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Sara & Katie

Gathering Twigs does Tent Camping

June 23, 2020

Gathering Twigs does Tent Camping

June 23, 2020


(gifted sweatshirts from Do North)

Our last tent camping trip was probably 2007 – a bunch of our college friend couples spent a weekend at at Wisconsin state park called Mill Bluff with no running water or electricity. However, we have fond memories of camping as kids – running around the campground, biking to the bathrooms, and staying up late at the campfire with the adults. We don’t remember all the packing, living in dirt, or the aftermath of laundry and cleaning. Despite all that, we knew we wanted to make these own memories with our kids and planned a weekend in Boulder Junction camping together.

We scouted a few locations, mostly state parks in Wisconsin, and landed on Northern-Highland American Region State Park — located about 10 miles outside of Boulder Junction in northern Wisconsin. Justin spent a week here nearly every year as a kid. Within this park are many different lakes and campgrounds. Based on limited availability for weekend reservations, we chose two sites on Big Musky Lake in the North Campground. Our first choice would’ve been Crystal Lake Campground, but these sites book up early on, as people can book 11 months in advance and often do for the “good” sites.

Leading up to our camping weekend, many conversations were had about packing, who was going to bring what, and logistics of spending a weekend in the woods with 4 adults and 4 young kids. (We’ll share more about these packing logistics and what worked and didn’t, in a post coming soon!) Friday morning, we headed out for the 3.5 hour drive north!

We had chosen our campsites based on the map and description online, along with a very small thumbnail photo of the site. After actually seeing the two sites in person, we realized it was going to be a pain. The sites were fairly spread out with thick woods in between – meaning the kids would be running back and forth on the road and so many of our items packed were shared between families. Limited cell service and no office staff due to Covid made switching sites much more cumbersome than “normal” times, but we lucked out finding a group site (two sites with two driveways and their own two firepits but joined together – perfect for a group like ours) that was available.

Making themselves right at home with Barbies
Firewood has to be purchased within 10 miles of the campground – the boys found some on a roadside stand nearby, along Hwy M in Sayner, WI


The first couple hours were spent setting up camp – pitching tents, making beds, unpacking food and starting the fire. Within minutes, it was clear our kids weren’t going to stay clean so we threw in the towel as they played toys in the dirt 🙂

After set up, we got the kids dinner started first – roasted hot dogs over the fire and a big bowl of watermelon. The adults had steak fajitas – prepped at home and cooked over the fire. (We also plan to share a post soon on easy camping / travel meals!) S’mores obviously followed dinner for the kids … and Sara 🙂

Steak Fajita dinner over the fire

We hopped on bikes and it was a short ride to the boat launch and pier at Big Musky Lake – just in time to catch a pretty sky and sunset while the kids waded in the water.


Boys in the dirt – pretty much the theme of the weekend!

We woke up hearing rain in our tents Saturday morning but luckily didn’t wake up to feeling any rain in our tent! After breakfast (cereal, toast, and powdered donuts for tradition-sake!), the rain lightened up enough that we could head out on a bike ride. Knowing the rain forecast remained high most of the day, we wanted to seize the sprinkles rather than the downpours later.

We’ve mentioned the bike trails in two previous posts when staying in Manitowish Waters and Boulder Junction, but the Heart of Vilas Bike Trail is the BEST! It stretches 50+ miles of trail and connects many of the small towns across northern Wisconsin. The campground itself also has a trail system that meets up with the county trail. We ended up completing about 7.5 miles – our longest ride with kids so far!

Bike Station at one of the stops along the trail

The rain picked up after returning home and we spent a couple hours sitting under the canopy tent. The little boys (and Sara!) took naps in their tents and Katie took the girls on a walk in the rain. They could’ve cared less about the weather – they stayed in pajamas and a couple umbrellas turned them into superheroes! They ran, played, laughed and splashed at the water for a long time, perfectly content.

The rain finally broke mid-afternoon and we packed up for the beach. Crystal Lake usually has a great beach but high water levels covered most of the sand. The sun peeked out but it was still a bit chilly and again, the kids didn’t care.

Crystal Lake in the Northern Highland American Region State Park

Saturday night’s dinner was A.B.L.T.’s – super easy ….followed by more s’mores! Another late night was spent around the campfire, sharing laughs and cocktails after the kids were in bed. It was Travis’s birthday so him and Justin headed down to the lake to close out his birthday night sitting lakeside at the dock. A bottle of Tito’s must have spilled out because it was gone by morning 😉


We woke up Sunday morning to sunshine and warmer weather (and a few hangovers!) but it was departure day. The worst part about camping, in our opinion, is the aftermath. EVERYTHING is dirty, even the things that were supposed to stay clean! We basically loaded all the stuff up in the car with intentions to clean it at home.

Dirty and tired, but we survived!

Rather than actually do the cleaning and not quite ready to end our weekend and celebrate Father’s Day. Once home, we set up a water slide in one of our backyards, ordered takeout dinner, and sat around in our dirty camping chairs with beverages. It was the perfect end to a fun weekend!

We wrote an article for Northerly about why we tent camp – it’s maybe not what you’d think! Plus, you can see the mushier side of Gathering Twigs 🙂

Where: Northern Highland American Legion State Campground, specifically Big Musky Lake, sites 381 and 382 (group site)
Cost: Campsites $20/night so $40 total per family, $28 annual state park pass (we each had previously purchased this), $25 firewood, cost of other camping essentials
Would we recommend? Yes! It’s not easy, we’ll be honest. But our kids had an absolute blast and the memories are worth it.

Stay tuned for more posts about what we packed, what worked and didn’t, and our camping / travel meals. As always, check the state park websites for rules and updates.

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