I haven't been there in 15 years, and don't know if there's any off-roading but it's always a good place to take that family. Make sure you do a Duck ride while you're there! Besides that, if you're ever in Milwaukee make sure you stop by the Safe House. I'd tell you how to get there, but I've been sworn to secrecy about it's exact location.
Some spots I've found in WI that I like so far in the Chequagemon-Nicolet National Forest region.
Stevens Lake campground - NICE very small spot (maybe 8 sites) with no amenities which means there's no draw for yahoos. Not big rig friendly either.
Lost Lake Campground - more to follow.
12 Foot Falls County Campground - nice spot in a pine forest near waterfalls. 7 sites, no amenities and empty when we were here in June 2017. $10 a night to camp and worth it. Good bit of cell signal here (this post was sent here on 4G).
These spots are marked on iOverlander - neat app I'm using to mark sites I've visited since I left California and headed east.
We wasted no time to make sure that we got out somewhere after moving to the Chicago area. We decided to do a night trip at Kohler Andrae State Park, which is just a few miles south of Sheboygan, WI. This park is very family friendly and has things from church services, music nights, the nature center's education program, beautiful beach and a park area with shelters and a playground. There is an awesome dune cord-walk about 2 miles long, which is a literal board by board connected with cord that twists and turns throughout the sand dunes. There are several other hiking trails throughout the state park as well. There is a pet-friendly beach at the northern end near the park office if you so happen to bring your pet companion along. The campsites are a little tight but there are a few secluded ones that you might get lucky to snag up. Unfortunately, we didn't write down the good campsite numbers so you will have tootle around and find them for yourself. It does have a shower house and both flush and vault toilets depending on which loop you are in.
Well, if you are anything like me, and not a huge fan of water parks or like staying on a resort all day, you might be asking yourself what you can do at “The Waterpark Capital of the World”? Don’t fright! Wisconsin Dells has a lot of other outdoors activities to offer so you definitely will not get bored. My wife and I did the Original Wisconsin Duck Tour, the regular upper Dells Boat Tour, stopped by the Tommy Bartlett show, road the Mid-Continent Railway, went by the Timbavati Safari park and fed a giraffe, checked out the 3 state parks in the area (Mirror Lake, Devils Lake, and Rocky Arbor), and even stopped at a few Breweries and Wineries. This list does not even touch the tip of the iceberg for things to do in the Dells but we only have so much time to get it all in on a 3-day weekend. There are also things like miniature golf, regular golfing, zip lining, hiking, museums, go-cart racing, the Ho-Chunk Casino, the lumberjack show, and even the D-Day invasion park of rope courses. If you go in the winter, there are a few resorts nearby by for skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, snowshoeing, and a mall for Christmas shopping.
From what we were able to do, we highly recommend doing the Duck tour (World War II amphibious DUKW vehicle) of the south river and regular boat tour of the north river and at least get out at the Witches Gulch when they stop. Also attend an old classic, the Tommy Bartlett show, and if you interested in one of the state parks Devil’s lake looked like the best out of the three with lots of great hiking. As far as food and beverages, you should stop at the B-Lux Grill and Bar for lunch and try their parmesan garlic chicken wings and the mushroom Swiss sliders with a side of BBQ sauce and sweet potato fries. Then top that off with one of their delicious milkshakes. Another must stop is the Port Huron Brewing Company which was a nice find and you absolutely MUST try their Honey Blonde Ale. They also give a nice tour of their quaint little facility. It is on the outskirts of town so don’t think that you are getting lost when the GPS takes you out that way.
***This review was written by my wife.*** Overnighter at the Nicolet
What better way to start a weekend than by your husband getting home from work and saying okay where we going? Without any planning, we just spontaneously pick a destination on a whim, pack up what we need to, and hit the road at zero dark thirty the next morning. Well, that’s exactly how this past weekend went and actually seems to be our style lately!
