By Kate Vollrath
July often takes the glory for peak summer fun in Elkhart Lake. It is the time when everyone mingles in the village and near the water. Catching up with childhood friends that really feel more like family at this point and with relatives who have had babies since you last saw them are highlights of the month. There are even parades when the village population astronomically multiplies. (I’m not sure by how much, but if you happen to meet a long-standing resident who lives in the village center, they have probably done the math.)
There is no shortage of cocktail parties, only a slight shortage of sleep as the number of social commitments climbs. The thermometer in the lake begins to climb too. My cousins joke that there’s about a two-week period in the summer when the elder family members deem the lake temperature “perfect”. In early June it’s a little cold and by the time July rolls around it starts heating up. As soon as someone announces “it’s perfect” after jumping in, the temperature reaches the bathwater stage, just slightly warmer than refreshing.
The trick is, if you dip below the surface and swim a little bit deeper down, you always find a cold patch in that spring fed goodness even on the hottest days. The lake is modest in acreage, but mighty in depth. I’ve always loved plunging into the water throughout summer and noticing the temperature shifts from week to week, noticeably dropping after a rainstorm or a stretch of chilly nights or entering bathwater status after a series of scorching afternoons.
Now that the lake has warmed enough even for those who are a little hesitant, there’s something you should keep in mind when visiting – Sunday is the lake’s day to shine. What sets this day apart from all other days of the week is that no motorized boats are operated. It’s a special opportunity for the swimmers, the paddlers, the sailors, the readers, the sun bathers to do as the lake does – unwind, let things settle, travel slowly (if at all) and intentionally. It’s the day to dip a toe in and watch your very own ripple travel across the whole body of water. It’s your chance to watch the clouds twice – once in the sky and then again in the reflection on the lake’s surface.
The goal? To be near, on, or in the water as many hours as possible. Consider it a day to only come indoors for sustenance and more SPF. Better yet, pack those items with you on your small non-motorized watercraft. A kayak, canoe, or paddle board is perfect, but anything that keeps you afloat – a tube, noodle, life jacket – is also wonderful to experience. If you’re a strong swimmer, it is highly recommended to use nothing but your own limbs to travel out into the water and allow yourself to float. Get out into the deep end and let your arms, head, feet all align. It’s as though minutes stretch longer when you take a moment to feel weightless and stare up into the sky.
Fishermen can experience less traffic and a more laid-back atmosphere while casting. (Be sure you have the proper license if you drop a line into Elkhart Lake). The calm water allows treasure hunters and goggle wearers to have the clearest views to the bottom, and it’s the best day to have luck in finding that pair of shades you lost off the end of the pier or at the beach. Everyone can enjoy watching the sailboats and how they travel by way of wind from one shore to the other.
Locals cherish this window of slowness to come down from the weekend reverie, but because this village can’t hold off from gathering for too long, by late afternoon you can expect people to pull themselves away from the sun to enjoy the live band at The Shore Club Tiki Bar.
The band starts up at 4:00 p.m. on Sundays. Live music helps ward off the Sunday scaries that seem to feel extra scary this time of year. If you can’t bring yourself to leave the water just yet, let the tunes travel to wherever you are floating.
In a world that often spins too fast for our liking, you can rely on the timeless tradition of no wake Sundays on Elkhart Lake to slow down at least this little corner of the world. It’s an enchanting time of reset for the lake and is sacred for those who wait all week to baptize themselves in the undisturbed water. Sunday casts a spell like no other day can. The water all around you glitters, and you will too.
Kate Vollrath was born and raised in Elkhart Lake. After several years of working and adventuring in Anchorage, Alaska and a year studying in Italy, she has returned to her favorite freshwater shoreline. Wisconsin will always be home. The incredible local culture, extraordinary community, and summer Sundays on the water are what keep her rooted and returning no matter where life takes her.