Buying a lake cabin – deciding where in NW Wisconsin?

Deciding where to buy a vacation home or retirement home in NW Wisconsin?  What you can learn from our dashes back to Minneapolis/St Paul, MN.

My husband and I moved to Northwest Wisconsin 16 years ago, when we were nowhere near ready to retire (we’re still not).  Our work has required both of us to make occasional trips back to the Twin Cities for meetings.  We also get down to the Cities now and then to visit relatives.  Even if your situation is different, there’s a lot you can learn from our dashes back to the city.

Elsewhere on my website, I’ve shared many great reasons to consider Northwest Wisconsin.  We have lots of great lakes, streams, trails, public land, and more.

To get here from Minneapolis/St Paul, we can head north on I-35, hang a right at Hinckley, and be in Minong before we know it.  From there, we’re almost home.  From the Twin Cities, it’s an easy 2.5 hours.

So if you’re looking for a vacation home or retirement home, then what do these occasional dashes to the city have to do with you?  Everything.  The same thresholds will still be there.  But they’ll instead determine how much enjoyment you get from your new cabin or lake home.  If your drive time is beyond a certain threshold, then there will probably be fewer weekends when you get away to your weekend getaway.

Planning to move up here for good when you retire?  Welcome to the neighborhood!

If places like Minong, Wascott, and Gordon aren’t yet on your radar, they should be.  Same with the Minong Flowage, St Croix Flowage, Whitefish Lake, and many other small to large lakes. Barnes and Solon Springs is just a bit farther and offer Upper St Croix Lake, and the Eau Claire chain of lakes. Under the lakes and rivers tab above, you can find out more about these lakes.

Please take a moment to explore my website and find out more about the lakes and rivers of Northwest Wisconsin.  Then drop me an email or give me a call at 218-590-6634.  I’d be glad to show you what’s available in our neighborhood.

Bird’s-Eye View of NW Wisconsin’s Upper Brule River

On his way home from a couple of real estate photography drone missions, my husband stopped the other day at Stone’s Bridge Landing to capture this aerial footage of the upper Brule River. 

Al insists it was work-related, and that he wasn’t just hanging out by the river chatting with steelhead fishermen, flying his drone back and forth, and watching the aquatic vegetation wave gently in the current.  

But I’m skeptical.  You’ll see why when you watch this video.  I mean, you can look up and down the river for miles and not see a single house.  Where’s all that Northwest Wisconsin real estate we’re supposed to be selling?

Oh, well.  The leaves were just beginning to turn, and it was a beautiful fall day on one of America’s premiere trout streams.  If you watch carefully in the low-altitude scenes, you’ll spot a couple of trout rising to the surface.  Check it out.

Your NW Wisconsin lake home or cabin search starts with the lake that’s right for you

Here we’ll examine the lake or water type that best suits your lifestyle.

Every buyer approaches the search process differently.  I’ve worked with some people, for example, who were very particular about the features they wanted in their new lake home; they were less concerned about where it was located.

I’ve also worked with buyers who prefer to start by choosing a lake—or at least by narrowing down their search to a very short list of lakes.  Only then do they begin looking for the place that’s right for them.  Choosing the right lake is their #1 priority; for them, this step comes first.

That’s a very good idea; every lake has its own distinct character. Do you want a home on a large recreational lake or a small quiet lake? Would riverfront property work best for you?

Large lakes, often the most desirable because they offer a greater variety of recreational activities, typically have homes and cabins with the highest price tags.

If you are willing to settle for a smaller lake, the same home may come with a smaller price tag. Chances are the lake is going to be quieter. Lakes below a certain size (about 200 acres) just aren’t very interesting for jet skis and water skiers; they tend to see more pontoons, fishing boats, or canoes.

You’ll have fewer neighbors and you’ll probably get to know them better. Depending on the lake, fishing pressure may be lighter.

