Camp Wisconsin: Black River State Forest Backpacking (Our 1st Backpacking Adventure with our son)

This was the area we chose for our very first backpacking adventure with our son Phoenix who was about 14 months old at the time and we wanted a place closer to home in case things with awry, which of course they did. Keep in mind this was the end of April last year with the unpredictable Wisconsin weather.

Black River State Forest takes up a vast amount of land in west central Wisconsin, 68,000 acres to be exact. Now that is a lot of exploring to do. Offering numerous amounts of recreational activities such as camping, backpacking, atv/snowmobile trails, hiking, skiing and more. For this particular blog though we are going to focus on the Smrekar and Wildcat trail systems located in the southern portions of the forest and the FREE backpacking sites that come with the gorgeous area.

Backpacking (primitive camping) is allowed all throughout the forest other than Hawk Island. It is free but you must get a permit. You can fill it out online and pick it up either at Castle Mound campground or the Black River Falls DNR Service center. You can also asked to get it mailed to you.

Few rules with Backpacking include PACK IT IN/PACK IT OUT, and you must camp at least one mile away from your vehicle and 100 feet from any trail or road.

Getting here is fairly easy you have your choice of 2 parking lots to start from one being the Smrekar Lot and Wildcat Lot, both require taking either Highway 12 or Interstate 90 to the very small town of Millston and taking County Road O out of town. Not far down the road will be North Settlement Road to your left that will lead you to Wildcat Lot. Keep going down County O till you come to Smrekar road also on your left for that lot.

This area offers 24 miles of hiking among the beauty of Wisconsin’s rolling terrain with 2 Adirondack shelters having fire pits and picnic tables at both. Lots of hills on all of these trails other than the very easy 1.5 mile South trail loop located by the Smrekar Lot. We started out at the Smrekar Lot and headed up the Ridge trail on our way to the first shelter for the night. First day went fabulous was a bit cloudy and cold but that was nothing compared to what we were about to wake up in. The trails themselves are perfect for backpacking, wide and groomed very well. Just be prepared for a lot of up and down. There are scenic views but the view is nothing spectacular being not high enough out of the tree line. A spectacular sight would be of the Elk they reintroduced to this area after a 125 year hiatus.


Going to let my videos tell majority of the story for this one. Just going to apologize a head a time as this was my first time using the GoPro and making a video. Below is a video of our first day.


It decided to really snow on us our first night. Trace amounts were predicted in the forecast but we woke up to a few inches. After lots of talk we determined our best course of action was to go home for the day and try again the next. Wisconsin weather for ya.


We went home for the 2nd day and regrouped even though we were very disappointed to not get our full day of hiking in. We decided to wake up early and hit the trails as soon as we could the next morning. Another big example of Wisconsin weather because as we got back out there all the snow was long gone.

We enjoyed our last day even though we did not wake up in the tent like we wanted we still got 9.5 miles in, saw a wolf tracks and had a porcupine scare the hell out of us.

All in all this is the perfect place for beginner backpackers. You can make short or long distances out of the trails. Both parking lots offer water, restrooms and maps. I suggest still filtering the water as it taste too much like rust and taking a picture of the large wooden maps as paper maps do not last long.  Smrekar Lot has a warming cabin also just keep that in the back of your mind.

So even though our trip did not go as planned we did not let it hinder us with the idea of getting out there again. No one is born a professional remember that. There is lots of time to start planning out a backpacking trip here or anywhere.

Thank you all again for your interest.

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