Tour of Wisconsin in our DIY RV Camper Van

4000 miles, 25 days, 7 states…

Monday, August 31, 2020:  Day 1 Wisconsin Trip

We began our trip in Bartlesville, having spent the night in the WanderVan in Shawn’s parents’ driveway.  After breakfast and a 2 mile walk around the neighborhood, we showered in their house and visited for a few minutes before hitting the road.

It was a long day of driving.  We had lunch in the van at a park in Iola, KS where it was sprinkling and 70 degrees.  The weather had cleared by the time we arrived in Iowa and the Welcome Center/Amish Store.  We picked up a few snacks, but my phone locked up while we were there and finally ended up doing a factory reset on it.  Most things work now, but I was never able to get my Murray State College faculty email to sync with my phone, so it now requires getting on the computer with either WiFi or Shawn’s hotspot.  We spent the night in Walnut Woods State Park near Des Moines, IA.

Miles driven on day 1 = 402

Iowa Welcome Center and Amish Store

Tuesday, September 1, 2020:  Day 2 Wisconsin Trip

After a breakfast of granola and coffee, we walked the short trail to overlook the Raccoon River.  We walked around the grounds of the Iowa State Capitol, taking pictures of the building and some of the statues around.  As we neared Cedar Rapids, we started noticing a lot of storm damage.  We saw the evidence of a strong storm which had gone through the area about 3 weeks earlier. 

In Dubuque, we visited the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.  There were two main buildings:  one had general water-related information and the second was more specific to the Mississippi River.  There were also two river boats to tour, several outdoor exhibits, and at least one building that was still closed due to COVID.  The river otters showed off for me for quite a while!  We also used their free WiFi to finish getting my phone up and running.

We camped at Miller Riverview Park 20 ft from the Mississippi River, near the Dubuque-Wisconsin bridge. This park was located on an island in the rive. We rode our folding bikes along a bike path out on that island and then made a Pasta Bean Soup for dinner.

Miles driven on day 2 = 205

Racoon River near Des Moines
Racoon River near Des Moines
Iowa State Capitol
Iowa State Capitol
National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa
National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa
Miller Riverview Park in Dubuque, Iowa
Miller Riverview Park in Dubuque, Iowa

Wednesday, September 2, 2020:  Day 3 Wisconsin Trip

I made scrambled eggs this morning and we finished off the muffins I had brought with us.  And our pour-over coffee.  Can’t start the day without coffee!  Our first destination in Wisconsin would be Prairie de Chien today, but before we got there, we stopped for WiFi at a McDonalds.

We started at the Visitor Center in Prairie du Chien, where we received advice on how to spend a few hours.  We did the self-guided tour at the Fort Crawford Museum, lunched in the van, then took the guided tour of Villa Louis, the home of an upper-class nineteenth century family.  We bought some cheese curds at Valley Fish and Cheese before leaving town.

Next, we went back over into Iowa to Effigy Mounds National Monument.  We walked the 2 mile trail there to see several of the ancient Native American burial mounds.  We traveled back into Wisconsin and went to Governor Dodge State Park to stay for the night.

Miles driven on day 3 = 147

Wandering Wakes in Wisconsin
Wandering Wakes in Wisconsin
Fort Crawford Museum in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
Fort Crawford Museum in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
Cheese Curds
Cheese Curds
Dinner in Governor Dodge State Park, Wisconsin
Dinner in Governor Dodge State Park, Wisconsin

Thursday, September 3, 2020:  Day 4 Wisconsin Trip

On our way out of Governor Dodge State Park, we dumped our gray and black tanks and refilled our freshwater tank and then hiked a short trail down to Stephens Falls.  The falls were just a trickle at this time of year.

Today was a big day and the first thing on our itinerary was the Taliesin Highlights Tour.  It was a two hour guided tour of the architectural school and personal home of Frank Lloyd Wright. After lunch, we stopped in Arena, WI for cheese at the Arena Cheese store.  We bought sriracha jack and Colby-jack cheese curds.  These were actually squeaky when you bite into them!

We then drove to Wisconsin Dells and took the Dells Boat Tour, a two hour ride on the Upper Dells.  It made stops at the Witches Gulch area and Stand Rock, where a trained dog jumped from a high cliff to a sandstone pillar five and a half feet away.  Before leaving Wisconsin Dells, we bought some Rocky Road Fudge at a local candy shop.

We had found a county park that looked like a good place to stay up in Warrens, and we got In there close to 7 pm.  McMullens Memorial County Park had around 70 sites, but the campground host allowed us to park in the overflow area –  a flat field with a few trees interspersed for the reduced rate.  We ate the soup that was leftover from Tuesday night and took a walk down to the lake.

Miles driven on day 4 = 139

Highlights tour of Taliesin, near Spring Green, Wisconsin
Highlights tour of Taliesin, near Spring Green, Wisconsin
Cambrian sandstone bluffs along the upper dells of the Wisconsin River
Cambrian sandstone bluffs along the upper dells of the Wisconsin River
WanderVan at McMullen Memorial County Park near Warrens, Wisconsin
WanderVan at McMullen Memorial County Park near Warrens, Wisconsin
Sunset over Lake Wazeda at McMullen Memorial County Park
Sunset over Lake Wazeda at McMullen Memorial County Park

Friday, September 4, 2020:  Day 5 Wisconsin Trip

After breakfast, we walked the ½ mile nature trail and the 1 ½ mile hiking trail in McMullens Memorial County Park.  We visited the Warrens Cranberry Discovery Center where they had a nice museum about cranberry growing and harvesting downstairs and a gift shop upstairs.  We picked a few cranberry jellies to take home, then had a cranberry-flavored coffee at the ice cream counter.

