Newcomers to southeastern Wisconsin or northeastern Illinois, who drive the straight, flat route past standard suburbs, on roads occasionally flanked by cornfields, often find themselves gobsmacked to stumble on a treasure. The road twists and bends downward, and there, just ahead, lies a jewel of sparkling water. Pinpoints of vivid color come into focus. Swimmers, waterskiers, fanciful names on gleaming white boats, the bright bobber on a fishing pole. Rolling down their windows, the newcomers hear the sounds of families at play. The calls of “Watch me!”, the shriek of the jubilant skier, the spray of water on either side of the motorboat, the hum of the reel on the fishing rod as the angler plays with his catch.
Once, the lakes provided clear water for Native American tribes and the early waves of settlers from the East. But for more than a century, these natural treasures, many of which are the souvenirs of retreating glaciers, have turned into captivating getaways for families living in the nearby cities of Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, as well as their suburbs. Together the lakes comprise an elongated oval crown that stretches from Whitewater Lake in thenorthwest to the Chain O’ Lakes in the southeast.
Lake & Country presents a guide to eight lake areas of southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Each, according to Keefe real estate agents, has “its own vibe.” Some appeal to beachgoers, others boaters, still others sailors, and some draw in those looking for that quiet fishing hole. The variety means that each home buyer and vacationer can find that perfect place to escape.
- 5,400 Acres
- Up to 135 Feet Deep
- Communities: Lake Geneva, Linn Township, Fontana-on-Geneva Lake, & Williams Bay
- Activities: 21-mile shore path, swimming, boating, sailing, fishing, cruise line tours, golf, bowling, horseback riding, waterparks, spas, ziplining, hot air ballooning, public parks and beaches, picknicking, snow skiing, snowboarding, sledding, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, & ice skating.
- 84 Miles to Chicago,
62 Miles to Milwaukee
79 Miles to Madison
- Median Sale Price: $2,525,000
- Average Price Per SqFt: $677 Per Sqft.
Ask a group of people to name a Wisconsin lake, and most will respond with “Geneva Lake.”
Geneva is the Queen Mother, and its appeal is unmistakable. With a depth of 135 feet and 21 miles of shoreline, the lake’s clear water supports a host of activities. Swimmers have a choice of five beaches. All types of watercraft ply the lake including motorboats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and jetskis. Anglers cast their lines for largemouth and smallmouth bass, trout, walleye, and northern pike. The Riviera, built in 1932, presides over the lake. Tour boats depart from its docks, while a bathhouse, shops, and food stands occupy the first floor. The newly renovated top floor serves as a classy event space for weddings and corporate gatherings.
Away from the lake, visitors can pursue golf, horseback riding, ziplining, hot air ballooning, waterparks and day spas. Flat Iron Park in Lake Geneva hosts a free two-hour concert, ranging from Bluegrass to jazz, every Thursday evening. And the parks and nature areas around Geneva Lake offer plenty of opportunities for picnicking and hiking. In wintertime, visitors enjoy downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, ice boating, ice skating and ice fishing.
For many vacationers, one must-have is an area for shopping. Main Street, in the town of Lake Geneva, is replete with shops that cater to every taste. Bars and restaurants invite people to gather over drinks or a meal. Often, the night is capped off with a trip to Kilwins for ice cream or a handmade confection.
Lake Geneva became a vacation destination with the completion of a railroad line from Chicago just prior to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Chicagoans traveled northwest to spend part of the summer or the whole season enjoying fresh air, warm summer days, and cool nights. Some famous names in Chicago business, such as Wrigley, Swift, Schwinn and Sears, built their own summer cottages, or rather, lakefront mansions, in this location. Walking and water tours allow today’s visitors to peek at the exteriors of these extraordinary homes.
The walking path around the lake’s 21 miles of shoreline draws casual walkers and hikers. Once a trail for Native American tribes and then the access for workmen from the town of Lake Geneva out to building sites, the path is now in the public domain, with each homeowner charged with maintaining his or her section. As the path cuts in and out of the woods, it expands to a 26-mile walk. Some take on the challenge of conquering the whole distance in one day, but most cut it up into segments. Groups park one car at a six- or seven-mile endpoint, then take another car to the starting point. It’s also possible to start out from the town of Lake Geneva, hike to Williams Bay or Fontana and then return by boat.
