She Discovers: New Favorites in the Northwoods
Do you remember summer as a kid? If it was anything like mine, you spent your days rollerblading around town with your friends, scraping together enough spare change to share French fries at McDonalds and lounging poolside or lakeside, soaking in as much sun as possible. Those summer days seemed endless and I never truly understood the luxury of being able to enjoy them without schedules, stress, or the Sunday scaries.
These days, summer seems too short and schedules fill up before we even reach June. It’s hard to hold on to those moments of pure bliss that make summer seem so…well, blissful. Sometimes it seems like more work than it’s worth to carve out time to do the things that bring us joy. That’s part of the reason I love the Northwoods so much. Not only is it where I grew up and I get a regular reminder of my child/teenager-hood, but it’s a place where those schedules, stress, and Sunday scaries all but vanish. Somewhere around Highway 10, I start to feel untouched by the normal stressors of my life, and I am reminded of those timeless, endless, sun-soaked summers that shaped my youth.
This summer, I made a point to revisit that youthful summer feeling as much as possible and I made sure to let my natural curiosity lead me to some new adventures. Here are a few of my favorite new discoveries of Summer 2019:
Blue Ox Music Festival – Eau Claire, Wisconsin
I’ve only recently been getting into bluegrass music, so when my friend asked if I wanted to join her at Blue Ox, I was a little hesitant. The very reasonable price tag and the chance to visit my old college town were what pushed me over the edge, and man, am I glad that was the case. This festival is on its 5th year, so by all standards, is fairly new. But, I can honestly say, it was one of the best organized, most enjoyable music festivals I’ve ever been too. A chill, but enthusiastic crowd, plenty of food stands, water stations, facilities, and beverage servers, and literally not one bad or even mediocre musician in the house put this at the top of my list for summers to come. There aren’t many instances in which being caught in the pouring rain for 2 hours outside wouldn’t put me in a sullen mood and, here, I didn’t care. People were super friendly and accommodating and bands switched their sets so everyone got a chance to play. It is clear that this is a festival that is truly about the music and the culture, and every piece of it was meant to enhance the experience.
White Stag Inn– Sugar Camp, Wisconsin
If you’re looking for a menu with a super quick turnaround and a hundred options, this is not the place for you. If you’re looking for a classic Wisconsin supper club that does a limited menu of things extremely well, you should definitely give this place a try. White Stag has become my family’s Northwoods “celebration” place. When your family owns a bar and restaurant in the Northwoods, you gotta find a few times a summer to let someone else take care of you for a minute. White Stag has become our place of reprieve. It has replenished us after periods of extreme busy-ness and exhaustion and provided us a place to celebrate birthdays, ends of busy holiday weekends, and hellos and farewells to friends and family passing through.
White Stag is a true Wisconsin Supper Club complete with dark wood paneling and a fantastic Old Fashioned. They have an open flame grill in which they grill their meats before delivering it to your table on a cart. You get maybe six different meat options, including a few different cuts of steak or a pork chop or chicken or your choice of three different types of fish. And, that’s it. That’s the whole menu. Everyone, regardless of what you order, gets a ¼ head of iceberg lettuce that you can top with any of their three delicious homemade dressings. You also get a baked potato (no choice for substitution) with the most amazing whipped cottage cheese topping (sounds weird, but is SO GOOD, I promise). You may think this seems a little limited, but they do all of these things so well, you’re not missing a thing. This is a “quality over quantity” place and I appreciate that about them.
Namaste & Rose at Pike’s Pine Isle
Ok, so I’m definitely biased about this one, since it’s my family’s bar and restaurant, but this summer event is one of my brother’s best ideas. And, the 20+ people in attendance every week seem to agree. Take a sunny Saturday morning overlooking Medicine Lake and add in an hour long Vinyasa Flow yoga class with @northwoods.yoga topped off with endless mimosas, and there’s really no way to have a bad day after that. Lake views + yoga + champagne = my personal recipe for ultimate relaxation and I bet it could be yours too. This event occurs on scheduled Saturdays from June-August (weather permitting, since it’s outside). Follow @pikespineisle to be the first to learn next year’s schedule and come join me for the best kind of Northwoods morning.
Lake of the Clouds – Ontonagon County, Michigan
Admittedly, I don’t do a ton of galivanting in the woods in the summer. It’s pretty hard to tear me away from bodies of water in the warmer months, so I generally save hiking for the fall. That being said, I had the opportunity to take a quick daytrip to the U.P. and explore the Porcupine Mountains area. If you haven’t been there, it truly is like another world. Lake Superior is unbelievably clear, the landscape is beautiful, and somehow that part of Michigan is an overwhelmingly untouched part of this country.
As you wind your way up the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park, there are a million little trails you could venture off onto. We continued to the top where you run into Lake of the Clouds. This is a beautiful, peaceful lake laying in between two ridges of the mountains. The vistas are unbelievable, and with the leaves just starting to pick up their fall colors, I can only imagine what this view will be in a month. I parked at the overlook and walked the 300 or so feet to the lookout area, but you can hike this area, fish from the shore or with small watercraft, and camp. If you’re not already in the northern part of the Midwest, this can be quite a drive to reach, but it will be so so worth it.
This summer was the first in a long time where I was really only tied to my own schedule. I had the freedom to do as I pleased, and I did my best to make the most of it. It wasn’t quite as fancy free as the summers of my youth, but at least I can afford my own French fries now, so it’s not all bad.