Karri Bartlett – Blue Highway Lodge

So, what’s your story?

Born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin and have lived here my whole life (minus a couple of years in Zambia doing Peace Corps). As a result, I am the stereotypical Wisconsinite – I love good beer, squeaky cheese curds, and brats. I play euchre and say “ope” when I bump into someone in the grocery store.

My husband (Nate) and I moved to the Driftless region in late 2020. We were drawn in by the hills, views, and outdoor recreation opportunities. We stay because of the wonderful and welcoming people we have met. Also, the quietness and the sky full of stars cannot be beat.

Tell us about what you do for work or your business, and how long have you been doing this?

In 2019, while on many camping trips, sitting by the fire and enjoying cocktails, we dreamed up the idea of making “living in the woods” a lifestyle and career. We spent the next year carefully planning our escape from the City life to buy a resort. Originally, we had been looking to buy a quintessential resort in the Northwoods. But then a property in Hillsboro, WI a town we’d never heard of or been to, popped up on our property search. As soon as we saw this place, we instantly fell in love and made our move.

We are now the owners/operators of Blue Highway Lodge, a unique lodging destination. We have been in operation since January 2021.


Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider being the most significant in your career with your business.

The Blue Highway Lodge was formerly a motorcycle-exclusive resort, meaning you could not stay here if you didn’t arrive on a motorcycle. We have successfully expanded the business to be open year round. Open to everyone, and yet have kept all the amenities that still make it perfect for motorcyclists.


Tell us about a recent project or problem that you made better, faster, smarter, more efficient, or less expensive.

My husband, Nate and I have a complementary skill sets and work well together (thank goodness or this business venture would have surely failed by now!). Nate is the tech expert, so as soon as we bought the resort, our first improvements were to get wi-fi throughout the property. Set up an online booking system and a new phone system. This greatly improved our business functionality and the overall guest experience. We have also installed a solar lighting project to improve the experience at the party pavilion.


What do you wish other people knew about you or your business?

My favorite part of running this business is talking with guests who are experiencing this region for the first time. Many folks come from bigger cities and are blown away by the scenery, how quiet it is, how many stars they can see at night, and how much they love visiting with our farm animals (Highland cattle, alpacas, goats, chickens, and the cutest barn cat). On arrival people often comment, “wow, google took me on a crazy route full of back roads…and it was beautiful!” And I assure them that google took them the right way and to fully experience the Driftless you have to get off the main highways and meander through the hills! And I love hearing from guests as they check out and tell me, “this was amazing….it was the vacation I didn’t know I needed…we’ll be back for sure!”


How would you describe yourself?

I am a person who likes to seek new adventures. I was feeling in a rut at my stable, comfortable government job in leadership, so set off to pursue a new lifestyle and career as a business owner. I wanted to spend more time in nature and away from a computer screen, so now I own a resort in the Driftless!

I like to kayak, hike, cross-country ski, and swim, have been happily married to Nate Toth for 12 years and am mother to three very spoiled dogs. I am also a “farmer”. Having been a city dweller most of my life, it came as a shock to all my family and friends that I would now run a small farm along with the resort! There was a day last year where my husband and I were driving around with 2 baby goats in the back of the truck and I said, “if, 5 years ago, someone asked you what your life would be like would you have ever guessed this?” He laughed and said,” If you asked me this 15 minutes ago I couldn’t have guessed this would be our life!” Make every day a new adventure!!


What is your biggest accomplishment?

After I graduated from college, I went into the Peace Corps and served 2 years in Zambia. Leaving my family, friends, and all the comforts of home to live in a remote African village was the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life. There were certainly hard days, but overall this period of my life was indescribably valuable. It made me who I am today, showed me what I value in life, and taught me humility. It also taught me that challenging yourself is what leads to growth and new opportunities in life.


Have you read any good books?

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is my all-time favorite book.


Do you have a life philosophy that you live by?

Live a life of no regrets!


What do you like most about yourself?

My ability to make people laugh. And I have wild curly hair with its own attitude.


If you could change the world, what would you change?

That everyone had the ability to feel compassion and be kind in all situations.


What do you think is the meaning of life?

To experience joy in the mundane and everyday things, and to love and be loved.


Do you prefer working alone, or do you like working with others?

I enjoy the energy, synergy, and social aspects of working with others. However, in my current job I have a lot of alone time and have found that I really enjoy that as well. Plus, I get to listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks!


What’s something that no one would guess about you?

Since I chose not to have kids of my own, it surprised many people that I was a foster parent for many years.


If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?

Zion National Park at the peak of Angel’s Landing Trail overlooking the canyon.


