Squaw Lake + Minocqua, WI
After a quarter-mile drive down a winding, gravel lane surrounded by trees, we pull in. I jump from the car – barefoot from the long drive – and I start to run through the yard. I can still feel the soft sand-like dirt on my feet. I hear my feet hitting the wet pavement as I run down the hill towards the lake. My feet thump on the boards of the pier my grandfather made by hand. I reach the end, look around at the towering pines and take a deep breath – I have finally made it to the cabin.
Squaw Lake has been my sanctuary for the last 30 years. My grandparents wanted a place to get away during the summer and to create a retreat for the future grandchildren. They found a small cabin built in 1925 on a tannin-colored lake with sandy shorelines and a perfect view of the sunset. The cabin was the first one built for Squaw Lake Resort and sits next to the original main lodge. My first visit to the cabin was the spring of 1988 while I was still in my mother’s stomach. No matter where I am, I always want to be at the cabin. The Northwoods are forever ingrained in me.
Closest major city & airport:
· The lake has a seaplane base, if you know how to fly you can land right on the lake!
· Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport RHI is about 50 miles away for domestic flights into the region.
Distance to nearest grocery store?
· LDF Country Market – This market is about 13 miles from the lake and is located on the reservation near Lake of the Torches Casino.
· County Line Gas Station – This place is about 12 miles from the lake and is always our pit stop for bait, fishing licenses and New Glarus!
· Trig’s in Minocqua – Located 20 miles from Squaw Lake is Trig’s. As a child, Trig’s was the only store around before the area got built up. Every time I pass this place it brings such a feeling of excitement because to me it means I am almost there!
Reasons the lake is important to you and your family?
The trees. Fresh air. The northern wind. Loons. Sitting by the fire. The yellow chair. Watching my grandpa work in his shed. Fish jumping at night. The orange porch swing. Watching my grandma through the kitchen window making dinner. The sudden quiet of the snow on the frozen lake. Walking down the lane. Bunk beds. Creaky, slanted floors. All of these fragmented memories are what make this place important.
Favorite lake activities/foods/traditions?
· Activities – Water activities are a must – throw a chair in the lake and have a seat. Watch as the boaters go by and hear the kids screaming as they experience tubing for the first time. Swimming in the lake is as relaxing as it gets – except when the seaweed touches your ankles…then you scream for your grandpa who gets into the lake with a rake and clears the area!
· Foods – There is nothing like a fish fry from your catch of the day. My grandma’s homemade onion rings bring us running up from the pier so quick we have them finished before our meal! My favorite chips come from Trig’s – they are in a yellow box made by Rhinelander – they just remind me of childhood and the cabin.
· Traditions – Every time we arrive at the cabin we honk our horns as we drive down the gravel lane. This gives my grandparents enough warning to come out, wave and give us hugs as soon as we get there!
What do you do when it rains?
Being right on the lake, you know the weather can take a turn pretty quickly! Watching a sheet of rain come across the lake mixed with booming, echoing thunder is an amazing experience. After that, we usually hit the casino or shop! Dominos and card games (Kings Corner) are also a go-to when the cabin is full of family. I personally enjoy reading or taking a nap on the porch swing listening to the rain hit the lake.
Local places to check out?
· Downtown Minocqua
Cheese Board – Taste test all the cheese!
Uncommon Scents – So many fun soaps and lotions!
Parkside Gallery – The artist is SO incredibly talented. He did an amazing painting of the T-Bird Bridge. He works on a new painting every year so we enjoy stopping in to see his newest creation.
Gaslight Square Shoppes – This building is awesome! So many little boutique style shops. The entire upstairs is antiques. We spend at least an hour or two here every visit.
· Smith Rapids Covered Bridge, Park Falls – Take a ride down a rustic road to view this beautiful covered bridge constructed in 1991. We have visited this bridge every year since it was built – my sister had her senior pictures taken here! If you are brave, you can climb down the side and walk the shoreline if the water isn’t up too high. A beautiful and serene spot for a quick visit.
· St. Germain Flea Market, St. Germain – This is my favorite Monday activity while up north. This flea market is open Monday 8am – 3pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It’s huge and has vendors winding through the forest. It is just an amazing thing to experience from fresh veggies, to crafts – definitely a must-see!
