Drive from Milwaukee: 37 minutes (with construction)
This place is a gem. Some nearby road construction makes it difficult to reach, but the closed road is well-marked on Google Maps. Run by Racine County, the park has two major chunks: the campground and a forest area leading up to Lake Michigan. The campground has 92 campsites, half of which must be reserved at least seven days in advance, and the remainder can be hooked until roughly 24 hours in advance. Sites generally cost $40 a night, but that falls to $28 if you’re willing to show up and take whatever’s available (within certain rules). The sites are grassy and spacious, and the area is dappled with trees.
Cliffside lacks a game room or pool, but for a group seeking both convenience and nature, it’s hard to beat. The wooded area is cut through with a web-maze of trails, and you might need GPS to get back out on your first exploration. (Even if you get lost, it won’t be for long; the area’s not that big.)
Still, for such small back country, there’s a startling amount of variety: a small creek at the bottom of a gulch, huge fallen trees, a couple spots overlooking Lake Michigan and the not-bad-looking Oak Creek Power Plant to the north. A secret overlook to the southeast, while not the safest perch, is popular anyway. All that remains of the area, after erosion, is a small platform surrounding a tree stump.
While the park remains open, camping ends in the second week of October. If you go, you can buy a bundle of firewood for $5 (cash) from a stall you’ll pass going in. The mosquito-factor tends to be manageable, only spiking when very hot.
Drive from Milwaukee: 40 minutes
South of Racine is Cliffside’s little brother, Sanders, which is smaller and more wooded. The park’s configuration means that almost half the sites are corners of some kind, and like Cliffside, there are trails to follow: A paved loop runs through the 20-acre Sanders Park Hardwoods State Natural Area. Prices and the camping season are the same as at Cliffside.
Public service announcement
Ticks remain very active through the fall; the little buggers don’t give up. Here are some tips from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services on how to avoid getting sick.[/alert]
Drive from Milwaukee: 21 minutes
If you’re a kid (who doesn’t hate the outdoors), there’s nothing quite like a Yogi Bear Camp Resort/campground. Jellystone is a franchise of campgrounds crossed with something you might find in Wisconsin Dells, and while RV camping is the focus, there are areas for everything. And then there are the water slides, the ice cream and espresso bar, the 18 holes of mini-golf, the outdoor movie theater and the dunk tank. (Note: Most of the water stuff closes after Labor Day, but there will be a Haunted Trail through Oct. 14.)
Pricing is more complex, and reserving a spot will do the math for you.
Drive from Milwaukee: about 50 minutes
The DNR runs a small group of serene, nature-oriented campgrounds down here, including a year-round one at Ottawa Lake. Varying levels of sanitary convenience are provided for your comfort, and special, secluded sites have their own walk-ups. If this sounds like more your style, also check out the North Campgrounds, where you can reserve a four-person teepee.
Drive from Milwaukee: 40 minutes
Country View in Mukwonago is a bargain, costing as little as $25/night, and it sports nice tent areas separated from the big rollers.
Drive from Milwaukee: 42 minutes
If you like wooded sites, Timber Trail near West Bend is worth considering. Who doesn’t like trees? For warmer weather, Timber Trail also has an unusually large pool. (When reserving, make sure it’s not for the Timber Trail near Door County.)
Photos courtesy of: Chris Kessler; Getty Images; Basse’s Farm; Carly Jo Hintz; Joseph Morales and Company; Marcus Center