Episode 197: How to Camp for Free

Camping fees are skyrocketing. It’s common to pay $30 a night at state parks, nearly $50 at commercial campgrounds. Even close to $100 a night at some of the resort-style campgrounds.  Many of us think there is a better way. A free way, in fact.

And this week on the podcast, we sit down with our friend Campskunk, a fulltimer and a regular reporter on our Roadtreking.com blog. And Campskunk tells us how to camp free, or if you must pay, how to camp for a very low cost. He’ll reveal his secrets in our interview of the week, coming up a little later in the program.

Also this week, RV tips, lots of RV news and a great off the beaten path report.

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Show Notes for Episode #197 June 20,2018 of Roadtreking – The RV Podcast:

WHAT MIKE AND JENNIFER ARE UP TO THIS WEEK

Mike and Jennifer recording this episode from the picnic table at their camping site at

We are coming to you this week from the Big Sky country of Montana, right, in fact, outside the entrance to Glacier National Park.

The big news for us is that we followed out own rule – the 330 rule and kept it for 10 days in a row, stopping by 3:30 pm every day local time wherever we happened to be, or driving no more than 330 miles, thus assuring we would be fresh and not too tired each day to explore the area we happened to be in. If you are a regular follower, you know that while Mike and I recommend that rule to everyone, we have had trouble keeping it sometimes ourselves.

But we did it this time and has a ball.  Going home may be a different story as we have to be in certain places at certain times but we will try.

We are having a wonderful time here in Montana. This is where we are holding one of our Roadtreking Gatherings this week and we have just over 100 people here from all across North America in all sorts of different style RVs. We are hiking and doing nature walks, taking wildlife and landscape photographs and doing a lot of socializing. Last night, we did an RV stuffing contest to see how many people we could fit into a Class B Roadtrek RV. We think we set a world record with 22!

Here's a video of the shenanigans!

The weather for the first two days has been pretty wet with all day rain. The forecast is great for the rest of the week but everyone is having a great time.

Here are the stories making RV News this week, starting off with a very sad story:

Man camping with wife dies after getting pinned between trailer and truck
A man died at a North Carolina campground last week after getting pinned between his pick up truck and his fifth wheel camper. The 63-year-old man was trying to hook the camper to the truck when the accident happened. The man's wife called for help, a campground employee used a tractor to lift the camper and free the man, who later died. To read more click here.

Oil Refinery gets permit approval from North Dakota officials to build near Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Last week, while Jennifer and I were camping at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, I read a story saying North Dakota Health Department officials approved a permit for the construction of an oil refinery three miles from the park. While there are still a few hurdles for the company to pass, placing an oil refinery so close to a national treasure is something conservation and environmentalists are fighting. To read the story, click here.

Florida police arrest drunk woman driving car and honking horn at 3 am through campgroundThis next story is something you would NOT want to experience while trying to get away. A Florida woman was arrested after she apparently drove drunk through Fort DeSoto Park's campgrounds at 3 am last week, blasting her horn to wake everyone up. Pinellas County's Fort DeSoto Park's campground is located outside St. Petersburg on the gulf. When police arrived the 31-year-old woman was sitting in her car, holding the keys in one hand, a bottle of wine in the other, while screaming at someone. To read more click here.

Georgia officials to charge teens rescued from rapids after ignoring state park signs
Georgia officials decided to file charges against two teens who had to be rescued by helicopter at a state park with charges carrying the maximum penalty of a year in jail or a $1,000 fine. The teens were at High Falls State Park last week when of teens ignored the clearly posted signs to stay out of the rapids, went in, and had to be rescued by helicopter and a dive team. Last year a teen did the same thing and died. Georgia officials said they are charging the teens because their actions not only endanger their lives, but the lives of their rescuers. To learn more click here.

RV Industry expected to set new record in units shippedA story out of Indiana last week reported the RV industry expects to ship 539,900 units this year. That is the ninth year in a row of growth. That figure is up 7 percent from the 504,600 record set in 2017. And in 2019 the number is expected to rise yet again. To read more about the forecast, click here.

This portion of the Podcast is brought to you by Campers Inn, the RVer’s trusted resource for over 50 years, the nation’s largest family-operated RV dealership with 19 locations and growing

 JENNIFER'S TIP OF THE WEEK

Have you ever struggled to find the perfect gift for someone close to you who loves to camp? Well, just a couple months ago our son, Jeff, and his wife, Aimee, bought their first RV,  a new 27-foot Keystone Springdale Special Edition travel trailer.

