FYI: most of these pics were taken with our tiny slop camera, so they aren’t the best quality. When you’re already hauling kids, lugging the nicer camera wasn’t always the best choice. 😉
We have never taken the kids on a real vacation before this (other than home to visit family when we lived further away or a weekend camping adventure). Earlier this summer I was looking into weekend camping trips to Wisconsin and Cabz suggested we spend a whole week there instead! I was super excited and started google researching all the best places to go. Admittedly, I spent waaaay too much time doing this, but we did end up finding a lot of cool places to try!
Packing. This was the first time with 4 kids that we were going away from home for this long and it involved a lot of lists and a lot of packing. Here’s some of the stuff that needed to fit in our minivan along with four car seats and all of us. There was a lot more not pictured (tent, camping chairs, tarp, air mattress, two pack ‘n’ plays, 4 sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, cooler, two diaper boxes full of food/snacks etc. haha), but this helps give you an idea. The night before, when we were loading the majority of the van, I was genuinely concerned this wasn’t all going to cram in, but somehow it did.
September 8th-17th, 10 days, 9 nights, 19 hours and 31 minutes of driving
Day 1: 4 hours 34 minutes drive time – Wyalusing State Park and Sleepy Hollow Campground
I drove the entire trip so Cabz could attempt to study for his next actuarial exam. Here we are ready to pull out of the driveway! We didn’t start quite as early as planned, but little kids will do that to ya. haha
I know these pictures aren’t going to look the way they did in person, but driving was actually SO much fun! The scenery was absolutely beautiful and the roads were hilly and exciting! We drove along the Mississippi a large amount of our trip which meant we got to see gorgeous bluffs along the huge river. So much of our trip was spent marveling at God’s beauty in creation. So incredible!
We drove a decent amount of back country roads too, which added to the excitement of our travel. Some were full on ratty gravel roads with very little population. We were grateful our van didn’t break down on any of those. This road was half paved (not the side we were on of course haha) for a long stretch.
Our trip started by driving a couple hours to Wyalusing State Park. We had missed our usual walk in the morning, and after the car ride we were all very ready to get a little hiking in!
We started with Bluff Trail which was a short 0.4 mile hike one way. There were a decent amount of stairs though, which made it more exciting. There were some amazing views near the beginning!
After hiking around and through some interesting rock formations, we made it to the kids’ highlight of this trail….
….Treasure Cave! I tried to capture via photo just how incredibly steep this climb was, but the pictures honestly don’t do it justice. haha You can kind of tell from them what it was like though. The kids climbed up the steps like a ladder and we were hanging on to the railings pretty tightly. I went right on Evie’s heels and Cabz followed Abby.
Once we made it to the top, we were surprised by how steep most of the cave was. There weren’t a lot of great flat surfaces. We were watching the kids pretty closely, because
if when they tripped, it would likely result in sliding if we didn’t catch them.
We climbed through a tall, thin tunnel to the right and found a steep overlook.
Straight back into Treasure Cave, there was also a crawl through cavern that looked like it went back a decent ways. The kids were all about crawling through it until they saw a spider. Then, that was the end of that. It looked cool from the outside though. haha This picture was post spider sighting. The cavern was to the right of Abby.
Going down the ladder was exciting too. We had to go backwards. Luckily, we all made it out alive. haha Afterwards, we hiked maybe 0.3 tenths of a mile to another outlook point.
Then it was lunch time! Elly was excited to “hike” a couple hundred feet to the picnic location.
Living it up with some pb & j, chex mix, and applesauce! With some meal planning, we ended up only eating out 4 times over our entire trip! Pretty good! We got pizza twice, Culvers for just the parents once, and bought a meal from KFC to share with our friends in Madison.
This is what Elly’s face looked like after almost every meal. *sigh* One of the best items we packed were baby wipes.
Probably the best item we packed was the tiny portable potty. I’m telling you. This thing came in handy OVER and OVER again. “I GOTTA GO!” *Whoosh!* “Here’s the pot. Go!” It was the greatest at campsites, because you know you’re never going to be right next to the bathrooms and who would even really want to be right next to them?! Evie’s too little to care about this picture. She’ll probably just think she’s famous.