On our way to Pepin for our afternoon’s activities, we came upon a rest area that said it had an overlook, so we decided to stop.  It had a nice paved trail out to an overlook of the valley and it wasn’t overgrown with trees, so you could actually have a view!  (We’ve been burned before!)  We decided it was also time to have lunch, so we had a sriracha cheese sandwich with mustard and cranberry jelly.  Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

I have read the Little House series of books probably a dozen times, so of course, I had to go to Pepin.  We went through the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, saw Lake Pepin (a widening of the Mississippi River), and the site where Laura Ingalls Wilder was born.

Our campsite was at Together Farms, who is a member of the Harvest Hosts system. From the HH website: Harvest Hosts is a membership program that provides access to a network of wineries, farms, breweries, museums and other unique attractions that invite self-contained RVers to visit and stay overnight. We are just trying out Harvest Hosts on this trip, so we will try to keep you informed of our opinions. Together Farms is a healthy, sustainable farm with a clean and healthy philosophy. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, they invite the public onto the farm for Burger Nights with live music. We really enjoyed our meal and the family friendly atmosphere. We parked for the night out in one of their fields.

Miles driven on day 5 = 163

Cranberry Discovery Center in Warrens, Wisconsin
Cranberry Discovery Center in Warrens, Wisconsin
Overlook of the Wisconsin Countryside
Overlook of the Wisconsin Countryside
Laura Ingalls Wilder birthplace near Pepin, Wisconsin
Laura Ingalls Wilder birthplace near Pepin, Wisconsin
Burger Night at Together Farms, Wisconsin
Burger Night at Together Farms, Wisconsin
Harvest Host camping at Together Farms
Harvest Host camping at Together Farms
Sunset at Together Farms in Wisconsin
Sunset at Together Farms

Saturday, September 5, 2020:  Day 6 Wisconsin Trip

We had a slow, leisurely morning getting ready for the day, not leaving until around 9:30 am.  We headed to the Farmer’s Market in Eau Claire where we bought wheat bread, apples, blueberries, zucchini, and smoked trout.  Lots of people were there and in the adjoining park area.  We walked a mile or so along the Chippewa River Trail, then had our picnic lunch and toured the Chippewa Valley Museum, which had the history of the area including logging, farming, and dairy.

We wanted to do some bicycling in the area, so we took off from Jim Falls on the Old Abe Trail.  The trail name honors Old Abe, a golden eagle acquired by a Union regiment in Wisconsin during the Civil War, which became their mascot.  We rode 5 ½ miles north on trail that was once a railroad bed and follows along the Chippewa River.  We had turned back and were within a half mile of being back to the van, when I got distracted by looking at the road crossing ahead, went off the edge of the paved trail, and landed on my right side in the ditch.  Fortunately, the ditch was full of high grasses and weeds, so it was a relatively soft landing!  Only my right knee got road rash.

Shawn felt sorry for me, so we didn’t ride any further and he took me for ice cream at Olson’s in Chippewa Falls.  We drove up near Holcomb to stay at Merrimount Farms, another Harvest Host location.  We ate smoked trout, crackers, cheese curds, sautéed zucchini and carrots, and blueberries for dinner, then walked between cornfields to a creek and back.

Miles driven on day 6 = 106

Eau Claire Farmers Market
Eau Claire Farmers Market
Waling around Eau Claire, Wisonsin
Waling around Eau Claire, Wisonsin
Picnic near the Chippewa Valley Museum
Picnic near the Chippewa Valley Museum
Bicycling the Old Abe Trail
Bicycling the Old Abe Trail
Dinner with items from the Farmers Market
Dinner with items from the Farmers Market
Camping at Merrimount Farms
Camping at Merrimount Farms (Harvest Host)

Sunday, September 6, 2020:  Day 7 Wisconsin Trip

On Sundays, we go to church, so today we found ourselves at Grace Baptist Church in Lake Hallie.  We were invited to a church picnic afterwards, so we stayed and enjoyed (among other things) pulled pork, fried cheese curds, beans, salads, and bottled root beer.  We visited with the pastor, Bruce, his wife, Tammy, and Joe and Heather, who have a farm 20 or so miles north of Chippewa Falls and offered to let us park our van their on their property for the night.

We did a little shopping at the local Goodwill store, did laundry, and picked up a few grocery items during the afternoon. We then drove north to the farm where Joe and Heather live. We visited for a while with these new friends in Christ, and then drove on out into the cornfield and parked the WanderVan at the end of their grass airstrip.

Jana cooked black bean quesadillas for dinner. The evening was cool and a nice breeze was blowing while we walked further back into the fields of corn and soybeans. A few maple trees are just starting to change color. We really appreciate the nice location to camp tonight.

Miles driven on day 7 = 88

Grace Baptist Church, Lake Hallie Wisconsin
Grace Baptist Church, Lake Hallie Wisconsin
Laundry and email in Eau Claire Wisconsin
Laundry and email in Eau Claire Wisconsin
Overnight on a Wisconsin farm
Overnight on a Wisconsin farm

Monday, September 7, 2020:  Day 8 Wisconsin Trip

We walked for about 15 minutes beside the soybean and corn fields at Joe & Heather’s farm before hitting the road.  Our route of choice had us going through Chetek, one of many small lake towns in Wisconsin, on our way to Pattison State Park.  While driving this morning, we saw a dead bear in the ditch next to the road.

