Life on the Water

When the summer air gets hot and muggy, there’s something cooling and refreshing about a getaway to the lake or river. Luckily, we have plenty of them nearby. Before you go planning your summer retreat, study up on some of the best ways to play, whether that’s staying at a resort, buying some property or planning your playtime.

The Abbey Resort photo

During the summer months, we all look for fun and adventure on the water. There are many ways to get out and soak in the fun, from establishing your own personal retreat to finding an all-encompassing experience or simply getting yourself a taste of the action. However you choose to partake, you’ve got many choices – and many ways to start planning your retreat.

Book a Resort

There are many advantages to staying at a resort, but one of the most important is that it takes the guesswork out of planning your vacation.

The Abbey Resort, in Fontana, Wis., is Geneva Lake’s only full-service resort. Boasting 90 acres of lakeside adventure, Abbey Resort offers a full itinerary of water-based fun for visitors of all ages.
“The Abbey is a resort that is designed around the Lake Geneva experience,” says Dan Dolan, director of sales and marketing.

For some, the beauty of a resort is that you never have to wander outside its walls to find fun. The Abbey Resort is no exception, with numerous amenities located just a short jaunt from guest accommodations. For those who want to explore beyond, the resort can help there, too.

In Abbey Resort’s outdoor area, grownups enjoy the adult-only pool and hot tubs, while kids can soak up the fun at the zero-depth pool and family pool with slides, squirt cannons, basketball nets and a large water-cascading mushroom. Hungry and thirsty visitors don’t even have to leave the pool area, as the Gazebo Grill, nestled between the pool areas, is there to serve up slushy drinks and hot food.

Inside is another family pool, complete with pool toys for the kids and poolside lounge chairs for parents. Another wading pool is there for little ones to splash in, and a second hot tub is also found inside.

For more adventurous visitors, Abbey Marina is a gateway to a whole new set of adventures, including boat rentals. Gordy’s Marine, a partner company to Abbey Resort, exclusively offers Cobalt Boats for visitors.

“Guests just need to say they’re with Abbey Resort, and Gordy’s will go from there,” says Dolan.
Lake Geneva Cruise Line is another popular way to explore the lake, with both public and private cruise options available, and the dock is located just a short drive away. With a variety of vessels in its fleet, there are even options for guests of Abbey Resort to have a historic yacht brought to Abbey Pier for a day of fun and relaxation.

While on land, the Lake Shore Path puts you near the water while exploring more than 26 miles of walking trail. As part of a longstanding agreement with lake shore homeowners, the path follows the entire contour of Geneva Lake.

“All of the owners maintain their portion in a different way,” says Dolan. “Some have paved it or used paving stones. Others use ground limestone, and some use natural grass. It’s a real patchwork experience as you walk along the lakeshore.”

Woodhaven Association photo

Join a Members-Only Resort

Members-only resorts are a popular choice for many families who want consistent summer fun. In addition to providing lots for RVs, most members-only resorts provide a full menu of activities to their members, both on and off the water.

Nicci Leffelman is the marketing communications manager at Woodhaven Lakes, a private recreational camp resort located in Sublette, just 2 hours west of Chicago. Leffelman has spent over 15 years helping families find their dream spot at Woodhaven Lakes.

“We’ve been in pretty high demand these past couple of years,” says Leffelman. “We have a lot of new amenities that all of our members enjoy.”

For those who want a camp resort experience, Leffelman recommends taking the time to figure out what you would need from a lot before shopping around. The resort has over 6,000 lots, and each offers something different. Some are located directly on the shore, with their very own private access to the water. Some lakeside lots have public access. There are inland lots that offer more space for larger RVs and some that offer more privacy. Make sure you find the lot that suits your family’s needs the best.

Like all private resorts, membership is required; at Woodhaven, those who purchase a lot are asked to fill out a membership application. The privileges of that membership, however, come with access to more than 1,756 acres of lush woodland with seven man-made lakes, several small ponds, two swimming pools and a beach.

Fishing enthusiasts love the variety of fish, including bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, musky, walleye, redear sunfish and crappie. The resort also stocks rainbow trout in some of its lakes during the fall season.

Due to the depth of its lakes, Woodhaven does not allow gas-powered boats. Electric trolling motors are allowed, however, and members can rent out paddleboats, canoes, kayaks and rowboats.

It’s important to remember that, while these sorts of retreats are a wonderful place to stay, they’re not supposed to be a permanent escape. Many resorts, Woodhaven Lakes included, limit overnight stays and do not allow lots to be used as a primary residence. This, and other policies, will be included in your membership agreement, which should be read carefully.

While other resorts may allow different structures on their lots, Woodhaven Lakes is an RV-only resort. All forms of RV are welcome, so long as they are a certified RV.