No trip to Geneva Lake is complete without touring the lake on one of the cruises offered by the Lake Geneva Cruise Line. Narrated sightseeing cruises introduce passengers to the lake, allowing them to appreciate an unobstructed view of the venerable lake mansions. Beyond that, the company’s eight boats take passengers out for ice cream social cruises, cocktail cruises and meal cruises, as well as being available to rent for private parties.
There’s nothing like the serenity of a slow boat ride around the lake, according to Keefe Real Estate agents. They note that, “it never grows old.”
For those who want to take advantage of all that Geneva Lake has to offer but would prefer a more quiet area, three other communities lie on the lake. Linn Township encompasses land both on the north and south shores of Geneva Lake. Houses in the unincorporated county have well and septic systems, and the feel is “180 degrees different” from the town of Lake Geneva, Keefe real estate agents note. It’s away from tourists and tourism.
Similarly, the communities of Williams Bay, on the north side of Geneva Lake, and that of Fontana, on the western shore, each has its own beach, a small selection of stores, and a more laidback vibe. Each claims beloved restaurants. On the lakefront in Williams Bay there is Cafe Calamari for fine Italian dining and Pier 290 for upscale American cuisine, while in Fontana, residents gravitate to Gordy’s for sandwiches and the Friday Fish Fry, and to Chuck’s Lakeshore Inn for its famous burgers.
While multi-million dollar mansions grab the headlines around Geneva Lake, smaller homes and affordable condos also make up the housing stock. Some buyers prefer to make their purchase in a subdivision, or association, with shared lake rights that include a small beach and a slip or pier for boats. Geneva Lake’s appeal can be summed up simply as a big, beautiful and an unbelievably clean lake. People just love being out on the water.
- 1,900 Acres
- Up to 52 Feet Deep
- Communities: Delavan
- Activities: Swimming, boating, sailing, fishing, bowling, golf, spas, cruise line tours, golf, public parks and beaches, picnicking, downhill skiing, snowboarding, sledding, cross-country skiing, ice skating, ice fishing
- 88 Miles to Chicago
56 Miles to Milwaukee
63 Miles to Madison
- Median Sales Price: $775,000
- Average Price Per SqFt: $241 Per Sqft.
Fewer than 15 miles northwest of Geneva Lake as the crow flies, Lake Delavan boasts a colorful past as the winter quarters for more than 25 circus troupes in the latter half of the 19th Century. The lake supplied water for the livestock, while the sparsely populated area provided room to house performers.
As a reminder of its circus history, two of the 21 murals on buildings in the City of Delavan depict circus scenes, and fiberglass sculptures of a clown, an elephant, and a giraffe welcome children to Tower Park. With such a background, it’s no wonder that many families choose Delavan as the site for a vacation home.
With few inlets, the 1,900-acre lake with 12 miles of shoreline the feels wide-open. The openness makes it ideal for waterskiing. Its visitors also take to the water in jet skis, sailboats, canoes and kayaks, or hover above it in parasails.
Formed from a broken-off section of glacier, Delavan Lake is one of the top five fishing lakes in Wisconsin. Anglers cast out their lines for bluegill, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye and yellow perch.
The City of Delavan is home to 8,500 residents with an additional 5,500 in the surrounding town of Delavan. The town’s population triples in the summertime, and family-friendly events take precedence.
The Phoenix Park Bandshell hosts free events from May through September including a monthly movie under the stars and concerts scheduled every few days with gospel, folk, country, big band, blues and rock in the line-up. At the Lake Lawn Resort, visitors can board the Lake Lawn Queen, a two-level cruise boat to tour Delavan Lake and take in its historical landmarks, as well as five Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes that dot the lake.
