This week’s blog post is written by Kayla Harrington @kaylagoesoutdoors. Kayla is a Mom of 2, living in Wisconsin. Adventuring with her two boys, Kayla inspires families to embrace the outdoors through all types of outdoor play. From hiking, to paddling, the outdoor fun is endless! Kayla has written a blog post today showcasing state parks that are perfect for camping in Wisconsin with kids! Here is what Kayla has to share with us:

Camping in Wisconsin with Kids

I know many people may not associate Wisconsin with pristine pine forests or dazzling waterways, in fact I bet if you know anything about Wisconsin it has to do with the big 3 (Cheese, the Green Bay Packers & Beer) but take from this outdoor mama when I say Wisconsin is a vast outdoor playground for all ages. I’m Kayla, a mom of two conservationists in training and I’m here to talk about the wonders of  front-country camping in Wisconsin. 

Since my boys were born our family has taken numerous camping trips with the goal of visiting all 66 Wisconsin state parks before our oldest turns 18. We have done 9 so far and these are my top 3, kid-friendly state parks (along with some helpful tricks we’ve picked up along the way) to pitch a tent at!

Rock Island State Park

Starting off strong this is by far my favorite campground in all of Wisconsin. Rock Island State Park located on, you guessed it, Rock Island! It is a 906 acre island located at the very tip of Wisconsin’s Door County Peninsula. It takes two ferry rides just to arrive at the park (ferry’s run May – October and the hours can vary). It has 10 miles of trails, a swimming beach, 40 “primitive” walk-in campsites, a lighthouse (more on that later), and the Rock Island Boathouse (one of the most historically significant structures in the state).

The coolest feature (if I had to choose one) would have to be the Pottawatomie Lighthouse. It is one of the few lighthouses in the country that allows you to go up and into the lantern room. It’s run by Friends of Rock Island and docents actually live on site in the historic lighthouse and offer free tours during the summer months. I recommend planning to arrive as soon as the light house opens as this tends to be the most popular attraction on the island. It’s about a 1.5 mile hike from the campground. 

If you are just visiting for the day I highly recommend walking around the Boathouse before catching the ferry back home. Chester Thordarson built the boathouse with help from a noted Chicago architect named Frederick Dinkelberg (my husband and son laughed so much too long at the name during our self guided tour) in 1929. The boathouse was to serve as temporary living quarters while a larger mansion was being built on the Island. Unfortunately Thordarson passed away before his dream could be realized. Now the Boathouse serves as part museum, part community room for campers. The park staff keep it well stocked with board games, puzzles, and comfy seating for rainy days. I recommend watching the sunset and rise from the deck that surrounds the structure. The views are truly breathtaking.

Wyalusing State Park

Coming in at number 2, Wyalusing State Park is my oldest son Ollie’s favorite place to be. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the lower southwest portion of the state. With a stargazing area, caves galore and views of the Mississippi River it’s best to plan for at least two nights here to take it all in. 

We normally dedicate an entire day to hiking to and exploring a few of the caves(5 in total) they have open to the public. Most caves are easy access, but our favorite is Treasure Cave, which requires going down a few flights of stairs and up two ladders into the cave opening.

If we luck out and the sky is clear we head to the Observatory area for some late night star gazing. My kiddos love putting on their headlamps for the night hike over, but for those who want to drive there is plenty of parking nearby. 

I consider Wyalusing to be one of the more under loved parks in the state, I can normally snag a good camping site a month or so in advance, however I do suggest booking as early as possible. The campsites are also pretty close together, but to make the most of the sites I suggest booking on the Mississippi Ridge, you will have amazing sunset views over the river (I do not recommend these sites however for kiddos under 3. There is a large drop-off bordering these sites).

High Cliff State Park

Last but not least is High Cliff State Park. Our family was lucky enough to live a short drive away from this iconic Wisconsin State Park, located on the tip of Lake Winnebago in the Central Eastern part of the state. High cliff offers plenty of hiking, biking, and horse trails, an observation tower, a marina, paved trails that are handicap accessible, the remains of an abandoned lime-kiln town, and Pre-American Effigy Mounds (they date back between 1000 A.D. – 1500 A.D). A mouthful – I know! There really is something for everyone, camping or in town on a day trip. 

While High Cliff is located just outside of the Fox Valley (near Green Bay) it is relatively quiet on most days. Hot summer Saturday’s are of course the busiest but the park normally calms down after 5pm on the weekends. I recommend hiking out from the campground on the Indian Mound Trail in the mornings to view the Mounds and then taking the trail connector to the Red Bird Trail towards the Observation Tower to avoid the crowds. There is a great playground and picnic area near the tower that makes for the perfect lunch stop before hiking back to camp.

The lower portion of the park will take you along the lake and through the old lime kiln area. My kids love imagining what it was like to live in a mining town – but they love creating stories as to why they left even more. After hiking the Lime Kiln Trail I suggest stopping by the beach or checking out the paved trail around the butterfly pond. If you do decide to take the butterfly pond, be on the lookout for Osprey! High Cliff State Park has created nesting grounds for them and they have been fairly successful. Most years one or two Ospreys will nest in the area.

I want to make sure to give a huge shout out to the Wisconsin DNR for creating and maintaining all of our beautiful parks! If you are interested in visiting or camping at one of our 66 parks please visit the link below!

Happy Camping and remember to keep exploring! 

Kayla Harrington

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