After Ohio, we only had family visits left, so we planned back to back travel days to make this happen. As such, this post is mostly campground reviews for anyone traveling through the midwestern states of Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas. However, we did throw in a cheese shop and a reunion with some of my family members along the way. 😃
Elkhart/Middlebury KOA, Indiana
Located just south of Interstate 80, we stayed overnight at the Elkhart/Middlebury KOA in Middlebury, Indiana. This KOA has lots of pull through sites, which we had, and the sites are fairly level and open. The central hub is around the office, with the shower and laundry facilities and a pool right next door. The showers looked ok, and the laundry had ample washers and dryers. Washers are $3 per load, and $1 per 32 minutes of drying time is what was listed on the machine; however, I didn’t use these facilities during our stay.
The grounds are quite nice though, with lots of different children’s activity centers, a beach volleyball court, disc golf, a fishing pond and several trails with lots of bunnies on them. The trails are mostly shaded, but remember to bring your bug spray. For a short stay, I recommend this place.
Small rant about the greater Chicago area roads
Your roads are TERRIBLE!!! We tried to avoid the downtown Chicago area, so we decided to take interstates 94, 294, and 290 around the city and reconnect with interstate 90. This turned out to be a bad idea, because all of these roads were under construction when we drove through. Their construction zones are some of the most confusing we have seen, taking five lanes and partitioning them off into two grouping of two lanes, and one single lane that can exit. So, if you end up in the wrong grouping, there is no way for you to get over and make your exit. It was a traumatic experience and we were amazed we made it out of there unscathed. Our recommendation if you are traveling around Chicago: steer clear and use roads farther out from Chicago. It’s not worth the potential heart attack. 🤬👎
Madison Campground, Wisconsin
For our next stopover, we stayed in Wisconsin, northeast of Madison off of interstate 90 at the Madison Campground in De Forest. Because it was right next to the freeway, you can hear quite a lot of traffic from the grounds. But, the nice part about this park is the sites are laid out is in a semi-circle format, so all but 10 sites are pull through. There is a pool, playground, office, store, laundry and bathroom facilities, which are all centrally located. The laundry facilities looked nice and clean, though I didn’t use them, but I did use the showers. They had music playing in the women’s bathroom, and though the facilities were clean, they removed the part on the showerhead that disperses the water, so all you get is a thick stream of water. It also took forever for the water to warm up, so it wasn’t a very pleasant experience. For a brief stay, I recommend this place, but it may not be that peaceful for a longer stay.
While there, we walked next door to Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet, which has a massive selection of Wisconsin-made cheeses, meats, and other dry goods to choose from. We bought a morel mushroom and leek jack cheese as well as a smoked pheasant summer sausage for my parents. For ourselves, we also got a summer sausage, a garlic and dill cheddar, a 10-year old sharp cheddar, and a smoked gouda. You can sample before you buy, and we loved everything we tried. The gouda was especially good. 😋 They even had an 18-year cheddar. 😮 If you are camping or driving nearby, I highly recommend stopping in. 👍
William O’Brien State Park, Minnesota
Our final stop before seeing my parents was just north of Stillwater, Minnesota at the William O’Brien State Park. There are a lot of trails and two campgrounds to choose from: Savannah and Riverway. We camped in Riverway, which was shaded with centralized bathroom and shower facilities that looked really nice. The one annoyance was that our reservation didn’t include the cost to enter the state park, so we had to pay an additional $7 fee since we didn’t already have a state park pass. 😡 No bueno, Minnesota. It was our most expensive state park stays, and not something we have experienced anywhere else in the country.
However, we did get out for a walk on the Riverside Trail along the St. Croix River that loops around to Lake Alice. Sadly, Lake Alice is full of algae right now, but there is a day use area on the south end of the lake with volleyball, horseshoes, a picnic area and lake access. I enjoyed some of the beautiful flowers, including the amazingly fragrant wild bergamot, which is a bee balm. If you don’t mind the extra expense and enjoy getting out on trails, this is a quiet campground with clean facilities.
We chose this campground because it was close to my great aunt Ruth and uncle Sheldon. When we first considered doing this year-long journey, they were one of our first calls, because they have been on the road ever since I was was about 14 years old. 😮 They sold their house, bought an RV, and have traveled all over, often volunteering with Habitat For Humanity, and visiting with family and friends. They have provided us with a wealth of knowledge, and we are forever grateful to them for all of their advice. 💗
Even though we were traveling near each other, our timing was always off, so we had not managed to sync up until now. They stay near Forest Park, MN every summer, so I knew that at least this meet up would work out. Ruth suggested the Brookside Bar and Grill, about five minutes from the William O’Brien State Park. This restaurant has several brews on tap and specializes in pizza in addition to your classic bar fare. We mostly enjoyed catching up with Ruth and Sheldon, sharing our adventures and future plans with each other, with the hopes that when we settle down after our travels, we will get a chance to reconnect once again.
Little Wall Lake Park, Iowa
The overnight stop between our family visits in Minnesota and Kansas City was at a county park called Little Wall Lake Park in Jewell, Iowa, about 20 miles north of Ames. We had a pull through site with a lake view near the park entrance. Walking around the grounds, I saw two playgrounds, both of which appeared to be recent additions or possibly improvements on older play equipment. I also found a trail on the north side of the park, but was immediately attacked by some of the most vicious mosquitos of my travels thus far, so I got out of there in a hurry.
There are 106 sites, 3 cabins, centralized showers, bathrooms, garbage and dump facilities, and you can either prepay online or pay at a kiosk near the office if the staff is not on site when you arrive. The lake has several access points, and the park was clean and well maintained. The road noise can be heard if you are sitting outside, but didn’t bother us in our trailer. If you like water activities, this would be a nice place to relax and unwind. Just bring your bug spray.
Walnut Grove RV Park, Kansas
Though technically not part of our lang hauls, I decided to throw in our stay at the Walnut Grove RV Park just south of Kansas City, Kansas. Last time we visited Matt’s family, we stayed at Crow’s Creek Campground, a Clay County campground in Smithville, Missouri. However, we decided to try a different place so we could be closer to Matt’s parents this time around.
Unfortunately, our stay here was one of the worst of our travels. ☹️ To be fair, the person managing the park’s affairs on site was very friendly, their centralized bathroom and laundry was clean, and we saw several spacious, updated sites with fire rings, picnic tables, and hanging plants. We did not get one of these sites. Instead, they stuck us in what could arguably be considered the worst site in the park. It was incredibly cramped, between two full-time residents, with no amenities, and was difficult to get into in the first place.
To make things worse, our neighbor to one side had two vehicles, two motorcycles, two mini bikes, two four-wheelers, and two dogs crammed into their site. Though they seemed like nice people, there was a lot of noise from their comings and goings, starting at 5:30am every day. We never saw the residents on the other side of us, and think something died underneath their trailer, because it smelled like a rotting animal outside. We experienced electrical brown outs during most of our stay as well. The electrical hook up had a 50 amp breaker set up with a 30 amp plug, all of which did not look to be to code, and we were concerned it would do damage to our air conditioning compressor because it couldn’t handle the electrical loads it should have been capable of.
Had we been placed in one of the sites closer to the front of the RV park, I believe we would have had a wholly different experience. Instead, we were disappointed that they would put us in one of the crappiest sites in their park, and suggest that you call ahead to make sure you know you will be in a newer site if you stay here. We will not be returning to this park.
That does it for this leg of our journey. I hope you found these reviews helpful and wish you the best of luck in your travels. I look forward to sharing more about our family visits. Until then, happy travels!