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
Day 6: 1 hour 40 minutes drive time – Canoe Trip and Indoor Water Park at Wisconsin Dells
I just want to say, “This day was SO MUCH FUN!” but I keep saying that about every day! haha But they really were. It was seriously the perfect vacation for us! We enjoyed a complimentary breakfast at the hotel and headed off to Kickapoo Wild Adventures for the kids’ first canoe trip down the Kickapoo River! We started off with me in the front, babies right behind me, big girls behind them, and Daddy in the back. It was a matter of minutes before Elly moved to the front with me.
Bud joined her up front eventually too. haha Elly got a little cranky with the sitting still aspect….
….until I fed her a box of raisins. Then all was well again.
It was a beautiful morning! Warm outside, but delightfully cool on the water. I’ve canoed down the Maquoketa River a few dozen times in my life, but the scenery was very different here! Huge bluffs and tall pine trees all along. So pretty!
There were quite a few places where trees were growing out over the river rather precariously (some had actually toppled in!). We saw this particularly frightening looking one.
We were so busy commenting on it that we accidentally went right under it. haha!
It was a close call, but we all made it out alive! ha
Cabz let the big girls each try their hand at paddling. They have big plans to be fisherwomen in a double seater kayak someday, so they need all the practice they can get!
The rental guy had told us we’d get out at bridge #4. He said they were all marked. We were supposed to be on the “2 hour trip” (give or take), but we went under the first couple of bridges fairly quickly. We figured we’d pull over for a stop on a sandbar since our trip was going faster than anticipated. Of course, our kids were all about the sticks. *sigh*
After some snacks and water, and maybe a diaper or two, we loaded back up in the canoe. After paddling for a while, we saw a bridge coming up. We figured we should pay attention to the number this time, since we’d be getting out soon. Bridge #1. What?! haha Apparently we weren’t as far into our trip as we thought! Who knew not all of the bridges were going to count! We paddled pretty steadily from here on out.
Elly just couldn’t keep up with all of the excitement of canoeing and ended up taking a nap most of the way.
Evelyn, our little wild child, decided part way through that she needed to wear all the extra life jackets. She told me she was being “extra safe.” Okay, babe. Whatever.
I guess it was a good idea, because at one point we came upon an unexpected small waterfall. We heard the water from around the bend and were like, “Uhhhhh….haha…. what’s that?!” I called to the girls to stay in the middle of the canoe and hang on tight! Thankfully we hit it straight on and didn’t tip over. It was actually pretty fun. The girls were wishing there was another. haha The river had quite a few small rapids that made the trip more exciting too.
After canoeing, we headed off to Wisconsin Dells. Although the outdoor water parks were all closed for the season, we had booked one of the hotels with an indoor water park (the Chula Vista). We knew our kids were going to be a bit young for the whole water park thing (especially considering we would have at least 2 helpless kids a piece at all times haha), but we made sure it at least had a lazy river to fall back on. They had free life jacket use for kids, which was nice, and the kids thought it was great even though they didn’t do much.
Everybody liked the lazy river, so we did that a few times. 🙂
Sweet little Jelly Bean was so relaxed on our last trip around the lazy river that she filled her swim diaper. Although swim diapers are the only way to attempt to keep the poop from going all over the pool, they really aren’t that effective (just being honest here – sorry to spill the beans), so that was a super fun disastrous mess upon getting to the van. hahaha Yikes.
This was one of the rare nights we planned to eat out! WOO!! Gettin’ crazy, ya’ll!! Cabz found a place online we decided to try. It was kind of like a Subway, but for pizzas. We decided the pizza wasn’t that amazing, but it was fun to try and we were all starving, so no one was complaining.
Everyone started sleeping better as time went on. They were tired enough each day that it just wasn’t worth whining about. haha
We were originally thinking we could spend more time at the water park the following day, but after spending a long afternoon there we decided we had enjoyed all it had to offer and opted for more time at some State Parks instead! (very good choice!!)
Okay, long winded story time: Worst part of the water park was the tunnel raft slide I tried with Abby. Now, I love all things water, but I am also not a very good person to take to an amusement park. I’m not what you’d call a thrill seeker at those kind of places. I’m the kind of person who gets sick on the carousel (true story) and screams bloody murder on the stage coach ferris wheel at Adventureland (it’s a kid ride). I wanted to try a raft slide with Abby that was going to be exciting, but pleasant. FAIL. We climbed up fifty million stairs to the top of the park and the worker (who did not speak English as her first language) had Abby stand by the “are you tall enough?” sign. Now, I could see Abby clearly missed the mark, but she said, “Just tall enough. OK!” so we went with it.
