DESTINATION: Welcome to the Waupaca Chain O’ Lakes Area!
Published: Monday, June 10, 2019
Nestled among pristine spring-fed lakes, this beautiful tourism destination boasts endless outdoor recreational opportunities, a unique shopping scene, an assortment of dining to please every palate, and comfortable lodging facilities and campgrounds. With a solid business community, a diverse friendly populace, and a natural playground all around, it’s no wonder so many find the Waupaca Area so irresistible!
The Waupaca area, along with the Chain O'Lakes, were long home to the Menominee Indian tribe. The Waupaca River's falls and the nearby lakes provided an abundance of water, vegetation, and wildlife. For many years, the Menominee moved around the area as the seasons changed, traveling from their village, likely on Otter Lake, to local camping grounds.
In 1848, a federal treaty relinquished the last of their lands, including Waupaca. In June 1849, five men from Vermont claimed land along the Waupaca River at what is now the city of Waupaca. These early settlers came to Waupaca looking for "The Falls" that they'd heard so much about. Eventually, the settlement took its name from a Menominee word meaning "the quality of the light, or morning light on the water."
Waupaca steadily grew around the water, harnessing the power of the falls and welcoming many more settlers, including many Danish and Scandinavian immigrants.
Located in Waupaca County, Wisconsin, Waupaca is the county seat and is situated at the intersections of U.S. Highway 10 and Wisconsin State Highways 22, 49, and 54. The City of Waupaca’s population is just over 6,000 but the Waupaca area supports a service area of over 30,000 people within a 15-mile radius of the city. Likewise, that number jumps to over 45,000 during the peak tourism season of Memorial Day through Labor Day.
What draws so many visitors to Waupaca? The waters. The Waupaca Chain O’ Lakes consist of 22 interconnected spring-fed lakes that offer a multitude of options to explore every square inch. There are opportunities for paddling, speedboating and waterskiing, fishing, or a tranquil, easy pontoon ride. There are also two cruise options on the chain: the Chief Waupaca – a double decker sternwheeler – or the Lady of the Lakes yacht, both offer narrated tours and dining trips. You will be amazed by the beautiful aqua-blue color and cleanliness of the lakes, and equally impressed with the sunsets that glow into the evening.
The Chain O’ Lakes empties into the Crystal River, which offers a serene, moving-water paddling option. There are many other lakes and rivers in the greater Waupaca area that offer a place to enjoy the water in a variety of watercraft, tubing, or swimming. Adventure Outfitters, LLC can set you up with gear or a complete, guided outdoor recreation trip. There are boat rentals available from various locations on the Chain.
Lodging is available at a number of levels. Waupaca is home to three branded hotels, a number of bed and breakfast homes, and vacation rental units. Camping is another option with several campgrounds in the area. Waupaca proudly boasts Hartman Creek State Park. This 1,500-acre facility offers campsites, multi-use trails, biking, hiking, swimming, fishing, horseback riding trails, and paddling. Many city- and county-owned and operated parks can be found in the Waupaca area; many of the Waupaca City Parks are connected by The River Ridge Trail.
Waupaca has a beautiful Main Street and downtown area. There are boutiques, gift shops, and specialty stores in both the Waupaca and King/Chain O’ Lakes area. There are also large grocery and discount type stores (and yes, we have a Kmart!) and a specialty butcher shop to get that perfect item for grilling. During the summer, you’ll be able to purchase fresh produce at a number of outlets and farmer’s markets. You’ll also want to check out the Red Mill along the Crystal River. This 1855 grist mill has been converted into a beautiful gift shop, coffee shop, and restaurant that offers seating overlooking the river. Grab an ice cream cone and take a walk across the covered bridge to the little chapel in the woods.
The Wisconsin Veterans Home at King is a skilled nursing facility for our heroic veterans that is located on the Chain O’ Lakes. The facility is a great place to visit – especially during a number of special events they host – in addition to the museum and a gift shop that sells items made by the residents. During the summer months, you can catch a Chain Skiers water-ski show on Rainbow Lake just out from the Veterans Home.
So many great dining facilities exist in the Waupaca area. The Wheelhouse is a year-round tradition for pizza and other great entrées along with many unique events. Clear Water Harbor offers lakeside seating for great food and drinks and hosts many live bands in the summer months. The Indian Crossing Casino is a large dance hall built in 1925 and offers waterfront dining and many music events throughout the summer. The early definition of casino is “gathering place” so, no, this is not a gambling facility. Other dining options include Magdalene’s Italian Restaurant, Par 4 Resort, Three Squares Restaurant, Little Fat Gretchen’s, The Secret Garden Café, Johnson’s Waupaca Woods Restaurant, T-Dubs Pub, J.R.’s Sportsman’s Grill (and Deer Park), and Simpson’s Restaurant – a three generation family supper club tradition since 1932. And there are so many more options!
There are many places to wet your whistle, but in the fall of 2018, two craft breweries opened in Waupaca: 22 Lakes and H.H. Hinder.
Golfing is available in the area with a number of courses; however, you’ll want to check out Tom Thumb Mini Golf located on the Chain O’ Lakes. This old school mini golf facility offers customer boat parking, tasty treats from the ‘snack shack’, and has been a Chain O’ Lakes tradition since 1959!
The Waupaca Historical Society, headquartered in downtown Waupaca on Main Street, strives to preserve our rich history while educating and informing the public. Facilitates include the Holly History Center, Waupaca Train Depot, Hutchinson House Museum, and King Cottage. Visit these buildings and let them help you discover Waupaca's past.
Waupaca - Where Memories are Made!
For more information, visit www.WaupacaMemories.com or call 715-258-7343 or visit the Waupaca Area Convention and Visitor Bureau, 221 S. Main Street, Waupaca, WI 54981. Follow us on Facebook at I Love Waupaca.
Photos courtesy of Craig Libuse, Noah Lencki, and Waupaca Area Convention & Visitor Bureau
Take the short trip to Waupaca - you won’t be disappointed.
- 127 miles (2-1/2 hours) northwest of Milwaukee
- 90 miles (2 hours) north of Madison
- 210 miles (3-1/2) hours) northwest of Chicago
- 240 miles (4 hours) east of Minneapolis/St. Paul
- 30 minutes east of I-39
- 40 minutes west of I-41
Waupaca Area 2019 Events:
- May 19 - Wisconsin Veterans Home Open House
- June 15 - Strawberry Fest
- June 15 & 16 - Model Train Show
- July 4 - Parade and Fireworks
- August 15 & 16 - Arts on the Square
- August 17 - Waupaca Area Triathlon
- September 6 - Rotary’s Oktoberfest
- October 4 & 5 - Chain O’ Lakes Blues Festival
- October 5 - Autumn Harvest Fest
- November 23 - Deer Widows Weekend Craft Shows
- November 30 - Small Business Saturday
This article first appeared in the Launch Issue (May/Jun) 2019 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.