Eagle River, Wisconsin lies along the southern edge of Vilas County and in the heart of Wisconsin’s northwoods. It is well known for its large chain of lakes, stunning forestland, and snowmobiling, but the town offers even more beauty and adventure than that! Eagle River is an especially great place to enjoy a secluded retreat at any time of year and is one of the best places to see fall colors in Wisconsin. I visited during the first weekend in October for my fourth annual Wisconsin birthday trip when the foliage was at its peak. Start planning your next northwoods adventure with this fall travel itinerary for a weekend in Eagle River, Wisconsin!
Where to Stay in Eagle River
Eagle River’s Last Resort should be anything but your last choice when planning a trip to Eagle River! This family-owned northwoods oasis is open from June through October. The property looks out over Otter Lake on the famous Eagle River chain of lakes, and has both a swimming beach and small boats available for guest use. In the fall, the colors change right outside your window. I curled up on the couch every morning of my trip to watch them sway in the autumn breeze! The cottages themselves are extremely clean and exceptionally cozy; it felt like our home as soon as we walked in. The Lumley family, who owns the resort, is so welcoming and prepared to improve your guest experience however they can. I would absolutely recommend this place and hope to visit again someday!
Where to Eat in Vilas County
TJ Grizzlies has some of the highest quality food I’ve ever eaten in my innumerable trips up north. Located just shy of the state border in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, TJ Grizzlies has a large menu of homemade pizza, pasta, and sandwiches. Tyler and I each ordered a 12″ pizza; after a full day of exploring, I ate all of mine in one sitting, plus a huge brownie! If you want to wait to eat until you get back to your cottage at Eagle River’s Last Resort, ask to get your pizzas half-baked so you can pop them in the stove and enjoy them fresh at home!
Country Store of Eagle River has been one of my favorite places to visit up north since childhood. On our annual family trips to nearby Three Lakes, my brother and I always begged to go to “the candy store.” Located in downtown Eagle River, this corner shop remains an iconic local business for residents and visitors alike! Inside, you’ll find endless types of candy, a variety of fudge, a rainbow of ice cream flavors, and lots of fun toys. My mom and I have always loved their “flying saucers” candy and have never managed to find them for sale anywhere else; I made sure to grab some while I was in town! Prices here are extremely reasonable. This is a must-visit pit stop on any trip to Eagle River!
Where to Hike + Explore in Vilas County
Star Lake Nature Trail is one of Wisconsin’s most serene hikes in the fall! Colorful foliage lines the looped trails, changing from groves of yellow aspen trees to vibrant red and orange oak leaves with pine needles underneath. There are two trail loops here: Blue is one mile long, while Red is just over two miles. We took the Red Trail on our latest visit, which goes all the way out to the shoreline of Star Lake. It was surreal to look out over the calm water and brightly-colored ridges on the lake’s opposite side and realize how lucky we were to visit this beautiful place. There wasn’t much foot or boat traffic on the day we visited either, so we practically had the place to ourselves! Though I imagine it is beautiful at any time of year, this trail makes for an amazing fall hike in Wisconsin.
Nicolet-Wolf River Scenic Byway is a route highlighted by the State of Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation for its natural and historic value. One section of this northwoods road system is Military Road. It runs north and south between Eagle River and Three Lakes and was a frequent route during my childhood trips to the family cottage, though this was my first time visiting in the fall. This winding road through the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is absolutely picturesque, with all of the iconic trees that give the northwoods its secluded reputation and none of the tourist attractions that suggest otherwise. This makes for an especially scenic drive or motorcycle ride up north!
Tours to Take in Vilas County
Lake Nokomis Cranberries in Eagle River is one of the best places in Wisconsin to learn about the state’s cranberry industry! For those who are unfamiliar, Wisconsin produces more cranberries than any other state and harvests about sixty percent of the nation’s cranberry supply. You can tour one of them for free in the heart of the northwoods! Marsh tours last about forty-five minutes and are first come, first serve. I recommend arriving at least a half hour ahead of time to ensure you get a seat and even earlier on Saturdays during harvest season! Tours run from the gift shop, where you can ask a salesperson at the register for a ticket. The tour bus is covered, so they operate rain or shine! Be sure to browse the gift shop before or after your tour for some cranberry-inspired goods, including cranberry soaps made by my cousin, Kerri! Her soaps, VerriKerri, support her independence as a special needs person and help provide care and therapy to others with special needs around the world!
Scenic Air Tours is one of the best ways to experience the northwoods from above! Based out of the Eagle River Union Airport, tours last approximately thirty minutes and hold up to three passengers. These affordable tours offer a bird’s eye view and great aerial photo-ops of the northwoods without the need for an expensive drone! We flew over the famous Three Lakes-Eagle River Chain of Lakes, as well as through the forestland of northern Vilas County. It was breathtaking to see the fall foliage from above and to look out over the horizon in all directions – something you don’t get to do on commercial planes. If there’s a nearby landmark that you want to see, let you pilot know and they may be able to accommodate; we flew over both my family’s cottage in Three Lakes and the resort we were staying at on our trip! The front-seat passenger may also get the opportunity to have a quick flight lesson and pilot the plane for a few minutes. I got to do that and it was so exhilerating!
Where to See Waterfalls Near Vilas County
Vilas County lies on the border of Wisconsin and Michigan, so it makes for a fun and easy day trip to cross the state line and look for waterfalls. While these iconic natural wonders can attract a lot of tourist attention on weekends, the beauty of “the U.P.” is that there is still room to spread out and take in the views. The waterfalls we visited (listed below) also lie in the Porcupine Mountains, so you can expect some beautiful terrain on your drive!
Agate Falls Scenic Site is an absolute wonder to behold. It is easy to access off of M-28 and only a quick walk from the parking lot. The short trail will take you under a bridge and out to a small lookout platform alongside the falls. This is a great place to stop and take in the views for those with accessibility limitations, as the trail is wide, flat, and mostly paved. If you are a more ambitious adventurer, you’ll want to find your way to the bridge above the falls. This snowmobile bridge offers what is arguably one of the best views in all of Michigan, especially in the fall. Looking out over the falls and surrounding mountains was absolutely incredible. This is an epic spot for a Michigan photo-op!
Bond Falls Scenic Site doesn’t really have an address, but you’ll see the welcome sign (and likely a few cars parked along the road) to know you’ve arrived. Walk down a fairly steep, but short hill and you’ll find the boardwalk entrance that takes you to the falls. From there, epic views are just a few steps away! These beautiful falls look like a natural oasis, but are actually controlled by a dam upriver. After taking in the views and some photos at the base of the falls, Tyler and I took the stairs down from the boardwalk and made the trek up the side of the falls! There isn’t a marked path here, but it’s a fairly clear walk that you’ll find many visitors making. What most impressed me was the Bond Falls Flowage, found just above the dam. Take the stairs up from the road and your jaw will drop as heaven on earth comes into view. The lake was so calm and clear that the clouds reflected almost perfectly in it. It was incredible!
We had an amazing time exploring Eagle River, Vilas County, and the surrounding areas for my fourth annual birthday trip! Though I go “up north” frequently, everything about this trip, aside from the candy store and scenic byway, was completely new to me. I hope it serves as a reminder to look at your own backyard, city, or state with new eyes and find new places and way to explore it. I promise it will be a rewarding endeavor! Thanks again to Eagle River’s Last Resort for hosting us over the weekend and for taking us on a plane tour! You can read my blog post from last year’s birthday trip to Jackson County here.