Trip to the Northwoods

June 20, Tuesday

At 10 am this morning, my parents and I pile into their van and drive two hours north on 51 to Minocqua, WI. We depart Rapids in the rain, a soaking kind of rain that threatens to last all day. But while the band is wide it’s not all that long, and we drive out of it north of Wausau.

When we arrive,we stop for lunch at a city park. Downtown Minocqua is literally an island in the middle of Minocqua Lake – if you look on a map, this whole region is riddled with natural lakes. It’s a touristy area, but not a built up as Wisconsin Dells an hour south of Rapids. A few little storms have popped up, and the sky is moody as we eat our pre-made sandwiches at a picnic table. I snap this photo of the fishing dock at the park after eating, with dark clouds behind.

After eating, we continue north to Woodruff, and then southeast on 47 to Clear Lake. I never spent a night in a RV until the night I brought my Casita home, but I did have a lot of tent camping experience, and this is where I got it. I have very fond memories of the week-long vacations my family would take up at Clear Lake Campground in Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest.

To me, this country up here is the northwoods. The State Forest covers 225,000 acres and I’m happy to see it has changed very little in the 17 years I’ve been gone (I was 16 the last year we came up here to tent camp). We pull into the campground and it’s like stepping into a memory.

My parents at site 721, the first site we had at Clear Lake. This one is RV-friendly, most of the sites have good separation.

Clear Lake Campground has 100 sites, all without hookups but most of which will fit RVs of varying lengths It’s considered a Tier 1 (modern) campground, meaning sites cost $25 a night for non-residents, $20 for WI residents – there is no entrance fee. Today the campground is maybe 1/3 full, but starting the last week in June visitation really picks up. There is a reservation website for the State Forest which covers Clear Lake among other campgrounds, and states the max length for each site and which ones have water access (dogs are allowed at all sites). 12 of the sites at Clear Lake are first-come-first-served and none of those are on the water.

This is not a good solar campground. All sites are well shaded, but generators are allowed between the hours of 10 am and 5 pm with a free permit (medical exemptions are available). Rangers do reserve the right to revoke that permit for people with excessively loud generators, and generators are not allowed to be left on when the site is unoccupied.

Site 709, the one we spent the majority of our summers at. It’s right on the water, but tent only (walk in).

At the entrance near the visitor center is a dump station and water. The last year we came out here camping a shower house had just been put in (a huge deal at the time!) and it remains the only one in the park. There are also six vault toilet buildings, and water pumps sprinkled throughout the park.

The biggest attraction out here is the lake. Clear Lake is a natural feature with sandy beaches and it is exceptionally clear – you can still see the bottom at 30 feet. It’s 846 acres with several lobes, and almost completely located within the state forest – there are only a couple buildings along it (on the opposite end from the campground) and the rest is undeveloped. At its deepest point it’s 90 feet.

Fishing isn’t good on the lake, but a lot of campers bring boats for water skiing and other water sports. There’s a swim beach, a ski area, and several boat trailer parking lots in the campground. When my brother and I were younger, our family fishing boat was powerful enough to pull us on an inner-tube.

It’s been a wet year in Wisconsin and the lake level is unusually high, completely covering the sand and leaving the road to the boat ramp under a couple inches of water. We tour the campground, finding all of our old sites, then find a bench on the beach to enjoy a cool summer day. The clouds blow over with a little rain and the rest of the afternoon is pleasant.

No sand on the beach with the water this high.

There’s a lot of reminiscing. We came out here seven seasons over the course of nine years – it was always the highlight of my summer. Back when I was a child, I’d start worrying about having to go home again only a day or two after arriving and dad brings it up while we sit. I smile and reply: “Well, I found the solution. Now I camp all the time and never have to worry about the trip ending.”

After the campground tour we head next door to Raven Nature Trail, to do the 1.5 mile loop (marked as the yellow trail on the map) we did every year when coming out here. When I was young 1.5 miles seemed quite long, today it goes fast – even faster than I’d normally do it because the mosquitoes are the worst I’ve ever seen out here. It discourages me from trying one of the longer trails.

The yellow trail starts in a mixed old-growth forest with towering White Pine. My parents house has white pine as well, but for whatever reason they just don’t grow as tall down there as they do up here. Every time we hike the trail there are less of them due to storms and old age, and I wonder if any of them will be left after a 17 year absence. But I’m happy to report that several still remain, and are even more impressive than the last time. Tall trees are very hard to photograph well, you just can’t capture the scale. But here’s my attempt.

Then the trail enters a Hemlock grove ringing a marshy area. Very little light filters down to the forest floor through the thick canopy. I’ve always thought hemlock trees would make a great setting for a horror movie. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already been done.

My dad leaving the dark hemlock grove

The bog is also quite neat. It’s covered in moss and dotted with stubby trees, you wouldn’t want to walk on it because it’s very spongy. Among the moss live two kinds of carnivorous plants: pitcher plants and sundews. Neither are very large and you have to look to find them. We spot pitcher plants today but not sundews – they aren’t as common. I get my favorite picture of the day at a tiny little pond full of lilly-pads in the middle of the marsh.

Supper is had back at Minocqua, where we’re spending the night at a Quality Inn. The Thirsty Whale has been around a long time, my dad remembers coming here as a kid. It’s located right on Minocqua Lake and the view and food is nice.

