conley6.gif (2529 bytes)


Lake Effects
A Guide To Area Lakes

Photography by MATT HAAS

June 2014

Dawn on Beaver Lake.

There’s something about lake water — it’s soothing and relaxing, yet alternately fun and exciting. The Lake Country in Waukesha County boasts more than 20 lakes, creating an intricate web of water throughout the area.

Each lake has historical significance, from gangster Al Capone’s hideout to the birth of the outboard motor. Many United States presidents vacationed on its shores and Olympic sailors have trained on these waters.

Lake Country is a special place; those who live here will fiercely defend how great their own lake is, but in reality each one has its own qualities that make these waters so unique.

Fortunately, you don’t have to live on one of these lakes to enjoy them. From boating, fishing and sunning at a beach, to enjoying fireworks, waterski shows and boat parades, everyone can experience the natural phenomenon of our area lakes.

GPS coordinates
43.12881140, -88.360588
Deepest Point
46 Feet
State-owned Public Boat Access: 1 launch site, carry-on boats only

On a cloudy day, Beaver Lake appears like any other lake in the area, but when the sun peeks out, the water transforms into a beautiful teal color that takes your breath away. “Contrary to popular belief, we do not add food coloring to Beaver Lake,” jokes Cathy Liebert, a lifelong Beaver Lake resident, “although the teal blue color is mystical.”

The clear blue water is due in part to the sand and limestone bottom, unique in Lake Country. “It’s cleaner and better swimming,” Liebert says. About 150 homes dot the shoreline, which features two bays and Chenequa Country Club on its western shore. “It’s like being at Disneyland if you live on the lake and belong to the country club,” Liebert says. “We take our pontoon boat to go golfing or play tennis.”

The Beaver Lake Yacht Club organizes year-round family friendly activities, from its sailing school to a moonlight sail and Venetian parade. A highlight of the summer is Taco Night on the Lake, where boaters pull up to a floating Mexican cantina for a bite to eat.


GPS coordinates
43.09884620, -88.453462
Deepest Point
60 Feet
State-owned Public Boat Access: 1 launch site

More than 100 years ago, the shores of Oconomowoc Lake were a veritable playground for the rich.

“Oconomowoc was known as the ‘Newport of the West’ at the turn of the century,” says village of Oconomowoc Police Chief Don Wiemer. Wiemer, police chief for the past 27 years, lived in the famed Valentine Estate for 10 years prior to moving to the city of Oconomowoc. More than 20 Midwest millionaires erected mansions along the shores, such as Phillip Danforth Armour of Armour Meats, who built the Valentine Estate, and Frederick Pabst of Pabst Brewing Co., who built a country estate called Woodbine (now Pabst Farms).

Other lavish estates were built by Albert Earling, president of the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad Co.; Capt. Thomas Parker, founder of the Chicago Trade Board; and Levi Merrick, a tobacco merchant from Chicago. The railroad line at one time dropped vacationers in Oconomowoc, some of whom stayed at either the Spring Bank or Gifford hotels, elegant recreation retreats on the shores of the lake. Today, Oconomowoc Lake is a quiet place lined with stately homes.

“It’s been a slow progress from the grandiose old estates to the residential properties,” says Wiemer, who notes many of the estates have been subdivided into residential properties. Although the majority of the shoreline is privately owned, the Oconomowoc Lake Club, which opened in 1890, still plays an active role on the lake. Besides its impressive history, the lake is known for its good fishing, Wiemer notes.


GPS coordinates
43.12986320, -88.51854090
Deepest Point
45 Feet
State-owned Public Boat Access: 1 launch site

During the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, six United States presidents vacationed in Oconomowoc, prompting Lake Road to be nicknamed Avenue of the Presidents. Dignitaries stayed at the grand Draper Hall Hotel, which fell on hard times during the Great Depression and was eventually razed in the 1960s.

For longtime Lac La Belle residents Kent and Heidi Johnson, the connection of the lake to the downtown is its biggest asset, making the lake waters accessible to everyone. “It’s more of a public lake as far as accessibility and views,” says Kent Johnson. An isthmus between Lac La Belle and Fowler Lake contains a dam, road and sidewalk through a residential area, providing a beautiful walking and running route with a loop around Fowler Lake.

During the summer, concerts are held every Wednesday at the band shell on the lake. The Light Up the Lake Boat Parade, fireworks and more top off Oconomowoc Festival Week in August.


GPS coordinates
43.12586720, -88.426789 
Deepest Point
90 Feet
State-owned Public Boat Access: 1 launch site

Okauchee Lake might have a reputation as a party lake, but Hans Weissgerber Jr., owner of the Golden Mast restaurant, says the lake’s culture is ever-changing.

“It has a fun character about it,” he acknowledges. “We have a lot of younger people who have been successful in life and are now buying and building on Okauchee Lake.” His wife, Marijo Weissgerber, agrees: “I think it’s the most interesting lake of all the lakes in the area,” she says. “It’s very diverse — in a good way.”

Okauchee Lake has a number of bays, creating nearly 30 miles of shoreline dotted with nearly 1,000 homes. “Each bay has a different style to it,” Hans Weissgerber says. The Weissgerber family has been on Okauchee since 1962, when Hans Sr. first owned a picnic resort and bar that evolved into the Golden Mast. When the Weissgerbers arrived, there were 32 bars and restaurants on the lake; now there are eight. “The famous tie-up” is still a regular Sunday afternoon occurrence during the summer, when up to 100 boats gather near “party island.”

But the Fourth of July is the pinnacle of the summer. “A lot of people say that the Okauchee fireworks have the most spectacular and beautiful setting for fireworks that they have ever seen,” Weissgerber notes.


GPS coordinates
43.072926, -88.30668990
Deepest Point
45 Feet
State-owned Public Boat Access: 3 launch sites

At nearly five miles long and one mile wide, Pewaukee Lake is the largest among area lakes. It’s known for its sailing regattas, public beachfront and myriad activities.

Lake resident Kara Kaiser has lived on the lake since she was 12 and comes from a family of sailors. “We have a really robust competitive sailing program on the lake,” she says. “A lot of lakes have competitive sailing but we offer a lot of options,” for novice to advanced sailors.

Various activities draw people to the lake from around metro Milwaukee, such as an annual triathlon, weekly waterski show and live music on Wednesday nights during the summer.

“I think what Pewaukee brings is a real community feel,” Kaiser says. “Pewaukee does a nice job of utilizing the lakefront for both an active lifestyle and for families. There’s kind of something for everyone,” she says.

Special thanks to Cathy & Jim Liebert, Kim Kastenholz, Marijo Weissgerber, Cheri Cope and Trish Washburn for their assistance with this article.

This story ran in the June 2014 issue of:

Beaver Lake, Oconomowoc Lake, Lac La Belle, Okauchee Lake, Pewaukee Lake, Lake Country Lakes,
Guide to Lake Country Lakes WIsconsin