After lunch, clean up, and potty breaks, we were ready to fit in a little more hiking. Big Sand Cave Trail it was! The start of this trail looked very doable for our umbrella stroller and Evie’s strider bike, so we went with it. (We didn’t have room for her pedal bike, but the strider was just small enough that we could smash it in and we figured it would be a good way to break up all of the walking for the 2 year old who had to get it done on her own 2 feet.)
This quickly proved to be a really bad choice. Almost the entire trail (roughly 1.5 miles out and back again) was sharply slanted, so the bike and stroller continually pulled off of it. It was actually so bad, we took shifts alternately dragging and shoving the stroller and Abby helped haul the bike over the worst parts. haha The trail also had many huge gnarly roots you had to lift the stroller over. haha Fail. We all still enjoyed it though and we eventually made it to Big Sand Cave!
The kids were very excited about finding their “favorite tree” on each trail throughout the trip. They made up a one liner song they would sing frequently. It went a little something like this…. “I love my tree! I love my tree! I love my tree!” They would compliment each other on what nice trees they picked too. It was kind of funny. Here was Abby’s pick for this trail.
The plan had been to get to Little Sand Cave as well, but we were pretty pooped with the stroller difficulties and figured we needed to keep moving to get to our campsite at a decent time. Another couple hours of drive time (full of lots of beautiful napping from tired children!) got us to our random little campground (Sleepy Hollow Campground) on the way to Pepin. It was in Fountain City, WI and turned out to be surprisingly pleasant! It was our cheapest campground, at only 20 bucks for the night. FYI: September (after school starts) is the best time to go camping/vacationing because everyone has already been there, done that and things are deadsville! We were the only tent campers there! Also, the mosquitoes? Nonexistent!! We had SO few bugs!
Bud was really into “helping” set the tent up. Aka, crawling around screaming like a goofball while Daddy tried to get the tarp and tent laid out. He had to be removed a few dozen times, and was joined by his loyal followers.
Jelly Bean and Bud enjoyed hanging out in the camp chairs watching the work get done (for short spurts of time at least…. haha). Elle was really tight lipping it in the picture on the right. hahahaha Little goose. She was a bit of a troublesome little miss, grabbing everything she wasn’t supposed to at every opportunity.
Daddy just had all sorts of helpers with tent set up. This was the first time I helped set it up, since there was always someone else to help in the past.
Once the tent was up and the pack ‘n’ plays were set up, the kids all had a blast crawling around behind them until they got too wild and were kicked back out. haha
Campfires and supper. Oh boy. haha As I mentioned earlier, we have never actually gone camping all by ourselves. We were always with someone. And the fire starting somehow never fell to either of us. Until this time. We figured it would be no big deal. Fires start on their own and cause trouble, surely it can’t be that stinking hard to get a fire going, right?! Ya. We tried. And tried. And tried. And failed. haha Finally, we were desperate enough that Cabz said I could ask a nearby camper group. Thankfully, they were super kind and got it going for us. We watched and learned and realized we just hadn’t built it up enough before trying to get it started, so the fire never had a chance to get hot enough to light the logs. Anyhow, we learned from our mistakes and were able to get the rest of our fires going on our own. 😉 We’re basically ready to survive in the wild now.
I had put together some foil packets for supper: sausage, beans, and potatoes with cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper. They were super delicious. Now, whether that’s because it was the latest supper ever and we were all starving or because they were actually delicious…. who really knows. ha
Afterwards, we tried some banana boats that were eaten before they melted enough, but it was late and the kids needed sleep. Some marshmallow roasting also took place.
The kids all finally crashed and for the most part everyone slept pretty well. This first night of camping was our chilliest, getting down to around 50 degrees. The kids all stayed warm in their footie jammies, warm sleeping bags, and snuggly winter gear, but the parents were a tad shivery. We should have brought our sweats into the tent, but we weren’t thinking ahead and didn’t want to go find them in the van in the middle of the night when we would have liked them. haha We all made it through though. 🙂
Day 2: 2 hours 10 minutes drive time – Laura Days and Minneapolis Cousins
We took a morning selfie after each night of camping, so you can determine how rough the night was or wasn’t based on those. hahaha This was after our chilly first night. As soon as the kids saw the camera out, they had to get in on the action.
