So you want to see what Wisconsin State Parks camping is all about? Then you’re in the right place!
To make your first time a memorable and adventurous experience, you’re going to need as much camping advice as possible. After all, Wisconsin has 66 state parks to choose from, so we’ll tell you what you need to know before your trip.
Keep reading to learn all there is to know about camping in Wisconsin State Parks!
What to Expect at Wisconsin State Parks
Admission and Rates
Most state parks have you pay for vehicle admission and display vehicular stickers, and Wisconsin State Parks are no exception. You can buy these affordable passes either online or at your chosen park.
State parks like Rock Island and Big Bay are on islands; you’ll have to pay ferry fees for those.
Site rates depend on the amenities offered. And you’ll have to purchase permits, licenses, and registration for activities like fishing, hunting, boating, or driving off-highway recreational vehicles.
Pet Friendliness and Unfriendliness
Camping in Wisconsin State Parks is more fun with your dog! Most of the parks allow this as long as they’re well-behaved and on an 8-foot-long leash. Follow any rules regarding your dog, and always dispose your dog’s waste properly.
Understand that state parks like Copper Culture and Heritage Hill won’t allow dogs. They’re also not allowed in the Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area.
Certain Supplies not Provided
When choosing your ideal park for your Wisconsin State Parks camping trip, take note of what supplies they provide. This will help you decide what to pack and what you can leave at home.
For example, if you book a state park with an equestrian campground, it may not provide tethering ropes. Another example is if you book a cabin and it doesn’t come with linens and towels or certain kitchen supplies.
Some campgrounds fill up fast, so visit the Department of Natural Resources weboste to make reservations for your Wisconsin State Parks camping experience and book early! You can reserve a site up to 11 months in advance.
There are no first-come, first-served campsites at the state parks except for primitive sites and remote areas for camping.
Just like with campsites, if you plan on booking day-use areas, you can reserve 11 months before your arrival date. With park shelters and amphitheaters, you can’t reserve them within a week before you arrive.
Camping in Wisconsin State Parks
Selecting Campsites in Your Chosen State Park
For your Wisconsin State Parks camping trip, you have plenty of sites to choose from. There are tent and vehicle sites, as well as group (indoors and outdoors) and double sites that accommodate 10–200 people.
Some sites, standard or rustic, are in wooded areas, which are perfect for campers who want some privacy. There are also lakefront sites for those who desire uninterrupted lake views. Cabins are also available, especially for campers with disabilities.
If you’re an RV camper, book an RV and camper-friendly site. Sites with full hookups with water, sewer, and electricity service are a plus. Backpackers also have sites and shelters suited for them miles away from parking areas.
Selecting Campsites Near Your Chosen State Park
Despite the Wisconsin State Parks’ many acres, your chosen park could fill up. Or your park may be day-use only, like Whitefish Dunes State Park; you’d have to camp overnight outside the park.
Those situations are when you need to book a nearby campsite in another state park or camp in the backcountry.
For example, you’ve selected Peninsula State Park, but it’s full during its peak season. Check a booking site or a map to find nearby campgrounds and sites.
Activities at Wisconsin State Parks
There is always plenty to do while camping in Wisconsin State Parks. Here are a few activities to enjoy:
These are three examples of state parks with highly recommended trails for your Wisconsin State Parks camping trip:
- Newport State Park: Its most popular trail is the unpaved 1-mile Poetry Trail. You’ll see a showcase of poems written by local or state writers as you walk through the woods and meadow.
- High Cliff State Park: The flat-surfaced 3.4-mile Red Bird Trail is a favorite for hikers and bikers. At the top of the Niagara Escarpment, hikers will have beautiful views of Lake Winnebago and limestone quarries.
- Copper Falls State Park: The 1.7-mile North Country and Doughboy’s Loop is a popular trail for hiking, biking, and birdwatching. Peace and quiet thrive here, and hikers will enjoy scenic views and multiple waterfalls, even in winter!
You can’t pass up swimming and other lake activities if your Wisconsin State Parks camping trip takes place in summer! Take advantage of those boat rentals, boat launches, and swimming beaches.
For a quiet beach, swim in Lake Michigan at Whitefish Dunes State Park. And anybody with mobility challenges can use the beach wheelchair at Big Bay State Park.
The Kickapoo River at Wildcat Mountain State Park is popular for paddling and canoeing. And campers at Brunet Island State Park enjoy kayaking and canoeing in the Chippewa River with the wildlife in sight.
Fishing and Hunting
Before you fish or hunt at your chosen Wisconsin State Park, have your licenses in hand. You’ll also need to know what animals and certain species are in season to do these activities.
Copper Falls State Park’s Loon Lake and two rivers are in Wisconsin’s prime fishing area. And if you have kids who enjoy fishing, take them to the Turtle Trail’s pond at Buckhorn State Park.
Buckhorn is also the best park for hunting thanks to its first-come, first-served hunting blind in the wildlife area.
