Wisconsin’s scenery is a favorite camping site, because of its rolling hills, which are the result of the Ice Age skipping through this region 12,000 years ago, avoiding flat-terrain status. It’s easy to find a waterfront campsite because it’s surrounded by two Great Lakes (Lake Superior and Lake Michigan) and the Mississippi River. It’s also extremely probable that your camp will be shaded, as there are many throughout the state. Below are the top ten camping locations in Wisconsin, ranging from public parks to privately-owned campgrounds.
1. Rock Island State Park
The journey itself is half the fun. Ride up the Door County peninsula, which is bounded by Green Bay and Lake Michigan, and take a ferry to Washington Island, then another to this car-free island. Because all 40 sites are rustic and carry-in, with a fire ring and picnic table, wear comfortable walking shoes and pack light. A set of stone houses and the Pottawatomie Lighthouse are also on the island.
What’s Nearby: Lavender truffles, sachets, and body-care products are available for purchase at two Washington Island lavender farms (Fragrant Isle and Island Lavender).
2. Peninsula State Park
Because of the number of campsites (468) and proximity to a town, this 3,776-acre park abutting Green Bay is the polar opposite of Rock Island State Park. But, with 8 miles of shoreline, a historic lighthouse (Eagle Bluff Light) to explore, and a professional theater company presenting at Northern Sky Theater, why would you want to depart?
What’s Nearby: Take a stroll into Fish Creek village, where Blue Horse Beach Café serves all-day breakfast and morning brews (from huevos rancheros to house-made cinnamon rolls).
3. Devil’s Lake State Park
Due to spectacular quartzite bluffs (soaring 500 feet in height, such as Balanced Height and Devil’s Doorway) enclosing a 360-acre lake for swimming or renting stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, or canoes, rock climbers know this is Wisconsin’s best site to climb. In the 9,217-acre park, Wisconsin’s largest state park, there are thirty miles of hiking trails and 423 campsites.
What’s Nearby: Driftless Glen’s restaurant and tasting room, four miles from the park, is famed for its beer and, more recently, spirits.
4. Camp Kettlewood
At this new campsite (opening in 2020) close to the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, a former Girl Scout camp, sleep in a 1977 Airstream or 1957 Holly. The Hilton glamping site has platform tents with mattresses that can accommodate up to eight people. For a more secluded experience, pitch a tent at “The Prairie,” a “rustic campsite” run by Simona and Jeremy Ebner. Glamping is possible even in the most remote locations, thanks to indoor bathtubs with full plumbing (that’s code for “flush toilets”) and an outdoor shower.
What’s Nearby: For a quick, delicious pond-to-plate snack, stop by Rushing Waters Fisheries and pick up smoked salmon or smoked trout spread (you can even fish for your catch).
5. Wyalusing State Park
You’ll find bluffs (for spectacular views) and opportunities for birdwatching and fishing because it’s located at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. In addition to the 114 campsites, the Hugh Harper Indoor Group Camp’s four dorms can accommodate up to 108 “campers” who are protected from the elements. The Lawrence L. Huser Astronomy Center offers free programs from May to October.
What’s Nearby: Stop by Sunrise Orchards in Gays Mills for apple-cider donuts and Honeycrisp apples before heading to your campsite (August through December).
6. Copper Falls State Park
Waterfalls are the main attraction at this state park, as the name implies. The 3,068-acre natural paradise, just beyond the Bad River Reservation, folds in a part of the Bad River and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2005. You’ll need many nights here to see and do everything, including trout fishing on Loon Lake and hiking on 17 miles of trails. At any of the 24 campsites with electric hook-ups, you can sleep under the stars.
What’s Nearby: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is only a 50-mile drive north of Bayfield.
7. Kohler-Andrae State Park
If you’ve never witnessed dunes, you must go to this park, which is bordered on the east by Lake Michigan. Take a stroll down the beach’s boardwalks, which sway gently among the whispering pines. Electrical hookups are available in 52 of the park’s 137 campsites. Enjoy the sole canvas-and-pole tee-pee (summer only) or one of ten accessible cottages with complete kitchens for a glamping-like experience.
What’s Nearby: Kohler’s design showcase in the company town of Kohler features dream kitchens and baths made by celebrity designers.
8. Wildcat Mountain State Park
Regular tourists to high-altitude areas like Colorado may be perplexed by the term “mountain.” Wildcat Mountain is a sandstone bluff with a limestone summit. Twenty-five campsites each have a picnic table and fire ring, or you can carry your items to one of the other 21 sites. Showers and flush toilets are all nearby. Horseback riding and trekking can be done on twenty-one miles of paths. Brown trout spawn in the park’s part of the Kickapoo River, which attracts canoeists.
What’s Nearby: Driftless Books and Music in Viroqua is the kind of charming independent bookshop you wish existed in every town.
9. Jack Lake Campground
There’s no need to set up camp in Veteran’s Memorial Park, 15 miles north of Antigo, along the spring-fed Jack Lake: choose from three 16-by-20-foot cabins (the amusingly named Timberdoodle, Ruffed Grouse, and Gobblers Roost), each sleeping up to five people and equipped with a grill, fireplace, fire pit, bunk beds, dining table and chairs, and electrical lighting. If you wish to sleep outside, the park includes 48 campsites with electricity hookups.
What’s Nearby: Bogus Swamp State Natural Area is located on the other side of Highway 45, approximately west of Koepenick, and spans 870 acres.
10. Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest
There are four contemporary campgrounds (Crystal Lake, Firefly Lake, Big Musky, and Clear Lake) tucked into the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, with a total of 355 sites, as well as more rustic and primitive camping alternatives. While Clear Lake rests on its namesake 846-acre lake, you’ll be rewarded with stunning sunrises and sunsets from the lakefront, oceanfront sites in Crystal Lake.
What’s Nearby: In Manitowish Waters, a genuine Wisconsin tradition is dinner at Little Bohemia Lodge, a supper club where John Dillinger participated in a shoot-out with the FBI.