We arrived at Pattison State Park around 11 am and did not leave until nearly 9 am on Tuesday, making it the longest we have stayed in one area so far on the trip.  First, we walked down to see the Big Manitou Falls, the highest waterfall in Wisconsin and the fourth highest east of the Rocky Mountains (165 ft).  Then sandwiches and apples for lunch in the large grassy picnic area.  We then hiked the part of the Beaver Trail that was open and on down to Little Manitou Falls, round trip almost 3 miles.  The trail and both sets of falls are on the Black River, which looks a lot like root beer (or sweet tea) due to the high tannin content in the water. 

During this time, we had been parked in the expansive parking lots, but now it was late enough that we could go set up in the campground.  All of the state park campgrounds are by reservation only right now, so we used their dump station first, then set up camp in our reserved site.  Most of the campsites are pull-through slots with trees around and between the sites. 

We walked more and took another trail.  At the end of the day, I had 22,000 steps on my fitbit!  I made white chili/soup for dinner and after cleaning up (and another walk), we made some hot tea.  It is getting a bit cooler, around 55 for the high today.

Miles driven on day 8 = 119

Little Manitou Falls, Pattison State Park, Wisconsin
Little Manitou Falls, Pattison State Park, Wisconsin
Big Manitou Falls, Pattison State Park, Wisconsin
Big Manitou Falls, Pattison State Park, Wisconsin

Tuesday, September 8, 2020:  Day 9 Wisconsin Trip

After breakfast and the use of the campground’s shower facilities, we headed into Superior.  We used McDonald’s wifi to check email and make necessary reservations.  We picked up some coffee and donuts and ate them in the parking lot of the SS Meteor.  We had planned to tour the SS Meteor, but once we got there, we discovered that they had transitioned to being open on weekends only.  We did drive out to Wisconsin Point and the Superior Entry Lighthouse.  We walked part of the way out to the lighthouse on the rock sea break and then turned back.

Amnicon Falls State Park was just a few miles down the road and it was a beautiful little park.  There were two sets of falls and we thought that they were prettier and certainly easier to photograph than the falls at Pattison State Park.  For lunch, we took the soup that was leftover from last night, warmed it up in the microwave, and ate it on a bench overlooking the Amnicon River.

We drove part of the Lake Superior Circle Route to get us to the Little Sand Bay Recreation Area, a part of the Apostle Island National Seashore.  The camping area there is managed by the town of Russell.  The Visitor Center was closed, but we walked around the pier and saw the fishing boat on display.  For supper, we had smoked whitefish that we had picked up at a fish market in the little fishing village of Cornucopia on our drive this afternoon.  The orange-red sky over Lake Superior drew us out of our van and across the road to the beach/pier area, so we drank our hot tea while watching the sunset.

Miles driven on day 9 = 112

SS Meteor, Superior, Wisconsin
SS Meteor, Superior, Wisconsin
Amnicon Falls, Wisconsin
Amnicon Falls, Wisconsin
Sunset over Lake Superior
Sunset over Lake Superior

Wednesday, September 9, 2020:  Day 10 Wisconsin Trip

The NPS Visitor Center for the Apostle Islands National Seashore in Bayfield was our first stop today.  As is usual since the COVID outbreak, the visitor center is not open to tourists, but the Passport Stamps and information about the park were available.  We took the Apostle Islands Scenic Cruise through the islands.  With so much closed down this year, it is about the only way to see the islands.  Lighthouses, sea caves, and a fish camp were the highlights of the cruise.

We made a stop in a t-shirt shop before heading to Washburn Memorial Park.  We ate our sandwich in the front seats of the van because we had parked overlooking Lake Superior.  The strong wifi in the park kept us there a little longer than planned, but that was okay!  We also stopped at a bakery in Ashland as we drove through.

We had picked out a Harvest Host to stay for the night – Big Snow Resort in Wakefield, Michigan.  When we saw how close Wakefield was to Wisconsin, and then that there was a Harvest Host in that area, we decided we wanted to stay there.  We ate dinner in the Sky Bar restaurant there on the premises, but didn’t walk around much because it was sprinkling and 45 degrees!  Brr!

Miles driven on day 10 = 93

A standing rock, Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
A standing rock, Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
Sea caves, Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
Sea caves, Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
Lighthouse on Raspberry Island, Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
Lighthouse on Raspberry Island, Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
View from our campsite, Big Snow Resort, Wakefield, Michigan
View at Big Snow Resort, Wakefield, Michigan (Harvest Host stay)

Thursday, September 10, 2020:  Day 11 Wisconsin Trip

We started the day by checking out the town of Wakefield, MI.  We visited the Northwoods General Store, where we picked up a few local items and a cup of americano, and took pictures of Nee-Gaw-Nee-Gaw Bow Indian carving at Sunday Lake.

Our primary activity for the day was bicycling on the Heart-of-Vilas Trail.  The entire trail is around 52 paved miles, most of it on dedicated bike path, but some is dedicated bike lanes on county roads.  Shawn had picked out a section that was relatively flat and very little on the road.  It was a beautiful day to ride!  It was 45 degrees when we got there, but the sky soon cleared and it was very nice – still jacket weather, but nice.  There were no mishaps, and we biked a total of 21 miles, some before and some after lunch.

We then drove down to the town of Antigo, where we had found a cheap campsite ($10) at the Antigo Lake Campground.  We walked over to see the lake and looked over options for the next several days.

Miles driven day 11 = 133

Wakefield, Michigan
Wakefield, Michigan
Nee Gaw Nee Gaw Bow carving, Wakefield, Michigan
Nee Gaw Nee Gaw Bow carving, Wakefield, Michigan
Bicycling the Heart of Vilas bike trail
Bicycling the Heart of Vilas bike trail, northern Wisconsin

Friday, September 11, 2020:  Day 12 Wisconsin Trip

It took a couple of hours to drive from Antigo to Oshkosh, and we broke up the trip by stopping at a local grocery store in Clintonville.  Shawn was glad to find cheese curds because we had run out, and these were super fresh – made just this morning about 10 miles away.

We headed for Lake Winnebago, and we had lunch by the lake in Menominee Park.  We saw the statue of Chief Oshkosh and visited the Menominee Park Zoo.  The zoo is small, but we saw several families with small children there, and it is free.  The Oshkosh Public Museum was not far away, so we went there next.  It began when a wealthy man in town built a huge house and then bequeathed it to the city when he died.

For this night, we stayed at Hickory Oaks Campground.  They put us in a tent site at the far back of the campground, which worked for us because we felt all alone.  We got in fairly early, so we did some laundry there at the RV Park.  For dinner, we made chili outside and ate it with chips and cheese curds.

Miles driven day 12 = 108

Menominee Park Zoo, Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Menominee Park Zoo, Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Chief Oshkosh statue, Menominee Park, Oshkosh, WI
Chief Oshkosh statue, Menominee Park, Oshkosh, WI
Oshkosh Public Museum
Oshkosh Public Museum

Saturday, September 12, 2020:  Day 13 Wisconsin Trip

Our first excursion on Saturday was one we had not planned for when setting our itinerary.  It seems that when I fell off the road on my bicycle last week, I fell into poison oak or poison ivy, because over the last week, blisters started coming up, first on my right arm, then starting to come up on other parts of my body.  So, Saturday morning’s first visit was to an urgent care facility to have it looked at and have some medicine prescribed.

Now, on to our fun adventures!  We spent about four hours at the EAA Aviation Museum seeing the hundreds of airplanes and flight related exhibits.  It was a great museum, and we were also able to go see the planes in the hangars on the other side of the grass airstrip where the planes land for the fly-in each year – except for this year.  Another cancellation due to COVID.

We drove south through Fond du Lac to get to the other side of Lake Winnebago.  Our campsite that night was Heritage Orchard, another Harvest Host site.  The apple cider and the apple cider donuts were delicious!  We also enjoyed walking down the road through the middle of the apple orchard and seeing the trees heavily-laden with beautiful apples.

Miles driven day 13 = 47

EAA Aviation Museum, Oshkosh, Wisconsin
EAA Aviation Museum, Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Pioneer Airport, EAA Aviation Museum, Oshkosh, WI
Pioneer Airport, EAA Aviation Museum, Oshkosh, WI
Apple orchard, Heritage Orchard, Chilton, Wisconsin
Apple orchard, Heritage Orchard, Chilton, Wisconsin

Sunday, September 13, 2020:  Day 14 Wisconsin Trip

On our way to Bethel Baptist Church in Green Bay, we stopped briefly at a park to walk for a few minutes.  After church we went to Happy Joe’s Pizza and Ice Cream where we had a Hawaiian Pizza, used their Wi-Fi, and got some recommendations about places to visit from the waitress, Rachel.

Heritage Hill State Historic Park was one recommendation given, and we really enjoyed it.  The park had historic buildings including the oldest church building in Green Bay, part of an old fort, and homes and businesses from the area.  We even saw a couple of deer eating apples.  We spent over an hour walking around the park.

Since we were in Green Bay, we had to drive by Lambeau Field.  Fortunately for us, the Packers were not playing at home today, so we were able to drive right into the parking lot for a picture.  We took a short walk on the Fox River Trail, just to see the Fox River, which runs north from Lake Winnebago into Green Bay.

We drove on up into Door County and camped at Potawatami State Park for the night.  We walked down to Sturgeon Bay and around the nature trail before heating up some leftover chili and watching TV.

Miles driven day 14 = 109

Happy Joe's Pizza & Ice Cream, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Heritage Hill State Historic Park, Green Bay, WI
Heritage Hill State Historic Park, Green Bay, WI
Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Wisconsin
Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Wisconsin

Monday, September 14, 2020:  Day 15 Wisconsin Trip

Our usual breakfast is granola and blueberries with milk, coffee, and juice.  Today, to finish up the last of the chili, I mixed it with a couple of scrambled eggs to make breakfast burritos.  Add on the apple cider donuts, coffee, and apple cider, and we were ready to hit the trails.  But before we could do that, we knew we should take care of some things on the internet, so we used the Wi-Fi at the Door County Visitor Center.  We also picked up several maps.

First off, we went to Whitefish Dunes State Park, which is for day-use only.  We were able to walk down to the beach area by way of a rocky shore.  Then we drove up to Cana Island County Park, where we thought about taking the tractor-drawn shuttle across the water to the island to see the lighthouse there, but ultimately decided not to.  We ate lunch in the van while there.

Newport State Park on the Lake Michigan side of the Door County peninsula had some good trails for hiking and biking, so we walked about 2 miles of trail, about half was right on the shoreline.  We drove up to the end of Highway 42 at the Washington Island Ferry Terminal, and then turned around and headed back south.  At the Ellison Bluff County Park, we found a nice overlook and interpretive trail.  We also snacked on apples and a cherry oatmeal muffin from Seaquist Farm store that we had picked up earlier.

We stayed in Peninsula State Park, on the Green Bay side of Door County, which claims to be Wisconsin’s most popular camping destination.  I’m sure it is very busy in the summer.  After setting up in our campsite, which had a small view of the bay and direct access to the bike trail, we ate leftover pizza and sautéed zucchini, then walked the trail called “Trail Trampers Delight” to the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and back, about a mile and a quarter round trip.