If you could do anything, anywhere right now, what and where would it be?

Honestly, I feel like I am living my dream life right now and can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing or anywhere I’d rather be.

Of course, I am writing this on February 1st and it’s -8 degrees outside, so I guess I’d rather be on a hot beach with a cold beer in hand today.


How do you handle being in a bad mood?

I like to take a walk in the woods, snuggle with my dogs, or spend time with a friend.


Who is the most important person in your life?

My hubby Nate! That sounds cheesy, I’m sure, but he really is. He’s my best friend, business partner, person-I-would-call-from-jail, and favorite person to debate with.


What did you learn about yourself from any of your previous relationships?

I learned a lot about myself from previous relationships, of course. But I think I learned a lot more about myself when I was living on my own and not in a serious relationship. I think it’s important to take time to develop your own self, your values and beliefs without the influence of others. Being alone allowed me to face my own issues and practice self-love, which made me a more confident and open person in subsequent relationships.


What is your favorite music, or all-time favorite song?

I love almost every genre of music and there’s a perfect playlist for every situation. The Lizzo-inspired dance mix for when I’m partying with my girlfriends. Blues and bluegrass mix when camping in the woods, and the classical mix when working on a mindful task. But my go-to spirit-lifting, sing-loudly-in-the-car favorite song is Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls.


If you weren’t here running your business or doing the work you do, what would you be doing instead?

Probably at a job where I am stuck in meetings all day wishing I was camping.


How has this pandemic affected YOU or YOUR BUSINESS here in the Driftless?

We were already planning to buy a resort and were in the careful planning phase when the pandemic hit. And while everything was completely unknown and everyone’s world was turned upside down, it allowed us to make the leap. Since we could no longer do all the activities we enjoyed, like dining out, hosting parties, and traveling. We could save money, sell our house at record high prices, and invest everything into our new business. Also, the change to remote work was huge for us both during the transition and Nate still works full-time remote. These were all positive changes for us personally. Also, we bought a business that was fairly pandemic-friendly. We could offer individual cabins with no shared public spaces, contactless check-in/check-out on request, etc.

The first winter we were open (2021) we had tapped into an unexpected customer base. We called them “moms who needed some god@#*m peace and quiet”. We had women that showed up with their yoga mat, a couple of bottles of wine, and a good book. When one left after a 3 night stay she said, “that was the best vacation I have ever had!”


What is your favorite season in the Driftless & why?

Fall is my favorite! The colors, the sound of campfires, the crisp air, and all the apples and pears ready to eat off the trees!


Tell us of an experience /memory you had with Driftless lakes, rivers or waterways?

I have so many wonderful memories of the Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Kickapoo rivers! One canoe trip on the Kickapoo was for a friend’s bachelorette party, complete with camping along the river at Bridge 10. It had stormed pretty bad that week, so the river was high and fast and some downed trees to navigate. My friend Amy and I were the most experienced canoers, so they trusted us with the most valuable gear…the beer coolers. We rounded a corner and came upon a downed tree across the river, and there was one safe place to pass under. There were other boaters yelling for us to get to the right, but we didn’t have time. So with some fancy maneuvering and some creative limbo moves within the canoe, we somehow got under the tree and came up safely on the other side (minus a couple branches in our hair and a few scratches). The bystanders erupted in cheers and Amy and I stopped to have a celebratory drink with these wonderful strangers! Everyone are friends on the river!


Is there any place in the world you have been that reminds you of, or similar to the Driftless?

The farms and the rolling hills remind me a lot of Kentucky


What are some of your favorite places to go for fun here in the Driftless?

The Kickapoo Valley Reserve, The Kickapoo River, Goose Island, Wildcat Mountain State park and Wyalusing State Park.


What are some of your favorite places to eat here in the Driftless?

We love the Hillsboro Brewing Company, the Tabor bar, and Driftless Cafe


If you were to tell a friend to come and visit the Driftless Area, and they ask “Why” … What would you tell them?

It is one of the most beautiful places in the State. It’s an amazing place to relax and unwind and disconnect.


Are you a Cat or Dog person?



Are you an Early Bird or Late Owl?

Early Bird


If given the opportunity, would you go to outerspace (moon, mars, space stations)?




What color socks are you currently wearing?



What 1 message would you put in a bottle?

tag, you’re it!


What was your very first job?

Sales associate at Boston Store


If any, what would be your dream job?

park ranger


How / where did you meet your best friend?

On a 300 mile charity bike ride through Southern WI


What does your dream vacation look like?

Visiting different national parks, camping every night, and exploring new places


I Would Rather …

Live in a tree house


By Karri Bartlett