I’ve had the honor of experiencing some truly stunning, historically interesting and even exotic places in Wisconsin—some well-known, others well off the beaten path. But there’s one locale that piqued my interest the minute I stumbled across it online a couple of years back: It’s called Stout’s Island Lodge and it’s located in Barron County in northwestern Wisconsin (about 30 miles south of Hayward).
In some ways, Stout’s Island Lodge boasts all the features a classic Northwoods lodge should: rustic accommodations, a surrounding placid lake, sunset views and pine trees for days. But in other ways, Stout’s Island Lodge is teeming in individuality. So much stood out to me and my boyfriend, (whose birthday we were celebrating), but here are five qualities we found most memorable about this lakefront sanctuary:
- For starters, it’s on a private island.
Believe it or not, Wisconsin is home to its fair share of beautiful little islands. Very few (if any) can claim a resort quite like this one, however. When you arrive at 2799 27th Street in Birchwood, you’re met with a parking lot and gravel path that adjoins a log cabin-like Shore House. I’m instantly intrigued by the rustic yet simple elegance of the Shore House, which will set the tone for the rest of our island getaway. The staff member inside shared a bit about the history of Stout Island and offered to make us dinner reservations for the evening. Soon after, we boarded a small ferry for a five-minute boat ride across Red Cedar Lake to the island itself.
Stout’s Island Lodge consists of a 12-acre main island and an adjacent 6-acre east island. There are only 11 cabins on site, so despite the island being relatively small, it never once felt overcrowded. (Translation: There was never a line for canoes, cocktails, etc.)
- History runs deep.
If one thing’s clear, Stout’s Island Lodge is not some modern-day tourism-marketing ploy. This place comes with a story. In 1887, a prominent lumber baron from Chicago named Frank D. Stout bought the island along with Thomas Wilson, Jr. Mr. Wilson sold his stake to Mr. Stout in 1903 and by 1915, Mr. Stout had invested over $1.5 million ($35 million in today’s dollars) in to the “Island of Happy Days.”
The lodge was inspired by the famous Adirondack camps with its wood-burning fireplaces and carved beams, which were imported from Germany’s Black Forest. Even Andrew Carnegie himself gifted Mr. Stout a beautiful steel bridge that connects the main island to the east island.
- Introducing: Real-Life 360° Views
One of the many benefits of dwelling on an island? Spectacular views abound. It rained for the first 24 hours of our stay and even the cloudy, overcast climate brought with it a mystical, ethereal aura. When the clouds broke, my boyfriend and I made a dash for the canoes, assuming the whole island would be abuzz. But there was no such commotion (even with a wedding going on!). It felt – at times - like we had the whole place to ourselves. What’s more, there is no shortage of spots to relax and enjoy the sunrises and sunsets as there are Adirondack chairs tucked away around every corner.
- The food is delectable.
The meals quickly became one of our favorite parts of our weekend trip. The Stout’s Island Lodge Restaurant can be found right inside the Main Lodge. The main dining room claims sprawling views of both the north and south ends of the island. There’s a wood-burning fireplace on one side of the restaurant and walls adorned with old-time Stout family photos on the other.The food was as impressive as the ambience.
For dinner, my boyfriend indulged in the breaded chicken breast with prosciutto, sage and brie while I tried the pasta primavera with peppers, onions, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini and parmesan—both excellent, we agreed. The instant camaraderie shared among staff and guests has to be noted too: the folks next to us were celebrating their wedding anniversary and leaned over to share a slice of cherry cake with us. Moments later, Chef Henry Korlin III emerged from the kitchen to greet his guests near the end of our meals. It really was the best way to top off our dining experience.
After dinner, we made our way to the Great Room for fireside old-fashions (me) and Yankee Buzzard IPAs (him). And we embarked on several rounds of a few board games the two of us haven’t played since we were kids.
- Technology is light.
Perhaps an overlooked yet welcome aspect of being a Stout’s Islander is the clear posteriority placed on technology here. Our charming and cozy little cottage room didn’t have a TV and that didn’t bother neither of us one bit. In place of modern day appliances were board games and book cases. Instead of swimming pools, you’ll come across a croquet lawn, bonfire pit and plenty of walking paths. In lieu of jet skis, there were canoes, kayaks, standup paddleboards and hydrobikes available.
Stout’s Island Lodge is an authentic step back in time – one of the best trips I could recommend for anyone with a hunger for captivating Wisconsin history and an admiration for a seminal Northwoods hideaway. Whether planning a couple’s escape or corporate retreat, let it be known the “Island of Happy Days” was aptly named.
Mariah Haberman hosts the nation’s longest-running tourism TV show, Discover Wisconsin. Watch the show Saturdays at 10 a.m. on FSN Wisconsin’s outdoor block or online at DiscoverWisconsin.com. Follow Mariah on Facebook (facebook.com/mar1ahha3erman) and Instagram (@MariahHaberman)