Mike and I went with them and our grandchildren, Jovie and Jax, on their first camping trip, and had so much fun, that I started thinking about how I would like give them a little something whimsical from us with a camping theme to keep in it.

Well, I visited a few camping stores near home and during our time on the road and nothing seemed right. But then I went online to Etsy, and I think I found just thing – a personalized “happy camper” hand towel for their kitchen!

For those unfamiliar, Etsy is a website where many creative people make an item, then sell it directly to customers.  And I can tell you it is filled with some of the cutest camper hand towels and hot plate holders I have seen.

The towels contain catchy phrases, like “Happy Camper” “Keep Calm and RV On” or “Home is Where You Roam.”

Some of the towels are terrycloth, others are not. Some of the towels can be personalized with a name, some can not. But all have cute designs, often featuring embroidered campers, like Class As, Class Bs, towable trailers, or vintage trailers. The prices vary from $8-$25.99 on the day I looked.

After browsing through all these cute items, I was able to choose just the perfect one for my son and daughter in law that I hope they will enjoy for years to come. But then I got so excited, I had to share it with all of you in case anyone else is looking for a little something whimsical to give to a camper friend or family member in your life.

Resources

https://www.etsy.com/market/camper_towels?ref=pagination&page=2

https://www.etsy.com/listing/527979759/class-b-plus-conversion-camper-van?ref=related-1

Jennifer's tip of the week is brought to you by RadPower Bikes ,an electric bike manufacturer offering direct to consumer pricing on powerful premium electric bikes. Now with free shipping  To see our Rad Power Bikes in action, just click here.

LISTENER QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK

A listener asks us to explain more about the 330 Rule and also to help her find interesting places to visit between Colorado and Montana. We explain the rule and refer her to Roadtreking.com/allstays for a guide on places to stay, roadtrippers.com for things to see along the route and roadsideamerica.com for quirky places to visit.

A listener asks if people can just drop in our gatherings and hang out. We invite him and offer some suggestions on what time to come. He was interested in our North Carolina gathering along the Natahala River from July 9-13. We still have some openings and we have a special discount for those who have never before attended one of our gatherings. First timers who use the coupon code “Welcome” at check out get a $50 discount off the ticket price for the event.

This part of the podcast is sponsored by Steinbring Motorcoach, Roadtrek’s newest dealer and a third generation family business in Minnesota’s beautiful Chain of Lakes region built on quality motorhomes and excellent pricing and service.

INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK

Camping fees are skyrocketing. It’s common to pay $30 a night at state parks, nearly $50 at commercial campgrounds. Even cose to $100 a night at some of the resort-style campgrounds.  Many of us think there is a better way. A free way, in fact. And this week on the podcast, we sit down with our friend Campskunk, a fulltimer and a regular reporter on our Roadtreking.com blog. And Campskunk tells us how to camp free, for if you must pay, how to camp for a very low cost. He’ll reveal his secrets in our interview of the week.

We have a video version of his interview on our RV Lifestyle Channel on YouTube.

And a transcript of the interview appears below:

Mike Wendland:                      So, thanks for being with us.

Campskunk:                           Hey, Mike

Mike Wendland:                     On a rainy day in Montana.

Campskunk:                               Yup.

Mike Wendland:                   But a rainy day in Montana's better than anyplace else.

Campskunk:                              They need the rain, too. Fire season is coming.

Mike Wendland:                       So we're gonna talk about free camping.

Campskunk:                              Yeah.

Mike Wendland:                          You are a master at that. How do you camp for free, or next to nothing? You [inaudible 00:00:24] those great big campgrounds with the … The condominium-type campgrounds, or tindominium with the class-As surrounded by 'em.

Campskunk:                                Right. They're not sellin' what I'm buying, anyway. You know? So yeah, I stay away from the big campgrounds because of … The nice thing about my camper is that I can go for long periods without having to plug in or get water and all that stuff.

Mike Wendland:                         And that's because of solar power, lithium batteries, wise power management, right?