To get our day started, we pottied and dressed all children and promptly buckled them into the van with a travel sized cereal box. While they were occupied with that we tore down the campsite and reloaded the van. It only took us a few attempts to get the tent rolled small enough to smash into the tent bag. lol Then we headed to Pepin, WI for some fun at Laura Days!
One of our little Lauras seems to have an extra pair of hands….
There was a playground at the Laura Days location. Since we got there a little early, the festivities weren’t really going too strong, so the kids got yet another new park in. We stopped at so many new playgrounds that it’s kinda ridiculous. Elly was obsessed with the merry go round thing. Wild child always.
Bud was obsessed with….. the dirt. Always. haha
There was a ginormous slide that Daddy thought everyone needed to try. :O
We got to meet the illustrator of the picture book Laura books.
After that, we watched a round of the spelling bee contest. Caleb and I each picked who we thought would win. Both of our girls made it to the final three, but my girl did end up dominating with 1st place. 😉 Caleb picked the girl in the purple and pink with a bonnet. My girl was off to the right.
Little Laura and Mary. They weren’t super into sticking their heads in random face in holes. haha
The girls were excited about the basket of bunnies.
The kids got to see all sorts of old time living skills: threshing and spinning flax, making wooden spoons, sifting celery seed, a little folk music, wooden stool making, and blacksmith work to name most of them.
The girls got to try this method of drilling a hole.
Next up, a wagon ride!
Abby was thrilled about petting our engine afterwards.
The girls bonnets were actually (wait for it…..) a brand new purchase we made off Amazon. It was something we had been thinking of getting them for a long time now, because they literally play “Laura and Mary” every single day. I would have made them if I had any sewing skills, but…… ya. They were a huge hit with the girlies! ❤
Our last stop in (near) Pepin was the one Abby has been dreaming about for months now. LAURA’S HOUSE!! (well, a replica in hopefully the same spot, but close enough! haha) We had a picnic lunch in the grass outside (which may have been where I got swamped with bug bites around my sock line and lower legs). After that, the girls got to join the bus group for a Laura story inside the cabin.
Inside and outside because someone offered.
Leaving Pepin. Next stop, Minneapolis! This is the kind of car ride we really enjoyed. 3 of 4 kids passed out and the fourth about to join in. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
We made it to Isaac and Nicole’s! (Caleb’s brother’s house) This was our first time seeing their new place. So fun! Cousins and snacks on the deck. Life is good.
We all walked to a park nearby because kids = nonstop energy.
When you have a whole park with fun equipment, what is there to do?! Sand castles of course.
Day 3: Minneapolis for the Day
We got to spend our Sunday in Minneapolis with Isaac’s family. It was great to go to church with them and enjoy some family time! Our kids are nutty and used to our daily walks, so we had to fit a quick walk in before church. ❤
The girls were loving the swings in the backyard!
I have to be a little real here….. Although this was an incredible trip, there were also quite a few tears mixed in. Here you can witness a “thinking area” session with Evie. Cry me a river, baby girl. ❤
Nap time?? We’re at our cousins’ house!!
Obligatory cousin pictures! haha
Later in the day, we got to go to “The Airplane Park” where super low planes were whizzing by every few minutes. The kids were loving it!
All the noise didn’t seem to affect Tad’s nap too much. He must have an older sibling….. haha
This park had all the cool stuff! A giant merry go round thinger…..
The amazing zip line swing….. (For all interested parties, yes, I also tried this out. And yes, I was the only adult that did. It was pretty fun for a park swing. Pretty sure Cabz was jealous he didn’t break down and give it a try.)
And the fun family sized swing!
Oh! There were also some pretty great moments captured on this thing. hahaha
It was all fun and games until it sprinkled a little rain and we didn’t think about the park equipment being super slippery….. Evie was running around way up high on the park and slipped backwards, smacking the back of her head really hard (maybe hitting a screw?). She got a huuuuuuuuuuuge bump that lasted well past our vacation time. She also was bleeding everywhere in the moment. It was reassuring to have a couple of physician assistants around to take a look at her for us. haha It could have been much worse! This picture was actually from over a day later. I didn’t take one in the moment.
The kids loved all the cousin fun!