Back in town, just a couple of blocks over from the bandshell, shops line E. Walworth Avenue, nicknamed Brick Street for the vitrified bricks that line the core three blocks of downtown. Brick Street has an old-fashioned charm, with American flags flying from the lampposts. Bradley’s Department Store allows customers to see the wide range of goods that all small-town department stores once carried, while purchasing brand-new items. The street is home to not one, but two, traditional bakeries with freshly-made doughnuts, pastries, bread, cakes and pies. A healthy selection of bars and restaurants offer places to get together with friends and family after a day on the water.
Venturing beyond downtown, families can visit a petting zoo and farm, apple orchard and winery, and a berry farm.
Once summer has ended, Delavan Lake is the site for ice skating and ice fishing, while off the lake, visitors engage in cross country and downhill skiing, snowboarding, and sledding. The Sky Circus on Ice draws 15,000 visitors each February to Lake Lawn, where oversized streaming kites, same 80 feet in length, sail over the lake.
Properties on Delavan Lake range from condos and modest cottages to multi-million-dollar homes with impressive lake frontage. As at Geneva Lake, home associations offer those on a more modest budget the chance to own property just off the lake and share a beach and/or a pier with neighbors.
The lake’s appeal is simple – Delavan is a great family lake.
- 625 Acres
- Up to 20 Feet Deep
- Communitites: Whitewater
- Activities: Swimming, boating, waterskiing, paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, golf, hang gliding, biking, hiking, camping, public parks and beaches, picnicking, cross-country skiing, ice fishing.
- 106 Miles to Chicago
53 Miles to Milwaukee
51 Miles to Madison
- Median Sale Price: $513,125
- Average Price Per SqFt: $268 Per Sqft.
Just a half hour’s drive northwest from Lake Delavan or Lake Geneva, Whitewater Lake feels a world away. As the southern extension of the Kettle Moraine Forest, the lake gives residents and vacationers access to hiking and biking trails, horseback riding, prime birdwatching opportunities, hunting, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing.
But despite all this activity, Keefe Real Estate agents still describe Whitewater Lake as a quiet lake.
While the lake has an on-water marina, there is no restaurant or bar on Whitewater Lake. Social events, such as the annual Fish-a-ree, are held at the Lions Club. Camp Joy Baptist Camp lies on the lake, as does Heart Prairie Lutheran Church, which was erected for the Norwegian Lutheran settlers between 1855 and 1857. This church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, holds worship services each summer weekend, with an oil lamp service at 8:30 p.m. on the last Sunday of each summer month.
Shaped like an elongated horseshoe with a bay at the bottom, Whitewater Lake benefits from high hillsides that protect the lake from southwest winds. That protection results in a calm water lake with no chop, making it ideal for water skiing and fishing.
The Southern Wakes United Water Ski Show Team, a merger of ski teams from Whitewater Lake and Lauderdale Lakes, performs off Scenic Ridge Campground’s sandy beach on alternate weekends in the summer. The lake’s placid waters yield bluegill, largemouth bass, northern pike, and walleye.
Activities on the lake are low-key and geared to families. Every Thursday night, pontoon boat owners tie up their vessels, barbecue dinner on their boats, and bring a dish to pass. The annual Fourth of July fireworks display takes place after the holiday, so it doesn’t compete with other shows.
And while lake residents prize the peace and quiet, the city of Whitewater lies just 15 minutes away with its bars, brew pub, restaurants, and supper club. The University of Wisconsin – Whitewater is a huge draw for lake homeowners. Young Auditorium, the university’s performing arts center, produces and hosts comedy shows, plays, musicals, concerts, and family entertainment.
Properties on Whitewater Lake are largely single-family homes, with one eight-unit condo development. Because Whitewater was the last of the southern lakes to be developed, land prices were more affordable than those at the other “crown” lakes.
People were able to put more money into their houses Keefe agents explain. The Whitewater homes are described as having a rustic elegance, with an Arts and Crafts influence. Some even include elaborate niches for storing water from the Flowing Well, an artesian well that has been coursing since 1895.
Whitewater Lake is uniquely positioned as the farthest north of the southern lakes but not included in the Wisconsin definition of “Up North.”
Whitewater Lake is on the hinge of the most affordable places you can get, according to Keefe agents.
