Fishing & Boating in the Northwoods


The Heidel House Resort on Green Lake

heidel house sign

GI have looked all over the area within 100 miles or so of the Fox Valley area (Illinois) for an out-of-the-way place to go for a weekend retreat in the dead of winter. Guess I just didn’t look quite far or quite hard enough. Boy, do I have a place to recommend to you. It is only about 165 miles north of the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois and it has just become one of my favorite destinations. And so, this is the story of my trip to Green Lake, Wisconsin.

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Return to Green Lake

When I was about 10 years old, a business associate of my father invited our family up to spend a weekend at his cottage on Green Lake, Wisconsin. That was where I first learned to water ski. My clearest memory – remember, I was only 10 – was that of my mother warning me to not fall off of the skis because, as she put it: “The lake has no bottom and you’d be gone forever!” I was too scared to fall but I did have a great time and have loved water skiing ever since. I have often wondered why I never returned to Green Lake.

Recently I was given the opportunity to return to Green Lake – again as a guest – and I jumped at the chance. It is certainly not as close as Lake Delevan or Lake Geneva but is within a reasonable distance in terms of driving time from the Chicago suburbs and has for some time now been on our list of “excursion” destinations.

We took all of the back roads we could find on the map and still the trip from the suburbs only took a bit less than 3 ½ hours. It was an incredibly easy and relaxing drive, and the roads were virtually empty. In fact, what we mostly saw were dairy cattle, horses, and beautifully empty spaces with gently rolling hills, enroute to our selected destination for the trip: the Heidel House Resort.

heidel house entrance

Some Heidel House History

A little history would be in order here: the resort dates to 1873 when a Civil War hero, Brigadier General Mason Brayman built the original Grey Rock. Edward Morris of Chicago and his wife Helen Swift (Swift Meat Packing) bought the property in 1899, and in 1949 son Edward Jr. built the mansion that stands there now, which in 1989 was converted to an intimate lakeside dining facility.

In fact, it’s touted as one of the top restaurants in the state of Wisconsin. I’ll let you know; I’m having dinner there Saturday. The Heidel House welcomed its first guests on New Year’s Eve of 1945. In 1980, a building known as Mariner’s Lodge was completely renovated and included an indoor swimming pool, sauna, fitness center and game room.

A new Conference Center – able to accommodate up to 350 guests – was finished in 1989. And in 1992 the Heidel House unveiled a new main lodge next to the Conference Center. The whole resort encompasses about 20 acres and can offer just about anything you would require – in any of four seasons – in a resort facility.

suite and fireplace at the heidel house


I had called and requested an early check-in, so when we arrived at 1:30 pm, our room was ready and waiting for us. It was a suite on the southeast corner of the 3rd floor with a spectacular view of the lake. The view was breathtaking. I can only imagine what it looks like in the other three seasons.

There was also a small bar and wet bar, fridge, and microwave. And the room also boasted a large boardroom table – obviously great for an actual board meeting – but perfect for me to spread out all my materials and set up the laptop for writing… especially with the view of the lake! And if I got a little chilly, there was always the gas fireplace at the far end of the room.

After a short conversation with and very warm welcome from Chad – the Director of Marketing – we set out on a little discovery tour.

view of green lake from lobby area

Boat House Lounge and Eatery

Back at the Heidel House, took a hot shower and decided to try the fish fry at one of the three restaurants on-site. Called the Boat House Lounge and Eatery, the restaurant serves the typical pub-type fare such as burgers, sandwiches, and pizza as well as a wide variety of domestic and specialty beers.

I’m sure that the place really rocks during the summer months; yet the restaurant was fairly empty. Even so, the service was still excellent. We ordered a calamari appetizer, and both requested the Friday Fish Fry – it was “all you can eat” and therefore hard to pass up. The calamari ap’ was a bit small side but accompanied by a great horseradish sauce and the combo was excellent.

As the fading early January light cast long shadows across an as-yet-unfrozen lake and the last sips of my martini passed my lips, I noticed the first of my tightened neck muscles beginning to unknot.

The simple yet tasty morsels of our main course of Alaskan Pollack, crispy fries and creamy slaw were the perfect start to what was to become one of the finest, most enjoyable 48-hour periods I have had in a long time. The exclamation point on that thought came as we returned to the room to find the bed had been turned down and some chocolate mints were awaiting us.

bloddy mary

The blanket was sandwiched neatly between two sheets – one of the many small but important details that were constant reminders of the excellent service and pampering available at the Heidel House Resort.

