Underrated lakes/towns for a lake house in Michigan/Wisconsin/Illinois?
May 28, 2020 12:16 PM   Subscribe

It is late spring and that means I start to dream about buying a lake house. We are in Chicagoland and it seems like most people go to Lake Geneva or to southwest Michigan, but are there lakes/towns that you have loved to visit that are less well-known? Preferences are down below.

Our hopes:

* A charming place with nice people. The more progressive/open-minded the better.
* Waterfront (or close), but Lake Michigan/a beach is not a must. A pretty view on an inland lake or river would do us just fine.
* Some good restaurants or take out options would be nice
* Cycling/hiking opportunities
* Not a crazy drive from Chicago
* Sub-$400K opportunities for a comfortable place

Our un-hopes:

* We are definitely not into seeing/being seen. We've vacationed in Saugatuck and New Buffalo and the summer scene there is a little overwhelming.
* A party lake is not ideal; we will drink much more coffee than beer
* A densely-populated resort/condo complex is not our thing
* Boating is a neutral factor; I doubt we'd have anything more than kayaks

So, midwestern MeFites: do you have a town or lake you love? Are you willing to let the secret out?
posted by AgentRocket to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (7 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
We ended up in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, near Rhinelander in a little town, on a 200 acre lake. It's a 4-4.5 hour drive from our house in the Northwestern 'burbs.

Most folks are nice, but we are in a rural area, so I wouldn't call it progressive.
There are some good restaurants, but it's the land of the supper club, so you aren't getting, say, Indian food up here.
All kinds of cycling and hiking!
Definitely sub $400K.
Our lake has a few ski boats, a lot of pontoon boats and a fair number of kayaks. Mr. Jane often takes his kayak to one of 3 nearby rivers for a change of kayaking scenery.

We searched all over southern and central Wisconsin for a few years before we found this place via a family friend.
We loved the clear lakes and general remoteness up here more than anything we found farther south.

Memail me if you want any more information.
posted by sarajane at 12:45 PM on May 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Amherst Junction, WI. Is quite liberal for being in central Wisconsin. My in laws are way up north- near Florence, Wi on a beautiful lake- no gas motors. It is lovely.
posted by sulaine at 5:03 PM on May 28, 2020

Consider the Fox River near Montello or Princeton, WI. Way below your budget and no party scene to be seen. I think the slow Fox is better for swimming (nowhere near as dangerous as the Wisconsin river) and cleaner than lakes. Great for kayaking. Plenty of small lakes nearby with properties on them too.
posted by areaperson at 5:12 PM on May 28, 2020

You can easily afford a nice waterfront house in Southern Door County on the Green Bay side, where I live (about 15 minutes from Sturgeon Bay). The two inland lakes (Clark and Kangaroo) are also within your budget. Come on up!
posted by carmicha at 9:43 PM on May 28, 2020

My inlaws from Milwaukee have a house on Legend Lake, near Keshena WI -- it's actually a a series of lakes and canals, they put a dam on a river to raise the water level I believe, so there's a lot of shoreline. It is excellent for kayaking (my wife and I do it a lot when we visit), and most lots are very wooded so there's not a lot of "nearby" neighbors even though the lots aren't super big. I don't know how liberal it is but the area doesn't strike me as outwardly conservative.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:33 AM on May 29, 2020

Crystal Lake in Beulah, MI is my favorite place in the world. It would be a 5 or 6 hour drive from Chicago, which may be longer than you want, but it's truly beautiful. Clear sandy-bottom lake, tons of hiking in the surrounding area, and MUCH better food options than there used to be. Politically, I don't know -- it's rural northern Michigan. I doubt it's terribly liberal, but there aren't Trump signs all over the place either. It is extremely white, though.

I did a quick search on Zillow and found listings around the lake ranging from 100k to over a million dollars, so the real estate market seems... weird. I lucked into a family property situation (random ancestors bought land up there in like 1903 for basically no money), so I haven't had to navigate buying a place. But if you could swing it, it's really lovely.
posted by catoclock at 6:09 AM on May 29, 2020

On edit see you already mentioned Saugatuck but I'll leave this here for others.
Saugatuck is a well-known art colony at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River and along the Lake Michigan shoreline that attracts visitors from Detroit and Chicago, including a sizable gay population. Among its charms are more than 35 bed-and-breakfast inns, a 19th-century downtown area, and nearby state parks with dunes and abundant beaches. Art galleries and chic caf├ęs line the streets of downtown Saugatuck and sunsets along Lake Michigan are pure bliss.

Such a great little town. Seriously. Check it out.
posted by jasondigitized at 6:51 PM on May 29, 2020

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