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Travel & Activities

Let’s Go Camping! Why You Should Visit Perrot State Park

My husband is definitely what you would call an “outdoorsy type”. He loves to hunt, fish, camp, kayak, snowboard, one-wheel…you name it. Me? Not as much…though one thing I will generally agree to is an annual camping trip.

We try to go camping at least once a year, usually with a group of friends from Chicago. To make it easy on everyone, we pick a state park in either Wisconsin or Illinois that is roughly a two hour drive (or less) from both Chicago and Madison.

We missed out on camping last year because our annual trip was scheduled for one of those oppressively hot weekends smack dab in the middle of summer. With weather predicted in the high-90’s, we all agreed that sweating it out in tents was not our idea of fun. So we pulled the plug at the last minute.

While we talked about rescheduling come fall, it never happened. Because life gets in the way. With school resuming, along with kid’s activities, it became too difficult to find another weekend that worked for all.

In the midst of a pandemic where everyone is tired of being stuck safer at home, camping seems like the perfect way to get away for a weekend. Given that experts say the risk of catching COVID-19 is much smaller outdoors, a family camping trip was just what the mental health doctor ordered over Father’s Day weekend.

As the official kick-off to summer, we decided to take a long weekend and go camping as a family. Since my husband enjoys it so much, it was the perfect way to recognize and honor all he does for our family too.

Since activities are more limited these days, campgrounds were near full capacity all across the state of Wisconsin. I read about Perrot State Park in Trempealeau, WI via Travel Wisconsin a couple of years ago, and have been wanting to check it out ever since. Unfortunately, it was completely booked when I looked at Reserve America a few weeks in advance.

Since I am not one to give up easily, I kept checking in the weeks that followed, just in case somebody cancelled. Wouldn’t you know it, two days before we had hoped to leave a site opened up. I booked it immediately.

View from Brady's Bluff
View from Brady’s Bluff

Trempealeau

Trempealeau is located in the Driftless Area, along the Mississippi River. I had never been and was excited to check it out, since that area is absolutely beautiful with many hills and bluffs situated along the water. My brother went to school in La Crosse and my extended family often reunioned there. But I haven’t really been able to explore the area outside beyond that.

Trempealeau is about 30 minutes past La Crosse and about a 2 hour and 20 minute drive from Madison. It was totally doable with small child and the beautiful scenery actually made the drive go pretty quickly.

Perrot was easy to find in such a small town. Plus, check-in was a breeze since all campground buildings are closed right now. We simply drove in with our annual State Parks pass in the window and went directly to our reserved campsite to set up.

Camping

We had site 61, which was in the family campground and a non-electrical site. It was very spacious and honestly one of the biggest campsites I’ve ever seen. There was plenty of room for our tent, pop-up canopy, picnic table, and fire pit, along with tons of green space for our son to ride his bike and for us to all play a friendly game of bocce ball.

It was raining when we arrived. However, my husband quickly had us set up with plenty of coverage from the storm. We are still tent campers, though are strongly considering buying a pop-up camper. (If you see any for sale in the Madison area that look nice and don’t cost a fortune, let me know!) My mom gave us a Coleman Instant Tent for Christmas a couple of years ago, so set up is a breeze.

My husband also brought a long a pop-up canopy that he uses for art shows (he blows glass if you are interested!), which provided extra coverage beyond the tent. Thankfully, the rain cleared up long enough for us to build a fire and roast some hot dogs before calling it a night.

I never sleep well when I am camping. Probably because of all the sounds. However, the added comfort of a cot and inflatable camping mat definitely make it easier than sleeping on the ground. I wouldn’t necessarily call it “glamping”, but I’m definitely a bit more pampered when I camp with my husband.

The important thing is that the kid sleeps well. Which unfortunately, he did not that first night at the campground. We let him stay up late because he was super jazzed about being there. He finally crashed around 10:30 p.m., but thankfully went right to sleep. It rained all through the night though and he woke up a few times wondering where we were. It was pitch black in the tent and he is used to sleeping with a night light, so it was understandable. But he woke up at 6:30 a.m. raring to go. Which was obviously too early. So, things started off a bit rocky that first morning.

My husband let me sleep in while he made coffee and our breakfast. “Toad in the Hole” breakfast sandwiches in the Pudgy Pie Maker are a camping standard of ours. They are basically ham, egg and cheese sandwiches with a hole in the middle of the bread so that the egg cooks through.

Exploring

After breakfast, I took the kiddo for a walk to explore the campground and burn off a little steam. We walked down by the river and saw the Nature Center (which is currently closed) and the kayaks and canoes that would normally be for rent. It would definitely be worth bringing a canoe or kayak up there if you have one.

We decided to take a drive to get some water once we got back from our walk. Evidently, the water in the wells at the campground contained higher levels of nitrates than normal. Though signs said it was safe to drink as long as you didn’t boil it or give it to infants, it did not seem worth the risk to me. So, we went to get water at the park headquarters, which was noted as an alternative water source on the notices posted throughout the campground.

We opted to drive around town and the rest of the park since we were already in the car at that point. On the drive, we noticed a sign for “Horseshoe Falls”, which was not marked on the campground map. So we agreed to check that out on our way back into the park.

