As state park campgrounds reopen, here’s where Milwaukeeans can escape to nature

As state park campgrounds reopen, here’s where Milwaukeeans can escape to nature

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With Milwaukee’s trademark summer festivals canceled, the Brewers and Bucks yet to resume play and the DNC being scaled back into a largely virtual event, the city is facing a much quieter season than normal amidst a still ongoing pandemic. This leaves the question of “What is there to do this summer?,” and perhaps more importantly “What is safe to do?”

On June 10 this question was made a bit easier to answer as Wisconsin State Park campgrounds reopened to visitors. Although neither Lakeshore State Park or Havenwoods State Forest within Milwaukee offer campsites, within approximately 50 miles of Milwaukee there are six parks alone which offer more than a dozen campgrounds allowing for tents, truck campers, pop-ups, RVs and everything in between.

To help ensure the safety of guests, check-in is now automatic — allowing campers to proceed directly to the campsite they have reserved, group campsites will remain closed until at least June 30 and the Department of Natural Resources assures that restroom facilities will be cleaned every day. Directional signage is also placed which will promote social distancing.

Below are the six state parks closest to Milwaukee that offer campsites and simply require a reservation, nightly fees, and an annual pass to enter.

Harrington Beach State Park

One of Harrington Beach State Park’s trails | Wikimedia Commons

Running along Lake Michigan and sitting about 35 miles north of Milwaukee in Belgium, WI, Harrington Beach State Park offers the state campground closest to Milwaukee.

Per the DNR’s official website, the park “…features a white cedar and hardwood swamp, old field grasslands with restored wetland ponds and a scenic limestone quarry lake.” The campground itself houses 69 units including 31 sites with electrical hookups, 33 non-electrical sites and 3 first-come, first-served sites. Each site (as does nearly every site in this list) also comes with a campfire ring and picnic table.

Kohler-Andrae State Park

A video tour of both the Harrington Beach State Park and Kohler Andrae State Park | https://www.youtube.com/WIDNRTV

17 miles north of Harrington Beach lies Kohler-Andrae State Park in Sheboygan. This campground is nearly double Harrington Beach in terms of available campsite with 137 sites, 52 of which have electric hookups, and one tepee site which allows guests to rent a canvas and pole if you don’t have your own equipment or truly want to “rough it”.

Richard Bong State Park

Richard Bong State Park | Wikimedia Commons

Moving approximately 47 miles southwest of Milwaukee instead will land you at Richard Bong State Park in Kansasville, Wis., which offers a whopping two campgrounds offering 217 campsites. As opposed to the beaches of the last two parks, much of Richard Bong State Park’s campsites are nestled in or around wooded areas — although the park also houses multiple bodies of water with beaches of their own.

Sitting on opposite ends of the park, the area between the two campgrounds holds horse and ATV trails in addition to hiking trails for every skill level. These trails offer views of the park in which guests can see remnants of the unfinished Air Force base which previously occupied the space and was abandoned in 1959.

And yes, the name is pretty funny too — leading to us going beyond the novelty in a Community Story.

Kettle Moraine State Forest – Pike Lake Unit

Pike Lake | Wikimedia Commons

The closest State Park to Milwaukee which offers camping is actually one of five park “units” within the 56,000-acre woodland that is the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Of the campgrounds on this list, Pike Lake Unit’s “Sunrise” campground is the smallest with 32 campsites — 24 wooded and eight open, eleven of which have electricity. Moreover, Pike Lake also has three backpack campsites along the 2.6 mile Ice Age Trail.

One of the parks landmark features is Powder Hill and its accompanying observation tower which sits relatively close to the campground. The tower offers a gorgeous view of the park and the 522 acre Pike Lake itself which alone may make the trip here worth it.

Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit

Kettle Moraine State Forest’s Southern Unit Sign | Wikimedia Commons

In contrast with Pike Lake unit’s nearly 700 acres of land, the Southern Unit occupies a massive 22,000 acres of “…glacial hills, kettles, lakes, prairie restoration sites, pine woods and hardwood forests…” and is 30 miles long. As a result, it’s no surprise that the park includes four campgrounds totaling close to 300 campsites. These range from the more accommodating Ottawa Lake campground with electrical sites, showers, toilets and an accessible cabin to Whitewater Lake campground which offers “primitive camping” (think vault toilets and no showers).

Although accessible cabins are available at most State Park campgrounds, the Southern Unit goes one step further and offers accessible campsites with paved paths to and from restrooms, parking, beaches and an accessible pier.

Kettle Moraine State Forest – Northern Unit

The Northern Unit’s Henry S. Reuss Ice Age Visitor Center | Wikimedia Commons

Being the furthest away State Park on this list at more than 50 miles, it makes sense that the Northern Unit of Kettle Moraine State Forest would also have the most campsites of any in the area.

With more than 350 campsites across four campgrounds, the Northern Unit offers perhaps the most comprehensive offerings of any State Park in the area including watercraft rental, a teepee campsite, accessible campsites, five backpack shelters and a horserider campground with the means to ride your own horse along the vast trails, among much more.

Recently updated guidelines from the Wisconsin DNR on camping at State Parks | https://www.facebook.com/WIDNR

It’s important to note that despite the remote nature of these parks, properties within them have a predetermined capacity that when met, will close until capacity is reduced. Therefore, the DNR stresses that it is important to have a backup plan no matter what you plan to do in order to make the most of your experience. You can check capacity beforehand here.

For more info regarding how to best camp during COVID-19, check out the DNR’s guidelines here and to make a reservation, visit wisconsin.goingtocamp.com.

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