“So much beauty in dirt … so much beauty it could make you cry.” (Modest Mouse)
That’s how we feel about Wisconsin’s beautiful north country. If one looks at a map of Wisconsin, one will notice that the top third of the state is mostly green, even blanketing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is this green space that was the impetus for our meandering through Wisconsin — to arrive at the Great North Woods. For a long time, Scot and I have wanted to travel there, so we did. My instincts whispered that we should drive through Nicolet National Forest to kickstart our venture into tranquility. It did not disappoint and it spoke to our hearts, even piercing its light through us as we sat in silence during the drive. No words were necessary to express the feelings we felt; we were immediately at ease in the forest. The air changes, becoming cooler and sweeter. The traffic lessens, the roads become long and winding. One loses track of the countless rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and marshes as they are equally as much part of the landscape as the terrain and trees. And then, we arrived: The southern end of the Great North Wood’s embraced us, took us in to call it home for a week or two. Although we had our eyes set on northern Wisconsin, we knew not where exactly. So many choices in so much abundance! It was a tip from a friend who named our specific destination, a place that he and his family call home, a place that we will return to again for sure as it embodies so much of what we hold dear, a place called Minocqua, Wisconsin.
Unique and Interesting Bits
Minocqua, Wisconsin — way up in the north-central part of the state — is situated in Oneida County, not far from the border of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and a bit of Lake Superior coastline. Considered the epicenter of the north woods, Minocqua is also known as “Island City,” because technically it was built on an island, one side of which is now filled, the other side made accessible by bridge. (Wikipedia) More officially, the name “Minocqua” is generally accepted as deriving from the Ojibwa (Chippewa in our home state of Michigan) term “Ninocqua,” meaning “noon-day-rest” (No wonder we like it!). The area of Minocqua is naturally protected by “one of the largest concentrations of fresh water bodies in the world” and is cloaked in Northern Highland forests. It seems that its people, in turn, have protected it, making it a destination for all and for all seasons. (Wikipedia, Minocqua Chamber of Commerce).
Wikipedia will tell you that “Minocqua was officially organized in … 1889,” but the Northern Highland region belonged to immense mountains, glaciers, plains and forests; then bedrock and sedimentary rock; then lakes and bogs; then deer, wolves, elk, moose, and bear; and then the Ojibwa. Like much of the land that finds natural protection in and among the trees and waters, so did the Ojibwa find a fortress of nature and isolation in the north woods, saving them from the widespread removal from Native lands that most other Indian Nations were experiencing, as well as keeping other competing tribes at bay. Subsequently, the Ojibwa — the fourth largest tribe in the U.S. after the Navajo, Cherokee and Lakota — continue to thrive to the best of their abilities in their homeland, teaching and practicing their customs today.
White folks entered the picture of Minocqua around the 1880s — the first born being Minocqua Clawson — whose story mimics those of many Midwestern towns in that it began as a logging community. It was not officially recognized until 1889, and it is likely that the appearance of the railroad encouraged its growth and organization. A fire in 1912 ruined much of old town Minocqua, but the town rebuilt along the main drag and one can still find core businesses which kept it going — including a post office, restaurants, banks and barber shops — among the tourist-oriented retail shops.
But Minocqua’s modern day purpose cannot be over-emphasized: It is a four-seasons recreation destination. Tourists and vacationers flock to Minocqua’s ample gifts of nature, as do anglers, snowmobilers, swimmers, boaters, bikers, hikers, hunters, foragers, skaters, skiiers, golfers, campers and so many more. If you want to know where to go and what to do, visit the Minocqua Chamber of Commerce website for all things adventure-related, particularly if you need to know how, when or what the fish are biting — just read Jeff Bolander’s fishing reports, which are very informative and highly entertaining.
There is a delightful farm market at the Minocqua Sports Complex every Friday. There I found mushrooms from Kind Root Organics, meats from Futility Farms (Luna could not stop talking about the chicken breast) and some of the sweetest cherry tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. There were also food trucks available, and fun craft things like mosquito houses (to protect the person, not the mosquito) and snowmobile raffles. And Scot hung out downtown to work a few times, finding the Great Northern Coffee Traders and Minocqua Brewing Company perfect spots for writing code poetry.
As for us nomads, all we wanted to do was hang out in the woods of Wisconsin. Help in narrowing our search for a camping spot among so many came from our friend whose family’s hometown is Minocqua and where he and his family would be visiting while we traveled there. However, the key factor in our search for a place in the forest and on the water came from the fact that our adventure would land around the Fourth of July holiday. We had to find a spot, or else we might find ourselves in a Walmart parking lot overnight. Thankfully, Joy and Dave just happened to have nine nights in a row available encompassing the holiday weekend, so that we could park our rig, rest our heads and be one with the Great North Woods in a place called Patricia Lake Campground.
