Wisconsin Getaway: 48 Hours to Explore Calumet County

Calumet County bills itself as the “quiet side of the lake,” as in Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin’s largest inland lake, with the county stretching about 30 miles along the eastern shore. It’s a good kind of quiet, with trails for hiking, observation towers for climbing, caves for crawling around in, and, of course, that lake for fishing.

It’s also the “Supper Club Capital of the Midwest,” with about a dozen supper clubs in the county proper and 30 total in the region. In other words, come hungry.

Day One

2 p.m. – Pull in to the Brillion Nature Center and Wildlife Area to stretch your legs with a walk through three different habitats – woodland, prairie and marsh. Look for nesting osprey, bluebirds and sandhill cranes, and enjoy spectacular woodland wildflowers thanks to the wet environment. Leashed dogs are welcome.

4 p.m. – Head to a campground to set up for the night. There are more than 100 campsites at High Cliff State Park in Sherwood, all of them wooded. Or, at Calumet County Park in Hilbert, you’ll be right on the shore of Lake Winnebago.

If you’re not a camper, check out Schwarz’s Guesthouse in the tiny hamlet of St. Anna, a country-style home with three large guestrooms and a screened-in porch for taking in the sunsets. Added bonus: It’s literally next door to the storied Schwarz’s Supper Club.

6 p.m. – No trip to Calumet County is complete without a visit to a supper club or two, and the most iconic of the bunch is Schwarz’s. Their Friday night perch fry is beyond famous, and Old Fashioneds are made lickety-split by bartenders who clearly have done this a few times.

This family run restaurant started out more than 50 years ago as a one-room tavern and has been remodeled many times since to handle the crowds.

Gobbler’s Knob in Stockbridge may be small, but the menu is big on choices and flavor, with the perch, prime rib and Oscar tenderloin at the top of the list. This is another family owned supper club, in business for more than 30 years.

If you like salad bars, then you’ll love the homemade selections featured at Roepke’s Village Inn in Charlesburg.

As another option, check out the farm pizza nights every Friday at Grassway Organics Farm near New Holstein. The pizzas are prepared in the farm’s own food truck with a wood-fired oven.

7 p.m. – Now for something nostalgic, drive in to the Chilton Twilight Outdoor for a double feature. It’s a blast from the past, only without the speaker hanging on the car window.

Day Two

8 a.m. – Rise and shine at Terra Verde Organic Coffee in Chilton, an artisanal organic coffee roaster where the cappuccinos are a work of art. You have our permission to eat one of their secret family recipe cookies for breakfast. If you’re not an early riser, no worries – breakfast is served all day.

9 a.m. – Next it’s off to High Cliff State Park, named for the 200-foot-tall limestone cliff forming the Niagara Escarpment, which extends in an arch all the way to Niagara Falls. Hike the Indian Mound Trail to see effigy mounds built by Native Americans 1,500 years ago. The Red Bird Trail’s 40-foot observation tower provides panoramic views of Lake Winnebago, and the Lime Kiln Trail is a warbler migration route. Bike along the Niagara Escarpment State Natural Area or launch a boat in the marina.

Other public boat launches include Stockbridge and Brothertown harbors and Calumet County Park. Lake Winnebago is considered one of the nation’s top walleye spots. Fish for perch and white bass, too.

Your eyes will need a little adjustment time as you go from the sunny outdoors to inside the limestone caves at Ledge View Nature Center. Wear clothes you won’t mind getting dirty, especially if you choose the crawling-only tour. This is a great place to cool off, with cave temperatures usually hovering around the 60-degree mark.

Make time to climb the 60-foot observation tower in the prairie. On a clear day, the sightline stretches 15 miles.

Noon – Grab a bite of classic vacation food at the historic Harbor Bar and Grill on Lake Winnebago in Stockbridge. It’s accessible by boat or parking lot. You may even catch a glimpse of eagles catching their next meal.

1 p.m. – Now it’s time to visit some of the county’s best artisan boutiques. Start at Bleating Heart Haven Farm and Gallery in New Holstein, a bucolic cottage business where owner Cindy Ellenbecker raises angora goats and sheep to make hand-dyed and spun fibers from the animals. The store features knitted clothes, felted scarves, handmade basketry and more.

The Plaid Squirrel in Brothertown features the work of local and regional artisans, with many “upcycled” items. Interesting side note: Munch on peanuts while you shop; they’re always free.

Kreative Knotts in Brillion is run by a family of artists always looking for ways to repurpose finds into furniture and home décor. Sign-making workshops are popular here.

At Hilbert Art and Antiques, you’ll find a room filled with incredible paintings of Abraham Lincoln created by one of the owners. Antiques fill the rest of this mercantile-style shop.

Fill a cooler with cheese from Vern’s Cheese in Chilton, making sure you select some of their famous string cheese. Three generations of Knoespels are on staff here. Pick up some crackers, summer sausage and a bottle of locally produced, small batch Quinney Estate Wine while you’re at it. The family-owned Quinney Estate Winery in Chilton is located in the “Wisconsin Ledge” American Viticultural Area.

5 p.m. – Make your before-dinner drink a microbrew from Rowland’s Calumet Brewing Co. in Chilton. This family operation, in business since 1990, has 11 handcrafted beers on tap at all times, plus root beer.

6:30 p.m. – Then it’s on to Village Hearthstone in Hilbert, a hidden gem of a foodie destination serving lunch and dinner. See what’s featured on the menu that evening or choose one of their wood-fired pizza selections. 

Day Three

10 a.m.Mud Creek Coffee in Stockbridge is run by the local mother-daughter duo of Julie and Taylor Parsons. Depending on your caffeine preferences, try a strong espresso drink or go for something from their frappe freeze menu. While there is a drive-thru window, it’s better to head inside for a breakfast plate featuring fresh, local ingredients prepared with love.

11 a.m. – If you’re visiting in June, don’t leave without a little strawberry picking at Meuer Farm, where they grow seven different varieties. This 150-acre family-run farm is big on sustainable farming practices that work with the land, not against it. In fact, they were bestowed the 2016 Governor’s Tourism Stewardship Award.

And what pairs better with strawberries than ice cream? On your way out of town, stop at Scoops Ice Cream Parlor in Chilton, which rotates 26 flavors. Tip: The salted caramel is a must-try.

 

Find out which eateries gave Calumet County its supper club capital title with these three extra dining options!