Weekend Camping Extravaganza: Part 1

For those of you who are unaware, I am on a mission to hike at every state park in Wisconsin.  There are currently 49 state parks with hiking trails and I have hiked at 36 of them.  For those doing the math, that leaves just 13 parks on the list.  I attempted to hike 6 parks this past weekend, all in the peninsula area of Wisconsin.  Since hiking, in my opinion, is always just a tad bit more fun with a buddy, I brought my pug, Cole, with.  To make things even better, a good friend came along as well.

Hitting the road!

I cut out of work at noon on a Friday with the truck packed full of my camping, hiking and photography gear.  I swung by my friends place and then we were off!  We arrived first at High Cliff State Park and quickly locked up the truck and headed into the wilderness.  We were pleasantly surprised with several cascading streams of water flowing down rocky hillsides toward the lake.  The trees were well past their budding so in every direction was a beautiful shade of bright green.  The sun backlit leaves, highlighting every vein.  We stopped for an almond butter and fresh strawberry preserve sandwich for lunch and silently indulged in the serenity of the forest.  Moss covered rock surrounded us in all directions.  The trail looped back to where we parked along the lakeshore so we were delighted with the sound of waves hitting the rocky shore. 

High Cliff State Park

Our next stop brought us to our campground at Potawatomi State Park.  After checking in at the ranger station, we found our campsite and quickly set up our tent and chairs.  After we got our fire going, we broke out a feast of food and twisted open a couple bottles of beer.  Around 10pm we decided it was time for bed and crawled into the tent to get some much needed rest to prepare for the hiking to come the next day.  Unfortunately, sleep was something hard to come by.  We knew it would be cold that night but we were not quite expecting 34 degrees cold.  We spent most of the night shivering in our sleeping bags, although Cole seemed quite warm and content by my feet inside the bag.  We awoke to a myriad of nature sounds in the morning around 5:45 and laughed at how loud it all was. 

Potawatomi State Park

We ate breakfast in the truck with the heat on and after regaining the feeling in our hands, began to tear down camp and prepare for the day ahead.  We set off to hike a trail running along the lake and were delighted to find the morning sky to be sunny and painted with thin strips of clouds.  Midway through our hike, we found some large rocks to climb down onto so we could sit and enjoy the warmth of the sun and beautiful view of the water.  It was hard to leave such a restful little spot but much hiking lay ahead of us so we climbed back up and continued our hike.  Toward the end, we met a Canada geese family with new fuzzy goslings swimming and honking near the lakeshore.  Before we left the park, we had the pleasure of meeting Clyde, an older Bassett hound, at the camp store where we picked up a few supplies for later that night including two keepsake Clyde mugs for our wine. 

Whitefish Dunes State Park

Our second hike was at Whitefish Dunes State Park.  We took a trail that immediately brought us to the sandy beach of Lake Michigan.  We followed that, absorbing the sun while the strong winds whipped past us.  We took some stairs up to the forest which brought us to the dog accessible part of the beach where I let Cole off his leash to frolic in the sand while we sat to eat fresh berries on the shore.  Once we were ready to continue on, we packed up and took the stairs back up into the forest and looped back toward where we began.  We were overjoyed to stumble across a porcupine slowly climbing a tree.  This had been a first for both of us so we decided to sit in silent wonder as we observed this beautiful little creature.  Once we had our fill of cute, we headed back through a section of poor dead trees and finally reached the truck to head on to the next hike.

Eagle Bluff Lighthouse at Peninsula State Park

We arrived at our final destination for the day, Peninsula State Park, later that afternoon.  Again, we checked in at the ranger station, found our camp site, setup camp and headed off for our final hike of the day.  We came across a lighthouse before cutting across the forest toward the other side of the peninsula.  Again, we saw a lot of dead looking trees but after awhile, we finally came across some backlit foliage that I love so much.  We attempted to stop at the firewood station but unfortunately it wasn’t open yet so we headed back toward camp to rest a bit in our camp chairs and enjoy a beer.  Once the time was right, we headed back to pickup some firewood and get our raging fire started.  We were bound and determined to be thoroughly heated through before climbing into our tent for another cold night.  Mid-enjoyment of the fire’s glow and warmth, we were surprised with a short medium intense rain which sent us for cover in the truck for about 10 minutes.  Luckily, that was all there was and the skies cleared and we were able to see a wide sky filled with more stars than I have seen in quite some time.  It was the perfect way to end our second night. 

We awoke early the next morning to gusty wind conditions  so much so that our tent had to be chased down while we began packing up after it blew away several campsites down.  We decided that the next hike, which would entail taking a ferry to Washington Island and then renting a kayak to paddle to Rock Island probably wasn’t the best idea for our novice paddling skills.  So we decided to skip that park and check out an observation tower we accidentally found the prior day.  The 76 foot Eagle Tower stands on top of an 180 foot Eagle Bluff that lends spectacular (yet windy) views of Lake Michigan.  It was definitely a good way to start our final day of the trip.  Unfortunately, my new hiking shoes that I’ve been working on breaking in, decided to break me in instead and gave me two huge blisters on both feet that burned the moment I put them on that morning.  Using the logic that I had to come back to the area to hike at Rock Island State Park anyway, we decided to skip the final hike of the weekend at Newport State Park knowing that I wouldn’t enjoy it much with the pain happening in my feet. 

We headed back to Madison and arrived in one piece, albeit exhausted, early that afternoon.  After dropping off my friend, Cole and I went home where I indulged in a much needed hot shower and some hot food.  All in all, it was a wonderful first camping trip of the season and I’m excited to explore the other parks on my list before moving to Oregon.  I’m hoping there’s enough time to  do them all!

Check out more of my nature photography on Flickr. 

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