Category: Campgrounds

Mauthe Lake – Kettle Moraine North

Last weekend we camped at Mauthe Lake campground in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine North State Forest. Mauthe Lake campground is about an hour Northwest of Milwaukee, and two hours from where we live in the Chicago suburbs.

Camping at Mauthe Lake - Kettle Moraine North

We drove up on Friday night, grabbing a quick dinner in West Bend on the way. Our site among the pines was beautiful, but it did not offer the privacy or quiet that we typically enjoy at other campsites. We heard road noise, loud music and people talking well into the night. The first night was pretty rough for the three of us, but the second night we slept a little better.

On Saturday, Billy’s cousin and her family joined us. After eating some subs for lunch, we hiked the easy 2-mile trail around Mauthe Lake. We spent the late afternoon at the beach while the kids played in the sand. We made pie iron pizzas for dinner and fruit pies for dessert. On Sunday we woke up to rain. After we started a fire, we made Pie Iron Breakfast Sandwiches.

Camping at Mauthe Lake - Kettle Moraine North

Everett enjoyed playing with his second cousins, and they kept him entertained so Billy and I could relax a bit. We had a nice time and we’re really looking forward to camping with them again!

Thomas Woods Campsite – Marengo Ridge Conservation Area

Recently, we took our first family camping trip with our 9 month old baby, Everett. We weren’t sure if he’d enjoy his first camping experience, so we decided to camp for one night at Thomas Woods Campsite, less than an hour from our home. Thomas Woods is in the Marengo Ridge Conservation Area in Marengo, IL. If you’re looking to camp somewhere scenic and close to the Chicago area, I’d highly recommend Thomas Woods.

Thomas Woods Campsite #39

Marengo Ridge is just over 800 acres with five miles of hiking trails. Thomas Woods campground offers both car camping and hike in sites. On the early May weekend we camped there were only a handful of sites taken. We chose site 39, but there wasn’t a bad site in the campground.

Everett Crawling

We had a hard time keeping Everett on the blanket we laid out for him. At this age he just loves to explore and hates being confined (getting him into his car seat is a challenge). Everett spent a lot of time crawling around on the soft moss that covered the ground. He had a blast playing with the rocks, sticks and pinecones scattered about our site.

We took a couple hikes and spotted a good variety of early spring flowers. There were a few lookout points with sweeping views of the grasslands and surrounding farms.

Everett in his high chair

Everett loves to raise his hands to show us that he’s “so big!” We brought along our clip-on high chair and tray, which worked well with the picnic bench at mealtimes.

To our surprise, Everett slept better in our tent than he does in his crib at home. I guess he liked being snuggled up between us in our double sleeping bag.

We packed light for this camping trip and managed to fit all our essentials plus our pup Lacy in my Jetta Sportwagen. We did bring our huge sleeping pads to make sure that Everett got a good night’s sleep. We kept our meals simple as well. We made veggie quesadillas in our pie iron for dinner and egg and cheese sandwiches for breakfast.

Judging by his smiles, I think Everett had a great time. We’re looking forward to our next family camping experience.

  • Thomas Woods Campsite website
  • Location: 3100 IL-23, Marengo, IL 60152
  • Reservations: Call (815) 338-6223, ext. 1200 by 11 am on the Thursday before you camp, or register with the camp host when you arrive.
  • Camping fees:
    Non-Electric Site: $10 Residents / $15 Non-Residents
    Electric RV Only Site: $20 Residents / $30 Non-Residents
    Holiday weekend surcharge: $2 Residents; $5 Non-Residents
  • Firewood: No outside firewood permitted. Good quality firewood available on-site for $5 a bundle.
  • Things to know: Dogs are welcome, though it is not mentioned on the website.

Off the Beaten Path in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains

The area surrounding Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains has a touristy reputation, but just 30 minutes from the tourist town of Gatlinburg, there’s a small town called Cosby that has a lot to offer. Here are a few things we discovered while we were camping near Cosby.

Off the beaten path in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains

Our Place

115 Cricket Hollow Road, Cosby, TN 37722 (on 321)

Blink and you’ll miss it, but Our Place is definitely worth turning around for.

Our Place - Off the Beaten Path in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains

We stopped in for some coffee and books.

Our Place - Off the Beaten Path in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains

So many books! The selection was amazing. We bought a few field guides, a cookbook and some beautiful note cards from a local artist. It’s definitely worth a look around while you sip your coffee.

The Front Porch Restaurant

2912 Cosby Highway, Cosby, TN 37722

The owner of Our Place told us to stop into The Front Porch Restaurant for some great southern cooking. We decided to head over there on a Saturday night to hear the live music ( from 6-9 on Saturday nights).  After a long hike we were starving, and all the food was delicious.

Front Porch Restaurant - Off the Beaten Path in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains

I really liked their fried green tomatoes and Billy especially liked the cornbread. He said the cornbread was the best he’d ever had (sorry mom). We finished the meal off with some delicious pecan pie. We ordered a ton of food and our meal was only $30.

One woman we ran into said the restaurant sent food to her home when she was home bound for a period of time. Gotta love that.

The Front Porch Restaurant is a BYOB, so don’t forget to pick up a beer on the way there.

Cosby Campground

471 Cosby Park Rd, Cosby, TN

We camped in the beautiful but little-used Cosby Campground in Smoky Mountain National Park. I’ve heard that it’s a lot less busy than other campgrounds in the park, but I don’t know for sure because there was so much traffic on the road to Cade’s cove that we turned around! You can read my review of Cosby Campground here.


There are three hikes nearby that I really liked. All of them start at Cosby Campground. You can see where each of these trails start on this map.

Hen Wallow Falls (4.4 miles roundtrip)

I really enjoyed this moderate hike through the forest and up to the falls.

Hen Wallow Falls - Off the Beaten Path in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains

Take Gabes Mountain Trail and watch for signs for Hen Wallow falls. More information here.

Sutton Ridge Overlook (3 miles roundtrip)

We took this short hike on the Lower Mount Cammerer Trail to a beautiful overlook.

Sutton Ridge Overlook - Off the Beaten Path in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains

{Sutton Ridge Overlook just before sunset}

To get to the overlook, hike for 1.4 miles on the Lower Mount Cammerer Trail. Turn right at the spur to hike up to the overlook.

Self Guided Nature Hike (1 mile round trip)

We went on the self guiding nature hike our last afternoon in Tennessee. It’s only a mile, but the guide (50 cents) was interesting and well written.

self guiding nature trail

I will return, hopefully soon.