- 820 Acres
- Up to 55 Feet Deep
- Communities: LaGrange
- Activities: swimming, boating, sailing, waterskiing, paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing golf, camping, near Kettle Moraine State Park for mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, picnicking. In winter, ice fishing, ice skating, cross-country skiing.
- 99 Miles to Chicago
49 Miles to Milwaukee
58 Miles to Madison
- Median Sales Price: $685,000
- Average Price Per SqFt: $285 Per Sqft.
East of Whitewater Lake and just 20 minutes northwest of Lake Geneva, three lakes – Green Lake, Mill Lake, and Middle Lake – comprise the Lauderdale Lakes, named for New Yorker James Lauderdale who moved to the area in 1841.
The three lakes, formed by retreating glaciers, possess exceptional water quality. Wide channels connect the three bodies of water, giving boaters 16 miles of shoreline to explore. Small islands in each lake provide ideal fishing and picnicking spots.
Many call Lauderdale Lakes “generational.” Most of the weekend and vacation homes have been passed down through families. Some whom spent their summers on the Lauderdale Lakes, and then later grew up and built or purchased their own homes. This fact contributes to a friendly, laidback feel.
Swimming, waterskiing, sailing, and fishing are the primary activities on the lakes. Two beaches and three boat ramps provide access to the water. Lauderdale Lakes and Whitewater Lake share the Southern Wakes United Water Ski Show Team, performing on alternate summer weekends at Lauderdale Landing. The Lauderdale Lakes Sailing Club runs a friendly racing competition every summer Sunday at 10:00 a.m. Anglers cast their lines for a wide variety of fish: northern pike, pickerel, largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, walleye, bullhead, crappie and bluegill.
The 99-year-old Lauderdale Country Club boasts picturesque features—an old-fashioned style water tower, water views from each hole, and mature trees that line its nine greens. The public course was designed with “small greens and undulating fairways,” according to its website. The course layout helps beginners learn the game, while still challenging experienced golfers.
Lauderdale Lakes’ location, away from the crowds yet close enough to take advantage of amenities, makes it a popular vacation home choice. Lake Geneva’s shops and restaurants are within easy reach. The Kettle Moraine State Forest lies two miles away with its hiking and biking trails. It’s a mere 15-minute drive to the regionally-known Elkhorn Antique Flea Market, held in May, June, August and September.
Summer events on Lauderdale Lakes include fireworks on Don Jean Bay on July 4 and the Kids’ Fishing Jamboree at the end of July, followed by a rib cook-off and after-party at Lauderdale Landing.
Because many vacationers have been coming to Lauderdale Lakes for years, Mill Lake, Green Lake, and Middle Lake make up one big family where everyone seems to know everyone.
- 812 Acres
- Up to 58 Feet Deep
- Communities: East Troy
- Activities: swimming, boating, sailing, waterskiing, paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, golf, beach, picnicking, ice fishing, sledding, downhill and cross-country skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling.
- 91 Miles to Chicago
32 Miles to Milwaukee
67 Miles to Madison
Moving northeast from the Lauderdale Lakes, Lake Beulah lies 26 minutes northeast of Lake Geneva. Although just five miles from East Troy with its many outlets of national chain stores and restaurants, Lake Beulah radiates quiet.
Once three separate lakes, the construction of a dam over a century ago created one large body of water that is shaped remarkably like the boot of Italy. Sixteen miles of shoreline invite exploring the clear water of the spring-fed lake.
Lake Beulah’s placid waters make it ideal for fishing. Largemouth bass, bluegills, panfish, brown trout, rainbow trout and northern pike are routinely pulled from the lake.
That calm water has also made Lake Beulah synonymous with sailing. The Lake Beulah Yacht Club was founded in 1893, and a sailing school started in the 1950s. Each season, the yacht club hosts 200 races. Annie Haeger, who grew up sailing on Lake Beulah, competed in the 2016 summer Olympics. When the Olympics are held in Tokyo in 2021, East Troy native Stephanie Roble will compete for the U.S. with teammate Maggie Shea in the double-handed skiff class. As a child, Roble took lessons at the Lake Beulah Sailing School and spent hours perfecting her skill in the sport on Lake Beulah.
