Shoreline Camping: A Water Lovers Dream

By Kevin Revolinski

Bordered by two Great Lakes and containing over 11,100 square miles of lakes, shoreline camping in Wisconsin is a water lover’s dream. Fishing, swimming, paddling and boating are obvious recreation choices, but the abundant lakes and rivers make for a lot of great camping settings as well. But where to go? Here are a number of good recommendations for where to pitch your tent the next time you want to camp along the shoreline.

Northwest Wisconsin

St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

You’ve got options along this long stretch of clear water that finds its way to the Mississippi River through some marvelously preserved landscape. More than 100 free primitive sites are strung out along the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers, with access limited to paddlers. Find some drive-up sites at Gordon Dam County Park along the shore of the St. Croix Flowage as well.

Brunet Island State Park

Named for a 19th-century French pioneer, this Wisconsin state park contains 1200 acres, 169 of which are an island in the Chippewa River. Campsites overlook either the river or two of its lagoons. Tent campers will prefer the north side of the island while RV campers can find hookups on the south side. More than 7 miles of trails offer hiking and one can rent a canoe or kayak in nearby Cornell.

Northeast Wisconsin

Bagley Rapids Campground

The rapids crash and boil over rock ledges in this stretch of the North Branch of the Oconto River inside the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest with the campground right on top of it all. The sites are set up in two loops with thick vegetation between them for privacy. Almost half of the 30 sites are along the river. Call it white (water) noise for a good night’s sleep.

Newport State Park

Door County, Wisconsin’s best lakeside camping can be found at these 17 hike-in sites set up along 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. It’s worth the hike to spend the night where the forest meets the cobblestones, sand and waves of Lake Michigan’s shores.

Keep up with the best camping in Wisconsin!


Central Wisconsin

Buckhorn State Park

Castle Rock Lake is Wisconsin’s fourth largest lake and the sites at this state park take advantage of some shoreline. There are drive-up sites, of course, but also some hike-in sites up to a mile from the parking lot. Or how about this: paddle-up sites!

East Fork Campground

Set up your tent on the banks of the East Fork of the Black River. This is one of two campgrounds in the state forest and is located on the northern end. Good bass and walleye fishing await and you can canoe some mild rapids.

Goose Island Campground

Camp on the mighty Mississippi and watch the river roll by. Located on an island just three miles south of La Crosse, Goose Island Campground is the largest county camp in the state. There are more than 400 sites ranging from basic tent camping to RV parking. Some of these sites are right on the river. The park also has river access and rentals for canoes and kayaks, as well as bait sales and a fish cleaning house.

Southern Wisconsin

Kickapoo Valley Reserve

The Kickapoo River must be the most crooked river in the nation. The portion within the Kickapoo Valley Reserve twists and turns through beautiful carved sandstone bluffs and offers good trout fishing. Within the reserve are 25 camp sites. A third of these are accessible from the river. This is primitive shoreline camping -- just you, your tent and a fire ring. The river babbles into the night and might be joined by an owl or two.

Blackhawk Memorial Park Campground

This county park on the East Branch of the Pecatonica River is often passed over for the popular Yellowstone Lake State Park just upstream. But here’s where you want to spend the night for shoreline camping. The fishing is good – walleye, pan fish, bass – and the river will make paddlers happy.

For more camping spots, have a look at our directory. Looking for a different form of water to camp near, we've got plenty of campgrounds near waterfalls for you to enjoy!