Miles driven on day 15 = 99

Whitefish Dunes State Park
Whitefish Dunes State Park
Eagle Bluff Lighthouse
Eagle Bluff Lighthouse

Tuesday, September 15, 2020:  Day 16

Peninsula State Park has 20 miles of hiking and 20 miles of biking trails, and we wanted to experience at least a little piece of those trails.  So after a quick breakfast of cranberry oatmeal muffins, coffee, and cider, we were off.  We rode about 4 miles on their nicely graveled bike trail, then put the bicycles away and walked on one of the hiking trails about 2 miles.  Both trails we took had significant portions right next to the waters of Green Bay.  We cleaned up and Shawn had a second breakfast before going to the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse for a tour.  The lighthouse was built in 1868 and is still in use today, although the light is now solar powered.  It has been restored inside to what it looked like in the early 1900s.  It even had the piano that the family (lighthouse keeper, wife, and seven sons) owned.

Right outside of the park is the community of Fish Creek.  We stopped at the Blue Horse Beach Café for lunch and ate in their outdoor eating area.  There are plenty of shopping opportunities in Door County and we made a little time for that, but we try to seek out the locally-grown or locally-produced food items.  We made stops today at Door Artisan Cheese, Grandma Tommy’s, and Renard’s Cheese Factory.

In Sturgeon Bay, we visited the Door County Maritime Museum.  It had exhibits on shipbuilding, shipwrecks, and lighthouses in Door County, and many model boats/ships on display.  Another quick stop at the visitor center for Wi-Fi, and our 48 hours in Door County were over.  It was a great place to see and in a couple of weeks the fall foliage will be beautiful!

We camped in Bayshore County Park in Brown County, where we were able to get a $20 tent site.  There was a trail to the beach/boat launch, so we decided to picnic down there for dinner.  The trail led us down some stairs, then around the base of a rocky bluff, then down a long staircase to the beach.  Once at the boat launch, we found some big rocks at the end of the parking lot and watched the sun going down over Green Bay while eating Cherry Chicken Salad (from Renard’s) on crackers, cheese curds, and apples.

Miles driven on day 16 = 60

Biking in Peninsula State Park
Biking in Peninsula State Park
Eagle Bluff Lighthouse tour in Peninsula State Park
Eagle Bluff Lighthouse tour in Peninsula State Park
Door County Maritime Museum
Door County Maritime Museum
Hiking along the bluffs in Bay Shore county park
Hiking along the bluffs in Bay Shore county park
Sunset picnic on the shore of Green Bay
Sunset picnic on the shore of Green Bay

Wednesday, September 16, 2020:  Day 17 Wisconsin Trip

This was a pretty laid-back day for us.  We began by driving to the town of Kaukauna (near the north end of Lake Winnebago) to do laundry and buy some groceries.  We hit the Wednesday special at the Bubble Fresh Laundry and spent the least yet ($5.75) to wash and dry two loads of clothes.  Plus, they had Wi-Fi.  Win-win.

High Cliff State Park is at the northeast corner of Lake Winnebago.  We went there for a picnic lunch by the shore of the lake and then some hiking.  We hiked on the Indian Mound Trail, the Lime Kiln Trail (the remains of an abandoned lime kiln were there on the trail), and the Butterfly Pond Trail, where Shawn took close-up pictures of Monarch butterflies.  We also found a great overlook of the lake and a statue of Red Bird, chief of the Winnebagos, at the trailhead of the Red Bird Trail.

The Harvest Host, Heritage Orchard, was right down the road, so we got permission to stay there again.  This time we bought Zestar apples, caramel, and more donuts and cider.  Our evening consisted of another snack supper similar to the night before, walking through the orchard, and watching a movie that we had downloaded on a tablet before leaving home.

Miles driven on day 17 = 82

Lime Kiln Trail in High Cliff State Park
Lime Kiln Trail in High Cliff State Park
Red Bird Trail in High Cliff State Park
Red Bird Trail in High Cliff State Park
Butterflies on the Butterfly Pond Trail in High Cliff SP
Butterflies on the Butterfly Pond Trail in High Cliff SP
All Wisconsin items for dinner at Heritage Orchard
All Wisconsin items for a sunset dinner at Heritage Orchards

Thursday, September 17, 2020:  Day 18 Wisconsin Trip

After breakfast and a walk through the orchard (where a worker was picking Honey Crisp apples by hand), we headed east toward Lake Michigan.  Our first stop wasn’t too far down the road, though, because in Chilton, just a few miles from Heritage Orchard, was Vern’s Cheese Factory.  We are getting quite a little sampling to take home!

We walked into the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc at opening time, and since they do tours of the submarine USS Cobia on the hour, we decided to go ahead and take the tour.  It worked out great, because we were the only ones on the tour and Tim did a great job of explaining life on a submarine and a bit about building them.  Twenty-eight submarines were built for the US Navy by shipbuilders in Manitowoc during World War II.  The museum itself is also very nice and impressive, but our favorite part was the submarine tour.

We ate in the van near the river, then walked over to Manitowoc Coffee for a pumpkin spice latte and some Wi-Fi access.  That afternoon, we rode a total of 10 miles on our bicycles on the Mariner’s Trail along the shore of Lake Michigan between the cities of Manitowoc and Two Rivers. At one of the waysides, we saw a human sundial and a kaleidoscope garden, which displayed a kaleidoscope image of the flowering plants.

Our stay was at Farm Wisconsin, another Harvest Host location.  Not much to do in the evening, since it was closed, but we plan to do the tour of the facility tomorrow morning.

