North by Midwest

Minocqua, Wisconsin

Being from the East Coast I feel that I was raised with a bit of snobbery where the Midwest was concerned. It wasn’t that it wasn’t nice, it was just that there was very little reason for me to go there. Besides airport stopovers in Chicago and Minneapolis when my mom and I would fly west to visit family in California, Wyoming and Colorado as I child, I never spent any time there. That changed in my earlier twenties when, the course of one year, I drove across the country three times. I got to explore Minneapolis, Madison and Chicago and found that hey, these are really nice places with a lot going on! But still, my snobbery remained in a small corner of my heart.

Afternoon walk on the Bearskin State Park trail with bonnet handmade by Donna S. White and Cachemire et Soie sunglasses by Jimmy Fairly

This fall I had the opportunity thanks to work to revisit my beloved Detroit, as well as Chicago and quick stops in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. The highlight of my trip, however, was three days in Minocqua, in the north woods of Wisconsin, about a 5 hour drive from Milwaukee.

Fall in Minocqua, WI

I was there for a day-long gathering of arts service providers, but had some extra time to appreciate the landscape.  I had no idea that the north woods is a huge summer destination for residents of Chicago and Milwaukee. The desk clerk at the hotel told me that the town of Minocqua has a year-round population of 5,000, but that swells to over 70,000 during the summer. I came right between fall foliage and holiday season and the Waters, a large, old time feeling log-cabin resort complete with indoor water park, was nearly deserted. No matter. I enjoyed my in-room fire place and having the hot tub in the water park all to myself.

Lobby at the Waters, Minocqua, WI

When I wasn’t working I found myself with plenty to do. My first night I enjoyed a hearty dinner of sandwiches and locally brewed beer overlooking the lake at Minocqua Brewing Company and the second night specially prepared Bratwurst at Otto’s. Otto’s is filled with treasures that the owners have brought back from all over the world, including beer steins and authentic suits of armor. That is when I remembered, “Oh yeah, this part of the midwest is still very German! That town further south from here named Rhinelander is no coincidence.”

Otto's in downtown Minocqua, WI

The north woods is home to many talented artists who are excited about their communities and dedicated to their work. One place that serves as a gathering place for local, national and international talent is the Campanile Center for the Arts, whose Executive Director also runs Loon Land Trading Company, a store full of north woods goodness.

Trestle bridge on the Bearskin State Park trail

A major highlight was a late afternoon walk on the Hiawatha and Bearskin State Park trail. Located along a disused railway line, it begins in Minocqua and passes over two, beautiful wooden trestle railway bridges. I loved the sun reflecting off the lakes, where I watched fishermen bringing their boats in for the day, and met year-round residents out walking their dogs.

As I looked around me the landscape and the trees reminded me of a place I know very well: Maine. It’s about the same latitude, has the same industries (tourism, logging, farming), and the same kind of vegetation, as well as hard working people who are filled with ingenuity. In fact, playing my Maine card was a smart idea, as my host announced, “She’s a real person, she’s not from New York! She grew up in Maine!”

Also, apparently I’m not the only one who loves this region, because the New York Times just ran an article about the north woods “supper clubs” in last weekend’s travel section!

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4 thoughts on “North by Midwest

  1. I haven’t traveled around the Midwest extensively and so have left more trips to the coast lines. That said, I haven’t been to Maine either. This post makes WI sounds like a place to jot down on the ‘must visit’ list. 70,000 people in summer from 5000? I might have to visit in Spring or Fall!

    • Yeah, I was really pleasantly surprised! I hope you put Maine on your list as well! I think fall is a great time to visit the north woods – probably still busy with “leafer peepers,” but a little quieter.

  2. my hometown has a lot of areas that resemble the north woods of Wisconsin and i went to Minocqua a lot as a kid! my favorite time there is fall, not summer…fewer bugs, more brilliantly colored leaves! your pictures also make my heart sing b/c the landscape is really where a big part of my novel happens, too ❤

    xo k.

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