Friday, January 17, 2020

Wisconsin Fall Camping, Leaves Falling on Snow

Kohler-Andrae State Park, Lake Michigan, November 2019 (Michael McFadzen, Google Maps)

There is a progression to fall camping, just as there is a progression when the trees begin to turn color, faint flashes of reds and golds among the green, then deeper umbers and finally snow and the monochrome of winter.

The deep woods and great lakes of Wisconsin are an apt setting for appreciating the turn of the busy camping season to the quieter and more sedate off-season of the fall months. School is on and children are at school. The weather begins to shift to temperatures for the more hardy. Deer hunters begin to stir in their camouflage or orange vests. Campgrounds clear out and the world settles down, nature does, anyway, not continually busy like towns with gray slush and the sound of snowplows.

Wisconsin camper Jim Grote has posted online photos of a sequence of expeditions that illustrate the change of seasons and camping styles, that illustrate the beauty that is contained within the changing of the seasons and the corresponding changes in camp routines. With four trips to the woods and lake, one in June, and then the later expeditions in September, October, and November, we can see how camping immerses us in the natural rhythms of the world, creating an opportunity to celebrate and appreciate the great circle of the year.

Kohler-Andrae State Park, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, August 2018

Kohler-Andrae State Park, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, June 2019

We begin in June with the photographs above, the trees green and the living (and camping) easy. Koehler-Andrae State Park is on the western shores of Lake Michigan. One Google Maps reviewer wrote, "Beautiful park, great vistas, very easy hikes. Dunes and the views of the lake gorgeous. Looks like a clean and rustic campground. The sites for RVs seem isolated and woodsy."

New Glarus Woods State Park prairie walk, September 2017 (Tori Neiheisel, Google Maps)

Next, Jim and his Little Guy teardrop and his Volvo show up in New Glarus Woods State Park, a Wisconsin state park around thirty miles southwest of Madison. The campground has a good playground and hiking "through the woods and the prairie," according to Google Maps reviewers, although the reviews were mixed about the quality of the facilities. Several reviewers made positive mentions of the brewery across the street.

A hint of fall tints the trees, and the prairie is mature, full of color and abundance. The campgrounds have usually quieted down by this time of year with children back in school. The Grotes camped at the state park and enjoyed the Oktoberfest in New Glarus, Wisconsin, so their primary camp this time was a "motel on wheels."

New Glarus State Park, Wisconsin, September 2019.

October in Wisconsin is a brighter spread of fall colors, trees flaring with yellow and orange colors. Peninsula State Park was the Grote destination for October, north of Green Bay on the large--you guessed it--peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan.

Fall colors, Peninsula State Park, Door County, Wisconsin. (Richard Remington,

With 2,289 reviews, Peninsula State Park accumulated an average of 4.8 stars. "Huge state park," one Google Maps reviewer said. "Great for biking, hiking, camping and even golfing.  There is a 9.7 mile bike path that is clearly marked and bikes can be rented just outside the park gate.  Eagle Bluff Lighthouse is a great place to stop and rest.  Bike riding through the park was probably our favorite activity while exploring Door County. Highly recommend!"

"Enjoying some fall camping!" the Grotes wrote, all set up with their Coleman Dome shelter.
Peninsula State Park, Wisconsin. October 2019.

November fall camping found the Grotes at Point Beach State Forest, enjoying the arrival of snow. Their experience of a cold-weather campground was a common one: "Complete solitude!" Point Beach State Forest, about fifty miles southeast of Green Bay, is also on the west banks of Lake Michigan. Google Maps reviews of the area are strong. "Probably one of my favorite parks in Wisconsin. There's a bit of everything here, but the beaches and lakefront exploring areas are beautiful. I loved the lighthouse and just walking the sandy beaches. There's also camping and hiking trails here. So much to enjoy and explore!" One reviewer mentioned that the lighthouse is on private property--so enjoy from a distance. Several other reviewers mentioned biting insect issues.

Lake Michigan at Point Beach State Forest, November 2019

"Very cool in the winter (both senses of the word).
Wind cuts, but it also makes amazing ice sculptures from the waves' spray."

Point Beach, December 2019. (Lue Pierson, Google Maps)

Biting insects, though, were not a problem for the Grotes as they cold-weather camped at Point Beach. Even with the snow, they were able to enjoy the beauty of the park. "Amazing sunrise and hike today. We are only 100 feet from Lake Michigan." Google Maps reviewers seconded their experience: "This place is simply amazing. The views are to die for. The campsites are private and beautiful. I can't recommend this place enough. Make sure to get up early and enjoy the sunrises!"

Winter camp, Point Beach State Forest, November 2919.

Comments on the hiking and bicycling opportunities were common, although access and enjoyment of the beaches are dependent on the lake level. Sometimes the water is too high, and then beach access is limited. One reviewer, who camped there during the summer, said, "Cool and shady on a hot and sunny day. Bring your bike and ride five miles of wide woodland trails (smooth crushed gravel surface)." One advantage of cold-weather camping is that hiking and enjoying the beaches is possible without the hundred mosquito bites one camper mentioned.

My wife and I once rented a little apartment for a week in Traverse City, Michigan. It was May, a few weeks before tourist season began. We were told by city residents several times that we were visiting at a "sweet spot" time--if we didn't mind some cooler weather. Yes, we were bicycling one day with a bit of snow, but no crowds, no bugs, and no sweaty, chafing bike rides! We dressed for the weather and had a great time.

Jim Grote and his wife, with their three tiny trailer fall camping forays to local Wisconsin destinations, perfectly illustrate how camping in the off-season can be a rich and memorable time. My wife and I plan to experience some of Wisconsin camping next year, and there's a good chance we'll take that trip when the leaves are turning!

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