunny patio complete with a full bar overlooking Eagle River.
We also dined at The Riverstone Restaurant. It has more of an upscale feel and a very extensive wine list, yet, as I said, people dine in comfortable clothing. The menu features prime rib, salmon, beef tenderloin, chicken, ribs, seafood pizza, pasta and more. The prices range from about $15 to $30.
We ordered an artichoke dip that was very good, along with a salmon salad and Alaskan haddock baked in a superb breadcrumb and prawn crust. The haddock was quite possibly the most delicious item we ate on the trip.
However, the most amazing aspect of our dinner at Riverstone was that we got there via pirate ship. It's true: Steve Strauss – aka "Captain Steve" – and his family gave us a ride on their self-built pirate ship to the Riverstone.
Strauss, who wears full-pirate attire when manning his boat, built the family-friendly pirate ship eight years ago and offers two-hour cruises around the chain of lakes. The ship runs, weather pending, from Memorial Day until Eagle River's Cranberry Festival which, this year, is Oct. 1-2, 2011.
Strauss also operates an Eagle River ice cream shop and will soon open a tiki bar and grill.
As hopeless caffeine junkies, we visited all three coffee shops. Some twice. Eagle River Coffee Roasters fire roasts their coffee and espresso on site. They serve coffee drinks, tea, breakfast bagels, soup, paninis and smoothies. We really enjoyed the coffee, so much so that we brought back a pound of their Night Owl espresso.
During our visit, I asked the barista the meaning of "fire roasted" beans. "Fire roasting is like grilling a steak over a flame rather than cooking it by heat in the oven," she said.
Eagle River Coffee Roasters has a new tea garden, plenty of seating, electrical outlets for laptoppers and a small, well-stocked kids' area.
We also went to the Mocha Moose, which serves Ancora coffee from Madison, and a variety of coffee drinks from the usual to the unusual, like a Bananafana Latte.
We particularly liked the Kitchen Kafe, located behind the Flour Sack shop, which serves Alterra Coffee and offers extremely affordable home-cooked breakfasts. An egg, cheese and ham breakfast sandwich, for example, is $2.99 and an omelet with toast is $4.99.
Notably, you can pick out any cheese from the cooler at the adjoined Flour Sack and have it cooked into your omelet. The Flour Sack also sells specialty candy, gourmet food items, kitchen supplies and gifts.
Boats are a blast, but land rides are lively, too
Eagle River is the snowmobiling capital of the world, which draws a large tourist contingent in the winter months, too. It is home to both the World Championship Snowmobile Derby – the largest, oldest snowmobile race in the world will celebrate its 50-year anniversary next year – and the World Snowmobile Headquarters.
The headquarters feature hundreds of "race sleds," from vintage versions made by Harley-Davidson to modern-day Skidoos. Fantastic action photos adorn the walls and there's an interesting case dedicated to "Women On Snow."
"At one time, there were 140 manufacturers of snowmobiles. Today, you have four," says Tom Anderson, president of the World Snowmobile headquarters.
According to Anderson, despite a struggling economy, snowmobile sales are up 10 to 12 percent. "People are still buying snowmobiles," he says.
When on land, there are many riding options in Eagle River, from the aforementioned snowmobiles to go-carts to four-legged, apple-munching people movers. In fact, we spent an entire morning on horseback at Rockin' W Stables & Kartway. Rockin' W has about 20 quarter horses and for $18 offers a 45-minute, guided horseback trek on well-groomed trails through the woods.
I had not ridden a horse since I was in Girl Scouts – and my travel partner had never ridden one. I admit I was slightly apprehensive about trusting a being that poops and walks at the same time.
Our guide, an 18-year-old rider named Lily, led the way with confidence, and other than the fact that my horse tripped a couple of times, I enjoyed myself immensely. My horse was a 12-year-old named "Dude" (I renamed him "The Dude," of course, for love of "The Big Lebowski.") The other horse was named "Lucky." Adding extra fun to the experience, I had just rented "True Grit" and a couple episodes of "Deadwood" from Netflix.
Rockin' W Stables & Kartway also features an 18-hole mini-golf course, two go-cart tracks and bumper boats.
Fun and frolic for the whole fam
After riding, we stopped by the 31st Annual Kids Day at the Vilas County Fairgrounds, a fishing event for kids ages 7 to 12 that features a parade, a cast-off contest (with fishing pole prizes, of course) and either an afternoon of fishing with a guide or a visit to a trout hatchery.
"This is a way for the Eagle River Guides Association to give back to the community," says Kim Emerson, the chamber events coordinator.
The free event was well attended and the next one is scheduled for Thursday, July 12, 2012.
In general, Eagle River is extremely kid-friendly, and offers an interactive children's museum. The Northwoods Children's Museum has an outdoor garden, a modern and old time grocery store where kids can pretend shop and learn about money management, an art studio, a pioneer cabin and a bubble science station. "Children learn best by doing, not viewing," is the museum's tag line.
On our third and final night in Eagle River, we stayed at the Eagle River Inn & Resort. We were grateful to be accommodated because the hotel was packed with families dropping off or picking up their kids from the many area camps.
Turns out, the room that was available to us was a honeymoon suite of sorts complete with a four-poster bed draped with lacy material atop a carpeted, step-up platform. The room also featured a massive whirlpool and red-bulbed lighting. (Eagle River is for lovers? Sure, why not.)
The next morning, we enjoyed a decent complimentary breakfast at the Inn and then we stopped by Artarama, an annual juried art fair with about 140 artists from all over the country. The fair also features live music, food and kids' activities. Artarama is a non-profit organization and proceeds return to the area communities for scholarships, artist-in-residence programs and art promotion.
We had already bought a painted parrot carved from a large log from a roadside artist the day before, so we didn't splurge on any art at Artarama. However, after three days of delicious sweets, from fudge to saltwater taffy to creamy-topped mochas, we decided to indulge one last time with a bag of kettle corn. The perfect way to end an extremely enjoyable three days in the Northwoods.
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Great job on the article! This was quite a thorough description of the Northwoods! As an 30- year veteran of owning of a resort in Eagle River, I am glad to see Eagle River is still seen as a tourist destination, which it most definitely is! Our cabins are right on the chain of lakes and only 2 miles from the town of Eagle River. www.eagleriverlastresort.com. We frequently see Captain Steve from our nice sandy beach!
I was just up there. I didn't want to leave. Beautiful. Peaceful.
Great article, Molly. And the photos were great too Royal. Thanks for updating those of us in the "south" about the "northwoods".
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