Once you’re settled in, it’s time to enjoy the smorgasbord of recreational activities, both in and out of the water. Basketball, pickleball, tennis, field hockey and volleyball courts are all on hand for members to enjoy, as well as an outdoor movie theater, mini-golf and a nature center. The resort offers open-air markets on holiday weekends throughout the spring and summer.

“Our recreation department works year-round to make sure there is plenty of fun for our members,” says Leffelman. “It’s the reason people come here.”

Buy Your Own Getaway

Instead of mulling over where to take the family, why not go to your own piece of paradise?
Andy Klemmt, of Choice Realty, has been a real estate agent in the Galena area for over 20 years. He spent his summers there for 18 years before moving to Galena full-time in 2004.

“The terrain here is absolutely gorgeous,” he says. “It’s a great place to vacation or to live.”

One of the most important things to consider, when purchasing a vacation getaway, is accessibility. Galena’s location along U.S. Route 20 is an easy drive for many Chicagoans.

“The ease of getting here makes Galena very desirable for people looking for a weekend or vacation home,” says Klemmt.

One of the main reasons for Galena’s popularity is nearby Lake Galena, a 225-acre man-made lake that is a haven for fishing and boating enthusiasts. With access to property owners and hotel and rental guests, Lake Galena is teeming with walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill crappie, tiger muskie, perch and channel catfish. On the shore, nature abounds as well. Diligent birdwatchers will be rewarded with views of eagles, owls, ospreys, herons and ducks. Turtles, deer, fox, beavers and muskrats also make their home in this lakeside paradise.

The marina complex at Lake Galena offers boat rentals for visitors, with pontoon boats, paddleboats, kayaks and canoes available for rental at the bait shop.

Galena is also close to the Mississippi River, where there are ample opportunities for boating and fishing as well.

American Lady Cruises photo

Take a Cruise

From ocean liners to river boats, there’s nothing more relaxing than climbing aboard, letting the captain and crew take the wheel, and leaving the stresses of daily life to drift away with the shoreline.

American Lady Cruises, in Dubuque Iowa, has been creating memories for 14 years with public and private cruises on the Mississippi River. With a capacity of 135 passengers, the American Lady is an 80-foot skipper liner that offers a variety of cruises ranging from 1.5 hours to 7 hours.

Charlie Cretsinger is the owner of Catfish Charlie’s, the starting point for all American Lady cruises.
“I’m an old-school guy who likes to talk to my customers,” he says. “Before we started booking online, we had three people in the office, answering phones. These people want to book.”

Planning ahead is essential. Cruise lines like American Lady often have several departures a day, some private and some public. A quick trip to the American Lady website will help visitors see what is available and book accordingly.

In addition to enjoying the river, passengers can also enjoy a meal or light appetizers, courtesy of Catfish Charlie’s. Meals are usually served buffet-style. Passengers taking the Happy Hour Cruise can see what snacks will be served on the American Lady website.

To Cretsinger, a cruise is the perfect way to enjoy the legendary river.

“The river gets in your blood,” he says. “Every time I’m on it, I marvel at how amazing it is. I never want to leave.”

Oshkosh Convention & Visitors Bureau photo

Visit a City by the Lake

For many, the perfect vacation involves travelling to a city and making their own fun. Oshkosh has all of the right amenities for vacations like these. A water-lover’s dream in the heart of Wisconsin, this city has Lake Winnebago on one side, Lake Butte Des Morts on the other, and the Fox River running in between, so it’s no surprise the city welcomes thousands of visitors each year. Surrounded by more than 140,000 acres of water, the city offers plenty of fun for aquatic adventures and sightseeing nearby.

“Oshkosh is a thriving community with something for everyone,” says Amy Albright, executive director of the Oshkosh Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We’re surrounded by inviting lakes and rivers for fishing, swimming and boating.”

For families bringing their own boats, there are plenty of places to launch and marinas to stow them. For those without boats, there are plenty of rental options available for pontoons, sailboats, regattas, powerboats, jet skis, kayaks, canoes and more. A scan at the visitors bureau’s website, or a call to the office, can help to narrow down the choices.

“With two lakes connected by a river, we have all kinds of boating,” says Albright. “There are lots of spots to dine on the waterfront, too.”

Oshkosh is also a world-class fishing spot, with visitors flying in from all over the globe to catch the walleye, jumbo perch, and largemouth and smallmouth bass in Lake Winnebago.

Lake sturgeon have been spotted in these waters and can reach enormous size. The lake system is home to around 40,000 of these gentle bottom-feeders that can grow to up to 7 feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds.

Planning your own fun doesn’t necessarily mean doing it alone. The Oshkosh Convention & Visitors Bureau is always happy to provide information, on their website or over the phone.

“Give us a call and we can help you with an itinerary,” says Albright. “We can’t wait to welcome you and show you all Oshkosh has to offer.”

No matter where you go or what you decide to do, there are plenty of ways to get out on the water this summer and have fun. Just remember to pack your sunscreen.