There are almost as many ways to camp as there are campers. Whether we choose to hike, boat, drive or even fly into our campsite, there is one thing I think we all agree on. Camping is a great way to take a break from the everyday. Once you’ve invested in the gear that fits your style and budget, or found a generous friend to loan you what you need, camping isn’t that expensive. You don’t even need a lot of time to reap its benefits. In Wisconsin, there is probably a good place to camp within 45 minutes of your home. It’s amazing how relaxing just one night away from your daily routine can be.
Like many of us, I return to the same campgrounds year after year, but I also like to explore new places. Best Tent Camping Wisconsin: Your Car-Camping Guide to Scenic Beauty, the Sounds of Nature, and an Escape from Civilization (2013) by Kevin Revolinski and Johnny Molloy is one of the best loved (i.e. most battered) books I own for a good reason. Now in its third edition (2013), the guide breaks the state down into four sections: Southern, Central, Northwestern, and Northeastern Wisconsin, and rates the two authors’ favorite campgrounds by six criteria: beauty, privacy, spaciousness, quiet, security, and cleanliness. A campground map, description of amenities, details of area attractions and activities, and even a list of individual recommended sites to camp, are included for each campground. Of the 50 campgrounds in the book, I’ve visited 24, and have found the book reliably portrays the pros and cons of each one.
Don’t be turned off by the term “car-camping” if that’s not your style. Many of these campgrounds are well designed to accommodate RVs, car campers, and float-in and hike-in fans in harmony. Park your RV at the Wisconsin Ridge Campground in Wyalusing State Park for a spectacular view of the Wisconsin-Mississippi River confluence. Or try floating or carting into camp at Buckhorn State Park’s unusual, widely-spaced camp clusters, and enjoy your own private Castle Rock Lake frontage. If you feel like getting out of state, the MORE system also has books from this series for Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois.
When I camp in a new place, I always have an outdoor recreation atlas with me. My favorite is the two-volume set from Sportsman’s Connection: Southern Wisconsin All-Outdoors Atlas & Field Guide and Northern Wisconsin All-Outdoors Atlas & Field Guide. Eau Claire is in the Southern Wisconsin book, but just barely. I like this set because it’s highly detailed, easy to read, and includes extremely useful lists of resources based on what activity interests you. Take your pick from fishing (ice, lake, or stream), hunting (by game type), wild harvesting, camping (private and public), canoeing and kayaking, wildlife viewing (by type), trails (hiking and biking, snowmobiling and off-roading), skiing, golfing, and scenic drives.
I also like to do a little research on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website before I go on an outdoor adventure. The DNR offers so much content that their site can feel a little intimidating, but if you enjoy the outdoors, their information on our state’s resources is the gold standard. I use their Explore Outdoors activity search page whenever I feel like trying something new or someplace different. As an enthusiastic (if not very experienced) fisherman, I especially appreciate their Wisconsin Lake Maps. Whatever your favorite activity, the DNR is sure to have something for you.
Yep. Give me a quiet, gorgeous campsite on the water, some fresh-caught fish to fry, maybe some wild blackberries to harvest for dessert, and some friends to share it all with, and I won’t ask for more. What makes you a happy camper?