Water – that basic element – fills a primordial need in each of us. But beyond keeping our bodies hydrated, water represents escape, relaxation, and rejuvenation. 

The lakes of southeastern Wisconsin first drew Native American tribes and white settlers because the lakes supplied their basic needs: a clean water source, a place to fish or hunt for food, and a means of transportation.

By the late 1800’s, southeastern Wisconsin’s lakes represented a getaway from crowded, dirty cities. The first hotels and vacation homes went up around the lakes. The Chicago and North Western line ran trains from Elgin, Crystal Lake, and Harvard, Illinois to Lake Geneva. Eventually, service extended to Williams Bay and Fontana. 

In the post-World War II boom, families could afford to retreat to the lakes for a week or two of vacation. Whether they camped or built vacation homes with all the amenities, their time away centered on togetherness while swimming, boating, or fishing, thereby strengthening their familial bonds.

Today, vacationers hold particular lakes dear, either for their particular features or for the family memories they hold. And no matter which lake they choose for their time away from the cares and concerns of daily life, each of the lakes offers a wide variety of accommodations. 

Twin Lakes, located in the western part of Kenosha County, are, indeed, two lakes named for the twin girls of pre-Civil War settlers Jonathan and Mary Rae Ineson. Lake Mary, the smaller of the two, runs for 297 acres, while Elizabeth Lake spreads over 725 acres, extending over the border into Illinois. With 6,000 permanent residents, Twin Lakes has the feel of a community with strong year-round roots. Another 2,000 people come to enjoy summer on the lakes, staying in either condominiums or lake homes.

The 1,000 acres of water that were used for ice harvesting in the days when icemen delivered blocks of ice door-to-door are now a water playland. Twin Lakes supports three public beaches and three boat launches. Visitors can choose between a daily launch fee or a season pass. Fishing enthusiasts can count on hooking smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike, bluegill, and walleye. 

Activities on and around the Twin Lakes are geared for family enjoyment. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Aquanut Water Ski Team puts on shows at Lance Park, every Wednesday and Sunday, at 6:00 p.m. Lance Park is also the site for movies in the park between May and August. Moviegoers can either spread a blanket on the lawn or boat over to watch G – or PG – rated films from Lake Mary. The town of Twin Lakes hosts Libertyfest and a Fourth of July parade on the Saturday nearest the holiday, and August is the time for the Annual Street Party.

Just a half hour west of Twin Lakes, in Walworth County, Delavan Lake has been a family playground since the late 1800’s. Residents and visitors take to the 2100-acre lake for swimming, kayaking, canoeing, waterskiing, and fishing. Scattered about the lake are a host of activities for every age and interest: a petting farm and zoo, apple orchard and winery, berry farm, bowling, and golf courses.

With a nod to the town’s history as winter quarters for circus troupes and animals, Tower Park in the town of Delavan features a fiberglass giraffe and elephant, and a lion that doubles as a water fountain. Two blocks from the shops on Brick Street, the Phoenix Bandshell hosts monthly movies under the stars during summer months and free concerts every few days in all genres of music. 

Annual events, one each month, keep Delavan hopping with visitors, such as Lake Fest in June and the “Cars that Time Forgot” show in July. The car show is held on the grounds of the Lake Lawn Resort, the former wintering spot for various circuses, and now a resort complex that can house couples or whole families. The Lake Lawn Queen, a new two-level cruise boat offers public tours of the lake and can be rented for private events. A boat tour gives a duck’s-eye view of the types of lakefront accommodations available for rent – from condos to magnificent homes.

The best-known lake for vacationing in Wisconsin is Geneva Lake, located in Walworth County between Delavan Lake and Twin Lakes. With 5,400 acres of clear water and broad sandy beaches, the lake attracts swimmers, boaters, and fishing enthusiasts. The 21-mile shore path allows visitors to see both the lake and the impressive lakefront homes. For a view from the water, cruise lines offer tours to suit every taste, from a champagne brunch cruise to the mail boat cruise that gives passengers a front-row seat to watch the U. S. mail being delivered via boat.

Off the lake, tourists can explore the shops on Main Street, eat in one of the town’s unique, locally-owned restaurants, or engage in a whole host of outdoor activities. Nearby are golf courses, waterparks, horseback riding, hot air ballooning, and several day spas.

Campgrounds, Bed and Breakfasts, hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals accommodate the many summertime visitors. For large families or multi-family parties, renting a large home is an economical and fun choice for a vacation spot. 

While vacationing at the lakes in Southeast Wisconsin offers more activities and more choices of where to stay than ever before, the appeal stays the same. Get away, lay back, and get reinvigorated while spending time with those you love.

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