Family Road Trip Guide: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Winter family adventures await just six hours from downtown Detroit

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, has been called the “Hamptons of Chicago.” With its charming resorts, three area lakes, historic mansions and walkable downtown dotted with restaurants, shops and attractions, it’s an all-seasons getaway. Embrace the cold in the first few months of the year by visiting for Winterfest, Ice Castles, skiing, snow tubing and an Abominable Snow Race. Then warm up with a magic show, igloo dining or other memorable activities.

In the summer, enjoy boating, swimming at the beach and a drive-through safari. Venetian Fest in August is fun with a capital F. Lake Geneva comes alive with fireworks, a carnival and water ski show. Any time you visit, it’s sure to be a relaxing retreat with plenty of diversions to keep all family members satisfied.

Getting to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

About 370 miles from the Detroit/Ann Arbor area, expect a six-hour drive to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Take I-94W around the bottom of Lake Michigan, then WI-50 to Lake Geneva.

What families love about Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Winterfest runs Feb. 1-5, 2023, and the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship is the highlight. See teams from around the country create impressive sculptures out of snow and ice around Geneva Lake. Bonfires on the beach with hot cocoa and s’mores and a children’s snow sculpture garden and snow zone make for frosty fun.

An ice sculptor creates during Lake Geneva’s Winterfest. Photo credit:

View 40-plus ice sculptures around downtown on an ice sculpture walk.

Visit the Mountain Top at Grand Geneva Resort and Spa on Feb. 4 for the annual Winter Carnival. Events like human bowling start at 11 a.m. and the day ends with a fireworks finale. You can ski, snowboard, ice skate and sled at this beautiful resort all winter long.

Make sure to book tickets to Ice Castles in advance because this frozen attraction tends to sell out. Hundreds of thousands of icicles form a giant, LED-lit castle with tunnels kids can crawl through, slides even adults go down and other features that will make you gasp in wonder. The Wisconsin location is one of five Ice Castles in the U.S. The company was founded by a father who created the first ice castle for his kids in his own front yard.

Ice Castles in Lake Geneva. Photo credit:

The Abominable Snow Race is Jan. 28, but you need to sign up by Jan. 15 to participate in this icy obstacle competition at Lake Geneva Zipline & Adventure Park. Kids as young as age 4 can take on the challenge. Go with all your gusto to compete for cash and prizes or just chill out and run for fun.

Other snow-season activities include cross country skiing, snowshoeing, snow tubing, fat tire biking and hiking. Rent snowshoes or skis from Clear Water Outdoor and enjoy the hushed exhilaration of traversing across Big Foot Beach State Park in the cold.

Wilmot Mountain is about a 30-minute drive for those who want to snow tube, ski and snowboard some more. Lake Geneva Ziplines & Adventures is open in the winter and also offers fat tire biking in the snow.

Indoor fun includes watching impressive illusions and tricks at the Tristan Crist Magic Theatre or equestrian artistry at The Dancing Horses Theater, and shopping at the adorable Allison Wonderland toy store downtown.

Where to stay in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Grand Geneva Resort & Spa is the grand dame of Lake Geneva. The AAA Four Diamond resort has racked up numerous accolades for its range of accommodations from luxe villas to resort rooms and suites. The bountiful brunches, indoor pool and Adventure Center make for a fabulous visit.

Stay at Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark for giant heated water slides, hot tubs, and a lazy river in the warm indoor water park. On-site restaurants, an arcade and suites with kitchens make it super family friendly.

Lake Lawn Resort on nearby Delavan Lake is an exceptional lakeside getaway on two miles of scenic shoreline. The snowy season offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating while summer shines with outdoor swimming and boating. Nightly bonfires, a heated indoor pool and hot tub keep you cozy. Kids can watch movies, play board games, ping pong and foosball or make crafts at Bucky’s Playhouse. Test your luck at the arcade. Parents can escape to Calladora Spa for a HydraFacial or PURE FIJI body treatment to truly pamper themselves.

Where to eat in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

I simply adore healthy, homemade Simple Café. Treat yourself to the artisan baked goods or take some home from the attached market.

Photo credit: Cortney Fries

Oakfire Pizza is exceptional for its wood-fired pizzas, salads and views of the lake. Kids get a kick out of the Mickey-shaped pizza served with fruit.

For a special meal, head to the Geneva Chophouse. Savor steaks, seafood, chops, wine and cocktails in an upscale ambiance. There’s even a young adult’s menu for those who appreciate shrimp, filet or mac ‘n cheese.

Pier 290 is a fun lakeside restaurant with igloos and live music. Kids eat free before 6 p.m. every day. Don’t miss the new Dinner & Concert Series with performances in January, February and March.

1878 on the Lake recently opened at Lake Lawn Resort, serving up fancy Midwestern fare and panoramic lakeside views.

The Lookout Bar & Eatery is a nice choice, especially for dining on the outdoor patio in summer. My teenage son tried to tackle the Ball Park Jumbo Pretzel and could not take it all down. I enjoyed a lovely salmon dish on a bed of asparagus and mashed potatoes.

Ball Park Jumbo Pretzel. Photo credit: Cortney Fries

Strolling downtown Lake Geneva, you’ll definitely want to sample your way through all the tasty treats. Stop at Kilwins for fudge and Scoops for ice cream. There’s a froyo place, bakeries and plenty of other options to satisfy your sweet tooth.

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