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Sleep on the Shore: 8 Waterside Campsites for Adventure-Seekers

Camping in Wisconsin often means waking up to a different kind of alarm clock: the waves. Bordered by two Great Lakes and home to thousands of inland waterways, Wisconsin is packed with perfect places to tread off the path, disconnect, and pitch your tent just a few sandy steps from the water.

So if you’re up for camping the old-fashioned way – dinner over the fire, spotty phone service, lake showers and all – you’ll find your trip right here. But where to go? Grab your tent, your sleeping bag, and your sense of adventure: we’ve got you covered.

Northwest Wisconsin

St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

You’ll want to bring a canoe for this one – more than 100 free primitive campsites are strung out along the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers, and are accessible exclusively by paddlers. Set up camp along this long stretch of clear water, which winds its way to the Mississippi River through some picture-perfect landscapes. For a campsite that’s private, scenic and serene, this is your spot.

Brunet Island State Park

This picturesque 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, and tent campers will prefer the north side of the island. Hike by day, stargaze by night, and be sure to get out on that water – canoe and kayak rentals are available in nearby Cornell.

Northeast Wisconsin

Bagley Rapids Campground

The rapids crash and boil over rock ledges in this stretch of the Oconto River inside the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, and a campground sits right on top of it all. The sites are set up in two loops with thick vegetation between them for plenty of 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

Some of Wisconsin’s best lakeside camping can be found in Door County, at these 17 hike-in sites set up along the 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 stunning shores. 

Central Wisconsin

Buckhorn State Park

Castle Rock Lake is Wisconsin’s fourth largest lake, and the sites at this state park take advantage of the abundance of 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

Ready to kick your canoe trip up a notch? Pitch your tent on the banks of the East Fork of the Black River, where you’ll be within adventuring distance of a series of mild rapids. Cast a line from your site to find good bass and walleye fishing, and be prepared for a true “out in the woods” experience – there’s no electricity at this one!

Southern Wisconsin

Kickapoo Valley Reserve

We’d be willing to guess that the Kickapoo River has got to be one of the most crooked rivers in the nation. The stretch running through the Kickapoo Valley Reserve twists and turns around beautifully carved sandstone bluffs, and campsites are accessible from the river.

If you’re looking to go off the grid, you’ve found the right place – this is primitive shoreline camping; just you, your tent and a fire ring. Fall asleep to the sounds of the river babbling into the night, and you just might catch an owl or two joining in the chorus.

Blackhawk Memorial Park Campground

This county park on the East Branch of the Pecatonica River is sometimes passed over for the popular Yellowstone Lake State Park just upstream. But this hidden gem is fantastic for shoreline camping, and the fishing keeps campers coming back – great walleye, pan fish and bass can all be found here.

For more camping spots, have a look at our directory, or check out these campgrounds near waterfalls!

This entry was posted in Camping Campgrounds

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