A Guide To Wisconsin Camping Safety

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Wisconsin. The friendly mid-western state has so much to offer both tourists and residents alike. Bordered to the north by Lake Superior and Lake Michigan to the east, its gorgeous coastlines draw in visitors from all over. 

The state’s interior boasts green forests, farmland, and more lakes, making it no surprise that one of the most popular activities to do here is camping. 

Thus, people may wonder whether camping in Wisconsin is safe. In this article, we’ll explore some of the biggest safety concerns about camping in the Badger State and discover ways to make your trip a safe one. 

Camping in Wisconsin comes with some inherent risk, but there are steps you can take to cut these risks, increase safety and have a great time while visiting this beautiful state. 

Wisconsin isn’t just for beer and cheese lovers, although there are plenty of both to go around (cheese curds, anyone?) 

Outdoor enthusiasts, including the experienced or the novice camper, can find plenty to do and see here in Wisconsin’s state parks and national forests. Still, it must be with safety as a top priority. Here we’ll go over ways to stay safe while camping in Wisconsin. 

Know The Weather Before You Go

kid with an umbrella in the rain

Wisconsin is part of the Midwest region that can be vulnerable to severe thunderstorms, blizzards, flooding, and even tornadoes. The most popular months to visit the state, according to weather.com, are between May-October (source). It’s important to note that flooding can occur in the late spring due to the melting snow and excessive rain from thunderstorms into rivers, streams, and creeks. 

Check the weather before you go, make sure you’re camping in an area that won’t be affected, or plans your trip for more ideal weather conditions. 

It’s always a good idea to pack rain gear regardless of whether rain is predicted, as Wisconsin weather can be unpredictable. Even if the temperature isn’t that cold, wet clothes can bring on hypothermia. 

Hike With A Buddy

2 ladies and 1 guy hiking

One of the most desirable activities to do when you camp is hiking. Many of the state’s most popular camping destinations are found surrounded by acres of scenic hiking trails. 

Whether you’re an experienced hiker or looking for an easy hike to take the family on, there’s something for everyone here, but one fact remains. You should never go hiking alone or without making someone aware of where you’re planning to go. 

Some of Wisconsin’s trails are quite remote, so it’s essential to stay on trails to ensure you don’t get injured or lost. If you lose cell service, it’s a good idea to have a printed map or compass to make sure you know where you are at all times. 

It’s also important to be mindful of hunting seasons in the region that you’re planning to camp and hike (typically from late November through January). It’s not a great idea to hike during hunting season, but if you do, make sure to wear bright colors, don’t be afraid to make noise, and if you choose to bring your dog, keep them on a leash at all times. 

Watch Out For Wildlife

Although Wisconsin has the Badger state’s nickname and has one of the highest black bear populations in the nation, neither animal represents the most significant threat that you may meet while camping. Wild animal attacks on humans are rare in Wisconsin. 

What’s the real threat? It might be smaller than you think. 

Small insects that can bite and sting are what you should prepare for while camping here.  

You can find ticks in every corner of Wisconsin, so make sure to check your clothes, shoes, and body after hiking and periodically throughout your trip. 

Lyme disease continues to be the most considerable tick-borne illness in Wisconsin, according to this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (source). Make sure to check your pets on the way out too! 

Mist being put on a child's arm.
Don’t forget to apply bug spray.

Mosquitoes are also prevalent in Wisconsin, with some even found to be carrying the West-Nile virus. For this reason, it’s a good idea to bring along insect repellent, wear long sleeves when possible, and close doors and flaps to your RV or tent to prevent them from getting in. Also, make sure to set up camp away from stagnant water bodies as these are prime breeding grounds for these pests. 

Hornets, wasps, and bees are also found across the state. While typically a nuisance for most, some people can have a severe allergic reaction resulting in anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal if left untreated. Be aware of where you venture and listen for, and avoid hives. It’s essential to bring along some antihistamine in case of a bad reaction to a sting. 

Because large animal attacks aren’t familiar, you shouldn’t be cautious when camping or hiking in bear country. 

Make sure to properly secure your food with a bear canister or bear bag hung from a tree. It’s always a good idea to check the campground before seeing if the site has any specific rules about food storage. Many campgrounds offer bear lockers as well. 

If you meet a black bear in the wild, don’t run. Instead, try to make yourself as big as possible by waving your hands above your head and make as much noise as you can. 

baby black bear
Make sure to stay away from baby bears as well.

Deer can also pose a threat when it comes to reaching your camping destination. Wisconsin has a dense deer population. Therefore, drivers can encounter deer along the state roadways. Be cautious, avoid distractions and slow down to reach your destination safely. 

Be Cautious Around Water

While Minnesota prides itself on being the land of 10,000 lakes, Wisconsin comes in with an impressive lake count of 15,074, according to this article from Smithsonian Magazine (source). 

Recreational water sports such as boating, kayaking, canoeing, and swimming are just a few of the reasons why water sports in Wisconsin are some of the best in the country, but along with the fun comes plenty of safety concerns; the biggest one is drowning. 

The good news is that drowning is preventable with the proper precautions. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requires that all individuals on board a personal watercraft wear a USCG-approved life jacket. All vessels have a USCG-approved life jacket for every person onboard (source). Always remember that drinking and boating never mix; it’s a smart move to have a designated driver and always make sure to watch small children at all times when around water. 

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of safety precautions to consider while camping in Wisconsin, it’s a good start. Make sure to do your research and reserve your campsite well in advance since reservations are required for camping in the state parks. A vehicle admission sticker is required for all vehicles entering the properties as well. 

Before your trip, visit the state park website or research any other safety concerns in the area you’re planning to travel and visit. For example, blue-green algae (Cyanobacteria) has been reported in some Wisconsin water and can make people sick. 

green line waves in water near trees
This is what Cyanobacteria may look like in the water.

During the summer months, you should also check to see if there’s an elevated fire risk in a particular area. Always remember to put out your campfire at the end of the night by dousing it in water and mixing the embers to make sure no sparks remain. 

By now, hopefully, you have a good idea of how to camp safely and have a great time while visiting Wisconsin. 

To summarize, here is a list of safety items to pack for your Wisconsin camping trip: 

  1. A First Aid Kit (including antiseptic, bandages, and antihistamine)
  2. Bug repellent
  3. Waterproof rain gear, sleep gear, and warm clothing
  4. Sunscreen
  5. Compass
  6. Flashlight
  7. Plenty of water, as well as an emergency water filter if necessary
  8. Downloaded or printed maps of the area you will be camping or hiking.
  9. Swiss army knife (be sure to practice safe knife usage before you go)
  10. Walkie Talkies to communicate (plus it’s fun for the kids)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the best places to camp in Wisconsin? 

While picturesque camping options are endless, some of the most popular camping destinations are in the state parks. Some to look into are Harrington Beach, Big Bay, Mirror Lake, Rock Island, and Devil’s Lake State Parks. To read more about going camping at Devil’s Lake State Park, please read our article on The Best Place to go Camping in Wisconsin.

Where can I find a Wisconsin Campground Map?

You can find a map of Wisconsin campgrounds on the Wisconsin Trail Guide website here. Clicking on a specific campground will offer information, including the number of campsites, types of bathrooms (if any), and any other amenities to the site such as picnic tables, showers, and outdoor activities. 

Is it safe to camp in Wisconsin during COVID?

Many of Wisconsin’s campgrounds are now open. If you do plan to camp during this time, make sure to maintain distance from others, limit recreational activities to those in your immediate household, and wear a mask while in common areas and while on popular hiking trails where it might be difficult to socially distance. 


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