After driving down Main Street in Trempealeau, we got out and took a walk down by the railroad tracks. From there, we could see a giant barge floating down the river, that was maneuvering its way towards the locks. The views were amazing! We took several pictures before hopping back in the car to check out the vineyard we saw signs for down the road.

Barge on Mississippi River in Trempealeau, WI
A barge pulling in on the Mississippi River

Elmaro Vineyard is absolutely stunning and would make a beautiful wedding venue. We could see the grapevines as soon as we turned on the road to the winery. Along with a sprawling outdoor patio and giant tent that appeared to be set up for events. However, when we pulled up to park, we saw a sign that indicated they were open for carry-out only. Indoor and outdoor seating were both closed due to Covid.

We donned our masks and hopped out of the car to check it out. A staff member greeted us immediately with a one-time use menu. She presented us with our takeout options and was happy to answer any questions we had about the wine. I appreciated that she joked around with our son a bit and even offered him a juice box and crackers. I am always a fan of businesses that go out of their way to make children feel welcome.

Wine from Elmaro Vineyard
Dessert wines from Elmaro Vineyard

After perusing the menu, we ordered a few bottles of wine to go. One for immediate drinking and two to bring home. The 2019 La Crescent was an easy drinking white wine we made quick work of back at the campground. We also snagged two ports to bring back to Madison with us. She mentioned the Chocolate Truffle Pig was one they don’t make very often. We cracked it open this past weekend to celebrate the fourth of July. If you make your way to Elmaro while this vintage is still available, I would definitely recommend it.

Hiking

Once we got our goods and ventured back to Perrot, we parked near Horseshoe Falls and went to check out the waterfall. In all honesty, I was hoping for more falling water. It was really just a trickle, but pretty nonetheless. The waterfall had that cave like feeling where it was damp and cool when you walked in, which was a welcome feeling on a warm day.

I noticed a small trail leading up the bluff near the waterfall and went to check it out. I was not prepared for hiking though because I was wearing some 5-year old Birkenstocks that barely have any tread left. Yet, my son did not care and followed me and just started climbing. So, my husband and I climbed up after him. We jokingly called this particular trail “the goat trail” because we aren’t entirely sure it was a designated hiking trail…It was an adventure nonetheless.

Our son was so excited after that hike, that when we proposed climbing Brady’s Bluff, he jumped at the chance. Now, mind you, our son is the same age as my old Birkenstocks. So we didn’t really know how far or how long his little legs would carry him. However, once again, he showed us what he’s made of and hiked up that 450 foot high trail like there was nothing to it. Meanwhile, this Momma had to take a few breaks along the way, as it turned out to be a pretty steep climb. (Thankfully I had put on actual shoes by then.)

The panoramic views at the top of the bluff are quite stunning, so it was definitely worth the climb. I was so proud of all of us for making it all the way up there. Truth be told, it is less than a mile. But then of course, you have to go back down.

Panoramic View of Brady's Bluff
Panoramic view from top of Brady’s Bluff

We hiked about a 3.5 mile loop in total and were all exhausted by the time we got back to the campsite. I built a us camp fire and we cooked up some brat patties for dinner. After a round of Go Fish, the kiddo looked at us and said “I’ll be in the tent”. And he promptly put himself to bed. At 8:30 p.m.

My husband and I considered it a gift. Because it allowed us two hours of quiet time just the two of us out by the fire before calling it a night. Between work, school, parenting, and the pandemic, it is pretty rare for us to have a couple of hours together just the two of us. As you might imagine, it was really nice. And quite honestly, just what we needed to end a beautiful day outdoors together as a family.

Heading Home

The next morning we had grand plans to go hiking again. But tearing down a camp site is A LOT of work. Therefore, after my husband made a lovely breakfast of fresh trout, eggs and potatoes, we packed up all our gear and got the truck loaded up to hit the road back home.

Father and Son eating Ice Cream
Ice Cream at Liberty Park Deli

Before leaving town, we stopped at the Liberty Peak Deli, an adorable little ice cream shop in an old train car right off Main Street. They serve Chocolate Shoppe, which is a Madison favorite and had outdoor tables set up on the patio. You couldn’t eat inside since it was so small. But given that it was Father’s Day, they were busy enough that there was nowhere to sit. So we bought our cones and sat on the stoop of an old building to eat. It was the perfect treat to cap off a lovely camping weekend.

The kiddo slept the whole way home.

If your family likes to camp, I would highly recommend paying Perrot State Park a visit! Be sure to pack your hiking shoes, some games for the kids, the roasting sticks, and pudgy pie makers. I forgot the fixins for s’mores, which is the only thing that would have made the weekend better.

I have a feeling there will be a few more camping trips in our near future. If you have any favorites you’d like to recommend here in Wisconsin, I’d love to hear them!

Happy camping!

2 thoughts on “Let’s Go Camping! Why You Should Visit Perrot State Park

    1. It really was! I was impressed that we were able to do so much hiking with the kiddo. And the scenery really was absolutely beautiful! Have you been to that area?

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