Camping in Minocqua
Camping with Joy and Dave at Patricia Lake Campground was like staying with a really great aunt and uncle, who extend their whole way of life to you, especially their backyard, which happens to be in the glorious north woods and on a lake. They take great pride in what they do, and they work hard doing it. I have heard it is said among campground owners that, in order to be one, one might just be a little crazy. Crazy? Not so much. Passionate? Yes, and — for some more than others — really great at what they do.
When we drove into the entrance of Patricia Lake Campground off of Camp Pinemere Road, Scot and I started to laugh, because it was so ridiculously beautiful. Even the trees seem proud of themselves. It was clear that we were home. Surrounded by forest and just up the small hill off of spring-fed, thirty-two acres that is Patricia Lake sit an abundance of seasonal and overnight camping sites. Paths wind their way through the woods and to the lake, mingling seasonal and transients alike. The main building serves as check-in, grocery and supply store, as well as cozy living room with tables, chairs and fireplace, and a front porch — extensions of Dave and Joy’s hospitality and their desire to help one share their surroundings. There is a lovely bath and laundry house, which also has a little fitness room. Flat-bottom boats are available for rent, and the beach is large and clean and is sandwiched between two solid docks, perfect for feeding the fish, or hoping that the fish will feed you.
There are favorite campsites for sure, ones which the less nomadic and probably more organized choose well in advance of their vacations. We called our campsite “Town Square” as it was in the center of the coming, going, playing and walking around camp. We loved our site with its awesome full hookup, tall trees and activity. The folks at Patricia Lake have plenty of space for everyone, and hope for more tenters, which we encourage there, too. The tent sites near the lake are large and beautiful, protected under a canopy of green. There is even a dog run and beach for canine friends to run and play.
As we’ve mentioned, there is plenty to do in and around Patricia Lake and Minocqua, but Luna and I were quite content in our wooded setting — she with the playground, lake and her plethora of new and highly active friends, and I with the quiet of the woods or mediation on the dock, or with some of the kindest new people we have met so far. We became quite fond of the very seasoned seasonal neighbors at Patricia Lake, whose experience, know-how, intrigue and empathy are the very things that keep us wanting more for this family. We felt enriched by our surroundings, by the trees and by the people, who seem so sure about and at ease with who they are, what they know and what they are doing. Fishing helps, camping, too, and so do the loons. I think a strong sense of groundedness comes from surrounding oneself with beings that are older and wiser, or with those who have spent immense amounts of time in the woods.
Which makes one of our few daytrips so unique — it was spent on a private lake with friends who have owned the land surrounding it for generations. The names of the folks, the lake, even the private wilderness we will keep in our pockets, but it was an inspiring and humbling experience to be part of a small family community, who has been so intimately engaged with and connected to the north woods. It brought full circle our time in Minocqua, our camping adventure at Patricia Lake, and all of its people and their nature. What a pleasure and gift to be in union with such loveliness, kindness and abundance, all of this beauty in dirt. Thanks, Patricia Lake and friends, thanks, Minocqua. We shall return.
What We Learned/Would Do Differently
- We still really need a ladder. Debris from slide out is a problem.
- We need fishing poles and perhaps our own canoe.
Tips and Tricks for Traveling with a Rig
- We finally bought an elbow joint for sewer line, which helps us see all that comes out — of our bodies and the toilet. But if one is to maintain the black tank of one’s rig, it helps to know what’s going on inside of it. The Rhino joint fits with our Rhino sewer line. Both great buys and necessary for good flow. Eh-hem.
- It was confirmed this trip that putting ice in the toilet prior to a long drive helps to clean the blank tank. Add a little water and the rumble from the road will help the ice swirl around and agitate the tank, breaking up anything that might be sticking (and stinking) to the walls. This was first recommended to us by our RV salesman. Our first attempt proved clumsy; we needed to break down the ice more before we left and not afterward on a hot travel day at a truck stop with a kitchen utensil. From now on, crushed ice down the toilet as part of gearing up.
- With sewage on the mind, we were reminded to avoid putting TP in the sewer, for it is paper that is often a culprit of clogging or black tank level sensor inaccuracy. It has already worked very well for us. Lightly soiled TP can be burned.
- Sewer hose leveler is awesome, because there is little less precarious than ensuring one’s poo goes directly town the pipe through something that acts like a Slinky. Buy good rubber gloves, too, for more confidence.
- Camping w/ full hookup: $296 (37$/night)
- Wood and Ice: $55
- Groceries: $455
- Breweries/Coffee Shops: $85
- Travel fuel: $80
- Sewer hose elbow joint: $13
- Doughnuts: $2.40
Luna: I got to play with my friends for a really long time before they left. I loved the lake.
Liza: I feel like maybe I was supposed to be born in Wisconsin. I love their green ways and feel so happy in the forest and by the lakes. Can’t wait to return to the north woods.
Scot: Our trip became real. Driving through the National Forest on the way to Minocqua was amazing and beautiful. We took the long route on purpose just to see the forest. Just seeing the tree-lined path made me think of all the wonderful places we will see on this journey and it was freeing.
Pretty Little Photo Gallery