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Camping in Wisconsin - The Complete Guide

By Keith Stachowiak on August 17, 2017 // Leave a Comment

milwaukee-personal-injury-lawyers-camping-tips.jpgMany families consider camping as a summer staple in Wisconsin. From tents to RV’s and cabins, camping takes many forms. In fact, recent data shows that more than 40 million people in the United States sleep under the stars annually. 

To help you navigate the world of camping (before you really need your compass and map) we've pulled together a one-stop article to help you kick-start the camping season.

Take a look below for a comprehensive look at camping facts, figures and details:

  • Current camping trends
  • Camping facts
  • Wisconsin State Park camping rules
  • Landmark camping decisions
  • Liability at private campgrounds
  • 2017 Wisconsin camping laws

Top 3 Things Campers Want at a Camp Site 

So what, according to campers, is the most important thing at a campsite? If you look at past data WiFi was never even been a consideration, but now, WiFi is the third most important aspect about a campground, behind clean bathrooms and a kid-friendly environment. 


Camping 101: The Basic Facts

In a recent camping report, respondents answered a variety of questions, everything from where they camp to why they do once they hit the great outdoors. Here is a snapshot of the top responses. 

Wisconsin-campsites-milwaukee-car-accident-attorney.jpg   camping-households-U.S.jpg   camping-nationwide.jpg   miles-traveled-camping-milwaukee-car-accident-lawyer.jpg

  • There are currently 4,900 campsites in the Wisconsin State Park System.
  • 44% of household across the country camp occasionally. 
  • In 2015, more than 40 million people went camping in the United States. 
  • Most campers travel less than 150 miles from home. 

Wisconsin State Park Camping Rules:

If you are heading out in the beautiful state of Wisconsin here are the camping rules you need to know from the Wisconsin Department of National Resources:

  • Campsites, buildings and picnic areas do not have garbage cans so plan your camping trip to include as little garbage as possible.
  • A camping site may be occupied by a parent or parents with their dependent children and no more than two guests or a group of no more than six persons, regardless of age. Designated group sites are available that allow for more occupants.
  • No one is permitted to camp or leave a camping unit in a family campground for more than 14 days in a 21-day period.
  • Fireworks are illegal.
  • At no time may the noise on a campsite create a disturbance or interfere in any manner with other visitor’s enjoyment of the park.
  • Allowable firewood types: 1) Wisconsin certified firewood, processed to remove harmful hitchhikers. 2) Dimensional lumber, such as 2x4 or 4x6 scraps from a building project, at the discretion of park staff. 
  • Firewood not allowed: 1) Full or partial pallets, skids or slabs. 2) Wood that is painted, treated with preservatives, or made up of a composite of wood and glue such as chipboard and plywood.
  • Pets are permitted in most campgrounds, trails, roads and outlying areas of the parks. 
  • Pets may be ticketed or seized if they are not on a leash (no longer than 8 feet) or not under control.
  • There are accessible campsites available and 10 properties offer cabins for persons with disabilities.

Top Recreational Activities for Campers

When polled, the majority of campers said their top recreational activity at the campsite was fishing, at 52 percent. While 48 percent of those surveyed said they enjoy hiking and backpacking, 42 percent preferred taking scenic drives and sightseeing. 


What is the Difference between Public and Private Campgrounds?

In the survey, 38 percent of campers said they camp in state or national parks, while 28 percent said they typically camped at privately owned campgrounds. As Milwaukee personal injury lawyers our goal is to be good people who help people, and providing you with the facts and information you need to know about camping is important to us.

Legally, what should you consider if you select public versus private campgrounds? Take a look at this information below. 

Historic Wisconsin Campground Case from 1977

camping-safety-tips-milwaukee-personal-injury-law-firm.jpgThe case Cords v. Anderson, from 1977, involves four couples, all college students from Madison, visiting a Wisconsin trail and campground near Devil’s lake called Parfrey’s Glen. The recreational areas had two trails, a lower trail, which ran along the bottom of a gorge, and an upper trail, which ran along a canyon, in some cases, coming within inches of the bluff edge. The group had been at the park all day, and after dark, one member of the group had fallen down a very steep slope and others went to help. Ms. Cords was one of several that had also fallen, and she sustained a spinal injury that left her paralyzed.

A Known Danger

The defendant manager of the park, Anderson, testified he knew that upper trail was dangerous, and he would not want to go on this upper trail after dark. He knew there was no rail in places where the trail ran only inches from the steep cliff, and that there was no warning of the abrupt drop off.

Government Immunity Doesn’t Cover Everything

The way government immunity was treated at the time, if a government employee exercised discretion over how to perform his job, he was immune from any liability. This case carved out a known danger exception to the rule. While paying lip service to the very far reaching immunity granted by its former case law, the court stated that “There comes a time when "the buck stops." Anderson knew the terrain at the glen was dangerous particularly at night; he was in a position as park manager to do something about it; he failed to do anything about it. He is liable for the breach of this duty.”

How Does Liability Work at Private Campgrounds?

milwaukee-personal-injury-lawyers-camp-groupd-safety.jpgUnlike private camping grounds, a private campground can be held liable. Nearly every business, unless they are given some type of immunity, is liable for the carelessness of its owners and employees for these simple reasons:

  • Business should be able to see hazards develop. Owners and employees have a unique perspective where they can better see dangerous conditions or problems on a daily basis.
  • Because they own the business, they can put up notices when people are hurt and correct dangerous conditions.
  • Businesses also have the authority to close off an activity or area that may be dangerous.
  • And finally, the owner, who is making money off the activity or sale, can take out insurance to protect people injured by their negligence of that of the employees.

A consumer or user of the product or activity, may only be doing or using an activity for the first time, and has no expertise in preventing injury. The consumer can’t make changes to the property or activity, and cannot, for practical reasons, insure himself for injuries he sustains.

These are the public policy reasons behind holding a business responsible for the negligence of its owners or employees. The law has always required a showing of fault or blame. An injury alone is not enough to make a recovery against a business. You need fault.

New Rules in Wisconsin You Should Know

Effective April 1, 2016, campground owners can only be held liable for injuries where the owner intentionally causes injury or acts in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others, which are essentially criminal standards. An owner can also be held liable for failing to warn about a dangerous inconspicuous condition the owner knows about. However, a campground owner cannot be held liable for failing to make its property safe, and has no obligation to inspect or police the grounds for dangers that may exist.

The bottom line from all of this is that private campground owners no longer have an incentive to inspect and make changes to their property, because they rarely will be held liable. The safer thing to do is use the public campgrounds, which are not motivated by profit and will not cut corners to make more money. 

Do you have questions? Let us know in the comments! 

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At Murphy & Prachthauser we practice personal injury law the way it should be practiced – motivated and equipped to do our best for you. We take pride in being good lawyers who help people.

If you have a case you would like to speak to a lawyer about, please contact us to schedule a free consultation and get an experienced team working on your behalf. 

Before you hit the road, download and print this accident checklist!

Car, Truck & Motorcycle Accident Checklist

2015 North American Camping Report. Kampgrounds of America Inc.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources