Jul 10, 2015

Top 5 Wisconsin Family Destinations For Outdoor Enthusiasts

By: Pat Kalmerton

In today’s world we are programmed to work. A 40 hour week doesn’t mean what it used to; overtime is a regular expectation for many. This means our time is more valuable than ever! It just makes sense to make the most of our time off and for me that means combining who I love (my family) with what I love (the outdoors).

Growing up, it was my dream to hunt and fish for a living. My dream is now my reality! I’m blessed with opportunities to travel all over the country doing what I love to do! You may think about how lucky I am to play every day and call that work – and you’re right! BUT, my 40 hours are usually in by midday Tuesday and I find myself missing my family a lot! That’s when I’m thinking about where I can take my family to make memories when I am home. I want to take them somewhere fun. Somewhere nice and clean. Somewhere affordable. Somewhere the fish are biting or the wildlife is plentiful, and somewhere there is plenty to do when we’re not on the water or in the woods.

There are so many Wisconsin locations on my list. I choose not to leave the state on short weekends because time is valuable. I want to spend that time with my family doing things, not driving. I want to create memories that will last them a lifetime.

Here are my top five Wisconsin family destinations for outdoor enthusiasts:

  1. Sheboygan. As a co-owner and operator of Wolf Pack Adventures (wolfpackadventures.com), I spend every day here during the busy summer months on Lake Michigan. Summer is the time to fish for trout and salmon, battling those beasts for up to an hour at times and watching the trout jump like marlins as we fight them on light tackle. However, there is always something exciting happening in Sheboygan, no matter the season! In spring and fall, we pull on waders and stand in waist-high water with a fly rod in our hands. Now we’re in rivers and tributaries witnessing the spring run of steelhead reaching weights of 20 pounds. The fall migration of salmon is world-class. These monsters exceed the scale weight limits and dart and splash around our feet cruising through the water at speeds up to 45 miles per hour. Stay at Blue Harbor Resort on the shores of Lake Michigan. My kids go crazy for the big indoor waterpark while my wife and I enjoy sneaking away to the lobby for a nightcap. Blue Harbor is within walking distance to mini golf, an ice cream parlor, Angler Pub (ask them to grill up your fresh catch of the day!), shopping, boutiques – you get it. There’s something for everybody. When my family books a trip to Sheboygan, it’s easy for me to look good!
  2. Fond du Lac. Lake Winnebago – wow, this place is on fire! The crappie fishing has exploded in the last few years and they are NICE. Did I mention the walleye fishing is out of this world? When you launch your boat out of Fond du Lac you will find an abundance of fish, along with beautiful scenery and easy navigation. And there are plenty of bait shops nearby. When you’ve had your fill of fishing, you are within miles of the Horicon Marsh, Kettle Moraine State Forest, Wild Wings Sportsman’s Club. Or if you’re capped out on nature, try go-carting, shopping, exploring downtown and experiencing great food. Don’t forget about the fun on ice in winter. If you’ve never witnessed sturgeon spearing season (it’s always around Valentine’s weekend), this is a MUST. Thousands of people, from all walks of life, gather in one area to try their luck at spearing a prehistoric fish through a 4-foot by 2-foot hole in a pitch-black shanty. Sounds boring, right? Guess again! Westward Ho campground is a convenient place to stay when you’re playing in the Fond du Lac or Sheboygan areas. It is actually located between these two cities for access to the best of both worlds – I can fish on Lake Michigan or Lake Winnebago and have great success. This campground has three pools, a kiddie pool, an arcade, mini golf and live music on many Saturday nights. If you’re like my family and don’t have time to worry about maintaining a camper, rent a fully-furnished cabin with TV for the kids if bad weather moves in.
  3. Sturgeon Bay. Bronze backs tipping the scales at over 6 pounds?! Yes, really. Walleyes hitting the scales at 12 pounds and bigger?! Yup. Forget about the time and money to travel to Lake Erie. The Bay of Green Bay has exploded as a trophy fishery for both walleye and smallmouth bass, not to mention the giant musky and pike opportunities. There is a reason why every major tournament trail makes a stop in Sturgeon Bay. And it’s such an incredible place to visit. Stay at Sand Bay Beach Resort right on the water with amazing views and gorgeous accommodations. There is a sandy beach out the back door for the kids to play and lots to do within a short driving distance. If you like wine, Door County is the place for you! There are many wineries. I may have done a little taste testing once or twice. Check out the parks, shops, unique restaurants and specialty foods. Don’t forget to stop by the shipping canal to watch the big cargo ships pass through – something you will definitely want to witness!
  4. Mercer. When you visit Mercer, your family can be on the move from the minute you get there until the minute you leave. If your family is looking for action-packed adventure, this is the place for you! Explore outstanding fishing on your choice of 214 lakes within a 30-mile radius, plus rivers for canoeing and kayaking. It’s like going to Canada without the hassle of crossing the border! One of the most popular lakes in this area is the 14,000-acre Turtle Flambeau Reservoir. Mercer also has 377,000 acres of public hunting grounds, holding an abundance of wildlife. There are endless biking trails as well as off-road biking trails, over 250 miles of ATV trails, over 450 miles of snowmobile trails, cross-country skiing trails and downhill skiing at Whitecap Mountain. I am tired just thinking about it all, but we sure do love it up there!
  5. Blackhawk Lake Recreation Area. Time to slow it down and relax! I spend most of my time running and gunning, so I really appreciate a little relaxation. Blackhawk Lake Recreation area in Iowa County is where I’ll be. Again, I rent a cabin – it’s perfect for me. For those who love camping, you need to check this place out! The fishing is amazing for all kinds of fish on this no-wake lake. There are walking trails connected to the park, a sandy beach and boat rentals. During the fall you can deer hunt with both bow and gun. I want relaxation, so I’ll be hanging around the campfire and grilling the morning’s catch.

So, there you have it! My top five go-to family destinations in Wisconsin. When I have a weekend to play, this is where you’ll find me.