Wildcat Mt. Camping - 2014 - Ron Lutz II ~ Photographer

Ready for Adventure

Freja and her two buddies, Sushi & Biscuit, are all ready for our drive to Wildcat Mountain State Park. We're planning on camping for a few days and look forward to exploring a new part of Wisconsin.

A New Region to Explore



I'd heard that Wildcat Mountain State Park offered a unique camping experience here in Wisconsin. It's situated in the "Driftless Area," which means it wasn't bulldozed flat by glaciers during the ice ages. This has left the landscape shaped by water cutting through bedrock for thousands of years. It's full of serpentine valleys with winding streams, and sharp ridge lines. It's definitely unique, and worth seeing.

The weekend we traveled was a hot, humid late summer weekend. We'd hoped to leave early on a Saturday but heavy rainfall caused us to delay our drive. As I sat in our garage the temperature reached into the 90's, and the humidity made me wish I had gills. Even the wooden floors of our back porch were sweating. I'll not lie, I seriously considered canceling the trip and staying in the air conditioned house for the weekend.

In the end though we chose to go. All we had to do was wheel our new jeep trailer out of the garage, where it had sat all loaded and ready to roll, connect it to the jeep, buckle ourselves in, and leave. Having that trailer really changed things, where before the jeep would have been crowded with both us and our gear, now it all gets pulled behind us, leaving us plenty of room.

Instead of heading directly to the park we wound our way through the Driftless Area, taking back roads. While is added a little extra time, it was very interesting to see how beautiful this area of Wisconsin really is.

Learn More About the Driftless Area

Wildcat State Park

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Campsite #1

While I do enjoy "primitive" camping where you take little gear and make your way into the wilds, there's something to be said for drive in camping. That jeep trailer allowed us to bring a lot of gear, and food. It's not a bad way to spend some family time.

Wildcat's Campground



As we pulled into the park we noticed something very different from every other state park we'd been to. Usually the campgrounds are away from the main road into the park. The camp sites are usually along side roads, with a least a little foilage sperarating the various camps. Not this place. The majority of sites were right along the main road, and while there were some trees for shade, for the most part it looked as if everyone was camping right next to each other. It actually looked like folks were all set up on someone's lawn.

Purely by chance I'd picked one of the few "drive up" sites that had at least a little privacy when I'd reserved our site. We arrived not long before dark so it was all about setting up, lighting a fire, and just settling down a bit before bed.

Link to Wildcat Mountain State Park

Morning Coffee & Snuggle

We'd arrived in camp shortly before dark. After a quickly setting up camp we all enjoyed a nice fire before turning in early. Aside from a scuffle between a couple of raccoons, and the sounds of other campers, it was a quiet night.

The first order of business was to make coffee. We fresh grind our beans, and use the same French press that we use at home. Having the exact same cup of Joe as at home makes us happy. No sooner was the coffee brewed and then the kid woke up.

Her priority is to sit first in Mommy's lap, and once I settle down, in mine. I can't say it's a bad way to begin this day. As she snuggled up against me I really noticed how much she's grown.

View from Wildcat Mountain

It was a hazy, humid summer morning.

  • Throwing Pebbles

    The girls tried their hand at throwing small pebbles off the cliff of an overlook. Neither of them threw very far, so we weren't concerned about actually hitting anything below. That, and the tiny size of the pebbles didn't pose a major safety risk. At the most, they annoyed a few birds.

  • Peddle Power

    I packed her bike and while there were no trails, the roads weren't busy or too hilly. She spent a lot of time peddling around the circle of the camping section. There were a few steeper descents she seemed to really enjoy flying down, and then would hit her brakes making them squeal.

  • A New Friend

    The kid made a new friend while we were hanging out at the overlook. Another camper had his puppy with him. Naturally Freja couldn't resist petting it for a while. I was grateful it didn't spark the usual, "can we get a dog?" litany. BTW, the answer is still NO!

Breakfast Picnic

Having an Easy Morning



After a lazy cup of coffee we thought we'd go for a stroll and see what the park was like. The kid rode along the road, while my wife & I walked. The air was warm, humid, and the sky overcast. It was particularly quiet, the only sound an occasional bird, or Freja as she would ask to go further from us as we made our way along the ridge.

After spending time at the main overlook, where the kid made friends with a fellow camper's puppy, we worked our way to the end of the road. There we found a nice playground, picnic shelter, tables, and another overlook. We decided to have our breakfast there. It was just a matter of walking back to camp, grabbing a cooler, our chairs, and books, loading them in the jeep and driving back. We had the place to ourselves while we ate. It made for a super mellow start to the day.

Cooling Off

It was becoming very hot and humid so the kid was allowed to play with our potable water supply when we returned to camp.

The River Bank

Relief from the Heat



The heat and humidity rose as the day passed, leading us to eventually seek relief down by the river. The Kickapoo River flows through the park, winding its way along its border. While they call it a river, having come from a region dominated by the Allegheny, to us it's more of a smallish stream. Either way, it still held its own charms. Most importantly for us, it was cool, wet, clean, and the kid enjoyed playing in it.

