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
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
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.
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
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.
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?