Laura Lake Campground – Wisconsin

Laura Lake from the Campground Side

Nestled along the east boarder of the Nicolet National Forest lies a wonderful spot to camp called Laura Lake Campground.  It was the second of two campgrounds that we stayed at during our 10 day camping trip last year.  We wanted to visit this campground specifically because it was one of the highest recommended places in the book, The Best in Tent Camping – Wisconsin.  After arriving and picking our campsite, we quickly realized why this campground had come so highly recommended and it wasn’t long before we dubbed it one of the best campgrounds we have been to so far.

Location

Like many of the other Nicolet National Forest campgrounds, this one is out in the middle of nowhere.  The nearest town is about a 15 minute drive and it has a couple of gas stations, a couple of bars, and that’s about it.  The location makes it ideal to enjoy camping at its best.  There isn’t a noisy highway nearby and there aren’t even a lot of houses nearby either.  It is tucked away in a forest, away from civilization, like a good campground should be.

Natural Features

Keep in mind that this is a National Forest and not a State/National Park.  One of the differences between the two is that there are not a lot of natural or historic features to explore.  It’s just a humble forest with two beautiful lakes, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it isn’t worth visiting.  It is a great place to camp.  The two lakes that are located at the campground are Gordon Lake and Laura Lake.  Both are beautiful lakes with crystal clear water.  I have never visited a lake quite like these.  They are beautifully clean; clear of pollution and they don’t even have thick plant growth or murky waters.  While we were kayaking around Laura Lake, there wasn’t a single spot that I didn’t want to jump in the water and swim around.  And there is actually a designated spot for swimming at Gordon Lake.  Both lakes are surrounded by forest and seem to be popular with fisherman.  Only electric motors are allowed on Laura Lake though, so that makes it a great paddling lake.  Both lakes have boat ramps.  In addition to the lakes there is a hiking trail (about 2 miles long) that goes around Laura Lake.  It takes you along the shoreline and the forest.  It is a great hike to stretch your legs and enjoy the scenery.

Camping

The campsites are spacious and well spaced from each other.  They are lined up along the south edge of Laura Lake and most sites are less than 100 feet from the water.  They have dirt floors and plenty of shade.  There are three loops of campsites.  Each has their own pit toilets and pump for water.  The pit toilets were decent and the water from the pump is clean and makes great drinking water.

If you plan to camp here, be prepared.  Make sure you have the gear you need, because the closest city is quite a drive.  The gas stations have some supplies, but not a lot.  We had our first flat tire with our Honda Element while we were camping at Laura Lake.  In order to get a replacement tire we had to drive about an hour to Iron Mountain, Michigan.  Even though we had to take the out-of-the-way trip, it was still worth camping this far from civilization.  The lack of traffic and people in the area was really refreshing.

Site 18 is where we stayed.

There are 41 total campsites.  Loop 1 consists of sites 1-15.  This loop is probably the most open of the three.  There is not much brush or privacy between the sites and this seemed to be a popular loop with the RVs.  Loop 1 is also the closest to the water.  A few campers had their boats on the shore right up next to their campsite.  Loop 2 consists of sites 16-26.  In my opinion this was the best loop.  It is surrounded by thicker forest than loop 1, but it is still relatively close to the water.  It was very easy for us to carry our kayaks  the 75 feet or so from our campsite to the water.  Loop 3 consists of sites 27-41.  it is a little further away from the other two loops and is located around a small incline.  The sites on loop 3 had the best privacy, but were also the furthest distance from the water.  No matter what kind of camping you like to do, you should be able to find a spot that you like.  Also, keep in mind that this is a popular camping spot on the weekends.  During Memorial Day weekend the campground had pretty much filled up.  On the weekdays though, it was relatively open.