When we had driven up to the water park, there were three tunnels that went outside of the building and one of them had a big sort of doughnut shape where you knew you went around and around and dropped somehow and I specifically commented to Cabz how I did not want to end up in that thing. There were three tunnel choices that we could pick from. I asked the lady which would be a good one for Abby, since it was her first time. She clearly said, “No, no, no! Not this one! Too big of a drop!” for one, so we avoided that. Then, she directed me to one of the 2 left. We sat down and were ready to go and she started yelling, “Hold on to her! Put your legs around her!!” as we shot down the tunnel. I was like, OK!!!! And held tight! haha We started out whipping down a very fast tunnel, in pitch dark of course. Although I would have ordinarily lost my head, I was trying my best to fake calmness because Abby was kind of like what even is going on?! Are we going to die? ha All the sudden, we shot out into (you guessed it) the big doughnut thing. It was even more terrible than I imagined it would be. We went around and around in this creepy black pit. I honestly thought we were stuck in there and we couldn’t get out. I was about to try and climb up the slide with Abby on my back when I saw it. The hole. We drifted slowly towards it, tipping around of course so that we were going backwards, and plunged back down a slide to our immediate death. Just kidding. We did plunge back down a slide, but thankfully it led back to a pool in the water park. WHEW! My headache did eventually go away, but Abby and I mutually agreed that part was not fun. hahaha
Day 7: 1 hour 25 minutes drive time – Natural Bridge State Park, Mirror Lake State Park, and Camping
This was a more laid back day. We drove a bit to Mirror Lake State Park and did a little hiking, starting with Echo Rock Trail. This was an easy trail and worked pretty well for the bike and stroller. Elly was a big “help” with the stroller.
Bud gave her a little lift at one point, because we were all tired of going her pokey pace. haha After that it was the carrier for her. 😉
We set the bike aside to hike in a little loop around Echo Rock. The trail lived up to its name and we had some fun listening to our echoes.
The kids enjoyed climbing Echo Rock.
Elly felt the need to sample sticks at every location we stopped. *sigh*
We drove to our campsite after Mirror Lake to set up camp and eat lunch.
Jelly Bean was just busy, busy, busy all the time! (along with all the other kids ha) Hocking food in the van while we unloaded tent stuff.
Abby and Evie found and played with a little “rock family” during set up time. This is why we need no toys.
The girls loved helping find twigs for the fire.
Settin’ up the tent. We were the only tent campers here this first night. Our original spot was really rocky and we couldn’t get the tent stakes in, so we asked to switch spots. Our second spot was much prettier and grassy.
Next stop, an afternoon hike at Natural Bridge State Park. This was probably around a 2 mile hike. It was definitely a babies in carrier kind of hike – very pretty as the leaves were just starting to turn golden.
We found the natural bridge!
Bonus! It even had a cave!
Evie is pretty amazing too, I guess. Look at how she can balance on that high rock. Er…..
Back at the campground. Elly took her job of carrying fire starter (cardboard leftover from our meals) over to Daddy very seriously. She knew the job wouldn’t get done without her! P.S. I love the baby squat. ❤
Time for a #reallife shot. Kids taking a break from the playground due to fighting over the red swing which was obviously the best swing ever.
Our campsite was within easy sight of the campground’s park. The big girls spent a lot of time there and really lived it up! At home, we don’t often get to parks with swings, which Abby thinks is a bummer. She has been dying to learn how to pump forever now. She finally had some time to practice and she figured it out at this park! Evie actually learned how to pump a little too. She couldn’t get herself started, but she could keep herself going after a push. She is not one to be left behind.
Elly of course was constantly doing things that she probably wasn’t big enough to do on her own. Miss Trouble.
Teeter Totter Fun!
Watching Daddy get the fire going and anticipating supper. Brats were on the menu for the night.
❤ ❤ ❤ My main man. ❤ ❤ ❤
A little pre-supper snacking.
This campground was really nice and had the cleanest/nicest bathrooms I have ever seen at a campground before! They were so nice, I showered both nights there (which was so nice, because you always feel kind of grubby while camping!) and gave the kids all showers the second night. While I was putting the babies to bed, the big girls made a “train” out of camping chairs. haha This was one item I wish I hadn’t packed in hindsight. Camp chairs are great and all, but there were picnic tables at every site we used and our minivan was SO full that anything less would have been nice. Oh well!
All ready for bed!!
A little flashlight fun before sleeping.
Day 8: 29 minutes of drive time – Devil’s Lake State Park and Parfrey’s Glen
These places are definitely on our go back again list! It’s only 3 hours from Davenport and we really want to do a longer, circle the entire lake kind of hike at Devil’s Lake. 🙂 We really did go almost the entire distance around the lake by the time we were said and done, but that was with a back and forth hike.
Camping morning selfies, just because.
We started out hiking at Devil’s Lake. Our first trail was the Tumbled Rocks trail. We attempted to bring the stroller and that was not a good idea. haha At first it went okay, but later on it got pretty rough.
The morning view of the lake was truly breathtaking. No bugs, nice and cool, sunny – perfect!!
The kids LOVED climbing around on all the big rocks!
We were glad we got out hiking decently early. We didn’t run into too many people on the trails, but it did pick up some as the day went on.
Did I mention the water was gorgeous?!
Rocks, rocks, and more rocks for the girls to climb on!
Everyone that passed us wondered how we were making the stroller work, but you know my obstinate self….. Once I had it on the trail, I was going to force it through, whether that involved pushing, shoving, dragging, jumping, or carrying it. ha
We went back and forth on Tumbled Rocks trail since we had the stroller and the other option (keep circling the lake) involved a trail that we couldn’t force the stroller through even if we tried. Tumbled Rocks went along one of the long sides of the lake. After this trail, we headed off for another rocky hike. This one was a shorter trail, but a much steeper one!
We pretty much hiked up a bunch of rocks and then back down them! Evie loved hiking up the rocks! She was so excited about it.
This crazy tree was growing right over the rocks.
It was really great seeing the kids enjoy themselves so much. Love this kind of family time! ❤
This trail was called, Balanced Rock Trail, so we were trying to keep our eyes open for the famous Balanced Rock. I had heard that it was difficult to spot. My humorous hubs thought he was a hoot telling us he had found “balanced rock.” hahaha
The views on the way up were spectacular!
The picture doesn’t do a good job showing it, but this was a terrifyingly high little ledge that you could go stand on. Not sure why I’m smiling. haha
Evie was the cutest on this trail. She was just so excited about climbing up over each rock (and that was the entire trail, soooo……).
Tight squeeze with the carrier!
#reallifemoment There were daily tears with our crew. It’s true.
We love hiking! So worth it!
Elly couldn’t take all the excitement, yet again, and passed out for a nap part way through.
After we reached the top and enjoyed the view for a while, we came to the realization that….. what goes up, must go back down. Down we went! It was a lot easier going up vs. going down. On the way up, the kids could do it a lot more independently and on the way down they both needed to hold a hand most of the time and Evie was basically fully relying on that hand 85% of the time. Talk about an arm strain. Good thing Cabz did most of the Evie shifts. haha
We never did find Balanced Rock on the way up. There was even a lookout point and for the life of us we couldn’t see it!! On the way down, we did finally spot it. I think Cabz was the one who first saw it. Here is a real view of how far away we were from it on the trail, and a zoomed in view because…. BALANCED ROCK, guys!
Down, down, down we go.
We had a picnic lunch at the parking lot near the start of Balanced Rock Trail. Just look at those grubby faces!!! Abby was squinting because she didn’t want me to take a picture of how dirty her face was. ha
Elly’s ready to eat….
Next stop, Parfrey’s Glen! This was one of the coolest hikes! I’m guessing it would be pretty buggy in the summer, but not in September! I tell ya, this is the month for Wisconsin! This awesome place is just 7 miles Southeast of Devil’s Lake and definitely worth a stop if you’re visiting!
Most of the hike was along a creek. If you went to the end, a lot of it was optionally IN the creek, which was Abby’s favorite.
Stopping to play in the creek a bit.
We started out with the stroller on this hike, which worked really well for the first portion. This creek crossing was a little exciting for it though. I ended up carrying the stroller over while Cabz carted the babies. He even managed to keep his shoes dry!
It was shortly before this point (at the bottom of a flight of stairs) that we decided to ditch the stroller and just carry Bud. This part was so exciting though! The girls had water shoes on which were perfect for the fun to be had!
This really was such a neat little spot! It seemed like something out of a movie. It was pretty obviously Abby’s favorite part of the trip. She loved finding her “own” little paths and meeting us on the other side. She was feeling like a real explorer. 🙂
We found a little friend along the way.
There were some huge rocks at the end that we had to scale (which was actually kind of challenging with 4 helpless tots. We really wanted to make it to the end though, so we had to do it!
We made it to the waterfall at the end!
Heading back. The trees were so tall and everything had that golden light to it. Fall is coming!
I think I love the outdoors and the country because it’s so obviously God’s beauty and creation. The city is like man made attempts and to me they just aren’t as amazing.