Wisconsin has over 300 species of birds, and the state parks are great places to birdwatch. Wyalusing State Park is known to be a popular birdwatching destination since many bird species live there.
At Devil’s Lake State Park, you’ll receive birdwatching guides. You can also see migrating birds at parks like High Cliff, Harrington Beach, and Potawatomi State Park.
For adventurous campers, Devil’s Lake State Park is the best place to go rock climbing. If you’d rather climb without ropes and harnesses, bouldering—climbing on a boulder close to the ground—is available.
History lessons and photos of certain attractions on your Wisconsin State Parks camping trip make for an enriching outdoor adventure. High Cliff’s historical sites, especially the 12-foot-tall Winnebago Indian Chief Red Bird statue, are worth capturing on camera!
There are also attractions outside the state parks you can visit. These include museums, villages, lighthouses, and other scenic and historical structures.
Horse lovers will enjoy the equestrian campgrounds at some of the Wisconsin State Parks. Harrington Beach, Wildcat Mountain, and High Cliff are example parks that let you ride horses on trails. Governor Dodge State Park does too, but for that park, you’ll need to bring your own horse.
Winter camping in Wisconsin State Parks offers activities like cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. Some state parks like Governor Dodge and Blue Mound have other winter activities like sledding, snowboarding, and ice fishing.
What to Pack
Keep a camping checklist while packing your gear. When booking a standard campsite or cabin, learn about it so you’ll know what to pack. That goes especially for backcountry camping.
Hiking footwear is a must for Wisconsin State Parks camping trips. Should rock climbing be among the parks’ activities, pack climbing footwear. Any water-based equipment you pack should be in good condition before going out in the water.
Pack a well-stocked first-aid kit, insect repellant, and sun-protection items. And pack a camera and binoculars if you want good shots of birds and other unique fauna!
All Wisconsin State Parks have accessible picnic areas where you can eat your meals (check out our post on 21 Camping Meal Ideas). These picnic areas range from your campsite’s tables and benches to the parks’ shelters and amphitheaters.
Don’t beat yourself up if don’t pack a lot of food. Some Wisconsin State Parks are close to other dining options and supermarkets for restocking. Not every camper is going to put aside every convenience.
Safety Tips for Wisconsin State Parks Camping
Camping in Wisconsin State Parks isn’t without risks. You’ll see some caution signs throughout the parks, but here are a few noteworthy warnings.
Water (Gear and Caution)
Though some of the campgrounds provide potable water, you still need to pack it for your Wisconsin State Parks camping trip. Sometimes the water is seasonal, or the pumps may malfunction, so pack as much water as possible!
For water-based activities, equip yourself with floatation devices. Also, some swimming beaches won’t have lifeguards on duty, and the Great Lakes will produce rip currents. Pay attention to any warning signs on the beaches.
When camping in Wisconsin State Parks, you’ll need to follow certain firewood rules.
Firewood is where tree-killing spores and parasites hide before spreading to nearby trees. The park system recommends buying their firewood instead of bringing your own, as moving firewood spreads these threats.
To further protect Wisconsin’s trees, buy firewood that’s been treated for parasites and fungus. Finally, obey your state park’s burning restrictions, set up your campfire safely, and don’t leave it unattended.
The parks’ fauna may shy away from areas humans congregate in, but they ignore boundaries when food is left out.
Store and seal your food tightly in bear boxes or airtight containers so you don’t attract bears or coyotes. Timber rattlesnakes are also a concern at some Wisconsin State Parks. In addition to keeping your shelter closed tight, shake out anything critters can get into.
Safety Gear for Hiking
Hiking with a buddy (human or pet) goes without saying when camping in Wisconsin State Parks. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen, wear a hat, and bring bottled water; you could be hiking in sun-exposed areas.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Which Wisconsin State Parks have the best rustic sites?
Rock Island State Park is one of the least-visited parks with 40 rustic sites—no electricity, showers, other amenities, and no crowds. That’s the beauty of camping off the grid.
Other state parks with similar sites include Big Bay, Wyalusing, and Buckhorn. If you want to truly unplug and get away, take a look at these example parks.
2. Do I need to purchase a Wisconsin state trail pass for hiking?
You don’t have to purchase one, but you’ll still want it if you do more than walk on a trail. The trail pass is required for riding bikes or horses, cross-country skiing, or skating on certain trails at some parks.
The fee is the same for Wisconsin residents and non-residents whether you pay for a daily or annual pass.
3. Can I change or cancel my reservation? If so, when is it best to do so?
Yes, you can do these either online or by phone. But do either option during a certain day and time if you want a full refund of camping fees.
The best day and time is two days before your camping date and no later than 3 pm Central Time. Just know that you won’t be refunded the reservation and cancellation fees.
Experience Your First Wisconsin State Parks Camping Trip!
The more you learn about the Wisconsin State Park system, the more prepared you’ll be for Wisconsin State Parks camping. Let your first state park camping experience have you looking back on your vacation memories with pride and fascination!
To learn more about great camping in other states throughout the US, visit our State Camping Guides to get started!