Miles driven on day 18 = 63

USS Cobia at the Manitowoc Maritime Museum
USS Cobia at the Manitowoc Maritime Museum
Aft torpedo room, USS Cobria, Manitowoc, Wisconsin
Aft torpedo room, USS Cobria, Manitowoc, Wisconsin
Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse, Wisconsin
Manitowoc Breakwater Lighthouse, Wisconsin
Mariners Bike Trail, Manitowoc to Two Rivers, Wisconsin
Mariners Bike Trail, Manitowoc to Two Rivers, Wisconsin
Human Sundial, Manitowoc, Wisconsin (it is 3:55 pm)
Human Sundial, Manitowoc, Wisconsin (it is 3:55 pm)
Kaleidoscope Garden, Manitowoc, Wisconsin
Kaleidoscope Garden, Manitowoc, Wisconsin
View through the viewfinder of the kaleidoscope garden
View through the viewfinder of the kaleidoscope garden
Why so sad, Mr. Sunflower?
Why so sad, Mr. Sunflower?
Farm Wisconsin, a Harvest Host campsite, Newton, Wisconsin
Farm Wisconsin, a Harvest Host campsite, Newton, Wisconsin

Friday, September 18, 2020:  Day 19 Wisconsin Trip

We started out Friday by touring Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center.  It is a beautiful, modern facility with exhibits on all sorts of agricultural endeavors in Wisconsin, but with a focus on modern dairy farming.  Many interactive exhibits, videos, and a combine simulator make it interesting for all ages.  From there we drove down to Sheboygan and ate lunch at an overlook on Lake Michigan.

South of Sheboygan is Kohler-Andrae State Park.  We walked about 3 miles on “cordwalk” over the dunes next to Lake Michigan.  The cordwalk is a boardwalk made of 2 x 6 board planks tied together by 2 steel cables running through them, and then laid out over the dunes.  Sand sometimes covers it altogether, but for the most part, it provides steady footing for seeing the area without further damage to the dunes.

Our next stop was Port Washington, where we met and visited with a 95 year-old World War II veteran at the Historical Society, who talked to us about the local ties to Luxemburg.  We then walked around the historic downtown area, visited Duluth Trading Co., Rotary Park, the historic Lighthouse, and Harborview Trail.  We wanted seafood before we left the area, so we found a seafood restaurant overlooking the marina and had dinner there.

We overnighted in a WalMart parking lot in Germantown.

Miles driven on day 19 = 85

Jana in the combine simulator
Jana in the combine simulator
Kohler-Andrae State Park, Wisconsin
Kohler-Andrae State Park, Wisconsin
Dune cordwalk in Kohler-Andrae State Park, Wisconsin
Dune cordwalk in Kohler-Andrae State Park, Wisconsin
Port Washington light house, Wisconsin
Port Washington light house (1860)

Saturday, September 19, 2020:  Day 20 Wisconsin Trip

We found out that there was a Farmer’s Market in Germantown on Saturday morning, so we started by going there.  We purchased raspberries, carrots, and home-canned maple syrup.  A quick visit to Milwaukee was the plan for the morning.  We started at the Public Market, where we picked up a pastry, then walked along the Riverwalk up to the Bronz Fonz, a statue of The Fonz from Happy Days.  We drove to the harbor/marina area and walked the 1 mile loop trail at Lakeshore State Park and then took our sandwiches down to Veteran’s Park for lunch overlooking the harbor.

We spent the afternoon making a rather slow drive from Milwaukee to Madison, keeping to the lesser highways and stopping in a couple of state park/recreation areas.  We checked out the Lapham Peak area of Kettle Morain, but it was extremely busy so we didn’t stay long.  At Lake Kegonsa State Park we stayed a little longer, walking the 1 mile nature trail before heading on up to Madison.

In Madison, we went to the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, where the outside gardens are beautiful and free.  We drove to the other side of Lake Monona, to Olin Park, for a picnic supper where we had a view of the Capitol building and Monona Terrace, among other things, across Lake Monona.  We picked up some grocery items at Trader Joe’s and then overnighted in the Cracker Barrel parking lot.

Miles driven on day 20 = 149

Milwaukee Public Market
Milwaukee Public Market
Lake Shore State Park, Milwaukee
Lake Shore State Park, Milwaukee
Thai Pavilion, Olbrich Botanical Garden, Madison, Wisconsin
Thai Pavilion, Olbrich Botanical Garden, Madison, Wisconsin

Sunday, September 20, 2020:  Day 21 Wisconsin Trip

Since we had stayed in their parking lot, we thought it would be nice to eat breakfast in Cracker Barrel on Sunday morning.  After filling up on eggs, bacon/sausage, and biscuits, we headed to church.  We worshipped at Grace Baptist Church, a small Baptist church on the east side of Madison.

Afterwards, we drove into the center of the city, on the isthmus between Lakes Monona and Mendota, and parked on the square around the Capitol building.  We walked around the Capitol building, then down to Monona Terrace, a community center building on Lake Menona credited to Frank Lloyd Wright.  We were able to walk around outside on the terrace, but the inside was closed.  After walking back up to the Capitol, we walked down State Street, a limited access street (only buses and bicycles allowed).  It had a lot of little shops and restaurants, which I think was supposed to be a chic area heading down to the University of Wisconsin campus.  However, probably due to the recent demonstrations regarding race relations, almost every storefront was boarded over and brightly colored murals covered many of them.  We picked up some caramel corn from Clary’s Popcorn before leaving State Street and the downtown area.