The next morning we head back south to Rapids. It’s been nice revisiting childhood memories and making new ones, and I’m happy to see that the northwoods is essentially how I remember it – a beautiful and wild place to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern-day life.

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Jodee Gravel on June 26, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Such a beautiful place – glad it hasn’t changed much from your childhood memories. I agree the pond pic is gorgeous. Bummer there are mosquitoes. That’s a deal breaker for me as they love me way too much!!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Big Fires and Small HarborsMy Profile

    • Becky on June 27, 2017 at 9:00 am

      I’m lucky to have friends (and a sibling) that are tastier to mosquitoes than I, so when I go hiking with them I’m better off. 😉

  2. Kenny Ellis on June 25, 2017 at 10:24 pm

    I love the pictures and I know you enjoyed being with your Mom and Dad. Would like to see some videos of your travels.Thank’s

    • Becky on June 26, 2017 at 10:39 am

      You’re welcome Kenny.

  3. Loren on June 24, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful story (and photos). Reminded me of many happy camping trips in the 1980’s to the Spooner and Stone Lake areas of northern WI. Even made me a little teary-eyed from the memories. Thank you sharing your travels and adventures!

    • Becky on June 25, 2017 at 1:35 pm

      You’re quite welcome Loren!

  4. Rene Kipp on June 24, 2017 at 11:59 am

    You have the right idea: the trip never has to end 🙂 How great that you get to enjoy more adventures with your folks!
    Rene Kipp recently posted..Detour AheadMy Profile

    • Becky on June 24, 2017 at 8:23 pm

      Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how fortunate I am to have this wonderful life.

  5. MnDreamer on June 23, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Your photos are beautiful! It looks a lot like the north woods here in Minnesota. I can only imagine how happy your parents are to have you there to relive those memories.

    Thanks for all that you do to inspire this dreamer (one more year!) and all of your other readers.

    Happy trails, Becky!

    • Becky on June 24, 2017 at 8:23 pm

      Woohoo! One year will go faster than you think Mn, I’m crossing my fingers for you – you’re going to have so much fun! Take care!

  6. Nancy Ruggeri on June 23, 2017 at 4:44 pm

    What a beautiful, unspoiled , magical place. Its so nice to go back to a childhood haven and find that not much has changed. I have had where it was reversed and had wished I had not returned so that I could hold the illusion of how it was. Truly this is beautiful. So glad your spending time with your parents. I hope you get to spend time with them often, time passes so fast .

    • Becky on June 24, 2017 at 8:22 pm

      I go to see them in Wisconsin every other year, and on off years they come out and see me. Not sure where it’ll be yet in 2018 but I’m sure it’ll be fun. 🙂

  7. Pamelab on June 23, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    So nice. Reminds me a lot of Michigan, where I lived for many years. I’m sure you and your family enjoyed your reunion.
    Poi retreat sounds so … spiritual. I hope it’s all you want it to be. Looking forward to hearing all about it!
    Just returning from Yellowstone with my grandson. Purl, my Casita, has been empty for about one week. My daughter has been checking on it.
    Thank you for your great blog, Becky.
    Happy Trails.
    Pamelab in Bozeman MT airport right now.

    • Becky on June 24, 2017 at 8:21 pm

      I’ve seen very little of Michigan actually but I’ll make it there someday. Less than three days until I fly to Vancouver, time goes so fast!

      Glad you had a good trip to Yellowstone, take care Pamela!

  8. Snayte on June 23, 2017 at 9:45 am

    Looks great I will need to get up there at some point. We have hit almost all the Wisconsin state parks and a few of the state forests but not this one yet.

    • Becky on June 24, 2017 at 8:20 pm

      It’s beautiful Snayte, you won’t regret it!

  9. Denise on June 23, 2017 at 7:50 am

    Beautiful Becky! My rPod and I would never leave there. Enjoy your family.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Becky on June 24, 2017 at 8:19 pm

      Rpod’s are a good size for that campground Denise, it’s an older park without as much space as the newer ones – you’d have a blast. Thanks for reading.

  10. Kathy on June 23, 2017 at 6:27 am

    Your parents look so happy! Clearly they loved being with you and visiting that memorable spot . Loved the ohtos!

    • Becky on June 24, 2017 at 8:18 pm

      Well I did tell them to smile before I took the picture, haha. But yes, they always enjoy it when my brother or I come to visit.

  11. Keri on June 23, 2017 at 5:51 am

    Glad to hear that you enjoyed your visit to Minocqua. We love Clear Lake campground. So much so, that we volunteer host there in the fall, and get the campground to ourselves for a month. We always look forward to reading about your next adventure.

    • Becky on June 24, 2017 at 8:17 pm

      My family always went in June or August when we went up there, but I bet it’s really pretty in fall too. That camp host spot is in a good location near the beach, I bet you have a lot of fun. Thanks for reading!

  12. Ron on June 22, 2017 at 7:27 pm


  13. Gerri & Mike on June 22, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    What a great trip!! It’s always fun to revisit childhood memories. What a beautiful place 😀.
    Just think of all the memories you are making as you full-time!!
    Gerri & Mike recently posted..Update on our FurbabyMy Profile

    • Becky on June 24, 2017 at 8:16 pm

      It is so pretty up there Gerri and Mike.

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