10 Three Lakes Secrets Only The Locals Know
Special thanks to Katherine from Lake Effect Co. for writing today's journal post and sharing her favorite things about her neck of the Northwoods.
Three Lakes, WI is my happy place. For almost thirty years my family has escaped to our little slice of heaven on Medicine Lake - the spot that feels like the truest sense of the word home. In fact, it’s so important to me that it inspired me to start Lake Effect Co., a blog and retail brand celebrating the inspiration of lakeside living. Three Lakes is a tiny town but offers big adventure. While you really can’t go wrong when you spend time here, as beauty, adventure, and kind people are everywhere, there are a few experiences you definitely won’t want to miss.
ONE - Hidden Lakes
The Three Lakes-Eagle River Chain of Lakes contains 28 lakes, making it the largest inland chain of freshwater lakes in the world. On the Three Lakes side, there are 18 lakes, which connect to the neighboring chain via the Burnt Rollways Dam (probably worth its own spot on this list). Of the 20, many of these lakes are only able to be reached via smaller watercrafts or very carefully with a larger one. There are no signs or markers telling you where or how to access such lakes, but you’ll often navigate a marsh or a narrow and winding path to reach a bridge (DUCK as you pass through) to the hidden gem. You’re often rewarded with the lake to yourself. I suggest seeing what you find on your own first, but hint: Spring Lake, Rangeline Lake, and Spirit Lake are a few of these…
You’ll be lured in by the architecture, but you’ll stay for, well, everything. The original proprietor commissioned architect Frederick “Cy” Williams (former Major League Baseball player and one of the most prominent home run hitters of his time) to design the building after the beer gardens of Germany’s Black Forest and the attractive Old Heidelberg Inn at Chicago’s 1933 World’s Fair.
So the charm factor is high in this “local tavern” built in 1934. Marcel Biró (German-born and one of the youngest chefs in European history to achieve the title Master) took over operations in 2014 and wanted to capture the essence of Gemütlichkeit: good food, good company, a drink or two, and plenty of time to enjoy it all. After a few upgrades to the building and an overhaul on operations, there's an awesome cocktail and beer list, and the food is delicious. Both the traditional German fare and standard Wisconsin items (fish fry is highly approved) are all made fresh from scratch daily.
three - Pike’s Pine Isle
This is a Three Lakes institution and finally, it's back in good hands. While it’s had multiple owners over the years, a local family has made this Medicine Lake-based bar & grill their own, and it’s evident in every aspect. The food, beverages, atmosphere, staff, etc., are all intentionally chosen to help you have a great northwoods day. There’s something so idyllic about accessing via your boat (you can definitely also drive), and on summer days/nights you’ll find yard games, grilling out, a walk-up bar, made-to-order pizza. Speaking of the pizza, don’t kid yourself and get a small: that crust is heaven. The new owners, originally from Antigo, are often working the bar and kitchens, chatting with clientele, and are constantly planning events to bring together the community: live music, holiday-themed parties, etc. We’re so thrilled we can paddle over from our cottage just half a lake away.
four - FikA
Coffee shops haven’t been exactly prevalent in our neck of the woods over the years, but all of a sudden our town has a few options to get a quality cup to start your day. Fika, which means “an intentional break in the day for coffee and a sweet treat” is best enjoyed with friends and can be taken at any time of the day. That’s why, unlike your morning cafe, Fika is open later into the evening. “Intention” is a word that really rings true for the whole shop, as owner Jacqui Sharpe has been thorough in each decision she has made along the way - from only using local, seasonal produce in the bakery goods, to the selection of the coffee roasters, to the simplicity of the decor and adjusting hours to respect other bakeries open times. It’s about deliberately enjoying your time there, which is easy to do. Enjoy free refills on the delicious coffee and you can’t go wrong with any of the baked goods, many of which are also gluten-free.
five - 4th of July
Three Lakes is a small town, so you’re expecting a small-town parade. Throw your expectations out the window when it comes to the 4th of July. The town rallies and puts on a parade that draws crowds from many neighboring towns. Multiple bands, an impressive fleet of cars, machinery, horses, boats on trailers, and trail crews pair with the opportunity to have a full beer cast your way via the Leinenkugel's boat. Personally like the muzzleloaders group. A few of the bars open early and onto the street to get the celebration going pre-parade. Get your nutrient-rich bloody mary before your sugar high. Also, the town of Three Lakes puts on an amazing fireworks show that is best watched from the middle of your favorite lake, but can also be watched from the high school. It’s quite magical to spend time on your pier or boat seeing the dozens, if not hundreds, of simultaneous fireworks displays going off at once. God Bless America.
six - Sunset Grill
Another option accessible by both boat or water, this restaurant, bar, gas-station and mini-mart has all the necessities AND delicious meals on top of it all. If you like sun-dried tomatoes, the Sunset Omelet will blow your mind! This spot is also just across the street from the Three Lakes Airport, the campground, and a few other bars.
seven - White Deer Wine & Spirits
You’ll pop in to refill what was consumed the night before and leave with a whole slew of interesting items. A wide selection of both local and otherwise-produced beers and liquors, competitive pricing, and every bloody mary fixing you never knew you needed are on hand. You can also get locally roasted coffee beans from Rio Lobo Coffee Co (roasted near Wisconsin’s Wolf River).
eight - Mercantile & Winery
The winery and mercantile are owned by the same group, and both feature locally made and US-made goods. The winery has some interesting blends that incorporate flavors of the northwoods, such as cranberries. The actual facilities are gorgeous and worth a visit. Here you’ll also find a wide variety of snacks perfect for entertaining in the cottage or on the boat. Just a block away is the Mercantile, which has a carefully curated selection of clothing, accessories, decor, and kitchen goods that are multiple steps above your typical tourist-shop items. Here you’ll find mostly (maybe only) US-made gear, including quite a few Midwest-based brands.
nine - Center for the Arts
This community space that now hosts a gallery, movies and live events was allegedly built during World War II as a Quonset hut theater - now serving as one of just a handful of Quonset hut theaters in the country. It arrived in Three Lakes in 1946 but was completely renovated in 2009 to better accommodate the needs of the community. The TLCFA showcases both local artists and encourages residents to make creativity part of their lives. This nonprofit organization has a roster of 75 artists; 275 dues-paying members and 100 hard-working volunteers.
ten - Tree Huggers
You don’t have to find a major grocery store to get your grass-fed, locally-sourced, organic foods and a wide-range of supplements. Our family is all about finding a balance between conventional and uber-crunchy, so having access to this spot for our supplement needs has saved us many times. Where the grocer down the block misses in the produce category, this stop has you covered. Not to be missed is the “past-expiration” section where you can stock up on goods a day past expiration but likely perfectly worthy of your consumption. Think: healthy mixers for cocktail hour, condiments, and popcorn - does that stuff even expire?
eleven - Eagle's Nests
What used to be extremely rare has become more common but no less magical. If you know you absolutely must see an eagle and aren’t willing to wait for one, head to the slow-no-wake channel between Medicine Lake and Laurel Lake on the East side of Denby Island (between the smaller and main island.) Look for the tallest, more barren tree and you’ll spot an enormous eagle’s nest. Bring your binoculars, as depending on the time of year, you’ll likely see a parent perched on a nearby branch keeping watch while the other is out fishing. If you’re lucky you’ll witness feeding time too. Some eagles nests are used for many years and, on average, weigh about 1-2 tons.