Day 4: 1 hour and 49 minutes drive time – Teddy Bear Park, Osceola Falls, and Willow River State Park
We didn’t know if we’d be able to pull Elly away from the Miller’s rocking chair, but we eventually got her out the door.
This was SUCH a fun waterfall day!!!!!! I am obsessed with waterfalls. Talk about one of the coolest nature things God created! We started our day with a Wal-mart food for camping stock up trip. Then we met back up with Nicole and kids to hang out at Teddy Bear Park in Stillwater, MN for a bit. It was definitely one of the best playgrounds we had found! Evie enjoyed the wild motorcycle of course.
Abby on the monkey bars. haha She told me she could only go out two because otherwise she couldn’t get back. She did a pretty good job hanging on. 🙂
Teddy Bear Park was obviously named for all the teddy bear statues scattered around. The kids enjoyed posing with them.
Just some guy talk.
Whatever the big girls do, Elly does too. Daddy to the rescue!
Lots to climb on and see!
We kept debating whether or not to skip this next stop, and I am so, so glad we ended up going!! It was seriously so much fun! We drove 33 minutes to Osceola, WI and stopped to check out Cascade Falls. It’s such a different setting, because you’re right in the middle of this small town! It took us a minute and a couple of stranger’s help to get us pointed in the right direction. First, we hiked a very brief bit near the mill and found Geiger Falls.
While this was pretty and all, we were stuck looking at it from a bridge and it was nothing like what I had seen in my google searches, so I knew we had to keep looking for the right thing!
It wasn’t too much longer before we found the correct trail head for Cascade Falls. We were all pretty excited!!! I may have been in the lead hollering for everyone to “Come on! Come on! Look! There it is!”
Look how beautiful this waterfall was!
It was SO COOL, because you could actually go behind the waterfall! ❤ YES! That is us going behind the waterfall and yes! I could have spent the rest of the day here quite happily.
So much fun!!! The kids were loving this!
Daddy showing the babies around.
Cabz finally pulled me away from here and we drove 35 minutes to Willow River State Park. We started by locating our campsite and having lunch there.
Elly’s typical eating pose. Standing precariously.
Abby enjoyed capturing a few moments for us. This was taken by her.
Quite randomly, we found our campsite was directly between the two hikes we wanted to fit in!
In the heat of the afternoon (although on a perfectly shaded path – the weather was nothing to complain about!), we decided to hike the mile path to Willow River Falls, the main reason this was a stop for us. The trail started just a short ways from our campsite, so we loaded up the babies and headed out!
The hike was very pretty and along water most of the time.
Evie with her “weed whips!” (aka, her weed whippers – she likes to pretend her sticks are those for whatever reason…. probably so she can swing them around.)
We found the falls!!!!!!
Stunning right?!?! Now comes the best part….. I got to hike out into them with the big girls!! Again, more enthusiastically…. I could have happily stayed here for the entire day. We were all having SO MUCH FUN!
Some guy told me he saw a couple of big snakes up on the rocks, but I had to hope his group has scared them off, because nothing was going to dampen the enjoyment of this for me. haha
AHHHHHH!!! We’re going in!
This girl was obsessed with all the water fun – just like her Mama. 🙂
Little Rock Climber going strong!
The girls called this, “The Moving Waterfall” because when you looked down, the water was coming so powerfully that it gave you the very strong illusion of being swept away. It was actually a bit weird to get used to at first. The girls were hilarious. The first time it happened to Abs she was sitting down, clawing at the rocks, bawling that the water was taking her away. I assured her it wasn’t and showed her that I was standing still and she wasn’t actually moving and she sheepishly got up. haha
It was so much fun walking out in the falls!
Abby’s skills at work again.
Someone must have seen us having our 4 year old take a picture and felt bad because they offered to get one of the family for us. haha
Time to keep moving…. See ya next time Willow River Falls!
We lost some of our troop to naps on the walk back. Everybody did a good job being flexible with lack of regular nap times.
After getting back to the campsite we decided to set up the tent and get everything ready for bedtime before doing another hike. This made the supper “rush” a little smoother later on.
Abby and Evie found a big stick and made a “teeter totter.”
Supper’s ready! Cutest food we ever ate!
After set up, we walked the other direction from our site which was conveniently close as well. This was probably a mile or so on pavement. We took the strider and the stroller which actually turned out well for us this time. Abby clicking the camera again.
