Whether you’re a hiker, climber or just a lover of campfire s’mores, the Badger State is a camper’s dream. “Wisconsin offers first rate camping from the rivers in the south to the Great Lakes and regal forest in the north,” writes Johnny Molloy, author of more than 80 outdoor guides throughout the US. “Choose your place and choose your experience.”

Stuff your backpacks, grab a hiking stick and start planning your next outdoor trek to one of the state’s best campsites.

By Kevin Revolinski


Harrington Beach State Park

Less than 40 minutes north of downtown Milwaukee, the park shows a mile of sandy beach along Lake Michigan. Trails explore the woods and circle a water-filled quarry with historic signage. The onsite observatory hosts public astronomy evenings in summer and fall. The family campground has 69 sites, with showers, flush toilets and laundry facilities.


Kettle Moraine State Forest

A long stretch of forest broken up into five protected units, the Kettle Moraine is a series of glacial formations and deposits where the last lobes of glaciers came together before retreating. In the Northern Unit, Long Lake and Mauthe Lake are fine campgrounds with 200 and 135 sites, respectively. All feature showers and flush toilets, while Mauthe also offers concessions and paddling rentals. The Ice Age National Scenic Trail passes through both parks and, in fact, runs the entire length of the state forest from Glenbeulah to Whitewater. The drive from Milwaukee is less than an hour.


Kohler-Andrae State Park

Sand dunes in the Midwest? Believe it! With two miles of sandy shoreline along Lake Michigan, this park is just south of Sheboygan A cordwalk trail takes you through the scenic dunes, but other trails head into wetlands and other ecosystems within the park. The 137-site family campground offers showers and flush toilets.



Devil’s Lake State Park

This is the most popular of the state parks for good reason: at center is a beautiful clear lake closed in by a glacial moraine and two 500-foot bluffs that draw hikers and climbers alike. The park has a vast network of trails with a segment of the Ice Age Trail passing through. The 423 campsites are a mix of grassy and wooded sites, with many offering electricity.


Mirror Lake State Park

So close to Wisconsin Dells, yet a world away. Tucked in the woods, the centerpiece lake is rich with fish, and paddlers enjoy exploring narrow passes between sandstone bluffs. The campsites laid out in three loops are well shaded and feature showers.


Governor Dodge State Park

Along with two swimming lakes – including a pet swim area – the park features 300 sites divided into two campgrounds, both of which have showers, playgrounds, and dumping stations. Hiking and equestrian trails extend for nearly 40 miles, including the Lost Canyon trail through a lush sandstone gorge with a photogenic waterfall fed by a natural spring creek.


Wyalusing State Park

Overlooking the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, this park rises up on bluffs for amazing sunset views. Trail systems serve both hikers and paddlers. The park’s position along a popular migration flyway makes this a birding hotspot, especially for hummingbirds. Campsites along the ridge offer great views, but the Homestead sites are more private and sheltered by woods and brush.



Peninsula State Park

Right next to Fish Creek, this is Door County’s most popular state park, with miles of trails, paved paths for hiking and biking, a golf course, a lighthouse, playground, boat launch, and an accessible observation tower with one of the best sweeping views of Green Bay and its little islands off the peninsula.


Potawatomi State Park

The southernmost park, below Sturgeon Bay, it’s heavily wooded, with great overlooks to the waters of Green Bay, water entry for paddlers, and the eastern terminus of the Ice Age Trail among its hiking paths.


Newport State Park

An officially recognized Dark Sky Park site, stargazers love this designated wilderness park set along 12 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. Camping is all backpacker sites with pit toilets, requiring hikes from a few hundred feet to over a mile, but carts are available.


Rock Island State Park

The entire rocky-shore, forested island, with its historic boathouse and a lighthouse, is a park and it takes two ferries to get there – the second from Washington Island is passengers-only as the island does not allow cars or even bicycles. Camping is hike-in and rustic and a 10-mile trail circles the island.



Copper Falls State Park

The Bad River roars a deep rocky gorge and the waters of Tylers Forks tumble 40 feet at Brownstone Falls where the two rivers turn north through Devil’s Gate – a rock formation and flow north toward Lake Superior. The park is geological wonder with volcanic rock in the mix. Campgrounds are nicely spaced for privacy and among the miles of hiking paths is a segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail.


Northern Highlands-American Legion State Forest

This sprawling state property near Minocqua and Woodruff contains 900 lakes and sections of the Wisconsin, Flambeau, and Manitowish Rivers. Campgrounds count 16 in the North and 6 in the South, each of them adjacent to the pristine lakes they are named for and excellent for swimming, fishing and paddling. Four modern but non-electric campgrounds include Firefly, Musky, Crystal and Clear Lakes. Some non reserved sites are available first come, first served.


Know Before You Go

Guide-worthy Camping Tips

  • PARK FEES All state campgrounds use an online reservation system for most or all sites at wisconsin.goingtocamp.com. Book up to 11 months in advance. Vehicles require an annual park sticker or a daily fee.
  • BRING YOUR POOCH Most state parks allow dogs, even on the trails, but don’t forget to keep them on a leash of 8 feet or less. Some parks even have dedicated pet-swim areas. But as a rule, dogs are not permitted on beaches or designated nature trails.
  • CHOOSE YOUR COMFORT LEVEL Not all sites are created equal. Standard sites are suitable for campers and tents and provide a picnic table and fire ring. Some offer electricity hookups while others are “rustic” and do not. Modern campgrounds generally have a shower building and flush toilets in addition to the typical drinking water and pit toilets. Backpacker sites are deeper in the woods, requiring campers to carry their gear — some parks may offer carts for this — but offering better privacy and a more “wilderness” experience. Accessible sites and cabins are also available.

Kevin Revolinski is a Wisconsin outdoors and beer writer and author of "Backroads and Byways of Wisconsin" a guidebook to the best paddling throughout the Badger State. See his website at themadtraveler.com.

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