Scattered around the lake are five camps, including one for girl scouts and the Jewish summer camp, Beber Camp. Beulah also has a swimming beach and several on-water restaurants. In nearby Mukwonago, the Lake Beulah Country Club is a semi-private 18-hole golf course.
Nature lovers have a choice of exploring the Beulah Bog State Natural Area, 78 acres of undisturbed bog with a variety of plants, or the Beulah Bluff Preserve near the bog, eight acres of a restored bur oak prairie with views of Lake Beulah and the valley. The nearby Kettle Moraine Forest is a scenic site for hiking, biking, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing.
Those who live or vacation on Lake Beulah often visit the Elegant Farmer in Mukwonago for its gourmet pies, fruit breads, sauces and dressings and gift baskets. Fewer than 10 miles away, the Alpine Valley Resort in Elkhorn offers golf, skiing, snowboarding and an outdoor music venue.
The first small settlements appeared around Lake Beulah in the 1830s, back when it was still three separate lakes. Traditionally, they were an affordable alternative to the more expensive homes on Geneva Lake. That holds true today, say Keefe Real Estate agents, though some of the modest cottages have been renovated into elegant homes. There are 650 homes in the lake district, with no off-water development allowed. Unlike some lakes that have an overwhelming percentage of vacation homes, 30 to 35 percent of the homes on Lake Beulah are occupied year-round.
“They have all their eggs in one basket,” the agents say.
Perhaps it’s the uniquely quiet character of Lake Beulah that draws people to live there through all four seasons. No water skiing is allowed on the lake after 6:00 p.m., when sailboats and anglers take over the lake.
Instead, distant sounds of laughter and conversation can be heard. That’s a vibe you don’t get on the other lakes.
- 451 Acres
- Up to 33 Feet Deep
- Communities: Powers Lake, Genoa City
- Activities: swimming, boating, sailing, waterskiing, paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, beach, picnicking, golf, bowling.
- 77 Miles to Chicago
45 Miles to Milwaukee
80 Miles to Madison
- Median Sales Price: $957,500
- Average Price Per SqFt: $417 Per Sqft.
A 30-minute drive south from Lake Beulah, Powers Lake lies just nine miles southeast of Lake Geneva. Despite its proximity to the busy vacation destination, Powers Lake retains a feeling of seclusion, what Keefe Real Estate agents describe as an “Up North”-type ambiance.
Straddling Walworth and Kenosha counties, Powers Lake was first called Lakeville, then Nippersink, before being named after early settler James B. Powers, who was described in Dee Wells’ history of the lake as, “a convivial neighbor and one of our first postmasters.” The first attraction for settlers was agricultural. The lake provided water necessary for growing wheat. Corn, oats, and hay soon followed. By the 1890s, the lake’s south shore was used for ice harvesting, while the north shore attracted vacationers, especially fishermen.
Several organizations devote themselves to life on the lake. To preserve and maintain the lake for swimming and sailing, the Powers Lake Improvement Club was formed. The Powers Lake Sportsmen’s Club has stocked the lake with fish and released pheasants into the wild. The Powers Lake Yacht Club is a social and sailing club that operates a sailing school.
Powers Lake is esteemed for its crystal clear water and smooth, sandy bottom. The small lake, with just five miles of shoreline, sports two swimming beaches, boating, water skiing, sailing, and kayaking. Bluegill, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, and walleye populate the lake for fishing. Several restaurants lie adjacent to the water.
Because of its small size, boaters are restricted to moving clockwise around the lake, and water skiing is prohibited before 10:00 a.m. For those who love the lake, these are not obstacles.
People there gladly adhere to the rules. They like the reduced activity.
In the winter, Powers Lake residents who want a burst of excitement can make the eight-mile trip to Wilmot Mountain for snow skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing. And during any season, the shops, restaurants, and bars of Lake Geneva are just 10 minutes away.
