Location: I am not sure whether you know this or not, but 80% of Wisconsin's lakes are in the northern one-third of the state. Only Alaska and Ontario, Canada has more lakes per square mile than Wisconsin. However, Mother Nature decided to place the majority of Wisconsin's lakes in her vast Northwoods.
What: Out of all of Wisconsin's lakes, approximately 90% (over 13,000 lakes) are less than 50 acres in size and do not permit all-sport activities. Only 4.5% are larger than 200 acres in size, and only 1.7% are 500 acres or larger. The average depth of a Wisconsin lake is eleven feet. If you are looking for land on a lake, you are competing for about 3% of available shoreline. The average vacant lake lot, regardless of lake size and location, is about one acre in size and has about one hundred feet of shoreline.
Cost: Back in the October 1998 issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported that more than 97% of Wisconsin's lakes were fully developed or under public ownership. Further, they stated that Wisconsin would be very nearly out of undeveloped lakefront land by the year 2018!
More than twenty years have passed since that prediction, and it is now even more critical that you acquire your lakefront land right away. Demand has never been higher, and every year zoning and environmental regulations make it even more challenging to find affordable lakefront land.
In 2005, The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics reported that the average starting price for one acre of lakefront land was over $200,000–about $2000 per linear foot of shoreline! Years have passed since that study was done and many thousands of lakefront properties have changed hands, making lakefront land rarer and more expensive. There are lakefront properties out there that are considerably less expensive than $200,000, but nobody is foolish about the value of lakefront land today; if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. A shallow, muck-bottom lake with weedy shoreline will cost less, but it is like anything you buy–"You get what you pay for."
If you are looking for a lakefront property at an affordable price, you should be looking at smaller, more intimate-sized lakes. The quality is there, and by "quality" I mean clean water, sand bottom and good fishing, swimming, and quiet boating and paddling.
You will still need to be willing to travel into Northern Wisconsin because that is where the lakes are, but you will finally own private shoreline and be able to enjoy all of the benefits of a lakefront property instead of just wishing you could. This may be your last opportunity to own a shoreline property at an affordable price.
Smaller lakes come with a lot of benefits you may not have considered. They tend to be more peaceful and pristine. Sport-boaters do no go there, so they are more likely to be safer for all family members. You are more likely to see loons and eagles and other wildlife that shy away from busy lakes. You may enjoy even better fishing because fewer people will access the lake.
If you want to enjoy sport-boating, you can head down the road and access any large lake from public access points. In other words, you will enjoy fishing, swimming and quiet times on the water at your land and you can play in someone else's lake anytime you care to for free.