5 Ways to Camp in Wisconsin

There are many ways to camp in the Milwaukee area.

WHAT TYPE OF CAMPING EXPERIENCE do you desire – seclusion or social proximity? Modern conveniences or roughing it? Whatever you choose, amenities include plenty of fresh air and nature’s own serenade of birds, crickets and rustling leaves.


CAR CAMPING

Copper Falls State Park 

This park, where the Bad River meets Tyler Forks, is home to several waterfalls – including the 30-foot Brownstone Falls – and 17 miles of hiking trails with a segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail among them. An observation tower overlooks it all. The modern campground features hot showers and the sites – 13 of 56 offer electrical hookups – are laid out in well-shaded loops with intervening foliage that provides more privacy than a lot of other state park sites. An oft-overlooked trail – everyone goes straight to Brownstone for the photo – runs a loop in the north end of the park where hikers can walk down on the rock alongside a tumbling rapids.

Photograph of Copper Falls State Park by Kevin Revolinski
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BACKPACKING

Ice Age Trail 

Backpacking, or thru-hiking, requires you to carry all your gear on your back, Appalachian Trail-style. Ice Age National Scenic Trail segments within the Kettle Moraine State Forest Northern Unit make an uninterrupted nearly 36-mile stretch from Glenbeulah to Kewaskum. The rustic footpath follows along eskers, over moraines and around kettles. Several state campgrounds lie along the route, but five camping shelters – simple open-air cabins for up to 10 – are right on the trail, allowing thru-hikers with permits to stay for one night. Hikers can plan around some of the parks along the route in terms of shorter routes, water and toilets, or some worthy side trips, such as a climb up Dundee Mountain (a glacial kame) at Long Lake Recreation Area.


HIKE-IN CAMPING

Newport State Park 

Thru-hiking offers the challenge of having everything you need on your person. Backcountry sites, however, lessen the hike and emphasize the camping. While Door County’s Peninsula and Potawatomi state parks are bustling with car campers, Newport, on the Lake Michigan side, is a haven for campers who prefer to leave the car at the lot. With 11 miles of shoreline, Newport has 14 hike-in sites set close to the big lake (plus two more along the inland Europe Lake). Hump all your gear from a few hundred feet to 2 miles to reach rustic sites with fire rings and pit toilets. Trails total 30 miles for hiking, with 17 of those open to mountain bikes.  


CANOE CAMPING

Turtle-Flambeau Flowage 

Much can be said about camping along rivers (the Wisconsin and St. Croix are excellent!), but the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage west of Manitowish offers 19,000 acres of flat water with 212 miles of shoreline. Think of this as Boundary Waters light. A dam on the Flambeau River created the flowage and a resulting abundance of islands amid thousands of acres of undeveloped wilderness. Spread throughout are 66 rustic campsites, free and first-come, first-served, and only reachable by boat. One section of the flowage is a designated “quiet zone” in a nod to paddlers and meditative anglers. Pack everything into your craft at one of several put-ins. But because this is not a river, you can paddle back to your vehicle and won’t need a shuttle.  


RUSTIC CAMPING

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest 

Within the vast federally managed forest across northern Wisconsin are many campgrounds or recreation areas with sites numbering not even in double digits. The car-accessible Chipmunk Rapids, for example, west of Florence, has six sites with nothing more than a fire ring, picnic table, and a central water pump and pit toilet. The Pine River, a National Wild and Scenic River, is steps away. Nightly fees are self-pay and cheaper than most others in the state. Other sites such as those at Perch and Lauterman lakes require a short hike from the parking lot. None of these can be reserved, but many of them are available even on busy summer weekends.


ADVENTURE TIPS

If You See a Bear 

Black bears like the ones in Wisconsin generally run off. Never turn your back and don’t play dead. Stand big, spread your arms, and back away slowly, making lots of noise. Don’t get between a mama and her cubs. 

Make Your Own Firestarter 

Cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly or pine cones dipped in paraffin are helpful for kindling if you have no success with pine needles or dry leaves at your camp. Store matches/lighters in a zip-close bag.

First Aid Kit 

Pack these! Bandages, tweezers/needle for splinters, antiseptic gel, antihistamine ointment (Benadryl) for stings/bites. Vicks VapoRub is great on mosquito bites, aloe vera for burns, and pain killers. Also important: Know where to go for something serious.  

Become an Explorer 

Kids can earn collectible patches each year via the state park system’s Wisconsin Explorer program by completing each of nine booklets for ages 3-9+. They are available at state park offices and online. 


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s June/July issue

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