Kelly Riordan Peterson says she will never forget the moment that she and then fiancé, Isak, decided to make the iconic resort village of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, the destination for their dream wedding.
To say it was magic is an understatement.
“We drove up to visit The Osthoff Resort and fell in love with the whole town. We were so impressed that Isak looked at me and said, ‘hey let’s get married here’,” she says. “We both got a little teary eyed because it was so perfect.”
The Wisconsin couple envisioned a formal, black-tie wedding in a fairy tale waterfront setting—one where they could also host a series of intimate weekend events for their guests, many who were flying in from around the country.
Peterson says they got everything they dreamed of and more when she and Isak were married in Elkhart Lake last October.
“I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to us and said it was the most elegant wedding they’ve ever been to,” says Peterson, explaining that she worked with The Osthoff Resort Wedding Coordinator, Lori Urban, on managing all the details with local vendors, down to the formal place settings and candlelit tables. “Our goal was to do more than just get married. We also wanted to make it a weekend-long celebration with all the incredible people who loved and supported us throughout our lives.”
With events hosted at various restaurants and locations throughout the village, she says they were able to spend quality time connecting with all their friends and family.
“Everything felt really special,” she adds. “It is definitely a weekend we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.
TOP WEDDING DESTINATION
Located about two hours northwest of the North Shore, Elkhart Lake has been a glamorous retreat for elite Chicagoans (think steamer trunks and designer hats) since the late 1800s. With pristine beaches, luxury resorts, and an abundance of natural beauty, it’s also now quickly becoming one of the most sought-after wedding destinations in the Midwest.
The jewel of the destination (and the thing that has been drawing “resorters” here for more than a century) is Elkhart Lake itself. Literally carved from ancient glaciers in the heart of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, the 292-acre spring-fed lake stretches four miles around, with natural springs and a sandy bottom that turn its waters to an intense level of Mediterranean blue.
One of the first resorts to serve Elkhart Lake’s affluent visitors, The Osthoff Hotel, opened in 1886 and remains one of the iconic anchors of the village. The Osthoff Resort was rebuilt in grand style in 1995. The luxurious retreat offers 245 condominium suites, the award-winning Aspira spa, in and outdoor pools, multiple restaurants and 500-feet of beautiful beach front.
Siebkens Resort, which followed in 1916, is a landmark, turn of the century resort. Today it offers beautifully renovated spaces with the grace and charm of past years. With its deep roots to the famed racing at Road America, Siebkens Resort also offers unique and lively spaces right in the heart of all the action. The Shore Club Wisconsin (formerly Victorian Village Resort) was recently purchased and renovated with a fresh contemporary style. Guests will enjoy the beautiful lake views, the sprawling lawn, renovated theater and restaurant spaces, and the famed Barefoot Tiki Bar. All three resorts work with brides and grooms to create a storybook setting for weddings of all sizes and styles.
Whether you want a more informal beach wedding or the black-tie event the Petersons hosted last fall, the diversity of the venues provides options for every taste and budget—throughout the year. If your dream is a tented wedding, there is an abundance of lawn space throughout the village, along with the gazebo and beautiful gardens. You can even arrange a horse-drawn carriage to complete the fairy tale feel.
“And how can you get past the views?” says Courtney Holly Baumann, a Nashville bride who recently married husband, Ken, in Elkhart Lake.
“We had a lot of people who were from New York and L.A. and other cities and they all agreed that everything about Elkhart Lake is so incredibly gorgeous and yet so homey at the same time.”
One of the things that that gives Elkhart Lake that “wedding wow factor” is its elegant, walkable small-town setting. The bucolic downtown area features charming boutiques, world-class restaurants and entertainment venues that host live music. Another attraction (and an obvious candidate for bachelor parties and other wedding weekend events) is the world-famous Road America—a rolling 640-acre, four-mile track that became known in the early 1950s as the Monte Carlo of the Midwest.
“Elkhart Lake is so fantastic for weddings,” explains Baumann. “In addition to the resorts, the restaurants, and the lake, everything is within walking distance. And because it’s a great place to have a vacation with all the activities and amenities, your wedding guests can make it a longer stay because there is so much to see.”
Elkhart Lake really does have it all.
Hiking trails abound for those who make a weekend of it, whether you opt for a shorter Ice Age Trail or a longer, more challenging loop in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Bike rentals are available through The Osthoff Resort and The Shore Club for those who want to explore the village and natural beauty around it. Those staying in warmer months can enjoy a wide variety of boat outings and watersports. Any of these activities can be combined for a weekend wedding guests will never forget.
After two years of planning (and one postponement due to the pandemic), Baumann says it was amazing to watch her dream wedding weekend come to fruition.
“Absolutely gorgeous from the time it started until the time it ended,” she adds. “It was just jaw-dropping.”
LUXURY VENDORS AND VENUES
Beyond the natural splendor and charming attractions, Peterson says she was blown away by the caliber of vendors and venues available in Elkhart Lake. With help from Urban at The Osthoff Resort, she was able to put together a tailor-made itinerary for her guests that included a rehearsal dinner at Switchgear Brewing Company catered with special local touches and several other gatherings after the wedding day.
“At Switchgear, everything is done in-house,” she says. “They have this little event room on the side and it had its own private bar. We had catering from Three Guys and a Grill and the food was delicious… beef tenderloin and local beer. Since most of our wedding party was coming from out of state, we wanted it to be something local to the Midwest and this region.”
They ate on long, polished wooden tables for a gathering that was both elegant and casual.
“It felt very sweet,” she adds. “Then we had speeches, played music with impromptu dancing, and all walked back to the resort together.”