Seventy-five to 80 percent of homes on Powers Lake are vacation homes. They range from modest two- to three-bedroom cottages and ranch homes for several hundred thousand dollars to five- or sixbedroom vacation homes with million-dollar price tags—a relative bargain when compared with homes on Geneva Lake. Stretching dollars is possible by buying a home in an association with shared lakefront rights.
Powers Lake has a certain appeal, Keefe agents state. It gives people enough of what they want—a getaway with few commercial businesses. They like that smaller, less-commercialized feel.
- 1,000 Acres
- Up to 33 Feet Deep
- Communities: Twin Lakes
- Activities: swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing, beach, playgrounds, picnicking, ice fishing, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling.
- 70 Miles to Chicago
46 Miles to Milwaukee
82 Miles to Madison
- Median Sales Price: $755,000
- Average Price Per SqFt: $332 Per Sqft.
Moving east and south from Powers Lake, the Twin Lakes are just eight miles away in Kenosha County. Named for the twin daughters of settlers Jonathan and Mary Rae Ineson, Lake Mary and Elizabeth Lake are comprised of 1,000 acres of water.
A small channel running under West Park Road connects the two lakes and is navigable by canoe or kayak. Lake Mary, to the north, is the smaller of the two lakes with 297 acres. Elizabeth Lake’s 725 acres stretch down to cross the Wisconsin/Illinois border at Richmond, Illinois.
In the days when icemen slung large blocks of ice over their shoulders and delivered them door-to-door for homes’ iceboxes, the two lakes were used for ice harvesting. By the 1890s, Twin Lakes’ clear waters more often beckoned vacationers. In 1892, Gertrude Staudenmeyer built The Lake House there as a resort.
Boating, waterskiing, and fishing are popular activities on the two lakes. Three boat launches provide casting-off points, while three public beaches draw swimmers and picnickers. The six-time national champion water skiing team, the Aquanuts, performs free shows off Lance Park every Wednesday and Sunday at 6:00 p.m. Fishing in the calm waters, anglers cast their lines for smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike, bluegill and walleye.
Unlike most of the other lakes in the crown, the majority of Twin Lakes homeowners are permanent residents. That gives Lake Mary and Elizabeth Lake a strong sense of community. The town of Twin Lakes celebrates the Fourth of July with rides, games, and entertainment at Libertyfest, along with a parade and fireworks. Lance Park hosts family-friendly Movies in the Park five times each summer, with attendees watching from the beach or off-shore from their boats. On-water restaurants on both lakes draw gatherings of friends and family.
With Lake Geneva, Kenosha, and northern Illinois close by, residents and vacationers have a wide choice of activities from which to choose. The Twin Lakes Country Club has an 18-hole course and a restaurant with a popular Friday-night fish fry. A trip to nearby Richmond, Illinois to peruse the antique stores is capped off with a trip to Anderson’s Candy Shop, a fourth generation gourmet chocolate store that has been around for the past 100 years. In the fall, the world’s largest corn maze, boasting 28 acres with nearly 10 miles of trails, draws thousands to Richardson’s Farm in Spring Grove, Illinois. And in July at the Shadow Hill Ranch in Twin Lakes, the four-day musical festival, Country Thunder, features dozens of acts, including headliners Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert and Tanya Tucker.
Nature lovers visit the Richard Bong Recreation Area with 4,500 acres for mountain biking, hiking, ATV sports, fishing, and hunting. The Prairie Trail, with an access point at the Wisconsin border, meanders for 26 miles down to the McHenry/Kane County line in Illinois, drawing hikers and bikers.
Properties on the Twin Lakes range from waterfront condos to large homes on the water that sell for over a million dollars. Some associations share water access among nearby homes.
Twin Lakes’ location, relative to Chicago, Kenosha and Milwaukee is part of its draw, while still having a quiet feel without having to drive farther north into Wisconsin.
Chain O’ Lakes
- 7,100 Acres
- Up to 40 Feet Deep
- Communities: Fox Lake, Lake Villa, Antioch, Spring Grove, Johnsburg, Volo, McHenry, Ingleside
- Activities: swimming, boating, waterskiing, beach, playgrounds, picnicking, hunting, ice fishing, ice boating cross-country skiing, snowmobiling.