Campskunk:                                Right, yes. But anyone, you can go out for a few days in any kind of camper van or RV and use the water and electricity that you have. It's just the difference is, I don't have to go into town this often. But the principal is the same, the nice thing about free camping is that you're often off on your own. If you like to socialize, you can get a bunch of your friends together out in the wilderness somewhere, but if you like to be off on your own just enjoying the scenery, it's really nice to be able to use things. The main places I go are National Forest and Bureau of Land Management areas. They all have a policy where, it's what's called disperse camping. You can just go out on the Forest Service roads or whatever and find a place and set up. It's very nice and it's really safe. All the burglars are in town. So you're out there by yourself, which is a good thing most of the time.

Mike Wendland:                          So describe these campsites. What're you seeing? What are they like? Do they have fire pits, for example, or are-

Campskunk:                                No, the first thing to do is check on the rules about where you're going. The best place to do that is at the ranger station at a National Forest. If you go to the ranger station, you get what's called a motor vehicle use map. They hand 'em out. It's for all the people with ATVs and so forth, but it's more importantly for us. It has all the disperse camping areas marked. There's usually dots along the roads where disperse camping is allowed. And you need to go over the rules. Some say you have to stay a certain number of yards away from the road, or you have to be so many yards within the road. Check their fire regulations with them at the time. They change over time, depending on how dry it is and things like that. I personally don't do many fires. They're not gonna be fire pits and so forth. Sometimes you will find fire rings, which are a bunch of rocks where somebody's had a fire before, and if it's okay to burn at the time you're out there, then go ahead and do it. But if it's not, don't start a fire out in the National Forest, that's how many very large and expensive and dangerous fires got started.

Mike Wendland:                         So you stop at the headquarters and ask them, or I suppose there are some apps. Allstays app, which we're a big believer in, they list many of those.

Campskunk:                               Right. What I do is I go on, each National Forest has their own website, and you can usually go in there and download these maps, and also look at the current bulletins about what the fire dangers and closed roads and other current conditions are. You don't even have to drive to the ranger station unless you want to. Most of these things are available online. Now, each National Forest is different, and they have a different setup, so you really have to Google the National Forest you're lookin' at.

Mike Wendland:                        So you would … Say you're at the Huron National Forest.

Campskunk:                               Yeah.

Mike Wendland:                        You would look up Huron National Forest.

Campskunk:                                Right.

Mike Wendland:                         Look at the maps, download the maps, you'd find and you could even search on that site for dispersed camping.

Campskunk:                                 Yeah, there's usually a tag, like maps and publications. Look for the motor vehicle use map there. There's gonna be a tab for camping and recreation, or something similar. And you can find what is available there. The information'll be there, it's just it's organized differently in each National Forest website.

Mike Wendland:                         And most of these are free. Free websites.

Campskunk:                                 Right.

Mike Wendland:                         Free website, but free camping sites.

Campskunk:                                 Yes.

Mike Wendland:                          Free camping sites.

Campskunk:                                 I got a senior pass, and sometimes that makes a difference. The actual campground are very, very low price. Five dollars, eight dollars, something like that.

Mike Wendland:                         And the campgrounds, they often have a picnic table, for example. And they're a little flatter, a little carved out. And you might have those all to yourself.

Campskunk:                                 Yeah, and sometimes they have water. If you need water, there'll be an old hand pump or something like that, and you can get water at the campsites, and then go off to the dispersed camping areas nearby and setup.

Mike Wendland:                         Campskunk, how much do you spend a month on camping.

Campskunk:                             Well, I spent a bunch this past month, because I just got back from the Pacific coast highway, and I was over there during June and it got busy. So in order to sit there and look at the ocean, I will actually pay $17.50 a night at Kirk Creek and things like that.

Mike Wendland:                         That's pretty cheap. Most campgrounds are 30 bucks a night, or more.

Campskunk:                                Oh yeah. I would get murdered. I can't afford $1,000 a month for campsites. You can get real housing for that kind of money. The thing about this is that from now on, for the next month or so, I will be running around the National Forest in here, Montana and Wyoming and so forth. I anticipate I will probably pay nothing for the campsites for the next 30 days. I spent a couple hundred bucks last month.

Mike Wendland:                        Now you post on our Facebook group often, the photos of your locations, and they are spectacular. There's running streams 10 feet from the back of your RV. People see those. Those of course are the ads that the RV manufacturers want us to see. The reality is, if we can just [inaudible 00:06:15], is most campgrounds, organized commercial campgrounds are anything but wild, or anything but really natural. There's really little natural beauty out there. They are trailer parks.

Campskunk:                                Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's right.

Mike Wendland:                        With the sites of RVs.

