We Tried It: Whitnall Park’s Summer Campout

We were only one of four families to do so, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a s’more or four.

By: Hannah Hoffmeister and Liz Johnson

We went camping this weekend (Friday, July 26). Not a bad day on the job. Now that we’ve filled up on diner food and bad coffee, I think we’re ready to write.

Here’s what it’s like to take part in Whitnall Park’s summer camp-out:

Hannah Hoffmeister: After at least four U-turns getting into the park, I was surprised that Whitnall Park was so developed. There was a lot there — playground, tons of picnic benches and a really nice, grassy area.

Liz Johnson: But the biggest surprise of the night was the number of campers. The beer garden’s parking lot was full, but we were one of only four groups who planned to camp.

HH: Read that one again. FOUR.

LJ: Out of 75 spots! They didn’t even have to mark off our campsite.

HH: But before the camping was the beer garden. Babies, older couples, friends galore. I liked how everyone did their own thing — some took the Cheez-It route, but I remember you saying you saw someone who had brought veggies and cheese to share.

LJ: Definitely a good place for a picnic. In hindsight, we should have packed more than gummy bears and off-brand cheese crackers.

Photo Credit: Liz Johnson

HH: I marked the time — we had no more snacks of our own at 5:53 p.m. Worth noting that we showed up at 5.

LJ: I guess that’s what happens when college kids camp. At least there were plenty of food trucks.

HH: Each camper gets a drink ticket, so I got a Spotted Cow at the beer tent. Wasn’t expecting it to be a LITER of beer.

LJ: Pays to be 21. The sodas were still served in the pint glass they advertised on the website.

HH: Let’s be real, though: If we hadn’t found Chris, Hank and Sam, we would be two mosquito-bitten, s’more-less suckers. Chris Hlebichuk was camping with his two sons, Hank and Sam. We introduced ourselves — they had just moved back to Wisconsin from Washington. Chris talked about the level of genuine kindness that makes the Midwest so lovable, and then he lived up to that kindness by giving us the last of his bug spray.

LJ: They saved us again at the campfire, where we realized we hadn’t found s’more-roasting sticks before the sun set.

HH: My favorite part was when the older of the two kids asked us, “Are you in college, or are you adults?”

LJ: Definitely just in college.

HH: We talked with the park rangers, too: two brothers who were both going to pull an all-nighter to protect all 20-ish of us from the elements.

Photo Credit: Hannah Hoffmeister

LJ: Speaking of the elements, we were bracing for a downpour in the middle of the night. Happy to wake up dry.

HH: My family and I do a lot of camping (hi, Mom!), and speaking from experience, packing up a wet tent in the morning is no fun!

LJ: The tent was really comfortable, too. I fell right asleep, but I remember the mom we talked to this morning said the lights in the beer garden kept her up until 2 a.m.

HH: That said, the lights and the bug-free bathroom probably make it a good first-time camping experience for families. Whitnall Park is offering its grounds to campers one more night this summer: Aug. 10.

LJ: It is surprising more people didn’t jump on this offer; everyone we talked to last night was expecting the campground to be packed. One beer garden guest said she didn’t even attempt to book a campsite because she assumed it’d be full.

HH: If we were to give feedback to the park, I’d suggest keeping the campfire open longer; it closed at 9, which pretty much shut down any bonding with the other families.

LJ: All the other activities were open to all beer garden guests as well. The camping was less of a community event and more of an opportunity to make your own experience.

HH: Overall, would you do it again?

LJ: Absolutely! That was the easiest camping experience I’ve ever had; perfect if you’re too busy to take a whole weekend.

HH: Couldn’t agree more!

Photo credit: Milwaukee County Parks