Do we have to go home??
Wheeler’s Campground again. Showers for all the kids and parents! Ahhh, so nice to be clean! (temporarily at least)
Day 9: 1 Hour 38 Minutes Drive Time – Henry Vilas Zoo, Olbrich Botanical Gardens, and Hotel in Madison, WI
Camping morning selfieeeeeee. Wouldn’t want to wake up next to anyone else, Handsome! ❤
Headed straight to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison this morning. It’s a FREE zoo (one thing big cities are good at I guess), so we were pumped for that. We got there about half an hour before it opened, but the small parking lot was fairly empty, so we decided to just get out and play at the park outside until it opened.
We were super happy we got to the zoo as early as we did, because when we left the zoo, the parking lot and all surrounding roads were PACKED with cars.
Zoo opened!! Bud thought the orangutans had nice hair color. 😉
Not to be a party pooper, but in general zoos are not really my thing. You usually have to pay to go in and then you walk around and see caged, tamed animals that generally are doing absolutely nothing. Let’s be real. Youtube can be more exciting (Don’t worry, I still take my kids to the zoo sometimes and I make it fun).
However, I actually enjoyed this zoo a decent bit because first of all it was free, and second of all they had POLAR BEARS! And we got to see them swim right in front of us! They were literally kicking off the wall in the kids’ faces. Made the zoo worth it right there, folks.
Polar bear fan club.
One of the grizzly bears came and stalked right in front of us, so that was kinda exciting too. And seals aren’t polar bears, but they were at least moving and you could get a close view.
There was also (another) park in the middle of the zoo, so we did that for a short while.
Apparently this badger is some team’s mascot. I thought it was just a statue to celebrate the oddity of a badger exhibit at a zoo. What even.
The rain forest sounded like a good idea, but all we saw were three blue macaws (birds) hiding on a wall up high. Did I mention I love zoos? Please take me back to hiking. haha
After all the zoo fun, we drove to the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. These were also in Madison and also free. Well, the outdoor gardens were free. The indoor one cost $2.00 per person (our kids were free) unless you got there either Wed. or Sat. between 10 and noon. Then, everyone is free. You don’t really need to ask, do you? Yes, of course we made the 10-noon time happen since it was Saturday!
We did the indoor garden first and then went to a park outside to have our picnic lunch. Abby was pumping every chance she got!
We didn’t make it through the entire outdoor gardens, but we walked a good amount of it. The day was getting hotter and we were all a little on the tired side.
We did find the beautiful Thai pavilion. It was kinda funny because when we were there, there was also a small group of monks visiting. This group of old ladies were absolutely FASCINATED with trying to sneak pictures of the pavilion with one of the monks in it as well.
The flowers next to it were incredible!
I had told the girls to tell me when they saw their favorite flower and I’d take a picture of them by it. Abby picked hers right away, but I told her to wait until we circled back in case she saw something she liked better. Nope. She stuck with her original pick. Evie, of course, followed suit and picked an ugly pot next to Abby’s. I mean, they’re not UGLY exactly, but in comparison to what was there….. haha
We stayed at an Americinn with a pool. The kids had fun with it for a while. Elly wasn’t super into it, other than riding on the raft, but the bigger kids enjoyed it.
Our hotel offered free appetizers in the evening. We didn’t really know what all that entailed, so we ended up getting a pizza to supplement. Turns out, we could have just enjoyed a supper of free appetizers, but who knew. Next time….. Evie was so funny finding “fire starter” for Daddy constantly. “This would be good fire starter!! We should save it for our next fire, Daddy!”
Elly was ready for bed tonight. When your baby is bawling and trying to put herself to bed, you know it’s time. Poor little Jelly Bean got her binks all taken away as soon as we got home from our trip. The time had come. haha Poor baby. ❤
Day 10: Church and Lunch with the Pecks and Home Again!
We got to go to church with our old friends from Ames. Good ol’ ISU days. 🙂 It was so nice to see them again! It’s always way too long in between visits! They just had a new addition to their family, handsome baby Caleb. Such a precious blessing! ❤
The kids had a great time playing and we enjoyed some KFC together.
These two girls have always been so similar. Two little peas in a pod! I always wish they had more chances to play together. So sweet. 🙂
Home again, home again, jiggety jog! I kept telling Cabz I wish we still had another week of vacation, but at least that means we enjoyed it! One last “vacation” picture in our driveway before we unloaded and reality hit.
Now for the real fun. Unpacking and laundry…….
You cannot tell how massive this pile of laundry really was, but trust me….. it was a lot of loads. haha!
We had such a good time! I’m still wishing we could go back! 🙂