We ended up staying at site 18.  This was a large site that was for tents only (Site 20 is like this as well).  It has a small area to park your vehicle and then there is a set of stairs that takes you down to your campsite.  There was plenty of room to set up our tent, park the kayaks, and set up the hammock.  The site was surrounded by forest and a nice breeze could be felt from the nearby lake.  Even though we were close to the lake, I was surprised to find a lack of mosquitoes.  I think we might have seen a few, but that was it.  However, there was a noticeable amount of spiders in this area.  Not enough that you should avoid this campground, but just be prepared to brush them off the table in the morning.  Overall, we loved our campsite so much that we ended up skipping the last campsite that we were going to go to and just spent the rest of the week at Laura Lake.

The  Nicolet National Forest brochure describes the campground the best, “If you could create a perfect campground what would it include?  For setting, maybe it should lie between two beautiful lakes.  Of course, the lakes would be clear, with good fishing and excellent swimming.  There would need to be a trail circling one of those beautiful lakes for scenic walks.  And naturally, there would be no development on either lake.  Sound perfect?  Don’t bother creating it.  It already exists at Laura Lake.”

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Happy 2011

A new year is here.  It is time to reflect on the old and look forward to the new.  One of my new years resolutions is to get working on this blog.  I have quite a few updates that I want to make.  It will just be a matter of buckling down and getting to them.

2010 was a good year for me.  Mary and I purchased a house, I have been able to work on some new projects, and we did a lot of camping.  It was also probably the fastest year I have ever experienced.  I don’t know if it was because I now had to mow the lawn every couple of days (so it seemed) or what, but each month just flew by.  Oh well, maybe that just means I kept busy.  Who knows.

Looking ahead at this year, we already have quite a bit planned.  In just this first month we have already completed some projects around the house, including new lighting and painting.  There are a few more that I would like to get to this year, but nothing major.  We have been planning a couple of big trips as well.  Both aren’t for sure yet, but it gives us something to look forward to.

The first is a road trip out West.  We thought this might be fun because we have never really done a road trip together.  The longest drive we have ever done was out to Salt Lake City, UT, but I don’t know if I would really call that a road trip as it consisted of following I-80 the whole time.  For those of you that have taken this route, you’ll know that it isn’t very exciting.  You do get to see lots of corn fields and rocks though!  We are considering driving out to SLC again as it would be nice to visit my brother and his family who live out there, but our route would be considerably different.  It would be a long shaped oval between Wisconsin and Utah.  We would start by heading south to St. Louis and then over to Denver and then north through Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore.  The only problem we’re running into with this plan is time.  We only have about a week for this trip and that doesn’t give us a lot of time to spend at the many stops we want to make.  On the other hand, I’m sure we would have a good time even if we had to make some of the stops short.

The second trip we are planning is to Scotland.  We first visited the Highlands back in 2008 and we have been itching to go back ever since.  There is a lot to see and do there, especially if you like the outdoors.  The first time we visited Scotland, we did a lot of driving around and sightseeing.  Although I’m sure there will be more of that with this next trip, we also would like to get out and do some hiking.  Our plans are still sketchy, but we would like to do a multi-day hike, possibly in the Cairngorms National Park.

As of right now, we don’t have any camping trips planned, but I’m sure we will find time to fit in a couple when the weather gets warmer.

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GO&GC Photo of the Week 7/9/10

I was rummaging through some photos from the last several years and came across this one.  Mary and I took a canoe trip with her brother and sister down part of the Wisconsin River.  This is somewhere near the Ferry Bluff State Natural Area.  This photo is actually one of the last ones that I took with my Canon S2 IS.  To this day, my brother-in-law and I still don’t know how we tipped over.  The camera got soaked and that was the end of it.  Fortunately, though, I was able to salvage the memory card.

Would you like your camping or nature photo to appear on this blog as a Photo of the Week?  Send the photo via email.  Please include at least your first name, the location of the photo, and any other details you would like to add.  If a story goes along with the photo, include that as well.