Wedding day activities were held throughout The Osthoff, beginning with a hair and makeup session for the wedding party in the resort’s two-story, three-bedroom, three-bathroom bridal suite.
“There was so much room in that suite for us to completely take over and make sure everyone was comfortable, but the coolest part was that it overlooked our ceremony site,” she says, explaining that she watched the staff set up all the chairs and blankets outside as everything she and Urban planned began to come to life. “It felt so surreal to see this massive team making this transformation while I’m having a mimosa and hanging out with my friends.”
She also recalls watching Isak walk out to have his portraits done by the lake and the couple’s iconic “first look.”
“Lori Urban and her team made it ridiculously easy to plan a wedding. I never felt stressed; I never felt overwhelmed,” Peterson adds. “To walk in the next day and see everything was exactly as we envisioned was magical.”
But the celebration did not end there. The next day, the couple hosted additional events for their guests, including a drop-in coffee reception and a taco lunch from Bocadillos Food Truck, courtesy of a close family friend.
“Isak is Swedish so we called the morning event Fika, which is Swedish for coffee hour,” says Peterson. “Later we went back to the brewery and hosted an open bar with a friend’s taco truck, and called that Slainte, because I’m Irish.”
Later that evening, Peterson says the couple and their guests engaged in some arcade time and had a bonfire outside by the lake with s’mores and drinks.
“Sunday morning, we hosted a brunch at The Osthoff as a thank you and farewell,” she adds. “At first, I thought, ‘why did I plan so much?’ but we had the best weekend.”
Having delayed their full honeymoon, the couple stayed a few more nights in Elkhart Lake for a “mini-moon,” where they relaxed and enjoyed quiet time together.
“It was absolutely perfect,” Peterson says.
WEEKEND TO REMEMBER
One thing both brides had in common was that they were bringing in guests from around the U.S., including many from major cities where they have not heard of Elkhart Lake.
“When we got engaged and people were asking us about where we were getting married, I showed them the drone footage of Elkhart Lake and everyone’s jaws dropped,” says Baumann. “It’s this hidden gem of wonderfully quaint yet secret beauty.”
Like Peterson, Baumann also wanted the wedding to be an extended, weekend-long affair.
“It doesn’t always come out to be what you envision, but between our vendors and The Osthoff, it was above and beyond what we thought,” she says. “We are still getting messages from people saying it was the best wedding they’ve ever been to.”
And that’s what Peterson says a wedding is all about, making memories.
“I think what’s been exciting since the wedding and talking about that day now, months later, everyone says ‘it was so beautiful … it was so easy to be a guest … one of the most fun weddings ever’,” she adds. “That’s a testament to the resort. They worked with our guests to get early check-ins. We did a little welcome bag when guests arrived, and The Osthoff Resort delivered all that. From the minute guests walked into their room, they didn’t have to worry about parking or driving. It’s all in one place, which is absolutely amazing.”
For more information about weddings at Elkhart Lake, visit elkhartlake.com/weddings.
EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC
PROSPECTIVE BRIDES AND GROOMS (AND THEIR FAMILIES) ARE INVITED TO ELKHART LAKE, WISCONSIN, ON SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, FOR A ONE-OF-A-KIND WEDDING SHOWCASE.
Do you believe in love at first sight? For many of the couples who have chosen Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, as the place to host one of the most important events of their lives, that’s been the consensus.
Once prospective brides and grooms see the natural splendor and charming, fairy tale beauty of the resort village, they know it’s “the one,” and nothing else can compare.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, February 19, Elkhart Lake venues will host an inaugural Wedding Showcase unlike any other. Starting at the iconic Road America, the event will give prospective brides and grooms the opportunity to browse through Elkhart Lake’s four premiere wedding and event venues, meet on-site wedding planners and vendors such as photographers, DJs, and florists.
Tickets are $10 per person and brides will receive a special wedding planning tote with a few extra goodies from each venue.
From there, you will be invited to enjoy a glass of bubbly and a few tastings as you begin to plan your wedding weekend in Elkhart Lake—literally by stepping into vignettes staged to give you a taste of the wedding experience.
Featuring three resort style venues—The Osthoff Resort, Siebkens Resort and Shore Club Wisconsin, and internationally known Road America—each venue will be beautifully set up to help you envision what your special day could look like, along with unique vendors at each location and live music.
“Each venue will have vendors they work with. There will be DJs you can talk to and it’s a great way to get a sense of what the wedding experience will be like at each location,” says Kathleen Eickhoff, Executive Director of Elkhart Lake Tourism. “Stepping into the venues and talking to people firsthand will be a little bit different from a traditional wedding show. We really want to create an experience that’s impactful.”
Venues featured in the showcase are perfect for hosting bridal showers, bachelor and bachelorette outings, rehearsal dinners, ceremonies, receptions, and day-after gift openings. In addition to enjoying a day at the Wedding Showcase, brides are encouraged to bring their fiancé and wedding party to stay over for the night and experience the magic of Elkhart Lake.
“Getting married is one of the most significant events in a person’s life. Brides and grooms want their special day to be an expression of who they are, so wedding planning is much more personalized. They want to create a memorable event for their family and friends,” adds Eickhoff. “Elkhart Lake has a multitude of beautiful wedding venues and experienced staff to plan the magical day they’ve always dreamed about.”
Check-in for the event will take place at Road America’s Tufte Center, N7390 Wisconsin 67, in nearby Plymouth, Wisconsin. Purchase tickets for the 2022 Wedding Showcase at eventbrite.com/e/the-2022-elkhart-lake-wedding-showcase-tickets-224347347957. For more information about weddings at Elkhart Lake, please visit elkhartlake.com/weddings.