Would riverfront property work for you? The same cabin or home will sell for less on a river than it would if it were on a lake. People tend to prefer lakes; maybe it’s because you can usually get out and do more on them than you could on a river.

Most rivers, especially smaller ones, just won’t offer the same boating or recreational opportunities as a lake would. In some cases, you may be able to travel upstream or downstream in a boat – or at least in a canoe or kayak. You may even have what’s essentially your own private fishing hole.

With some riverfront properties, the river may be too small or the current too swift. You’ll mainly just be able to sit and enjoy the river view. Still, if your waterfront is a small creek that you can see from your livingroom window, there’s something special about being near the water. It can also attract a lot of wildlife that you’ll be able to watch.

As you are thinking about your ideal lake home or cabin, you’ll want to consider the type of water that works best for your lifesyle and budget. Check out the NW WI Lakes and Rivers tab above to learn more about the area lakes.

Curious to learn more about cabins and lake homes for sale in NW Wisconsin? Give me a call at 218-590-6634. Or, you can email me at jeanhedren@edinarealty.com. Start your NW Wisconsin lake property search at www.JeanHedren.com

Buying a lake cabin – what is your preferred recreation?

Recreational Activities

IMG_0660What are your favorite recreational activities? As you are searching for the ideal lake home, think about the type of lake, as well as the surrounding area, that offers the most activities.

Local communities are also important. Most local communities will at least have a grocery store, liquor store (in Wisconsin they’re usually together), gas station, post office, restaurant/tavern. Very likely, you’ll be within a half hour drive from a larger town or city that will offer more shopping options. Typically, they will offer a summer weekend festival and those are often fun and family oriented.

The Book of Lakes
If you’re thinking of buying a lake home or cabin in northwestern Wisconsin, then you should know about the Northwest Wisconsin Fishing Map Guide: Northern Region from Sportsman’s Connection.  I call it The Book of Lakes for short.

Even if you’re not into fishing, you’ll find lots of useful information that can help you decide which lake is right for you.  The book includes depth maps, DNR fishery data, and detailed background information for 180 lakes in Bayfield, Douglas, Sawyer, and Washburn counties.  That’s not all of the lakes in this area, but it’s an awful lot of them.

But maybe you’d like to do a little research on your own, shorten your list, and know you’re focusing the lakes that are right for you.  You’ll find it at finer bookstores and bait shops everywhere.

Fishing
As I mentioned in The Book of Lakes section above, you’ll find information about the types of fish found in lakes. You’ll want to know which lakes are best known for walleye, panfish, northern, bass, and other types of local fish.

If you are into flyfishing, you’ll definitely want to know where the best trout streams are located. The Brule River in Douglas County is a world-class trout stream. There are many trout streams in Northwest Wisconsin. You can download full, detailed maps of the streams in Douglas County WI and other Wisconsin counties at the Wisconsin DNR website.

Boating
If waterskiing and jet skiing are your thing, you’ll want to know which lakes are best suited to these types of activities. Typically, large, open lakes without a complicated shoreline are best.

If you simply want to tour around in a pontoon, then most any lake will work. Pontoon boats work just fine in shallow waters. Perhaps a flowage would be the best choice with plenty of lake and shoreline to explore. If you prefer to paddle a canoe or kayak, then a quiet lake or flowage is for you.

Swimming
Many lakes in northwest Wisconsin offer clear, deep water with sandy beaches or sandy lake bottom. You’ll want to look for a clear lake. Many lake homes include a sandy beach front or at least a sandy lake bottom off the dock.

Skiing
Northwest Wisconsin is a great destination for cross-country skiers. From the world famous Birkebeiner ski event to ski trails dotted throughout Douglas, Washburn, Bayfield, and Sawyer Counties, you’ll find many trails to match your expertise.

Many trails will be just minutes from a lake or community that may be of interest to you. Northwest Wisconsin Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe is a great source for trail maps and snow conditions.

