Here’s What It’s Like Living Up North as a 20-Something

July 8, 2020

I moved up north in February 2019. For those of you who may not be familiar with Wisconsin, “up north” typically refers to the northern counties of Lincoln, Oneida, Vilas, Langlade, and/or Forest. Whether you’re a young professional who’s considering moving or you’re new to the area, I hope this provides some insight into what it’s like to live up north. This is meant to be for other 20-somethings but I think it rings true for any age group.

Keep in mind, these are my personal thoughts and experiences. Obviously it’s different for everyone! I will say, however, that many of these thoughts have been echoed by other young professionals I’ve talked to. So, without further ado, here’s what it’s like to live up north as a 20-something.

It's the perfect spot if you're outdoorsy

If you enjoy being on the lake or in the woods, then the Northwoods of Wisconsin is a fantastic place to live. There are literally thousands of lakes up here and an endless amount of public land to explore.

Growing up, I spent many weekends traveling up north to go camping and exploring with my family. We’d enjoy the Northwoods and then head back home after a few peaceful days. Now, I get to experience this 24/7. Living up north and being in close proximity to the outdoors gives us the opportunity to do some of our favorite hobbies every day, whether it’s canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, boating, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and so much more!

This is definitely one of my favorite things about living up north and I can’t imagine living in a big city anymore.

There are pros and cons to small town life

I’m still getting used to living in a small town but I do like it for the most part! To give you a better idea of how small we’re talking, here are some population sizes (via Google on Jul 8, 2020):

Boulder Junction: 956 • Minocqua: 4,414 • Tomahawk: 3,160 • Rhinelander: 7,632 • Eagle River: 1,530

For me, small-town living has both positives and negatives. One of the nice things about living here is that you hardly ever have to deal with traffic. I lived in Minneapolis for four years and Sarasota, FL during peak tourism so I know the frustration of constant traffic and scheduling errands around rush hour. I love that I don’t have to deal with that up here. The only times that it gets busy are during the summer months (especially around the 4th) and when big events come to town, like Beef-A-Rama in Minocqua or Fall Ride in Tomahawk. But even then, it’s nowhere near the other cities I’ve lived it.

One of the downsides of living here is that there are simply not as many options when it comes to entertainment, nightlife, restaurants, and shops. If you enjoy trying out different restaurants, tasting unique food, or seeing live shows, then the Northwoods might not be your thing. Don’t get me wrong, there are some awesome places up here – there just aren’t as many options as you may be used to. I definitely have never considered myself a city person but even I find myself missing these little luxuries every now and then. Sushi especially 🙂

Seasonal changes

Once winter hits, many local shops and restaurants reduce their operating hours or even shut down completely. It becomes very quiet and our options dwindle even further. If you’re not used to living in a tourist area, it can be eye-opening. There are also fewer people around once the snowbirds head south.

Summer, on the other hand, is festive and bustling. The sleepy Northwoods towns start to come alive and can swell to double or triple their size. The best thing you can do is embrace the seasons as much as you can! Here are some ways to take advantage:


Tap maple trees to make your very own maple syrup (read my maple syrup making guide here), take up wildlife photography.



Canoe, kayak, fish, hike, beach days, campfires, golf, boat.


Hop in the car and drive down the many backroads, admiring the colors.


Embrace hygge, light candles, play board games, snowshoe, cross-country ski, bake, host intimate dinners.

Limited Internet Access

Not-so-fun fact: I’ve had to run my laptop off of my phone’s hotspot the entire time I’ve lived up here because we don’t have high-speed internet access at our house. The reason we don’t have internet is because we literally don’t have the option of having it. This is not uncommon up here since it’s so rural and remote.

The good news is that they finally started running lines down our road this summer so hopefully, we’ll have it by this fall! Fingers crossed!!

Making friends

I’ve heard this time and time again: it’s so hard to make new friends as an adult. Now imagine being in your 20s and moving up to a remote area where you don’t know a soul (luckily I had Sean) and the majority of the population is older. Added on to the fact that there are hardly any resources for young professionals and very few events geared towards networking. Plus, for me personally, I was working at home so I didn’t even have coworkers to rely on.

This may sound a bit gloomy but I want to be as truthful as possible. It was very difficult making friends up here and it took me almost a year to find people that I vibed with. I would say most young professionals up here can relate to this.

BUT, it’s not impossible and we’re working at making it better and easier to connect young professionals in the area so don’t let this deter you!

The friends you do make will probably be like-minded

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that not many 20-somethings could live full-time up here. Which means the friends you do make will most likely be very similar to you. Outdoorsy, low-key, adventurous, kind-hearted… Those are the type of people I’ve met up north.

The job market isn't great

This is one of the hardest things about getting and retaining young professionals up north. There are just not many job opportunities, especially if you’re looking for something creative. That’s not to say there aren’t any creative careers, they’re just few and far between. So if something comes up, you better try and snag it!

I can't imagine living anywhere else

If you prefer a dimly-lit supper club over a sleek, modern restaurant; a quiet lakeside morning over a busy city park; then you might be like me and find yourself living up north. Yes, there are some downsides and things to get used to. But whenever our canoe slips softly into the water and the loons start to sing, it’s just another reminder that I can’t imagine living anywhere else.