Lac La Belle + Oconomowoc, WI

Ashley Blanton was my freshman roommate at UW-Madison, and when we matched, I loved that this Iowa native actually had deep roots in the lake country area, right in Oconomowoc. Before we moved in together, I drove the couple minute drive from my parents’ house to meet her at Camp Cannistra, and our roomie-status was official. Ashley went on to transfer to University of Iowa after freshman year, but she quickly became friends with a crew of folks that I attended high school with, later marrying one of them who was actually one of my neighbors growing up on the same street as me in Hartland, WI. Thank goodness for this small world. Here Ashley talks about her love of Lac La Belle in Oconomowoc, WI. Thank you, Roomie Love.

Favorite lake? Lac La Belle

Closest major city & airport? Milwaukee is 40 miles or just about 45 minutes. Mitchell International Airport (MKE) is just a few minutes longer. 

Distance to nearest grocery store? The Pig on P! (Piggly Wiggly) is just a few minutes ride from Camp Cannistra, perfect for those lake day essentials.

Reasons the lake is important to you and your family? My parents bought their lake access property on Lac La Belle when I was just a few years old.  They chose Oconomowoc for many reasons.  My mom grew up there since she was a toddler, and my Nana and Papa continue to live in the city to this day – some 50 years later.  The house resides in the adorable small town with an inviting neighborhood atmosphere where everyone knows everyone.  

Our Camp Cannistra lake house was picture perfect; with two bedrooms and one bathroom, we squeezed our family of five into the cozy cabin without a problem.  Just picture three girls under the age of six in two twin beds and a beloved pull out trundle, giggling each night as they recapped the exciting events from the day, ready to plan what lake activity they’d do the next day, and who “called” going skiing first.  Naturally as the oldest, I liked to set the tone for the day and go first. However, as the years went on, my youngest sister joyfully started jumpin’ in the water to ski first, which kicked in my competitive nature to follow and ensure I not only got up (and oh it better be on my first try!) but attempt to ski around the lake, as we loved to do.  

As we got older, our lake house became more of a destination for friends to join in on the fun – eventually earning the name Camp Cannistra with a wood-carved sign to make it official.  It was not only our summer home that held yearly family gatherings, it turned into the go-to summer spot for friends as well. From Dave Matthews Band weekends and hot tub parties in the rain, to cramming as many people on our 19’ speed boat to watch the fourth of July fireworks.  We’d literally shuttle groups of people out to the band shell during the day with two tubes behind the speed boat, a few people on the jet ski, and often times you’ll find me taking the Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) all the way from our dock.  We sink the anchor into the waist deep water where we listen to music, drink endless pitchers of Moscow mules, and bask in the sun from dusk ‘til dawn.  

Our biggest, most anticipated event of the summer most definitely is our annual Parrotthead Weekend.  Last summer marked our 9th year hosting anywhere from 35 to 50 friends at Camp Cannistra for Jimmy Buffett’s Alpine Valley concert weekend.  The party begins Friday night as friends drive and fly in from all over the country. Greeted with burgers on the grill, flowing “Crazy Juice” (a.k.a. My Dad’s homemade 16% alcohol-content wine), cigars and bonfires, we pitch tents in the backyard, truly earning the Camp name it deserves. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now, reminiscing about the glorious 28 years we’ve had at the Camp, I realize how lucky I am to have had this home to create memories each year. It truly is such a blessing.  

Favorite winter lake activities/foods/traditions? When it’s cold outside, we love to ice skate on the lake, build snowmen and go for runs along the lake in the crisp winter air.

What do you do when it rains? We are fortunate to have only had rain on a few rare occasions, one being my "surprise" 24th birthday weekend that my boyfriend, Justin, (now husband) organized with my childhood best friends. With lake time out of the picture, the hot tub was in full use and the local martini bar (Splash) and sports bar (Lakerz) down the street turned into a self-made karaoke celebration of good music and good times. We also made our way to Miller Park for an afternoon baseball game (and possibly too many strawberry puréed long Island iced teas and Spotted Cows). Needless to say, when the ideal 80s and sunny summer weather isn't cooperating, the fun is not lost with plenty of local options.

Local joints to check out? It's pretty rare to leave the Camp but when we do venture out, it's either for pitchers of margaritas on the Fiesta Cancun patio in downtown Oconomowoc, or you'll likely find us at the Kiltie for a junior chocolate custard sundae complete with chocolate jimmies and a cherry on top. A truly delicious family favorite! Hard to believe my Mom worked there as a teenager- it's a tradition like no other we gladly take advantage of! 

Where to get a fish fry? To be completely honest, we don’t get fish fries as much as we used to. When we were little, we used to go to The Depot, which was this old train station turned into a restaurant. They even had an old train car that you could use for large groups. Their rye bread basket and cod fish fries were delicious. Ever since they closed, we haven’t found another go to place.

Fish that’s prominent in the lake? WALTER! Every year, my brother attempts to catch the largest Carp no one wants in their lake. To this day, we believe "Walter" still resides in Lac La Belle as we see him each year, unable to reel him in.

Lessons learned at the lake? Get out early before the lake gets crowded.  Enjoy that peaceful time in the morning when the water is glass. Cutting the water behind the boat is the perfect way to start the day.