Snowmobile/ATV
Northwest Wisconsin is a favorite destination for snowmobile and ATV enthusiasts. Trails are located throughout Douglas, Washburn, Bayfield, and Sawyer Counties.

Wisconsin DNR offers trail maps to download.

There’s plenty to do here in NW Wisconsin at the lake or nearby.

Curious to learn more about cabins and lake homes for sale in NW Wisconsin? Give me a call at 218-590-6634. Or, you can email me at jeanhedren@edinarealty.com.

Buying a lake cabin – know your lake classification

How does water get into your lake?

Gordon Dam

Hydrologists divide lakes into two main types: drainage and seepage.  Drainage lakes have an inlet and outlet; they’re part of system that “drains” a watershed.  They’re less affected by drought.  Seepage lakes get their water from springs, and from water that just “seeps” into the lake from the adjacent water table.  Some are totally unaffected by drought.

The following lakes classification, further divided into five main lake types, is courtesy of the Wisconsin Association of Lakes http://wisconsinlakes.org/lake_types.htm Water can enter lakes from a variety of sources including groundwater, runoff from the watershed, surface waters (like streams and rivers) flowing into the lake, and direct precipitation into the lake. Water leaves lakes through groundwater or surface water flow and evaporation. The water quality of a lake and species of fish present are significantly influenced by the lake type.

Seepage lakes – Seepage lakes do not have an inlet or an outlet, and only occasionally overflow. Landlocked bodies, the principal source of water is precipitation or runoff, supplemented by groundwater from the immediate drainage area. Since seepage lakes commonly reflect groundwater levels and rainfall patterns, water levels may fluctuate seasonally. Seepage lakes are the most common lake type in Wisconsin.

Seepage lakes frequently have a less diverse fishery because they are not influenced by streams. Seepage lakes also have a smaller drainage area, which may help to account for lower nutrient levels.

Spring lakes – These lakes have no inlet, but do have an outlet. The primary source of water for spring lakes is groundwater flowing into the bottom of the lake from inside and outside the immediate surface drainage area. Spring lakes are the headwaters of many streams and are a fairly common type of lake in northern Wisconsin.

Groundwater drained lakes – These lakes have no inlet, but like spring lakes, have a continuously flowing outlet. Drained lakes are not groundwater-fed. Their primary source of water is from precipitation and direct drainage from the surrounding land.

Frequently, the water levels in drained lakes will fluctuate depending on the supply of water. Under severe conditions, the outlets from drained lakes may become intermittent. Drained lakes are the least common lake type found in Wisconsin.

Drainage lakes – These lakes have both an inlet and outlet where the main water source is stream drainage. Most major rivers in Wisconsin have drainage lakes along their course. Drainage lakes support fish populations which are not necessarily identical to the streams connected to them. Drainage lakes usually have higher nutrient levels than many natural seepage or spring lakes.

Impoundments – Artificial lakes are human-made bodies of water referred to as impoundments. A lake is considered an impoundment if one-half or more of its maximum depth results from a dam or other type of control structure. An impoundment is considered a drainage lake since it has an inlet and outlet with its principal water source coming from stream drainage. In Wisconsin, this body of water is commonly known as a flowage, and can often be quite large lakes.

Impoundments may support fish populations which are not necessarily identical to the streams connected to them. Impoundments usually have higher nutrient levels than many natural seepage or spring lakes.

Curious to learn more about cabins and lake homes for sale in NW Wisconsin? Give me a call at 218-590-6634. Or, you can email me at jeanhedren@edinarealty.com.

Lakes and rivers of NW Wisconsin videos

Enjoy the beauty of NW Wisconsin lakes and rivers in these 13 videos:

About the Totogatic State Wild River in Bayfield, Sawyer, Washburn counties, Wisconsin

Totogatic State Wild River in NW Wisconsin

Totogatic or Totagatic, however you spell or pronounce it, brings to mind canoing, hunting, or fishing on a clean and wild river for many people in NW Wisconsin.