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Travel Tissues

From time to time I struggle with allergies, especially when I am outdoors a lot.  I always try to remember to bring tissues, because when my allergies are bad, they are definitely needed.  There have been campouts when I have brought a whole box of tissues and others when I have just brought the small, compact packs of tissues.  I have problems with both.  The boxes take up too much room and I would never need that many tissues for a campout anyway.  The small packs have wimpy tissues that fall apart easily and sometimes there aren’t enough of them.  I came up with my solution earlier this year; I made my own travel tissue pack.  It is quite simple and works great.

All you will need for this is a gallon size plastic Ziploc bag, tape, and tissues.  Start by opening a box of tissues from the side.  Take out as many tissues as you would like from the bottom.  Be sure to keep them in a stack as well as you can.  They are factory folded so once you pull one out the next tissue automatically dispenses.DSC03973

Put the stack of tissues in the Ziploc bag horizontally and let them slide to the bottom.  Remember which side of the bag you put the top of the stack.

On the outside of the bag, over the top of the stack of tissues, cut a slit about 3 inches long.

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Pull the first tissue halfway out.  Fold the top of the bag underneath the stack of tissues and tape it.  Feel free to label the bag if you like.

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This has worked great for camping and for keeping tissues in the car.  You can cram them in any old spot and they always work great.  It doesn’t take up much space at all and you get to decide how many tissues you need.  Another great thing about doing it this way is once you use up the tissues in your bag, you can just refill it!

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GO&GC Photo of the Week 6/23/10

During a trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina, we visited the Sea Pines Forest Preserve.  There are some great trails there and a lot of wildlife to see, the most intriguing being alligators.  This was a little dragonfly that caught my eye as we were exploring the preserve.

Would you like your camping or nature photo to appear on this blog as a Photo of the Week?  Please send the photo via email.  Each month I will feature a reader-submitted photo.  Please include at least your first name, the location of the photo, and any other details you would like to add.  If a story goes along with the photo, please include that as well.

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Potawatomi State Park – Wisconsin

View of Sawyer Harbor from the observation tower

Potawatomi State Park was the first stop on our 10 day camping trip in Northeastern Wisconsin.  Neither of us had been to Door County before and we had heard so many good things about it.  There are actually five state parks in Door County, four of which allow camping.  We decided on this one because it was recommended in our “Best in Tent Camping” book and it has a good central location on the peninsula.

A Brief History

There does not appear to be much written history of the state park itself, although I know this area of the state in general is very historic.  The explorer Jean Nicolet first established a trading post at Green Bay in 1634, making it the 13th oldest permanent settlement in America.  The park was founded in 1928 and was named after the Potawatomi tribe which inhabited this area for many years.

Activities

Trails – In the park there are two hiking trails, an off-road bike trail, a self guided nature trail, and the eastern starting point of the 1,000 mile Ice Age Trail.  The Ice Age Trail starts at the observation tower and goes along the shore with part of the other two trails in the park.  If you were to hike the entire trail, you would have to hike through 30 counties and eventually you would end up in Interstate State Park near the Minnesota boarder.  The Hemlock Trail is 2.6 miles and covers the southern part of the park while the Tower Trail, which is 3.6 miles, covers the northern part.  We hiked the Tower Trail while we were there.  The terrain is not bad, although some parts are rocky.  You get to see part of the Sturgeon Bay shoreline and the rest is mostly wooded.  The isn’t too much in the way of steep inclines.  We saw a lot of deer when we were on the trail.  If you start the trail at the campground, the observation tower makes a good half way point.  Overall it is a nice hike.  Be sure to wear good hiking shoes and bug spray.

Boating – The park is located on Sturgeon Bay so as you can imagine there are many good boating opportunities.  The park has a boat launch that goes into Sawyer Harbor which then connects to Sturgeon Bay and Green Bay.  The park store rents canoes and kayaks.  If you are paddling, it is recommended that you stay in Sawyer Harbor as the water in the bays gets quite deep and choppy.