- 55 Miles to Chicago
56 Miles to Milwaukee
95 Miles to Madison
Less than 20 miles southeast of Twin Lakes and occupying parts of Lake and McHenry counties in Illinois, the Chain O’ Lakes are the surviving footprints of retreating glaciers. The Fox River and manmade channels connect nine of the 15 lakes that make up the chain, with an incredible 488 miles of shoreline.
As anyone with 15 cousins knows, those cousins might all belong to the same family, but each has a different personality. Generally speaking, the northern lakes are calmer and quieter, while the southern lakes have more activity.
The Chain O’ Lakes sports a colorful history. Due to lax law enforcement during Prohibition, drinking and gambling continued largely undisturbed. Mobster Al Capone had a summer house on Bluff Lake, and gangster Billy Skidmore had a mansion on Pistakee Bay.
Now tamer but still busy on weekends, the Chain O’ Lakes appeals to boaters and anglers. All types of watercraft ply the waters, from houseboats to motorboats. Fishermen pull in channel catfish, crappie, bluegill, walleye, muskellunge, smallmouth bass, flathead catfish and northern pike.
The Chain O’ Lakes State Park spreads over 2,793 acres and borders three lakes: Marie, Grass and Nippersink. The park itself includes 44-acre Turner Lake as well as a nature preserve. Visitors can camp, hike, fish, boat, hunt, bike, birdwatch and go horseback riding.
A sampling of the Chain O’Lakes gives some idea of the wide range of character found in the 15 lakes.
Along with Fox Lake, Pistakee Lake is the largest in the chain, at 1,700 acres. A large portion of its shoreline is dedicated to conservation. Several full-service marinas, as well as a number of boat launches, let boaters put in to cruise the lakes or the Fox River. Keefe Real Estate agents call Pistakee Lake, “the Lake Geneva of the Chain O’ Lakes,” for its boat culture and access to shops and restaurants.
The 75-acre Brandenburg Lake, nestled between the Pistakee Bog Nature Preserve and Redhead Lake, Myers Bay, and Pistakee Lake, is privately owned by residents. Only non-gasoline engines are allowed on the lake, and boats’ horsepower is limited. Few houses are available on the lake, leaving plenty of room for the animals and birds that call Brandenburg Lake home.
Grass Lake attracts both boaters and fishermen. Because the average depth is three feet, boaters stay near the center of the lake, while anglers work the shore, fishing for catfish and carp. Grass Lake became popular in the late 1800s as the place to see Egyptian lotus beds. Some still exist, but today, the main attraction is Blarney Island. A bar and viewing area for the lotus beds changed hands in a poker game between owner ‘Shorty’ Shobin and Jack O’Connor, who owned a houseboat named Blarney Island. Today, Blarney Island is an entertainment venue with music, food and drinks, reachable by private boat or from shore via a shuttle operated by the venue.
The Chain O’ Lakes gives those who desire a vacation home affordable options. While some home prices reach the million-dollar mark, townhouses, condos, duplexes and cottages with private docks abound.
It’s a big community—very friendly, according to agents. The people who go there are very laid back.
Dreaming of a Lake Home
There are a lot of folks in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs who have a desire to have a getaway place, say Keefe Real Estate agents.
Time is an important consideration for families who have children involved in sports or other activities, in Chicago, Milwaukee, or Madison. Once, people were willing to drive five or six hours to their getaway. Now, two hours seems to be the magic distance.
Agents note that in their years of selling lake real estate, there is one constant. In each home or condo, there are photographs of many generations enjoying themselves out on the lake. It’s hard to put a dollar value on what these places mean to people and their families.
Many began with a weekend on the lake, and then ask, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that all the time?’
Before they know it, a weekend getaway turns into years of family enjoyment. What could be more special?
If you would like to connect with one of Keefe’s lake experts, please reach out to us at: Natali Grgas
email@example.com | 262.475.0882
By: Susan W. Murray
Photography By: Various