The name Totagatic comes from the Ojibwa word “Totogan” meaning “place of floating logs” or “boggy river”. Pronunciation is varied between Tuh-TO-ga-tec, To-TO-ga-tec, To-BA-tec, and just TO-ga-tec, according to long-time local residents. Each of these spellings and pronunciations seems to have a strongly-defended local following, and one will consider use of the others as incorrect.

The Totogatic flows approximately 70 miles through portions of five counties in NW Wisconsin. It begins in southern Bayfield County, just upstream of Totogatic Lake. From the lake, it flows westerly through Sawyer, Washburn, and a small portion of Douglas County, crossing back into Washburn and eventually emptying into the Namekagon River in Burnett County. It is impounded by four dams forming Nelson Lake in Sawyer County, and the Totogatic, Colton, and Minong Flowages in Washburn County. The shoreline is relatively wild for much of the river’s length. A substantial portion of the land along the river is owned by the state, county, or federal ownership.

The river has a very wild character with forested banks, waterfalls, rock outcroppings, and relatively few road crossings. Fishing is good, with many cool-water game species present and several tributaries that support trout. There are challenging stretches for whitewater canoists, as well as quiet water segments through forestland, and one area known as the “Dismal Swamp.”

Retaining the river’s wild character and habitat is dependent on all five counties and the state keeping their present holdings in public ownership, and/or on responsible use and development of both public and private shoreline and forestland.

The Totogatic River became a State Wild River in July 2009. It was so designated because of its miles of scenic and relatively undeveloped banks; significant public ownership; and excellent water quality, habitat, and wildlife. There are four reaches or segments of the river.

  • First Reach: From the outlet of Totogatic Lake in Bayfield County to the upstream end of Nelson Lake in Sawyer County.
  • Second Reach: From a point 500’ below the dam in the Totogatic Wildlife Area to the upstream end of the Colton Flowage, both located in Washburn County.
  • Third Reach: From a point 500’ below the dam that forms the Colton Flowage to the point where the river crosses the Washburn-Douglas County line immediately above the upstream end of the Minong Flowage.
  • Fourth Reach: From the bridge on Cty Hwy I in Washburn County to the confluence of the river with the Namekagon River in Burnett County.

Totogatic State Wild River, NW Wisconsin

Want to enjoy your new NW Wisconsin lake home or cabin by April or May? Start shopping now.

Want to enjoy your new NW Wisconsin lake home or cabin by April or May? Contact your Realtor to schedule showings now.

If your goal is to relax at the lake by this Spring, then now is really the time to come on up and start looking at those lake properties you’ve been saving online. If you would want to include a finance and inspection contingency in your offer to purchase, the normal timeline is 45 days from accepted offer to close.

I have several buyers who are patiently watching the MLS listings for an especially good deal.  I’ve also been passing along listings that seem like a good fit.  Sometimes buyers have been ready to move quickly, and that’s paid off.

Other buyers were busy with work and family commitments, and they needed to wait a couple weeks before we could schedule a showing.  Sometimes that still works out.  But on at least half a dozen occasions during the past few months, I’ve asked for a showing and learned that another buyer has just made an offer—in a couple of cases, an offer that’s already been accepted.

I recently closed on a property where my buyer was faced with a multiple offer situation. He got the property. Multiple offers have been very rare in Northwest Wisconsin during the past few years.  Notice a pattern here???

I’m a Realtor, and of course you’d expect me to say that right now is a great time to buy.  But the thing is, right now it really does make cents.  Consumer confidence is up, we’ve been seeing some promising economic indicators, interest rates are still at historic lows we haven’t seen since the days of avocado green and harvest gold appliances, and our Northwestern Wisconsin real estate market seems to be turning around.  That’s good news for buyers and sellers alike.