Observation Tower – On the north end of the park near the boat launch is a 75 foot observation tower.  It is located on top of a 150 foot bluff, so as you can imagine the view from the top is gorgeous.  There is parking near the tower if you do not want to hike to it.  The view overlooks Sawyer Harbor, Sturgeon Bay and Green Bay.  According to the DNR, on a clear day, you can see 16 miles across Green Bay.

Nature Programs – During the summer there are programs offered on many different topics ranging from plants and animals to archeology and history.  Information can be obtained at the park office or on bulletin boards throughout the park.

Camping

Potawatomi offers 123 campsites on two loops in the park.  Upon arriving at the campground, our first instinct was to find a site on the northern loop because there are no electric sites on that loop.  After driving around several times, I will admit we were not very impressed.  The campsites are wooded, but not very well secluded.  The inner circle sites have been elevated with gravel to avoid the muddy area below.  From all of the north loop sites, we liked site 104 the best.  .  However, that site is non-reservable  it had already been taken.  The southern loop has more sites and more RVs, but it also has sites with better natural features.  In my opinion, the best sites were on the outer loop from 48 to 54.  They are further apart than most sites and the backdrop is a rocky bluff.  We ended up at site 58.  It did not have a rocky background, but it was a good size and well spaced from other sites.  It faces the water, but you cannot see it very well due to tree coverage.

The park has a store that carries snacks and some basic camping gear and supplies.  You can also purchase firewood there and rent kayaks and canoes.  We had a chance to speak with the lady that runs the store and she was very friendly.  She told us a funny story of some campers that let their dog out of the tent at night.  The dog ended up coming back to the wrong campsite.  It wanted to get back in the tent so it kept pushing its nose against the tent and pawing at it to get in.  Needless to say the campers inside that tent were freaked out that it was a bear.  All was resolved in the morning when they found the dog sleeping under the picnic table.  On that same token, she had mentioned that they had not seen a bear in this area for a very long time.

The Surrounding Area

If you are traveling to Door County in the Summer you already know there are a lot of activities you can do.  Here are a few to get you started:

Maritime Museum – The museum actually has three different locations.  The largest of which is at Sturgeon Bay.  We stopped in to look around the area, but we did not go through the museum.  If you like nautical history, this would definitely be a good stop for you.  There is an entry fee for the museum, but it is not very much.

Farm Markets – If you enjoy cherries and apples, this is the place for you!  There are a lot of local produce and products that are sold at these markets, especially cherry products.  We saw everything from cherry salsa to cherry mustard, and even cherry donuts.  We visited several markets as we drove around (mainly for the free samples) and our favorite was Wood Orchard Market.

Other Door County State Parks – As I mentioned before, there are four other state parks in the area.  Peninsula State Park is by far the most popular.  It is the 5th largest state park in Wisconsin and takes quite a while to drive through it.  It has a sand beach, lighthouse, summer theater, golf course and 468 campsites!  We drove through it, but stopped only to hike up Eagle Tower.  It has a wonderful overlook.  There is certainly plenty to do at this park.  Another popular park to visit is Whitefish Dunes State Park.  This park is home to some of the highest sand dunes in the state.  The park was established to preserve this unique area.  There are many hiking trails and a nice beach and swimming area.  Unfortunately, when we were at this park, the fog was so thick we could only see about 100 feet in front of us.  We would love to come back and explore it more on a clear day.

Washington Island – At the tip of Door County’s mainland, there is a ferry that will take you to Washington Island.  People live on this island and I have heard that it is worth at least a day trip to explore.  We ended up getting to the ferry late and would not have had much time to look around before the final ferry returned.  Also from Washington Island you can take a ferry to Rock Island State Park.  The park encompasses the entire island and there are no motorized vehicles allow on the island.  I have wanted to go camping up there for some time, but have not gotten around to it just yet.  Perhaps some time soon I will get the trip planned.

