/ Camping in Wisconsin: Public vs. Private Campgrounds?

Camping in Wisconsin: Public vs. Private Campgrounds?

Camping with the family at Copper Falls State Park

Camping with the family at Copper Falls State Park

About seven years ago, I made the decision to introduce my family to the wonders of camping, and I’m happy to say it’s become a tradition we all look forward to – even with the comedic stylings of Jim Gaffigan trying to convince us otherwise. Over those years, we’ve tried to embark on two camping trips a year – one as a family and one with other family friends. We’ve stayed at public State Park sites and private campgrounds and both have experiences our family has enjoyed.

Photo by Ryan Dickey

Photo by Ryan Dickey

Our first year camping took us to Blue Mounds State Park just southwest of Madison. It was thestereotypical experience: campfires, s’mores, wrestling with the tent, and… raccoons.   Honestly, I thought seeing our first raccoon trying to get into our campsite was going to be the end of camping for the wife and kids. But you know what? It was probably the highlight of the trip, and we still talk about the raccoons that stole our bag of trash bags off the picnic table with nothing in the bags. Since then, we’ve camped at Devil’s Lake State Park, Copper Falls State Park and Kohler-Andrae State Park to name a few. While each different, they all shared a “natural” experience as we saw some of the most amazing scenery and land formations in Wisconsin. I don’t think anyone in our group will forget the hike from the south shore to the north shore at Devil’s Lake… diving in the lake was the most welcomed reward to a fun hike.

A "Kid Approved" jumping pillow at Wilderness Campground in Montello, Wis.

A "Kid Approved" jumping pillow at Wilderness Campground in Montello, Wis.

Now private campgrounds have their advantages well. Two that we stayed at in the past couple years included Silver Spring Campsites in Rio and Wilderness Campground in Montello. Family fun and excitement sums up those experiences. With daily activities, more kids’ playgrounds, swimming pools and inflatable toys in the lakes there’s definitely no shortage of things to do at private campgrounds. Through Discover Wisconsin, I also have been able to visit some of the Camping for the Fun of It campgrounds, and those have equaled the “family fun” component of those my family has visited.
Here is my list of “PROS” for both private and public camping.

Kelly Lake

Forgot to plug her nose!


  • See a wide variety of scenery
  • A LOT of outdoor activities
    (hiking, biking, fishing, etc)
  • Usually more secluded sites
  • Less expensive reservation fee
  • Nature centers and education


  • Organized activities
  • More kid play features
  • Water Wars and water toys
  • Great amenities close to sites
  • Themed weekends

So what side of the fence – or campsite – are you on? Public? Or Private? Comment below!

Chad Diedrick is the managing producer for the nation’s longest-running tourism TV show, Discover Wisconsin. In his 12+ years of discovering Wisconsin, Chad has seen virtually every corner of the state. Between filming breaks, you’re likely to catch Chad trying his hand at a round of disc golf at a local course. (His goal is to hit every disc golf course in Wisconsin!) Watch Discover Wisconsin Saturdays at 10 a.m. on FSN Wisconsin’s outdoor block.

16 comments on “Camping in Wisconsin: Public vs. Private Campgrounds?”

  1. Public! We've camped only a couple times at private campgrounds and the experiences were nothing I'd ever want to repeat! Our favorite public campground is Two Lakes Campground in the Chequamegon National Forest.

  2. We have some beautiful county campgrounds here in Barron county. I love the relaxation that camping brings, being outdoors without worrying about what needs to be done at home.

  3. We are just heading home after spending 2 weeks traveling in South Dakota, Montana and Yellowstone. We spent 2 nights at a private campground in Rapid City, SD. Very clean, very friendly 1 man staff, with water and electric hookups, laundry facilities and great showers. Draw backs - no campfires allowed and sites were right on top of each other with no privacy. Same thing when we spent 5 nights at a KOA in West Yellowstone. A few more amenities such as a Kamp store for odds n ends that we needed at pretty reasonable prices. Kamp breakfast and dinner if we wanted plus a mini golf course, basketball court and indoor swimming pool. Again great staff and conveniences but sites were small and very close together with no privacy and concrete slabs with grills for campfires. On our way back through the Black Hills we spent 1 night at Keyhole State Park near Devils Tower. The campground was gorgeous but due to staff leaving at 8:00 and a family arriving we were awoken to drunken arguing and yelling in the middle of the night. We then moved to a national campground in the Black Hills on Roubiax Lake. This was our ideal campground! Gorgeous setting with lots of sightseeing and hiking nearby. Private, spacious sites with friendly retired couple as camp hostesses. Vault toilets and no electric or water hookups but we finally were able to have the traditional campfire I was longing for. Preference - depends on the situation - when we are camping for long periods of time mixing it up with public and private is the perfect situation for us. If we r just going for a couple of days we like "roughing" it at the state and national parks.