We had thought we might visit the Henry Vilas Zoo before leaving town, but it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon at this point, and the parking lots were full.  So, we decided to head on south and begin our journey home.  We did make one last cheese run, though!  Alp and Dell Cheese Store in Monroe, WI, was a cute little Swiss-themed shop that had a nice selection and good prices.  A great last place to visit in Wisconsin.

We had made arrangements to stay the night at Irish Meadows Alpaca Farm, another Harvest Host location, near La Motte, IA.  It is a beautiful farm with buildings dating back to the 1860s and 1870s.  It is evident that the owners, Mike and Julie, have put a lot of time and effort into maintaining the farm.  And the alpacas!  They have around 150 alpacas on the farm, and they are so cute.  Julie has a shop selling a wide variety of alpaca wool products and she opened up the store to let us buy a few items.

Miles driven day 21 = 142

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison
Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison
From Monona Terrace, looking toward Capitol
From Monona Terrace, looking toward Capitol
Camping at Irish Meadows alpaca farm, Iowa
Camping at Irish Meadows alpaca farm, Iowa
Some of the cute alpacas
Some of the cute alpacas

Monday, September 21, 2020: Day 22 Wisconsin Trip

Mike and Julie had given us permission to go to the barn to see the baby alpacas, so before we left on Monday morning, we climbed the hill to the barn. The newest arrival had been yesterday around noon, a cute gray alpaca. The mamas and babies (there were several sets) were a little more skittish of us, but we were able to get a few pictures.

For our cultural event of the day, we had decided to go to Amana Colonies just west of Iowa City, IA, where a group of German immigrants had established a communal living arrangement which lasted from sometime in the 1850s until the 1920s. There are seven communities in that area, but we focused our time in the main one, Amana. There is a museum which gives insight into the community’s roots and way of life, but one interesting thing in the museum wasn’t one we were expecting. Amana (as in the appliance brand) was a company that had its roots in the Amana colonies (although after the time of communal living) and one of the exhibits in the museum was the first Amana Radarange – a prototype of the first microwave oven for home use.

There are numerous shops for arts and handcrafted goods, antiques, specialty shopping and foods, and several restaurants. We had lunch at The Ox Yoke Inn and enjoyed some delicious German sandwiches, along with a side of sweet potato fries (not sure that they were German, but they sure were good!). An affogato at the Chocolate Haus was a tasty treat for dessert.

We discovered that we were not too far away from another National Park Service site, so we made a little side trip to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site at West Branch. We were able to walk around some historic buildings, including the house where he was born and the blacksmith shop where his father worked. We also walked around to where he and his wife are buried. The Presidential Library is also at that location.

We traveled on south toward Missouri and were very close to Illinois, also, so we decided to wander briefly into Illinois. We arrived at the Clat Adams Bicentennial Park in Quincy, IL, just before dusk and had a beautiful view of the Quincy Bayview Bridge over the Mississippi River. We ate a sandwich on a bench between the two bridges that traverse the river (eastbound/westbound). We didn’t stay long in Illinois, though. About an hour later we crossed back over into Hannibal, MO, and stayed the night in a Walmart parking lot.

Miles driven day 22 = 297

Day old baby alpaca
Day old baby alpaca
Amana Colonies, Iowa
Amana Colonies, Iowa
Prototype of the Amana Radarange
Prototype of the Amana Radarange
Chicken schnitzel for lunch
Chicken schnitzel for lunch, Amana Colonies
Dinner stop on the Mississippi River, Quincy, Illinois
Dinner stop on the Mississippi River, Quincy, Illinois

Tuesday, September 22, 2020: Day 23 Wisconsin Trip

We started our day at the Hannibal Visitor Center. Armed with options that could keep us busy for an entire day, we decided on the best way to spend our morning. We began by climbing the 224 steps up to the Mark Twain Lighthouse. It was never a working lighthouse, but a memorial to the town’s favorite son. At the Mark Twain Interpretive Center, we bought our tickets to be able to see the boyhood home, Huck Finn house, Becky Thatcher house, Grant’s Drug Store, and the Mark Twain Museum. The museum had many interesting artifacts from Twain’s life including Norman Rockwell paintings of scenes from Twain’s books, 1st editions, his writing desk, and an orchestrelle. We picked up a frozen cappuccino at a coffee shop in the historic district, then headed up to Lover’s Leap, a bluff overlooking the town of Hannibal and the Mississippi River, for lunch.

About 5 years ago, we had ridden about 200 miles on the Katy Trail, a recreational rail trail on the bed of the old MKT rail line. We were going to be crossing that trail on our way south, so we decided to get a little exercise for the day by riding our bicycles on it a bit. We started at Marthasville, rode east about 6.5 miles, then turned and rode back to the van. It was a nice, easy ride, and great weather for it. I have to say, though, it sure was nice to be able to shower in the van before taking off down the road!

We had dinner at Cracker Barrel in Sullivan, MO, then headed on down I-44 and stayed the night in a Walmart parking lot.

Miles driven day 23 = 210

Mark Twain boyhood home, Hannibal, MO
Mark Twain boyhood home, Hannibal, MO
Lovers Leap overlook, Hannibal, Missouri
Lovers Leap overlook, Hannibal, Missouri
Afternoon ride on the Katy Trail, Missouri
Afternoon ride on the Katy Trail, Missouri
Antique Katy (MKT) railroad map showing Marthasville, MO
Antique Katy (MKT) railroad map showing Marthasville, MO

Wednesday, September 23, 2020: Day 24 Wisconsin Trip

This was primarily a driving day, but we did visit the George Washington Carver National Monument near Joplin, MO. It seemed a thoughtful and well done monument to a God-following man who believed strongly in service to others.

Miles driven day 24 = 275

Inspiration at the George Washington Carver Monument
Inspiration at the George Washington Carver Monument

Thursday, September 24, 2020: Day 25 Wisconsin Trip

Finished driving home… nothing to see here.

Miles driven day 25 = 225

By the numbers:

3886Total miles driven on our trip
25Number of days on the trip
155Average miles driven per day
17.44Overall average miles per gallon fuel economy
7States visited (OK, KS, MO, IA, WI, MI, IL)
4Average number of days between emptying waste tanks and refilling fresh water tank
6Number of times our diesel parking heater was used, averaging about 1.5 hours each morning those days, and using less than a quart total of fuel
62%Lowest state of charge of our 430 A-Hr battery bank (50% is the recommended discharge limit). An electrical system post will be coming in the future.
$17Average daily fuel (gasoline) cost
$11Average nightly cost to camp or park for the night
0(Zero) Number of times plugged into shore power on the trip

Final Thoughts

The van performed very well on the trip. We never connected to power at any location or campground. The 3 x 100 watt solar panels and minimal charging by the alternator on cloudy days was sufficient to power all of our needs.

Our nightly locations broke down to be: 10 nights at state/city/county parks, 7 nights at Harvest Hosts, 4 nights at free parking locations, 3 nights at friends/family, 1 night at a private RV park. The average nightly cost included about 1/2 of the cost of our annual Harvest Host membership. The Harvest Hosts were very enjoyable. Click any of the previous links to learn more about the Harvest Host RV camping program. We can earn a small commission if you use our link, but your cost is the same.

Our water systems consists of a 40 gallon usable fresh water tank, a 30 gallon gray water tank, https://www.oakflatsvet.com.au/generic-amoxil/ and an 18 gallon black tank. We used our wet bath almost exclusively on this trip, including showers. We would empty our waste tanks at an RV dump station, and refill with fresh water, about every 4 days. We might be able to stretch that to 5 days with more conservation, but we are happy with that capacity.

I will be posting more information on the van, including our electrical system, plumbing system, wet bath design, garage layout, and more in the coming weeks and months.

We hope you enjoyed reading along with us.

Happy Trails…. Wandering Wakes

Wisconsin driving route
Our Wisconsin driving route

16 thoughts on “Tour of Wisconsin in our DIY RV Camper Van”

  1. The story about the Jumping Dog got my attention, so I went to YouTube to find a video. It was pretty cool to watch the dog jumping back and forth.

    The pictures and stories are great… and I look forward to the next installment.

    Reply
  2. Wait! What? I probably fell (not in soft comfortable pillow-like grass) at least 8 times while biking with Shawn and he never even mentioned ice cream! In fact, when I fell, he told people along the way “Oh… he will be okay… probably just a concussion or something.”

    Your meal descriptions make me hungry (except for the cheese curds that squeal when they know their life is coming to an end). But I seriously love the photos of the food. What a fantastic adventure!

    Reply
  3. Joe and I are glad that you enjoyed your stay on our land last night! If you ever find yourself in our little part of the state again you are certainly welcome to stay here anytime or feel free to just stop in and say hello! Safe travels in our beautiful state!

    Reply
  4. It is a small world. We are in the process of building out our Promaster van into a camper and became intrigued with your build from the PM forum. Our layout is very similar to yours. We live in Chippewa Falls, WI, where you enjoyed Olson’s Ice Cream. We bike the Old Abe trail a few times a week and live a couple of miles off of it. We look forward to finishing our van and enjoying our beautiful country! Thank you for your build and travel information.
    Scott Pulver
    Chippewa Falls, WI

    Reply
    • Scott, that is amazing that we were so close together a few days ago. I don’t think we’ll be back your direction on this trip otherwise we could compare vans. We are up around Bayfield to see the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore today. Take care and feel free to contact us if you run into any questions. We’re not experts but we have been through the process. The van is performing great on this trip. Happy trails… S&J

      Reply
  5. I hope you stopped at Root Beer Falls in Wakefield, Michigan? … and that you took a picture of the wooden carving of the Indian Chief? … and Nice photo of the Sea Caves.

    Reply
    • We actually did our tour of Wakefield this morning (Friday, Day 11), so the write up will be coming soon. We did see the carving, stopping at a neat general store, but did not find the falls. Most of the water up here looks like root beer due to the tannic acid that it contains.

      Reply
  6. I decided that it is not a good idea to read your journal pages while I am hungry. Seriously, you eat better in the woods than I normally eat at a restaurant… especially your breakfasts.

    And I am glad you showed the picture of how the Human Sundial works… I was thinking that there would be someone standing at all 12 positions on the clock (I was planning to Google Human Sundial).

    Thanks for creating such an interesting journal… the photos are great.

    Reply
  7. Dear Shawn and Jana,

    It was great meeting you at Grace Baptist Church yesterday. Your pictures of Wisconsin are beautiful and show off just how pretty this state is. You are welcome to visit Grace Baptist any time you’re in the area again. God bless you.

    Paul Miller
    Asst. Pastor

    Reply
  8. The last line of your journal: “Zero number of days plugged into shore power” is really amazing for a 25-day trip. It would appear that you could go forever with just the solar panels and a bit of alternator energy. Well done!

    And, to me, the fact that you used Farmers Markets and local produce makes the trip even more memorable.

    Thanks for the daily journal entries. It takes a lot of time to put it together.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comments. It was a great trip. We also added an image at the end of this blog post showing our route through Wisconsin.

      Reply

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