Here are some tips to keep in mind during this transitional market.  Even if our market here in NW WI isn’t white hot, it’s at least warming up enough so you’ll need to let go of certain assumptions that are no longer valid.  If you find something you like and it’s a good value, don’t assume no one else has noticed it and come to a similar conclusion.  Instead, please call me so we can schedule a showing now.

If we go take a look and you like what you see, don’t assume you’ll be able to think things over for two months before you take a second look.  Someone else with similar tastes may have also seen this home or cabin for the bargain it is.  By the time you’ve taken two more months to think it over, their moving van could already be backing up to the front door.

Finally, here’s one last bit of advice.  Pursue perfection, but prioritize your wants and needs.

Now, how do you determine what sort of lake is right for you and what exactly is a bargain?  That will depend on how you want to use the lake. If, for example, you want a level sandy beach for swimming, a large lake for waterskiing or jetskiing, or a small quiet lake that’s better for fishing and watching wildlife, the price tag will be significantly different.  Not everyone wants or can afford that big chalet on a full recreation lake. There are other types of waterfront property that are affordable.

Large, Full Recreation Lake

A full recreational lake will have few, if any, restrictions by the DNR for usage. These lakes are large enough to use a speedboat or jetski. There’s plenty of lake to waterski. You can also fish, or simply go for a cruise on your pontoon or paddle about in a kayak or canoe. The size of the lake can be more than 400 acres and generally will be deep enough for good fish populations. The larger and deeper the lake, the more in demand it will be, and these lakeshore properties will have the highest price tags. It will be pretty tough to find that chalet with level sandy beach on a large lake priced less than $200,000.

Small Lake

If you are willing to settle for a smaller lake, the same home may come with a smaller price tag. Chances are the lake is going to be quieter. Lakes below a certain size (about 400 acres) just aren’t very interesting for jet skis and water skiers; they tend to see more pontoons, fishing boats, or canoes.

Some smaller lakes may have DNR restrictions like no motors or small boat motors only, and may have limited public access with a boat access for carry-in only watercraft. These lakes can be great for fishing, paddling, and swimming.

Environmental Lakes and Wetlands

Very small, shallow lakes can be wonderful for privacy but not great for recreation. These lakes will be ideal for watching birds and wildlife, and perhaps a little paddling around in a canoe or kayak. They may be great spots for duck hunting. A small lake will offer wonderful natural views at a significantly lower price than a full recreational lake.

Rivers

If the idea of watching the lazy river flowing by your livingroom window intrigues you, the same cabin or home will sell for less on a river than it would if it were on a lake.

Most rivers, especially smaller ones, won’t offer the same boating or recreational opportunities as a lake would. In some cases, you may be able to travel upstream or downstream in a fishing boat – or at least in a canoe or kayak. You may even find your own private fishing hole.

With some riverfront properties, the river may be too small or the current too swift. You’ll mainly just be able to sit and enjoy the river view. Still, if your waterfront is a small creek that you can see from your livingroom window, there’s something special about being near the water. It can also attract a lot of wildlife that you’ll be able to watch.

Lake View

Would you be satisfied with a view of the lake or river? A home with a view can be wonderfully satisfying without the high waterfront taxes.

When you decide the type of lake that’s just right for you, then you can prioritize the type of home or cabin that best suits your lifestyle and budget. If you are handy, there are bargains on good lakes that may need some fixing up. You can always remodel the bathroom or replace that pink carpeting in the guest bedroom. Know what matters most, and know what you want so you’ll be ready when you see it.

If buying your first lake home or cabin is your dream but you don’t exactly know where to start, I have a handy checklist to help you determine your ideal lake property. I’ll be glad to send it to you.  And if you already have a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for in a home, cabin, or recreational property, give me a call now, it’s really a great time to buy.

Here’s a great source to find out more about the lakes in NW Wisconsin. Wisconsin DNR lakes directory.

NW Wisconsin real estate. Douglas County WI homes for sale. Washburn County WI homes for sale. Bayfield County WI homes for sale.