At its most basic level, camping is an overnight stay away from home in a shelter, such as a tent. For many, it’s an urban getaway with a natural setting and few distractions. Simple meals and sitting around a campfire round out the experience.
You can rough it or not depending on your needs. Creature comforts can be provided and health issues and disabilities can be accommodated to a certain extent. Facilities for differently abled campers are still limited. The state offers 10 cabins for campers with disabilities; the closest one is at Mirror Lake State Park in Baraboo. And gear to make you comfortable, like an inflatable double mattress, can be found easily and may entice people back to camping.
I prefer a more rustic, simple experience without a lot of gadgets, which means a tent, a few chairs, a gas backpacking stove, and possibly our portable barbecue. But if you want a luxury experience, you can find canvas tents with all the amenities. Creative Retreats, which specializes in luxury canvas tenting, just expanded to Governor’s Island in New York City harbor, adding to their variety of offerings.
In general, you pay a camping fee per night whether you are at a public or private campground. Beyond the fee, you may need other permits or have to pay an entrance fee. Private campgrounds often have a resort fee to cover the amenities they offer. State and national parks have vehicle entrance fees or an annual pass. And if you like to bike ride or fish, you might have to get an additional permit.
Tents and Yurts
Tents come in all shapes, sizes, and weights depending on your needs. While primarily for sleeping, your tent also serves as shelter from thunderstorms or pesky mosquitoes, so make sure it is up to the job. To rent camping gear, try the University of Wisconsin Madison Union or look online for options.
For a more substantial shelter, you can rent a cabin or a yurt. Yurts are circular tent structures usually with a canvas roof. Beyond these components, experiences and prices vary depending on the amenities provided. Some yurts, like those offered by Bayfield County, are minimalist and not accessible by car. Other yurts, like those at the Baraboo Hills Campground, include electricity, appliances, and other amenities. These come with a higher fee, of course.
Finding the Right Campground
Where you go really depends on your main objective for the weekend. Maybe it’s just camping or maybe attending a music festival, county fair, food festival, or knocking off a segment of the Ice Age Trail. Some ideas are offered below with thoughts on how they might pair with other activities.
Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo
Both in- and out-of-state campers flock to Devil’s Lake for camping vacations. The spectacular scenery, large deciduous and pine trees, variety of hiking, and the lake and all the activities associated with it, make this an ideal place to camp for a few nights. It also makes a great base camp to explore the Baraboo area—if you can get a reservation.
Lake Farm County Park in Madison
Lake Farm Park campground fills with campers here to enjoy the 328-acre park’s wide range of recreational activities, including a boat launch. For bicyclists, this park serves as a hub. Bike the Lower Yahara River Trail one day and tackle the Capital City State Trail the next. The park’s close proximity to the Alliant Center, home to the Dane County Fair and other events, makes this a great base camp for exploring the Madison area.
Blue Mounds State Park in Blue Mounds
Blue Mounds State Park caters to bicyclists. In addition to extensive hiking trails, it has dedicated mountain biking trails and direct access to the Military Ridge Trail. Families will enjoy camping here. The park has one of the few pools (ADA accessible) in a state park. And the top of the mound’s open space is great for ball games or Frisbee.
From the observation towers, you can see the lay of the land or watch the sunset. Even better, you can see fireworks across the region on July 4 or meteors during the July/August Perseid meteor showers. You will not be alone!
New Glarus Woods State Park in New Glarus
For the more adventurous, bike to New Glarus Woods. The park connects to the Sugar River Trail running between New Glarus and Brodhead. In Monticello, the trail intersects the Badger State Trail connecting riders with Madison to the north and the Jane Addams Trail to the south.
Use this park as a base for attending one of the summer/fall festivals hosted by New Glarus. And it never hurts to have a well-established microbrewery, New Glarus Brewing Co., just down the road from the park.
Governor Dodge State Park in Dodgeville
Governor Dodge State Park has a variety of hiking loops, springs, and wooded trails for when the temperatures soar, as well as lakes for fishing and swimming. This park also has equestrian camping and trails.
I like to book a campsite on an evening when we have tickets for a show at American Players Theatre (APT), only a few miles down the road. Pick some berries and arrive early at APT to linger over your picnic dinner. After the show, let the Madison crowd disperse. Drive leisurely back to your campsite.
Finally, the best-kept secrets are the county park campgrounds. Known mostly to locals, they often have reservable campsites with generally lower fees. A great example is the county park I discovered with a great campground and a lake for fishing and swimming while attending the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair in Custer.
Get creative and consider combining your favorite activities with camping. You will create some memorable weekend experiences.
Liz Wessel is the owner of Green Concierge Travel, which has information for honeymoons and other ecotravel at greenconciergetravel.com .