Wisconsin Camping with Children

Children of all ages welcomed
Wisconsin State Parks are designed to offer a full range of outdoor family activities in a safe and natural setting. Activities include fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, horseback riding, bicycling and more. There are 47 State Parks, 13 State Forests, 76 State Wildlife Areas, 23 State Wildlife Management Areas, 43 state trails, 2 State Wildlife Refuges, 31 State Fishery Areas, 5 State Fish Hatcheries, 2 National Forests, 5 National Wildlife Refuges, and 1 National Wildlife Area in Wisconsin, spread from corner to corner. Campgrounds range from primitive, with pit toilets and no hook-ups or hot water to fully developed ones with water, electric and sewer hookups and full service bathhouses and restrooms.

Whether your family members are seasoned campers or experiencing a night under the stars for the first time, Wisconsin State Parks offer a rewarding and safe camping experience.

Most parks have rangers with law enforcement authority. In fact, many rangers and their families live right in the park. Volunteer campground hosts at many parks provide additional security and hospitality. Emergency numbers are posted throughout the park and telephones are in or near each campground.

Interpretive programs (Link to nature programs and events)  covering topics from wildlife habitats to farm life in the 1850s go beyond merely relaying facts. Park staff and volunteers involve visitors through imaginative presentations and hands-on activities. Many parks also have visitor centers, which serve to further educate and entertain park visitors through carefully designed exhibits, slide shows and more.

Just for kids
Kids Programs: A variety of programs for children are offered at most Wisconsin State Parks. Evening campfires, nature hikes, evening flashlight walks, canoe tours, animal tracking, Wisconsin Explorer Program for kids 3-9 and up, Meet the Ranger, Take Smokey camping, and more.

Volunteer Programs: You and your family can volunteer for a specific project, adopt a trail, which you help maintain periodically, become campground hosts, which allows you to camp for free for 30 - 90 days, and more.

A few suggestions for camping with children include:
Read to Lead
  • Pack some favorite books to read at the beach or before going to bed -- why not bring a book from the Lead toRead Program? The Wisconsin DNR is teaming with Wisconsin's statewide Read to Lead initiative to encourage kids and families to read everywhere, including the great outdoors!
  • Take along plenty of bug spray and sun screen.
  • Bring a pair of flip flops for the shower and beach. They are also invaluable for around the campsite. They can easily be slipped off every time your child enters the tent to prevent soil and debris from getting in your sleeping area.
  • Remember hammering or tying anything to a tree is damaging to the tree and prohibited. For drying wet towels and bathing suits bring along a small collapsible clothes drying rack. A plastic table cloth for the picnic table is a good idea, too.
  • Kids love flashlights. Flashlights are also handy when making trips to the restroom, for making shadow puppets on tent walls and for reading before bed.
  • If there is a family game you like to play at home, bring it along. Playing it outdoors with a lantern or flashlights will add to the fun.
  • Teach your kids to treat the outdoors kindly. Make sure all waste is disposed of properly when camping or hiking along the trails.
  • Bring a playmate along. Two or more children will stay entertained longer than one child.
  • Make your cookout a family activity. Bring along food that the whole family can participate in cooking like hotdogs on a sharpened stick or even potatoes that the kids can help peel. And don't forget the marshmallows and "s'mores."

Most book stores, libraries and camping stores carry an assortment of books describing how to involve children in the outdoors. Check your local stores for books on hiking with children, camping with kids, backpacking with babies and small children, and more.

Safety Tips
  • Stay on the trails. Hiking off trails is unsafe, damages vegetation and causes erosion. Always plan where to meet should one of your family get separated.
  • Young children should be taught to stay within eyesight and older children within earshot. Teach children to stay where they are if they discover they are lost. Instruct them to find a nearby tree and stay with it until they are found. Children over the age of four can also carry a whistle around their neck to call for help when lost. The standard distress signal is three blows to indicate "I'm lost" or "I need help."
  • To avoid tick bites, stay on trails and avoid grassy, brushy areas and wear light colored clothing, so ticks can be seen. Tuck shirts into pants and pant legs into socks. Do not wear shorts on the trails. If a tick is attached to your skin, grab it with tweezers and remove it. Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. If you think part of the tick has remained in the skin, or if you think the tick has been attached for longer than 48 hours, seek medical attention.
  • Observe posted speed limits in the parks while driving, and watch for small children and bicyclists, especially around campgrounds.
  • Protect your property. Lock your car and lock your valuables in the trunk.
  • Do not attract animals to your campsite by leaving food out. Keep your campsite clean and free of food smells by disposing of all food wastes in the park trash receptacles. Lock all opened food in plastic containers or in your car.

Camping with children can be a great way to introduce young ones to the wonders of nature. By planning successful, enjoyable camping trips when they're young, you'll set your children on the path to a lifetime of outdoor adventures. (Link to Reserve America)