When we decided that it was time for us to get going on this journey of ours, we cast a line as far into Wisconsin as our six-hour driving limit would allow. This put us around Madison, which was okay with me and Scot, because we had always wanted to visit the state capital. However, when one types “camping Wisconsin” into Google Maps, the results are a dizzying array of hundreds of red dots representing campgrounds or camping-related places throughout the region, making Wisconsin — and its neighboring Midwestern states — look like it has the measles. Thankfully, camping-happy Wisconsin is active and online, and there are many incredibly helpful websites, which led us to our destination of Stoughton, just outside of Madison. It’s proximity to the capital, hiking, state parks and to water made it an ideal setting for the first official trip of our journey. What we didn’t know is that the little town of Stoughton, Wisconsin, would capture a place in our hearts.
Unique and interesting bits
Stoughton, Wisconsin, is located about twenty miles southeast of Madison in Dane County. It is an easy drive, and there are many routes, all meandering lakes, rivers, rolling hills and farms. Because of its beautiful, rural setting and population of more than 12,000 (2010 census), one might not realize that Stoughton is part of the “Metropolitan Statistical Area” of Madison. (Wikipedia) Despite its proximity to Madison, Stoughton is its own place rooted in Norwegian heritage and identity.
Established in 1847 by English Vermonter Luke Stoughton, the city of Stoughton was born from a land purchase along the formerly Catfish River, now Yahara River, which would produce a saw mill, a store, a blacksmith shop and more. (Stoughton HIstorical Society) Incorporated by 1868, it became a draw for Norwegian immigrants looking for work. Mr. Stoughton donated land to churches and also to the railroad, so that the train would pass through Stoughton proper. The former train depot is now home to the Stoughton Chamber of Commerce. Current local and long-standing businesses include Stoughton Trailers, Uniroyal and Stoughton Hospital.
There are many other delightful facts about and activities throughout Stoughton that lend to its charm and appeal as a small town. Stoughton — that is “Shtow-ton” or “Stow-un” to the locals — is home to one of the country’s largest Syttende Mai Festivals, an event celebrating Norway’s Independence. New to me as of this writing is Stoughton’s claim to fame as “birthplace of the ‘Coffee Break’.” (Wikipedia, Stoughton Chamber of Commerce) It is home to the beautiful Norwegian Heritage Center, known as Livsreise, meaning “life’s journey.” Head down to Cheesers on Thursdays for fresh cheese curds and other Wisconsin cheeses. Along the same block, one can go the lovely Stoughton Public Library, pick up a (stainless steel!) growler of beer at Viking Brew Pub and pick up dinner at the Yahara River Grocery Coopertive. If you enjoy fresh, local doughnuts like we do, then one must visit Fosdal Bakery at least twice. And, for me and Luna, a source of great fun was the Stoughton Cinema Cafe, where we ate popcorn and Junior Mints at the table and chairs (one can have full meals there, too), while we watched “Inside Out.”
If that is not enough, canoe rentals are available downtown at the Senior Center. There also are several parks around town, including Viking Park and Kegonsa State Park, where walking, running, swimming (at least at Kegonsa), meditating and more are strongly encouraged. There are several local farms nearby selling their products as well, including Trautman Farm and the Stoughton farm market. Luna and I also like to visit cemeteries for a variety of reasons, so we paid homage at the lovely Lutheran Cemetery at the corner of County Road N and Main Street. Finally, daytripping to Madison is really easy to do, and there are so many ways to find your way to the city. We enjoyed a fun and informative day there, and we hope to return to it someday for a more thorough visit.
Of course, it helps if home base isn’t too far away, and Stoughton proved to be a perfect spot for us to park our rigs and set up camp. There were many options for camping around Madison; one can become lost in its randomly sprinkled red dot or tent-shaped icons. We utilized several sources to help in our search. In the end, we found Badgerland Campground through the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners. It was from there that we would get to know a small part of southern Wisconsin, Madison and many of the really nice folks who live there.
Camping in Stoughton
Tucked away in the woods between Kegonsa Lake and County Road N in northeast Stoughton is Badgerland Campground. There are bigger and more obvious campgrounds with larger, more overt markers indicating “we are here,” but Badgerland, with its unassuming location, tranquil surroundings and no-nonsense owner make for a peaceful setting. Admittedly, a strategic ad placement on the Campground Association website made us click it, but it was the serenity and sunsets that helped nurture our new endeavor and gave us space in which to settle.
Under new ownership, the campground is being revitalized with time, attention, patience and a lot of hard work. There are new gravel roads and campsites, and a swimming pond for cooling off on hot days and visiting its resident turtle. The bathrooms and showers are immaculate and the water hot; showers cost twenty-five cents for three minutes. Campsites have water and electric hookups, but no sewer. There is a dump station in the middle of the campground, and/or a honeywagon available if needed. There is a playground and a quaint little bar, common among Wisconsin campgrounds, open Thursday evening through Sunday morning and is fully stocked. Firewood is available upon request and comes in bundles or the more worthwhile tractor load delivered right to the camper.
As we reported in The Art of (Our) Camping essay, there is a shift happening in campgrounds from visiting campers to seasonal ones. Badgerland is no different. There are many seasonal residents there and they are among the kindest and most generous that we’ve met. Some of them share in taking care of the grounds; others stop by with tips about and supplies for camping; still more offer their bikes for riding. Badgerland is close to the state park and is full of wildlife, particularly sandhill cranes. The birds are enormous and often loud, but definitely a welcome part of the environment.
Finally, typical of our trip so far, WiFi can be an issue. WiFi service is not free at Badgerland, but it is available for five dollars. However, what is free and available almost everywhere in Wisconsin is recycling, including at campgrounds! We were so pleased to discover this as it makes our camping adventure much easier. We hardly have any trash, but we always have recycling. Kudos to Wisconsin: We love you even more!
What We Learned / Would Do Differently
- We really enjoyed Stoughton and its people. We needed another week to experience more of it. We hope to return.
- After four days of rain, a full day of truck repair and super sketchy WiFi, our patience as a family was tried. We learned even more to go with the flow and rest easily.
- Scot – I went for a hike without my camera, because I thought for sure I would be coming back again, but I never made it. Viking Park is beautiful; you’ll just have to take my word for it.
- Scot – Do better at blocking out time for work and play, or t least plan out the next day so that the expectations are set for business and family. We’re still learning.
Tips and Tricks for Traveling with a Rig:
These are tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way, either through our own experience, but more often from help from others. We’d like to extend them to you.
- Make sure to keep the axles lubed; add it to the regular maintenance schedule. You can change a tire and cool an engine, but a broken axle will cost you time and money.
- Use treated wood as bases for stabilizers. Treated wood resists water absorption.
- Cut two-by pieces of wood at desired length for stabilizer levelers. Our friend at Badgerland offered some to us, cutting four pieces at two-by-sixteen inches. Long, flat wood pieces will keep your rig from sinking into soft earth.
Financial Info (daily rate, fuel, entertainment, etc.)
- Camping w/ water /electric: $325 ($36/night)
- Wood and Ice campground bar: $54
- Groceries: $225
- Lunch and cheese shopping: $75
- Breweries/Coffee Shops: $88
- Hardware to fix toilet: $14
- Travel fuel: $177
- Doughnuts: $8
*Automotive expense: $173
Luna: The swimming pond had a little floaty thing in there.
Liza: You can’t always get what you want, but you can do with what you have. I liked Stoughton a lot and love its people. Fun to keep meeting them along the way!
Scot: Leaving on time for travel day continues to be a myth.