Saturday Morning: Sustenance in the Sunroom

I awoke Saturday morning just before sun-up. The morning light shimmered across the lake, but some clouds had started to move in, painting the morning sky serene and musty gray in color. We took our time in getting dressed. After all, this was a weekend getaway and the huge terrycloth robes were warm and luxurious. No need to rush. Our plan for the day was to head over to Ripon and check out a few sights; it was only a 10-minute drive from the resort.

But first, we needed sustenance. We headed to the Lobby level of the resort and our destination: The Sunroom. It is aptly titled; the entire length of the restaurant is glass that faces south and overlooks Green Lake. The Bloody Mary was picture-perfect and tasted even better (thanks Laura!). The reputation of the “best Bloody Mary on the Lake is well-deserved.

We enjoyed excellent service and even better breakfasts. I ordered Corn-Beef Hash and Heidi opted for the Eggs Benedict. Both breakfasts were outstanding, and service was with a smile. The coffee was hot and as I sipped it and let my mind drift out across the lake, I couldn’t help but think: “This is reeeeeaally livin’.

ice crystals on the lake

Short Shoreline Tour and a Sauna

Shards of ice danced in the water and tinkled eerily – almost like wind chimes – as the waves gently pushed and pulled the frigid waters against the shoreline. It was serene, quiet, and beautiful. I can only imagine how the scene and the colors would change with the seasons.

The shoreline is packed with oaks, hard maples, and Catalpa trees. After taking the “Heidel Hike” – a self-guided tour of the resort grounds – we returned to our room, changed into our bathing suits, and headed for the pool to shake the winter chill. When we got there, it was actually somewhat crowded – I think it was a birthday party or something.

pool area

We instead enjoyed a hot sauna and relaxed a bit in one of the two spas available. There is also an area by the pool where one can actually sit under sun lamps. Upstairs of the pool area is a fitness room. As we headed back to our room to shower and dress for dinner, we noticed that a light snow had begun to fall.

grey rock mansion

Dinner at the Grey Rock

Heidi and I had a 7:00 dinner reservation at the Grey Rock Mansion, a totally separate building about 20 meters west of the part of the resort known as the Northwoods Guest Rooms. The cold night air felt good on my face as we hurried across the open space.

Stepping through the front door of the Grey Rock, one is immediately aware of an almost austere, yet warm and inviting ambience that beckons you inside and bids you welcome. We checked with the hostess and asked if we might enjoy a cocktail in front of the huge fireplace and marble hearth framed by tall vases filled with dried prairie grasses.

The bar area had a great view out over the Lake (is there any place here that doesn’t have a great view?) and I bet that it is unsurpassed during the days with more daylight hours.
Stepping outside after dinner, it was so quiet we could almost hear the snowflakes as they frittered their way down through the remaining few leaves on the oak trees.

Read about our complete dining experience at the Grey Rock here.

eggs benedict and smoked salmon

One Last and Excellent Breakfast

All too soon it was time to pack up and head back to reality, but not before I had one last breakfast in the Sunroom – complete with a Seafood Bloody Mary this time – and some of the best smoked salmon I have tasted.

Once again, Heidi partook of the Eggs Benedict, commenting on their perfect doneness and piquant lemon taste of the Hollandaise sauce. No mistake about it, the food is exquisite, and the venue is superb. And as sure as I am that May is a good time for daytrips and excursions, so too I believe that early January is just as good a time for a day or two of quality downtime.
The opportunity for a winter respite could not have come at a better time and The Heidel House Resort was the perfect place for our excursion.

My Only Disappointment

Granted, it was early January, but I was surprised at what seemed to be almost a deserted resort. (In case you haven’t figured it out from my previous excursions, that’s exactly the way I like it.) I almost hesitate to tell anyone about it. But this place is so perfect, I’d feel bad if I didn’t tell you. I am sure that the summer would offer more activities… if that’s what you desire.

There are more things to do here – in all four seasons – than you could ever imagine. But whether you are looking for a place to host a business meeting, or a birthday party, or a wedding or a place to simply unwind by yourselves, life is way too short to pass up an opportunity like this – no matter what time of year. My only disappointment of the whole weekend… was that I had to leave!

Special kudos are certainly in order for all of the fine staff at the Heidel House, from housekeeping to bartenders to servers to the executive chef and to anyone else I may have failed to mention.
Thank-you all for your warm hospitality. I will definitely plan a return trip to the Heidel House Resort.

R. Karl


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R. Karl

Angler, Author & Epicure

Fishing since the age of eight.  Seriously writing since the age of 16. Chef and foodie from the age of 22 years… and counting. So much to learn and so little time. I have enjoyed every minute of it all.  Whether on the water (where I like it best), in the kitchen, or at the keyboard, churning out content, I feel like I have found my place.  I am sharing it with you in the hope that some of what I love to do will rub off on you. I hope to see you On the Lake!

R. Karl