KEEP IT SIMPLE

Summer Lake Towns 2009

Retreat to an easygoing American lake town, where you can find simple, affordable pleasures—fishing, hiking, bumper cars, and old-fashioned desserts. We've picked eight we love; chances are, there's a similar one near you.

Anderson Dock, Ephraim, Wis.
Anderson Dock, Ephraim, Wis. (Courtesy Door County Visitor Bureau)

EPHRAIM, WIS.
on LAKE MICHIGAN

In a nod to the area's Scandinavian roots, the small town of Ephraim has many lakefront restaurants that still host nightly fish fries, a tradition brought here by immigrants from Norway. The combination of freshly caught lake fish, onions, and red potatoes is served up in style at the Old Post Office Restaurant, where cooks scoop the fish from cast-iron kettles heated over an open fire in the backyard. At dusk, take in one of the best sunset views from the deck of Scuppers, a red-sailed boat captained by Tom Schroeder of Bella Sailing Cruises, which operates out of South Shore Pier (920/854-2628, two-hour cruise $30). Captain Tom can ferry you across Eagle Harbor to see the squat Eagle Bluff Lighthouse at Peninsula State Park, celebrating its centennial this year. For more active pursuits on the water, Door County Kayak Tours leads six daily lake tours from Egg Harbor, which include a brief kayaking lesson and transportation to and from the point of embarkation (920/344-6641, doorcountykayaktours.com, $48 per person). If going it alone is more your style, rent a kayak from the Ephraim Kayak Center, on Eagle Harbor (920/854-4336, from $12 per hour). Rainy-day fun for the whole family can be had at the Hands On Art Studio; kids can make their own jewelry or paint ceramics. Visiting in June? Hit the Fyr Bal Festival, held each year near the summer solstice, with music, fish boils, and beachfront bonfires intended to rid the lake of the "winter witch."

Where to refuel Since its founding Ephraim has prohibited the sale of alcohol, so the only microbrew you'll find is the homemade root beer at Wilson's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor. Have it blended into a "frosty" with vanilla ice cream (920/854-2041, wilsonsicecream.com, from $4.50).
Where to stay In the historic district, the white clapboard Eagle Harbor Inn is the kind of place where guests relax in Adirondack chairs scattered on the lawn. (920/854-2121, eagleharborinn.com, from $98).
Easy escape from Green Bay, Wis. (73 miles).

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.
on SENECA LAKE

The Finger Lakes region of New York State has developed a reputation for wine, especially crisp whites. Three wine trails wind around the long, narrow bodies of water that give the region its name, carved out millennia ago by retreating glaciers. A good place to start is the handsome town of Watkins Glen, at the extreme southern tip of Lake Seneca—within easy driving distance of 35 different wineries producing good Rieslings and Chardonnays. If that sounds too highfalutin, head to Watkins Glen International, a racetrack that hosts NASCAR every August; in September there's a classic-car grand prix featuring machines dating back to the 1930s. Exploring the lake is easy, as several companies offer cruises. You'll feel the wind in your hair on the deck of the sleek sailboat operated by Seneca Sailing Adventures. It holds just six passengers, and leaves twice a day for three-hour cruises (607/742-5100, senecasailingadventures.com, from $50 per person). If you're a hiker or mountain biker, try Finger Lakes National Forest, between Seneca and and Cayuga lakes, where 30 miles of trails pass through gorges, ravines, and woodlands. Keep an eye out for birds like the red-tailed American kestrel. Kids can get close to tamer animals—goats, sheep, turkeys, and other relatively mellow farm dwellers—at the 175-acre Farm Sanctuary (607/583-2225, farmsanctuary.org, $3, kids $1). Rent a canoe or kayak at Summit to Stream Adventures, which also leads guided tours through the Queen Catherine Marsh, an 882-acre wetland (607/535-2701, summittostream.com, kayak or canoe rental $25 per day).

Where to refuel The Wildflower Café is a cute store in downtown Watkins Glen; you can sample microbrews from Rooster Fish Brewing. Locals say the pizzas, like the pepperoni-topped "rooster pie," are delicious (607/535-9797, roosterfishbrewing.com, pizzas from $7).
Where to stay The Idlwilde Inn is a grand Victorian building with a turret and a wraparound porch (607/535-3081, idlwildeinn.com, from $95).
Easy escape from Ithaca, N.Y. (38 miles), or Binghamton, N.Y. (80 miles).

SCHOOL'S OUT…

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