Here’s an important tip for Bucket List makers: It’s not enough to put it on your calendar. If you’re headed to a popular spot, you have to make a reservation. Easy enough, but when it comes to reserving a campsite for Memorial Day Weekend, this must be done months in advance. I thought I’d be safe reserving three months out. I mean, I did learn from last year that there are very few sites available two weeks before Memorial Day Weekend. Turns out, when you’re dealing with state parks, the great sites are gone nearly a year in advance.
Kathleen Gruentzel DNR property supervisor at Governor Dodge State Park is not surprised I couldn’t find a site. “At this point it is likely that most if not all sites for Memorial weekend are already booked,” she tells (admonishes) me. You can still get into Dodge this MDW, there are about 50 non-reservable sites, she says, but they go quickly the day of. In the future, she says it helps to be flexibile; you’ll have more luck starting on a Tuesday or Wednesday and staying through the weekend.
But if you want to plan a weekend stay during peak season, your best bet is to hit the reservation line – 11 months prior to your trip – that’s the earliest any reservations are taken. So for all you planners out there, mark June 15, 9 a.m., on your calendar as the day to make your camping reservation for Memorial Day 2013.
Like the two months I spent looking for a tent, researching campgrounds and particular sites takes some time. This site made my job a whole lot easier.
Most of the state’s campsites are listed here, but not all have in-depth coverage (you have to buy the CD-Rom for that). Lucky for me, each of the Governor Dodge campgrounds is described in detail, as are many of the individual sites. Take Governor Dodge State Park Cox Hollow Campground site #21, for instance. This is the reviewer’s favorite site in the whole park. Isn’t it pretty? Wooded, secluded, water view… doesn’t get much better than that. But wait. The review also says this about the site: “superb view of Cox Hollow Lake from the high cliff.” High cliff + 3-year-old son = not great idea. Not to worry, I’ll try a site like this, which sits on the edge of a valley, not the edge of a cliff.
The website let’s you know which sites are handicapped accessible, which are near the playgrounds, how sunny/shaded they are, which are in high-traffic areas and how far the toilets/showers are. About a dozen photos show some sites and views from them. Tips like this are appreciated: “Site 263 (with photo) is the deepest and most private, about 70-feet from the parking area. This site has lots of room, with a path that leads to a cliff (be careful if you have kids or dogs). One night I stayed here coyotes came yipping and howling through the canyon below.” That’s great info that you can’t get off a campground layout. And, while I’m sure the coyotes could be heard from any number of Governor Dodge sites that night, I will avoid #263 just to be sure. I had my fill of howling coyotes at New Glarus Woods and Blue Mounds State Parks and don’t wish to relive the experience.
Reservations are handled through Reserve America at 888-947-2757 or online. According to the Reserve America agent I talked to, website and phone reservations are real time, so no chance of double-booking. She added that the wait time might be less online, and suggested logging on and getting set up beforehand so you’re just a click away from your dream spot.
The system is easy to use and the fee is $10. But be sure you have the dates right; changing them means having to pay a $5 cancellation fee and another $10 reservation fee. If you have to cancel, do so within 48 hours of your reserved date to get a refund, minus the reservation fee.
Disappointed to have to put off Governor Dodge for another time this summer, I decided to see what else was out there for Memorial Day Weekend. As of this morning, 83 places still have spots for us procrastinators. And, I found what seems like a great spot in one of the state’s busiest campgrounds: Devil’s Lake State Park. I’ve been to DLSP many times but have never camped there, so I’m looking forward to that. And at $15 a night, that is a great deal to be out in one of the state’s most beautiful settings.
One more tip when you’re researching camping spots at state parks: the Wisconsin DNR website offers a live chat option, which allows for near-immediate communications with a DNR customer service rep during business hours.
Lastly, here’s a bit of state park trivia:
Henry Dodge was the first governor of the Wisconsin Territory, from 1836–1841 and again from 1845–1848.