We live in the North Shore area of Milwaukee and were contemplating what to do with our weekend prior to the 4th of July. We knew we didn't want to stray too far from home, especially since we were camp-breaking our dog and wanted the option to bail in case she wasn't enjoying camping as much as we do. North Kettle Moraine, Pike Lake Unit was an easy choice given it's proximity to the city- about 40 minutes. We'd already camped earlier this season at the southern unit near Whitewater and had a great experience there, so we were looking forward to this trip.
The last trip we did, we had a hike-in of about 400 feet and decided we wanted something a little more than that and the remote sites at Pike Lake were at least 2000 feet, so we booked a site through the State website. Once you get on I-41 there is literally only 3 left turns and you are at the site, and only about a 7 minute drive from the freeway.
Pike Lake offers three remote sites as well as plentiful regular campsites for those that are less-inclined to hoof it. The trails are well-marked and best yet the iconic Ice Age Trail runs right through all three campsites for the most convenient hiking access. While you may see some other hikers on the trail from your site, this seems to be a less-frequented part of the trail so the foot traffic is light.
We arrived late on our check-in date and were faced with a closed park office leaving us to fill out and pay for our own park admissions and parking. We had two cars but decided we both wanted the yearly passes since it was only $4 more than what we would have paid for a daily pass. Since it was late we couldn't get our camping passes and would have to return to the office the next morning. we also had to pay a bit extra since we didn't have the exact amount of cash. It was a pleasant surprise the next morning when we were greeted by the park Ranger (sorry, I cannot remember his name) who brought us our camping pass as well as our parking stickers and refund for what we overpaid, plus more. We didn't know that the passes were BOGO 1/2 off. A big kudos to the staff there for keeping honest.
As for the pros/cons of the site/park:
- Parking is close to Highway 60 if you need to come and go
- Spacious and well-manicured plot
- Nearby port-a-potty
- Equal parts sunny and shaded for a good balance on hot days
- Ample parking spots for load-in
- Good pitch for drainage if it rains (which it did)
- Cabelas located about 15 minutes away in case you forgot any essential camping item.
- Many amenities including: dog beach, kayak launch, fishing pier, general campground, observation tower.
- Proximity to highway means more noise
- Also close to Slinger Speedway, which on Sundays on the weekend can be loud with the races and they can run kinda late (about 10PM)
- Bring your own TP (which shouldn't be an issue for those experienced backcountry campers)
- All three remote sites are pretty close to one another.