  4. We prefer the public, like state & county parks because the sites are larger & usually more secluded. Plus, since we do not have kids, we don't need the "on-site" entertainment. And (sorry for offending anyone!) I really don't want to listen to kids crying, screaming, whining....

  5. Public is more private. We enjoy the heightened respect of having our camping environment lessened of noise pollution.

  6. I grew up camping at a private campground, stayed at the same place for two weeks every summer. To me, then, camping meant a 26 ft travel trailer, a beach with slides, non-stop parties every night with other families throughout the campground. Private sites weren't an option, that would mean you would be left out of all the action! Then... I met my husband...and taught me the difference between what we now call resorting and camping. Resorting has its own great points, but camping is... camping. Our favorite places to camp are Wyalusing,(especially a bluff site) Mondeaux Flowage, and our absolute top favorite is Emily Lake off hwy 70. It only has about 10 sites, and sits along a small lake. We are usually the only campers in the whole place. One year our family was privileged to watch a mom loon teach her young to fish. It's an easy walk to a public beach area for regular socializing, and private enough to feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. I can't think of a better place to enjoy a fire, watch the stars and a few cold beers.

  7. We are now Seniors and prefer , as seasonals, the private campground in Door County that we love. But, when our kids were small & we camped, we much preferred the Public State & County Parks. We wanted to teach our children about nature, and all it has to offer, not partying & constant entertainment. It made them aware of things they otherwise wouldn't even know about today and mostly taught them that sometimes peace & quiet are needed in our lives.

  8. Grew up on public sites (county and state). One hidden treasure is Solbergs in Price Cty (Phillips).

  9. My wife and I like public campgrounds also. Columbia park in Pipe Wi. Which is a Fond du lac county park that we stay at 1 week every year.

  10. I think both public and private have different likes and it all depends on what you are looking for on that trip. As a couple/adults we might look for something a little more quiet, remote, but when you are traveling with kids it can help to have activities to entertain them. In the last 15 years we have done everything from tent to pop up to 10' travel trailer to now a 40' camper on a permanent site (although still the occasional tenting as well). Been to a lot of different places all with great different things. A lot of what I would say are popular places like Peninsula State Park - I love it just for the scenery in itself. But the beaches are great play areas along with the nature center for kids. Potowatomi is great camping and kayaking, but no beach area. Point Beach has a nice beach area and even a separate dog beach which was great for those wanting to let their animals enjoy the trip as well. Those are all public parks. Then there are some like Tranquil Timbers (formerly Quietwoods North) that are mostly nice tree/secluded sites but with an outdoor pool/mini golf that can keeps kids going. Harbour Village tops as an entertainment place for kids with everything from a lake with a slide, bikes, jump trampoline and activities - a little pricey but a lot to do. Washington Island campground now has a man made lake but still pretty quiet since it takes a ferry to get there; but the island itself has a nature center, some great beaches and unique places to try food. Been a few times to JW Wells in Cedar River Michigan and it has a great beach and offers some activities. (State Park). Have also did the time share type camp ground like Captain's Cove (I think we did a 5 year membership) and it had a lot to offer including paddle/pontoon boats and a restaurant on site. Our current campground is Frontier Wilderness. It has seemed pretty quiet and lots are very wooded (which we really like) but it still has an indoor pool (great for bad weather), mini golf and some occasional activities for kids - and I haven't seen bathroom/shower facilities any where than top theirs.

  11. We go to Public campsites. I know what to expect from the campsite, we have a certain amount of space between sites and I can find campgrounds that have a flush toilet and a shower within stumbling distance in the middle of the night. 🙂
    Also, if we get rained out, I'm not as likely to be upset over missing the $$ for a night or two on a state campsite.

  12. We just finished a wonderful camping trip at a private campground in Door county, I loved it, my husband still prefers a state campground.

  13. I found all my needs met with private campgrounds. Nature, activities, water just for swimming, and water just for fishing. Yeah the sites may have been a bit smaller but not by much! To me it only seemed like it was crowded because there were alot of other RV's there! Thats what I came to realize cause when I was at a private campground and this is just for example. Rocky Fork Ranch Resort which is in Ohio. I found that when there was not alot of campers by my site I could actually see it was very spacious and then after realizing that with alot of campers around me I could see my space I did have. Then to top it all off you got great amenities! Indoor and outdoor heated swimming pools, shooting and archery ranges, paintball arena. Then if I feel like switching it up and being more with just the basic camping I have my campfire area that is an actually a designated spot just for starting fires no stone slabs. An a extra perk is I still have water and electric and if I don't feel like using my bathroom to take showers its a 4 minute walk to the climate control bath-houses not like public where you have a a concrete floor and shower curtain our a bathroom thats freezing cold to go in and step out of. The private bath-houses I actually get the same feeling like i'm at my house. Its refreshing. There is so much more I could say, but I'm a leave it at that. Just my opinion of public to private and just to let it be known I have public camped before and one other thing I got 30 days of free camping good for one whole year from the campground in ohio haven't even paid a dime to camp at the rocky fork ranch.

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