Packed into a thin strip of land jutting into Lake Minocqua, downtown Minocqua crawls with summer vacationers. They seek the heady scent of fudge shops and ice cream stands, head to beaches or the Bearskin Trail, and line up for the water-ski show.
Or they head out of town. The beauty of this area -- not unlike Minnesota's Brainerd Lakes -- is the sheer variety of things to do within 30 miles. There are quiet campgrounds and trails, a soda-pop nirvana, shoot-'em-up supper club, a replicated Indian village, and lumberjacks swinging into action. Here's a sampling of the best family attractions in Wisconsin's version of "Up North."
Why go now
More than 4,000 lakes throughout northern Wisconsin's Vilas and Oneida counties sparkle in the sun. Minocqua serves as the main hub for the area, which includes nearby Arbor Vitae and Woodruff and the outlying towns of Eagle River, St. Germain, Boulder Junction and Manitowish Waters. All are in full swing for the summer.
Look for lakeside resorts that offer fishing boats and pontoons. You can also rent a water scooter or bikes from Chequamegon Adventure Canoe and Kayak (1-715-356-1618, www.paddlerama.com). Get on the water early while activity is calm or go at sunset when Lake Minocqua's historic boathouses are bathed in golden light.
Get a buzz cut
Scheers Lumberjack Show turns sawing, pole-climbing and log-rolling into humor-infused extreme sports. Kids clamor for what has to be one of the odder vacation souvenirs -- a cross-section of a log -- and getting it autographed by flannel-clad, suspendered heroes ($7.95-$9.95, free for kids under 4; 1-715-634-6923; www.scheerslumberjackshow.com).
Sweet history lesson
The guide at Waswogoning Re-Created Ojibwe Village leads groups through the woods near Lac du Flambeau to learn how tribes lived off the land with fishing, sugaring, hunting and wild ricing. Visitors get to taste the hard maple sugar candy cooked each spring ($6-$8; 1-715-588-3560; www.waswagoning.org).
Hit a hushed trail
Trails thread through Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, with Raven Nature Trail ranking among the more popular choices with a hemlock glade that casts an enchanting hush across the woods. The 1.5-mile loop trail begins just past the Clear Lake campground, winding through white pine, hardwoods and a bog where you might catch sundew and pitcher plants blooming.
Dinner and a shoreline show
The Thirsty Whale (1-715-356-7108; www.thirstywhaleminocqua.com) restaurant has served meals from this lakeside boathouse for more than 90 years. Time your meal just right on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and you'll have some of the best seating for the free Min-Aqua Bats water ski show. The nation's longest-running amateur ski team celebrates 60 years this summer. You can also grab a seat at the "Aqua Bowl" or watch from boats on the lake.
Worth the drive
Eagle River, 27 miles east of Minocqua, provides a great break from the lake with its tucked-away gem, Northwoods Children's Museum ($6; 1-715-479-4623; www.northwoodschildrensmuseum.com). The hands-on activities include rescue vehicles, a fire tower, campsite, body-sized bubbles and a tree where you can read inside. Afterward, it doesn't matter whether you say "soda" or "pop" at Soda Pop's, a downtown cafe and massive collection of all things sweetly carbonated. From cherry limeade and bottles of Green River to birch beer and Nehi orange, it's all here (1-715-479-9424; www.soda-pops.com).
Lisa Meyers McClintick is a St. Cloud-based freelance writer specializing in the outdoors and family travel.