We made it to the end! We found Little Falls!
On the way back, I gave Little Peanut a short piggy back ride for a while because she was pretty tired out. She was such a trooper the whole trip! For only being 2, she hiked or biked the whole time on her own two feet (minus this quick ride). Poor little tot. ❤ 🙂
We made it back to camp! Grubby kids with grubby faces – the story of hiking adventure life.
Just look at that blazing fire! *Cheers!*
Toasted pizza bagels for supper! The kids were too hungry to wait for theirs to be very toasty….
Followed by some very nicely toasted s’mores. Just look at those lightly browned beauts!
Kids enjoyed them too. haha
Bedtime snuggles! ❤ ❤
Day 5: 3 hours total drive time – Big Falls County Park, Black River Falls, Lost Falls, and a hotel
Camping morning selfies. Rough. Evie had the blankest, most unimpressed morning expression ever. haha
It didn’t take us too long to get everyone ready to go.
First stop, Big Falls County Park in Eau Claire.
This trail started out looking so stroller friendly that we went ahead and risked it. That lasted for like 5 minutes. Then we hit the sand. haha (and parked the stroller off to the side to press on, carrier or no carrier)
After traipsing through some sand, our trail turned rocky.
The trail ended around here, but we wanted to get over where they were looking in this photo. It looked much more exciting to be right next to the falls area.
Getting closer!! This was a pretty exciting little hike, as we had to jump kids (and jump with kids) across little streams and walk across logs and jump rock to rock over a lot of it.
We made it!! SO gorgeous!
I stripped the kids to their suits because I knew they’d be slipping and sliding all over the place on the wet rocks and splashing around in every speck of water they could get at. haha Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting to get wet myself….. While holding them up on an especially slippery rock, I did have an unfortunate slip to my bum. haha Soaked it through. Fortunately for me, Cabz was too gracious to capture that on camera (although he didn’t feel the need to refrain from laughing haha).
I loved getting to spend 10 days with my favorite guy! ❤
We stopped in Black River Falls, since it was on our drive and timed out well to stop for lunch. We were going to see the falls in the town, which is basically a huge man made dam (so not overly exciting compared to the beautiful, natural falls we had been enjoying), so we stopped at a park right across from them. Turns out there was a huge wall and fencing nicely positioned so we couldn’t see the falls at all from the side we were on. Some people at the park said we’d be able to get a look if we walked all the way around to the other side, but we weren’t that excited about it and the kids were all tired and cranky after lunch so we opted for moving on instead. Picnic time again!
I told you this kid would either eat standing up on the picnic table or sitting on top of it every time, right?! Oh Elly….
Goofball sisters enjoying the park. Although Evie is slightly exaggerated in this picture, you can kinda see how close they have been getting in size! Crazy!
All the kids fit on this one! haha
Everyone was obsessed with the constantly running lion water fountain (or “water pump” as Evie referred to them the entire time).
Of course Daddy had to take them all down the crazy high slide.
After lunch we packed up and drove a short ways to another exciting adventure! There was a short trail that led to Lost Falls (near Lost Falls Campground). We weren’t super sure what to expect, but it was really fun! Our weather was so perfect, nice and cool in the mornings and getting a little warm by afternoon time. It worked out really well for water play!
We had all gotten pretty hot and sweaty at the park in Black River Falls and this was the perfect way to cool off!! Well… except for Daddy. He decided to stay high and dry and watch us do some splashing. 🙂
And we did! We had so much fun splashing and walking through the water and small falls! We explored a little further upstream too!
Abby loved all the water fun on our trip!
Evie did too, but she always took a little longer to really embrace it. Elly…. ehhh… she wasn’t too sure what to think. If we spent more time there, I’m sure she would have eventually decided it was okay.
Originally, we were planning to camp tonight as well, but it was a bigger day of driving and we were feeling a bit depleted. Since this was the one campsite we weren’t able to reserve ahead of time, we decided to switch it up and get a hotel. King size bed with a pull out couch and whirlpool for the win! We’ve been to a hotel twice since having children, so this was kind of a big deal for us. #cheapskates
Bedtime! #datenighteverynight #afterthekidsareinbed