Overall, we really enjoyed our stay at Potawatomi State Park.  It was a good location to explore the peninsula.  There is so much to see in this area that it is worth a few trips.  As I said before, this was our first visit to Door County so most of our time was spent discovering all that the county had to offer.  Next time we will have a better idea of which parts we want to visit again and which ones we can pass up.  Because this is such a touristy area, there are many planning guides to help you find the activities that interest you most.  Make sure you plan well, because you will find that time goes pretty quick when you are visiting Door County.

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GO&GC Photo of the Week 6/16/10

Water lily

This photo was taken at an Eco-park called Xcaret located near Playa del Carmen in Mexico.  The park is very cool and I highly recommend it.

Would you like your camping or nature photo to appear on this blog as a Photo of the Week?  Please send the photo via email.  Each month I will feature a reader-submitted photo.  Please include at least your first name, the location of the photo, and any other details you would like to add.  If a story goes along with the photo, please include that as well.

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The 10 Day Camping Trip 2010

We just recently got back from a 10 day trip to Northeastern Wisconsin.  We had been wanting to do this trip for quite some time.  In 2006, Mary and I took our first 10 day camping trip to North Central Wisconsin.  We had such a good time that we wanted to do it again.  It has been four years since, but we were finally able to have everything work out to allow us to go.

Planning – One of the reasons we don’t do this trip every year is because it is a lot of work to put together.  We don’t just stay in one spot for the whole time.  During the first trip we actually camped at four different locations.  Each had a unique campground with interesting things to see in the area and the final day was spent at a hotel with a hot tub.  ;)  So I guess technically, that makes it a 9 day camping trip.  We decided to do the same style trip this time.  We selected three different campgrounds to go to and then booked a hotel for the final night of the trip.

Activities – We really enjoyed the chance to get out and experience Northern Wisconsin again.  We did not plan much in the way of activities.  When something intrigued us, we went and did it.  We did plenty of hiking and geocaching, but we also brought our kayaks along this time.  Kayaking was a lot of fun, even if we only stayed on one lake.  We could have kayaked in a lot of different places, but it is hard to beat crystal clear lakes in the middle of a national forest.  As we were out and about, we also sought out some of Wisconsin’s waterfalls.  There a quite a few smaller falls in this area.  Most are at very beautiful and scenic locations.  Other than that, our time was spent camping, relaxing, and driving around to see the different areas.

Locations – Neither of us had been to Door County before so that is where we started.  For those of you that aren’t familiar with Wisconsin, Door County is the peninsula that extends into Lake Michigan on the east side of the state.  We stayed at Potawatomi State Park near Sturgeon Bay.  It was a good central location on the peninsula.  From there we drove around the Bay, up to the Nicolet National Forest.  There we found what turned out to be one of our favorite campgrounds, Laura Lake.  We liked it so much that we ended up staying there for the rest of the trip.  The other site we had planned to stay at was White Deer Lake/Luna Lake.  We did end up taking a day trip into that area, but we decided we liked our site at Laura Lake better.

Over all, it was a great trip.  Aside from a flat tire, we didn’t have any problems.  The weather was clear and warm every day.  This was probably the most amazing thing of the trip; for the 9 days we were actually camping, we never had a drop of rain and it was still Spring!  Not that we are complaining.  It was just astonishing.  If anyone is looking to take a week long trip to explore some of Northern Wisconsin’s beauty, I would be more than willing to make some suggestions on where to go.  There is a lot to do and see up there.

I will cover some more aspects of the trip in greater detail in separate posts:

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GO&GC Photo of the Week 6/10/10

This is the first of many “Photo of the Week” entries that will begin to be posted.  I will post some basic information about each picture and feel free to comment or ask questions about them.  Most of the pictures will be camping or nature related, but I may throw some random ones in there once in a while.

Here is the first Photo of the Week:

This photo was taken at sunrise while we were canoeing on Jordan Pond.  We camped at Jordan Park near Stevens Point, WI.

Would you like your camping photo to appear on this blog as a Photo of the Week?  Please send the photo via email.  Each month I will feature a reader-submitted photo.  Please include at least your first name, the location of the photo, and any other details you would like to add.  If a story goes along with the photo, please add that as well.

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How to Build Your Own Fire Pit – Part 2

Part 1

When deciding how to make our backyard fire pit, we knew that we wanted it be sturdy, inexpensive, and to look nice.  After some research, we decided to make a stone fire pit.  A week or so in advance be sure to call the Diggers Hotline to make sure you aren’t building your fire pit on top of important cables.  After we decided what style of fire pit we wanted to make and the backyard had been marked by the utility companies, we budgeted $100, marked a couple spots in the backyard where we would consider building it and then headed to the store to pick up supplies.

We searched a couple of local stores and a landscaping company, but ended up finding everything we needed at Menards.  For those of you who don’t have this chain in your state, it is very comparable to Lowe’s.  Essentially, it is a super hardware store.  They had a good variety of landscaping stones and it did not take long to find the style we were looking for.  We eneded up going with a small Catalina retaining wall stone and the color was called Sienna.  We purchased a total of 42 stones and the cost came to about $70 – $80.  Make sure you have a reliable way to transport all the stones.  Our small SUV seemed really weighed down taking all the stones at once.  We didn’t do any damage to the vehicle, but I would probably look for an alternative means if we had to do it again.

Here is a list of the supplies we used to put this together:

  • spade shovel
  • square point shovel
  • level
  • tape measure
  • pole
  • rope
  • spray paint
  • a couple of boards
  • 42 landscaping stones
  • 1 bag of multi-purpose gravel
  • 1 bag of lava rock

Construction

Place the pole in the middle of where you want your fire pit to be.  Tie one end of the rope to the pole and then measure how wide you would like the radius to be (this measurement should go to the outside of the firepit and include an extra inch or two for good measure).  We determined that most of the state park fire pits have about a 30 inch diameter.  Given how many stones we had we determined our fire pit was going to have an outer diameter of 44 in. and an inner diameter of 26 in.  I held the rope out 46 inches and then sprayed the spray paint as I walked in a circle around the pole.

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Now that you have your circle, use the shovels to dig it out.  Starting with the edges first and then work your way to the middle.  Use your best guess for depth.  We only wanted to go down about 4 inches or so.  We tried to keep the extra sod as in tact as we could so we could use it to patch other holes in our lawn.

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Once the sod has been taken out, remove the remaining soil and flatten the base.  There are some special tools that can be used to flatten the ground, but we just used small cuts from a 2×4 to smooth and flatten the bottom.  Once you think it looks good, place two stones, one on each side, and see how level they are. Try moving them in a couple of different positions to make sure the bottom is level throughout.

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Finish placing the rest of the first layer of stones and run the level around again for good measure.  Add or take away dirt from any stones that look like they need it.

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Once you are satisfied with the bottom layer, dig a hole in the middle of the pit.  A post hole digger would be ideal for this, but we didn’t have one, so we just used the spade.  Dig down about a foot or two and then add the multi-purpose gravel.  This will serve as your drain when it rains.

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Now add the second layer, alternating the stone placement.  And finally the third layer.  The stones we bought were pretty hefty duty so we didn’t see the need of cementing them in place.  So far that hasn’t caused any problems.

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Now add the lava rock to the desired depth that you want your fire pit.  Lava rock is larger and much better looking than multi-purpose gravel so it works well to top off the inside of the pit.  Then add some of the sod you removed to the edges around the pit and water it well.

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DSC03044This is the finished project.  We are very happy with how it turned out.  It is sturdy, it looks nice, it was inexpensive and it didn’t take long to put together.  It is a good size for the type of fires we plan to make, however, if I did it again I probably make it just a few inches wider.  If you live in a city, remember to check with your local fire department to see if you need to get a burning permit (we had to get one).  They also may have regulations as to how close it can be to your neighbors yard or buildings.  I hope you have enjoyed this do-it-yourself entry and good luck to anyone else that may be setting up their own backyard fire pit.

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