We headed up to the Nicolet National Forest early Saturday morning catching a stunning countryside sunrise on the drive up. We had a great time, even though the night before I was questioning if we really had to drive 4 hours. Topher researched a few campgrounds and got some great tips on the area from a few of our new found friends. We decided to stay at the Bagley Rapids Campground and nailed an awesome spot along the river. Camp site #6 was the best tent site and sites 8 and 9 were the best for truck camper or trailer set ups. Topher wanted to stay at camp and relax all day, but I was adamant about hitting the dirt roads insisting that we didn’t drive 4 hours just to sit at camp plus it was only 0900 when we arrived so there was plenty of time to explore. So we paid our $12 camp fee, set up a few things to claim our spot, and set off to explore the National Forest. At the same time, we were hoping that our stuff would still be there when we returned.
Cruising the backroads we found a few two track trails and several free dispersed camping spots along the way, one of which was a sweet spot on a small woodland lake that we pulled into fired up the skottle and had a nice lunch. This is was actually the first real off-roading we had done with the truck camper set up and the new Old Man Emu BP-51 suspension system. We could have adjusted the compression and rebound as they are still a bit soft for the added weight of the camper and lower the air in the tires, but we decided to forgo that since it was just a one-day trip and we did not have an air compressor.
We started to make our way back to camp around 1400. Along the way we made a pit stop at the town of Lakewood in Oconto County that sits within the National Forest and has a population of about 875 people. The town’s primary industry back in the day was timber; however, now its tourism and is an interesting little place that is UTV, ATV, and snowmobile friendly. While visiting the town we stopped at the Woodland Trail Winery, it was not like a traditional winery but it did have a few interesting wines on their selection list. We also stopped at the Mountain Fire Lookout Tower located in the Lakewood-Laona Ranger District. The fire tower was originally built in 1935 and has under gone two restorations since then with the newest being in 2016. The tower sits atop a hill that is 100ft tall and has a 7x7 foot observation room at the top. The views are spectacular from the tower and it is definitely worth stopping at if you are in the area.
Once we made it back to camp it was time to build a fire, so we could get a nice bed of coals to cook our famous Dutch oven deep dish pizza. We took a walk with the pup down the river to see the rapids at the end of the campground and then just relaxed and planned our next trip out to this forest. As our pizza cooked, I laid down in the hammock and could have actually taken a nap as I laid there listening to the river flow (much easier to fall asleep to than rain on the camper roof at night, although my husband would beg to differ). Needless to say, we slept awesome that night with a bit of a nip in the air and listening to the sound of the river flow.
The next morning we swung by the Chute Pond Campground and the Boulder Lake Campground just to check out and scope out sites before heading home. Earlier that morning since it was a bit chilly, I had mentioned that I wanted some hot apple cider. So I was on a mission to find us an orchard. I ended up finding the Star Orchard that had good reviews and was one that you could actually pick your own apples at, so we stopped in there. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any hot cider but we got a half-gallon of their cold cider that we almost chugged through the rest of the way home. It was near the end of the season, so the apple pickins were slim, but we were able to get probably a dozen of some delicious apples to bring home.
The Kettle Moraine State Forest is a different set up than most. It actually is comprised of several different units that are spread out throughout Wisconsin: Lapham Peak Unit, Pike Lake Unit, Loew Lake Unit, and the two main ones being the Northern Unit and Southern Unit which have the camping. We decided to do an overland style weekend camping trip and camp the southern unit one night and the northern unit the next.
The Southern Unit has Ottawa Lake Campground, Pinewoods Campground (a 24 hour quiet zone), and Whitewater Lake Campground, as well as, a horseback riders’ campground. We decided to camp at Whitewater Lake and then work our way up the scenic Kettle Moraine Drive the next day to the Northern Unit. Whitewater is more of a primitive campground and has 63 campsites and pit toilets with no showers. We were fortunate enough to get campsite # 621 that was very private and set back from the road. We walked around the camp grounds and then set up our camp before having ham steak and fried potatoes for dinner and relaxing by the campfire. We were not in any sort of rush the next day because the furthest we had to drive was about 2 hours to the Northern Unit so we took our time packing up. The next morning we did a small hike on part of the Ice Age trail to check out a lookout that is probably very beautiful in the winter, but was so overgrown that it wasn’t much for us to see, on our way out of camp we decided to check out the lake and recreation area across the street before hitting the road for the days adventure. If you ever want to challenge yourself, the Ice Age trail is right off the trail that we did for the lookout and is said to be a great multi-day backpack-hiking trail. There is also the Scutternong trail system for hiking, the entire area has a ton of history and glacial formations from the ice age era.
