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Wisconsin Parent

Summer in Waupaca and the Chain O' Lakes

Jul 19, 2014 03:00PM ● By Julie Henning
Nestled among pristine spring-fed lakes, this beautiful tourist destination boasts endless outdoor recreational opportunities, a unique shopping scene, an assortment of dining to please every palate, and comfortable lodging facilities and campgrounds. With a solid business community, a diverse and friendly populace, and a natural playground all around, it's no wonder so many find the Waupaca Area so irresistible!  ~ Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce

On a recent mother/kids trip to the Waupaca and the Chain O'Lakes, we set out in perfect July weather to find the most family-friendly attractions the region has to offer. While we camped at the Waupaca Camping Park (read this post), you could easily find a hotel, motel, cabin rental, or B&B to meet your needs.

Chain O Lakes SignOur first day started out with the 1PM cruise on the Chief Waupaca, an authentic double decker stern-wheeler that has been cruising the Chain O'Lakes since 1974. A popular place for kayaking, canoeing, jet skis and recreational boating, the above map shows how the twenty-two lakes are connected by channels, natural openings, and creeks.

Line by Chief WaupacaA ninety minute cruise, if you want a seat on the upper-level you should probably arrive earlier than our "five minutes before" launch. With restrooms, water, and tables (lower level) perfect for enjoying a picnic, plan to spend a good portion of your trip taking photos of local residents enjoying the water.

Pontoon BoatReal estate on the lake is quite expensive (on average over $500,000). This house was my favorite, but I think I really just like the rainbow-colored chairs.

CabinWho wouldn't love a week at Camp Onaway?

Camp OnawayAlso on "The Chain" is Tom Thumb miniature golf, located at N2494 Whispering Pines Road. If you think "surely I must have missed the turn," Tom Thumb is just around the next bend.

Tom Thumb View From DockA "local favorite" and nostalgic attraction for over 50 years, golfing at Tom Thumb was a trip highlight. The 18-hole course was more difficult than we anticipated. We had water obstacles,

Water Obstacleairplane obstacles,

Airlines Holeand snack shack obstacles. The twinkly lights and views of the moored pontoon boats on the nearby waterway made for a perfect "before bedtime" activity.

Tom Thumb OfficeThe next (second) day we enjoyed the new playground at South Beach and views of the South Beach (free) swim beach.

New South Beach PlaygroundWhile we did not have time to swim at this location, the lifeguards were busy combing the beach for garbage and tidying up the walkways for the next round of tourists. The kids were begging to come back.

South Beach SlidesWhile in downtown Waupaca, we "screamed for ice cream" at Mo's Stand just a few blocks West of Main Street.

Mos ExteriorA family-owned "destination dog" kind of place, it was the 24 flavors of soft serve that drew us in.

Mo's Ice Cream ConesWhile the kids enjoyed German Chocolate and Cotton Candy (shown above), I enjoyed Pistachio and ogled at the orders prepared for the "regulars." Chicago dog anyone? Yum yum!

Hot DogsNext on our agenda was a two-hour inner tube float down the Waupaca River, reserved (and paid) in advance through Adventure Outfitters located in downtown Waupaca.

Outfitters DowntownAs fate would have it, our "group" consisted of me three three kids (ages 7, 8, and 10). While trip started out quite relaxing, it quickly took a turn for the worse as we encountered the "few exciting spots to keep it interesting" portion described on the Adventure Outfitters website.

Kids on RiverTrying to "keep to the right" as instructed by our guide, a fallen tree had us going left and down some Class I rapids that knocked me into the water and banged up my legs. Trying to keep tabs on my kids and my inner tube, the second part of our journey was no fun at all. Three cheers for life jackets and the Pelican micro case that kept our keys and gear dry as I slammed chest first into some boulders that scratched my legs and bruised my daughter enough for the first aid kit.  Tubes and Kayaks on TruckA much better option for groups with more than one adult, older kids, or a spring without record rainfall, I'm glad for bruised (not broken) legs. Teenagers in large groups would probably love this trip.

All in all, we did have a lovely weekend in Waupaca. If you visit this month, check out the "Where's Waldo" passport for your chance to win some fun prizes from Dragonwings Bookstore and be entered in the grand prize raffle on July 31.

Where's WaldoOther  family-friendly "things to do" in Waupaca are taking in a movie at the Rosa Theater, bowling at Waupaca Bowl, hiking/biking on the River Ridge or Wau-King trails, visiting the (almost open again) Red Mill gift shop, or horseback riding at the Wild West Campground & Corral.