We didn't have far to go either, being the park has it's own launch site. The banks are heavily vegetated with a nice variety of plants, such as swamp sunflowers and many trees. It's not a very deep river, the bottom sandy with spots of muddy clay, or occasional rocks. It was also pretty clear on this day. There are also many interesting rock walls lining the banks here and there, carved from the bedrock by eons of water erosion.

While Teri & I relaxed by the bank, reading books, and occasionally getting in to cool off, the kid entertained herself. A clay bank became a fun place to slide down, and create mud pies. She also tried her hand at capturing crayfish, and small minnows to no avail. With only an occasional canoe or kayak passing by, or stopping to picnic nearby, we had a good deal of solitude.

Link to More Information

Kickapoo River

A canoe makes it way down the Kickapoo River.

Perfect Ending to the Day



Upon returning to camp we discovered that the majority of other campers had packed up and left, leaving only a few sites occupied. It wasn't until then that I remembered it was Sunday. It's just so nice to loose track of what day it is.

After showering in the cleanest camp showers we've seen in Wisconsin, it was time to do nothing but eat and relax for the night. Teri and Freja prepared a fire, and once there were enough coals I cooked dinner while they played card games. The recipe for what I made that night is below, and it was a perfect meal for a hot summer day.

The rest of the evening went by very quickly. We took a walk to the overlooks again, toasted marshmallows, and Freja put on a "show" for us. After they went to bed I went back to an overlook were I tried to photograph the Milky Way through the hazy night air. When I was done I made myself comfortable by the fire, and read a book by the flickering light of a torch where I eventually fell asleep. My wife woke up, heard me snoring outside and thankfully fetched me in to the tent. Not long after she did so, a tremendous thunderstorm rolled over the mountain. I'm not going to lie, it was a little nerve racking to be on top of a mountain, in a tent held up by aluminum poles, while lighting struck overhead.

Campfire Chicken Riganato

2 - 3lbs of chicken thighs, boned & skinned
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon - juiced
1 1/2 tspn kosher salt
1/4 tspn fresh ground pepper
1 large clove of garlic - minced
2 tspn dried oregano
1 - 2lbs red potatoes - rough cut
2 cups chicken broth
4 tbls unsalted butter


Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces.

In a mixing bowl whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil. Stir in the salt, pepper, garlic, and oregano. Store in a sealed container, and pack in your cooler.

In camp, cut up the potatoes. Tear off a large piece of heavy foil and line the bottom of a cast iron pan, with enough excess foil to either side to make a package when folded. Spread the marinated chicken, with all the marinade, into the bottom of the foil. Layer the potatoes over the chicken, and pour the broth over all. Place the butter on top equidistantly. Fold over the foil, making a tight package. Poke a few small holes in the top to allow steam to escape.

Place your pan over hot coals, and rotate every 15 minutes. Cook for 1 hour. Serve.

This is a very aromatic meal!

Family Time

The Milky Way from Wildcat

Well after dark, as I sat by the fire while my family slept, I notice the sky was seemingly clear. I walked to one of the overlooks where I could clearly see the stars. It was a hazy summer evening, and the lights from a few farms illuminated the misty horizon. The only sounds I heard while photographing the sky were of the wind, and a distant barred owl.

The haze made it hard for me to even see the Milky Way with my naked eyes. In fact, after my first test shot I was surprised it was in the photo! I'm afraid I didn't get as clear, and crisp of an image as I would have liked, but it was still worth the effort.

I may have to come back to this spot when the air is dry, clear, and there's no moon. I'd heard that Wildcat State Park, here in Wisconsin, was a well known "dark sky," and it is indeed a nice place to sky watch.

Canoeing Down the Kickapoo



When we woke the skies were leaden and we thought it may storm some more. After a little debating on whether to canoe down the Kickapoo, or not, we chose to go. It was a good thing we did as the skies cleared as we launched our Radisson onto the river. Having brought our own canoe, we drove the short distance up river to Ontario, Wisconsin. It's a small town with a number of canoe outfitters where folks rent a craft to float down the river. We paid an outfitter $20 to help me drop off my jeep at the take out landing, and ride me back to the starting point. It was a little steep for a 3 mile drive, but oh well.

The heavy storms made for a fast ride down the narrow banks. For the most part it's an easy float, with only one small spillway to pass over. Occasional tree snags make for interesting obstacles to get through. The river passes through heavily vegetated shores, with a pasture now and then. This eventually gives way to forested banks, lined by formations of bedrocks. There are a few different sandy "beaches" you can land on, where we could swim and play in the muddy water. It's a very serpentine course, and it took us about 3 hours to flow down to the landing.

We're so glad we chose to canoe, and were happy to have experienced a new region of Wisconsin. It's not overly far from our home, only about 2 hours or so if you go directly there. I can't wait for our next trip! Perhaps we'll do a canoe trip that lasts a few days?
Canoeing Down the Kickapoo
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