· Wildwood Wildlife Park, Minocqua – Fun way to spend the day with kids – feed a giraffe, give a bear some juice, pet a deer, or take a safari ride. This is an up-close and personal experience with the wildlife animals. I have many memories here as a child– like getting my bottle stolen by a deer or my knee bitten by a goose!
· St. Croix Factory Store, Park Falls – If you have time to take a little ride, a visit to the St. Croix Factory Store is needed. These are the “Best Rods on Earth” and you get to experience the care that goes into making them. They offer tours of the factory throughout the week where you can see the rods throughout the process.
Where to get a fish fry OR favorite/local foods/drinks?
· Crickets Pub & Café, Lac Du Flambeau – Most people will pass this place up as it looks a little rundown from the road, but this is my absolute favorite place to go for burgers or fish fry. The owners are welcoming and the place is humble.
· Northwoods Supper Club, Fifield – About 30 minutes down Hwy 70 is this gem. A typical rustic supper club with a great salad bar. Everything is homemade and the host makes you feel welcome. Their Friday night fish-fry is the best and definitely worth the drive out.
· Little Bohemia, Manitowish Waters – John Dillinger's hideout! Such an amazing place with incredible history – from the bullet holes in the windows to the tall eerie pines that line the lodge who could tell great stories about old gangsters having shoot-outs around them. Johnny Depp filmed the movie Public Enemies here so they gained a lot of recognition. This is a stop for us every summer.
· Norwood Pines, Minocqua – A beautiful supper club in Minocqua. The lodge gives you a warm vibe as soon as you enter. The fish fry is amazing, but there is usually a wait – so grab a drink and take in the ambience! The sound of happy families enjoying each others company and the amazing smells keep you coming back for more!
· McGregor’s Blink Bonnie Supper Club, St. Germain – Best old-fashioned you’ll find in the Northwoods! They bring your steak out still sizzling and your mouth starts watering immediately. This place is small so they can have up to a 1-2 hour wait in the summer. It’s definitely a place to check out but just be aware of the wait!
· Lake of the Torches Casino, LDF –On Saturday they have an All You Can Eat Seafood Buffet – CRAB LEGS! They have fresh peel and eat shrimp, oysters, fresh caught fish, and so much more. The price is definitely worth it.
Resorts on the lake?
· Birch Trail – This resort is tucked right along the west shores of the lake and has 5 cabins open year round. A great family owns and operates Birch Trail. The resort offers a beach, canoes, paddle and fishing boats, play area for the kids, fire pit, volleyball, and an activity room. The cabins are kept immaculate and are warm and inviting. This is our go-to resort for extended family and friends!
· Sandy Point Resort and Disc Golf – Sandy Point sits at the top cove of the lake and offers 7 beautiful cabins. The cabins are on a hilltop in the woods but the shoreline is amazing! I was always jealous riding by on the boat as a little girl – huge floats in the water, towels on the line, boats, disc golf – this place just seemed to have everything you would want in a Northwoods retreat!
· Whispering Woods Cottages – These cottages are found on the west side of the lake in a quiet little bay. They have 4 cottages, a beach, rafts, a swingset, and canoes or boats for rent. This place has a great view of the lake and is a nice family spot.
Fish prominent in the lake?
The water is tannin colored so I have found that green nightcrawlers pull a decent amount of fish out of the water. Most common is small panfish like bluegill and perch – perfect for a fish fry! The lake also holds decent sized walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike and musky.
My boyfriend is a fly fisherman while I am conventional and we both come out pretty even after a day on the lake. My grandparents and I enjoy rigging a bottom bouncer and drifting to catch walleye. Although I am never very lucky, I have caught a pike off our pier (it only took me an entire summer!) I have yet to get a musky, though people claim we have them!
There are many weedy points, rocky coves, and fish cribs that are found on the lake. We have a crib directly out from our pier about 100 yards. The way we find it is eyeballing from the right corner of the pier and aligning with the two birch trees on the shoreline…it works every time, just ask my grandpa!
Lessons learned at the lake?
· Slow down. Be calm. Be present. Take in your surroundings.
· Smile. Make memories. Your time at the lake is precious.
· Breathe deeply. There’s no greater smell than the Northwoods.