We set a course for the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive up to the Northern unit. This drive can actually take you through all five of the units in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Not too long after hitting the road, we saw another sign for a scenic overlook and thought we would check out and hopefully it would be better. It’s about a ½ mile hike that led to Bald Bluff, which is one of the highest points in Jefferson County. Bald Bluff is aptly named because it overlooks an area that lacked trees and was covered by prairie grass and flowers. Its prominence made it attractive to Native Americans, pioneers, and the U.S. military during the Black Hawk War. After the hike, we continued on up the road.
Soon, hunger set in and we decided to take a detour off the scenic drive for lunch to stop at Water Street Brewery for some good eats and a frosty one. After lunch, we got back on the road, and shortly after, we entered the Northern Unit. The Northern Unit consists of Mauthe Lake Campground and Long Lake Campground, with a group campground and also horseback riders’ campground. Since we had time we decided to drive around and check out all of the campgrounds before settling on our spot for the night. We ended up staying at Long Lake because Mauthe Lake had a North Face marathon/race taking place and was packed. But it looked like a great campground for future adventures, especially since it is open year round. There are tons of hiking and skiing trails in this section of the state park. Long Lake consists of 200 campsites with only 16 of those being electric. They had nice facilities including flush toilets, showers, and water fountains spread throughout the sections. This campground is seasonal though and only open until the end of October. We got site #944 that was right off of a main trail so there wasn’t much for privacy. A short hike up the trail leads to some awesome views and we took in a beautiful sunset up there. The park had the 800s loop closed, but for the most part it looked like the 600s loop and 900s were some of the best sites.
Before heading back home, we stopped at the Parnell Observation Tower right down the road from the park. It sits on top of a steep hill and is 60ft high, it is the highest point in the Kettle Moraine and has an awesome panoramic view and great spot for viewing the leaves changing for fall (although this was not the best year for that). There is a 3.4-mile loop that you can hike around or just a ¼ mile of stairs in and out to just see the tower.
To break in the minivan, we decided we had to take a trip somewhere. We knew we weren’t ready for van camping yet, especially with it still winter and below freezing temps, so we booked a hotel just so we could get out and explore. We set our destination to Door County in Wisconsin. The weather was not particularly nice to explore with a 1 year old; was very chilly, windy, and overcast, so we did a lot of alternating with getting out at stops so that Kaylee could stay in the warmth of the van. We pretty much did a loop around the whole peninsula checking out all the lighthouses including Bailey’s, Cana Island, Eagle Bluff, and state parks along the way. We checked out Whitefish Dunes State Park, stopped in at Cave Point County Park, drove through Newport State Park to see what they had to offer as far as camping, and then made our way up to the tip to see where the ferry was to Washington Island (unfortunately not operating at the time but we did find a motorcycle buried in the snow).
Getting hungry, we set our sights on the Wild Tomato for some wood-grilled pizza.
We tootled around Peninsula State Park and as we were headed to the hotel, we spotted Lautenbach’s Orchard that had a sign for Mayberry’s horse drawn carriage rides so we flipped a u-turn hoping to catch a ride; however, we just missed the driver for the day. On the bright side, they were still open for some wine tasting! After the tasting, we headed to the hotel.
The next morning, we hoped to hit up Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant for some Swedish pancakes as it was recommended to us by a fellow overlander, but with the weather turning even worse, we decided to push our way south back towards home. Luckily we did, because we later found out that we barely missed a 131-vehicle pile up on I-41. It was probably the exact same place that we had gotten blown off the road due to the high winds and icy roads. Once we felt we were in the clear with the weather and closer to home, we decided to stop in Menomonee Falls to see how it looked all frozen over and catch a bite to eat. We stopped in Nino’s Italian Bakery & Deli and had some delicious sandwiches that came with a pickle and bag of chips and some yummy desserts.