Yes, “Up North” is real: 24 hours in Eagle River: Part 1

Growing up in the Midwest, you hear talk of a mythical and magical place called “Up North.” Your friends would come back from their summer vacations with stories of days on the lake and nights by a campfire. Of homemade fudge and running wild in the woods while their parents mixed Old Fashioneds in the cabin. Maybe your college gang crammed themselves (and multiple coolers) into cars and caravanned Up North to vibe for long weekends. While the exact geographic location wasn’t necessarily specified, wherever it was, you wanted to go!

Well, good news: Eagle River is that magical place. Up North is real! And summer is when it’s most alive. So, if you have 24 hours to spare, we have a summer itinerary that will let you pack maximum magic into a quick weekend trip. Get ready for biking through boreal forests, delightfully decadent old school candy, and the best grasshoppers you’ve ever had (the drink—not the bug)!

Eagle River Roasters
A person wearing a life jacket sits on a boat looking at the lake and surrounding trees under a partly cloudy sky.

The Trip

We planned this trip intending it to be a jam-packed day of activity, starting early and ending in the evening. However, a stay-over may be advised (especially after dinnertime cocktails). We spent the night at the Best Western Derby Inn, but there are plentiful options depending on your adventure– from log cabin to glamping under the stars.

It was an action-packed day which started EARLY, so naturally, that meant grabbing some coffee. We walked to The Friendship House Family Restaurant for breakfast. The first thing that struck us as was how weirdly busy it seemed, especially for an early Tuesday morning. Almost every table was full, and just as I was wondering if some sort of convention was in town, I watched a waitress flit from table to table, greeting everyone by name. Pretty much everyone was a regular. The aptly named restaurant was a community unto itself, as we observed over bacon and eggs. The word “wholesome” does not even begin to describe it. Coupled with the great service and menu, this put The Friendship House at about 11 on a scale of 10 for recommended stops.

After filling up on an obscene amount of eggs, carbs and griddle-fried protein, we wanted to ease into some physical activity. Mini-golf at Eagle Falls Adventure Golf and Laser Tag was the perfect solution.  We were the first ones there when it opened, thankfully, so nobody witnessed me take something like nine increasingly exasperated shots to get the ball in on a par 3. The course had a retro-kitsch Up North Wisconsin theme, replicating a 1950s fishing camp. It was super fun and engaging, and – despite testing the limits of my sanity on that one hole – kept my partner and I battling until the bitter end. (And, as a side note, I must say I got TWO holes in one and he got NONE). Hot Tip: If you ace the last hole, you win a free round of golf.

Having sufficiently stoked our competitive juices, we were ready for something a little calmer. We moved on to hiking.  We chose the Three Eagles Trail, which begins just behind the Dairy Queen in downtown Eagle River. It runs 11.25 miles through woods and marshland to the village of Three Lakes. Since our schedule was tight, we hiked two miles in and doubled back. However, in that short time we did have an amazing experience: IMMACULATE silence. The trail was so pristine and the quiet so complete, it was an honest-to-God escape from humanity, and I loved it. After soaking in that wonderful solitude about half an hour, we might have been ready to give up on society and stay out there… if lunchtime hunger pangs hadn’t started hitting us. Back to civilization we went.

We ended up at Sweetwater Spirits on Duck Lake. Sweetwater screams summer. For visitors in search of a fun patio with games and a beach and even a dock for boats, this place is it. We sat outside, partially because we were concerned about bothering other patrons with our fresh-out-of-the-woods aroma, but mostly to enjoy the cool air by the lake. We discussed on how great it would be to come here with a group of friends and have drinks while battling it out over lawn games. As we pondered, the staff served up big bloodies and massive burgers, which absolutely hit home after the heavenly hike and hotly contested round of mini golf. The fries were crispy, the drinks refreshing, and the vibes: fantastic. This is Up North.

Check out part 2: biking, boating, shopping and the crown jewel of up north life, the supper club

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