Campskunk:                             You have a little rectangular site, and there's your electricity and your water. That's what you came there for, but that's it. You're out in the middle of a field somewhere-

Mike Wendland:                          With a bunch of other people.

Campskunk:                                Yeah.

Mike Wendland:                          Your type of camping, free camping or very, very inexpensive camping is widely available. People don't realize how many sites there are that they can choose from, even near their home, wherever they are. East cost is a little tough, right?

Campskunk:                                 Right.

Mike Wendland:                          But the Midwest and the west, in particular, many, many spots.

Campskunk:                                You're driving by these things as you go from commercial campground to commercial campground. You're driving right by 'em. All you need is the information that tells you where they are and how to get to 'em. And they are much better, they're much cheaper. And if you can get by without hookups for a day or three or ten, so much the better.

Mike Wendland:                          How often do you see people when you are out there in your dispersed camping sites?

Campskunk:                               I have gone … Some of 'em, you won't see people. You're the only one there, nobody knows you're there, you're back in the woods. So you'll go a week or so. Now, you can see people driving by if you're within a sighting distance of a road. You'll see people drive by a few times a day.

Mike Wendland:                          A few times a day.

Campskunk:                                Yeah. Somebody may even come over and talk to you. That's a big event out in the wilderness. But no, you don't. That's the whole purpose. You're getting away from people, you're off on your own, and it's … You can be out there, you can get on each other's nerves if you stay out there too long.

Mike Wendland:                          Just the two of you, yeah. The two of you. Now the other question, of course everybody asks, is safety. You had mentioned early on, you said, “Well, the burglars are all in town.”

Campskunk:                                Right.

Mike Wendland:                          But people worry about safety, having an emergency out there in the wilderness. Talk about that.

Campskunk:                                 Okay, I have never … I've been doing this for eight years. And I've never gotten in a situation where I have felt like I was in danger. It's not something … People get anxious. It depends on how you define safety. I define safety as being away from bad people. And some people define safety as being surrounded by a bunch of people that will help 'em out. No, I don't really worry about it. I have internet connectivity. In an emergency, both of us can drive the rig and get into town for medical help if we need it. I don't really see it as a big problem.

Mike Wendland:                         It's actually safer, isn't it? Doin' disperse camping?

Campskunk:                                Yes. My blood pressure goes down as soon as I get away from town. And so yeah, if you look at the crime statistics, they're all in the cities. There's not much … As long as you keep your rig locked up at night and things like that, you shouldn't have to worry about-

Mike Wendland:                          What about animals, wild animals? Particularly out here in the west, we have grizzly bears and lots of black bears and moose.

Campskunk:                               Yes. That's a lot different. That's where is see people gettin' into trouble. And the main reason they get into trouble is they drag a bunch of food outside of their camper and spread it all out on the table. And of course, that attracts animals. The saddest case I heard of recently was someone took a watermelon and put it out on their picnic table in Yellowstone, and cut up this watermelon, which of course, a bear can smell three miles away. And the bear showed up, and they had to destroy the bear. It was bad food management. That's the main thing. Keep all your food inside your unit. Picnics are really nice, but do them in parks. Don't do them in the wilderness.

Mike Wendland:                          Right.

Campskunk:                               Because you don't have a lot of control over the guest list if you know what I mean.

Mike Wendland:                       So we've talked about the wilderness camping, dispersed camping, on US Forest Service land, on State Forest land. What about the other free spots? The Walmarts, the Cabela's, the Cracker Barrels.

Campskunk:                                Yeah, that's different because that's when I'm just traveling. If I wanna go from one side of the country to the other, and I'm traveling through, I wanna stop for the night and I don't wanna spend $30 for eight hours of nothing. So what I will do, I go to overnightrvparking.com, which is a subscription website, cost 25 bucks a year. But it actually costs me nothing, because I always report all new sites and update old sites, and they give you credit for that.

Mike Wendland:                         And that site is overnightrvparking.com?

Campskunk:                                 Yes.

Mike Wendland:                          I'm a big believer in the Allstays app and the Allstays pro app, which-

Campskunk:                                I'm not a smartphone person, so I'm still on a laptop.

Mike Wendland:                          That's where I like the Allstays, the pro version, because you can download it to your laptop or your tablet, and also you can, even when you don't have internet connection, you still have access-

Campskunk:                                Oh, okay so data is still-

Mike Wendland:                         And they even list if there's good cellphone signal, so there's a lot of research. We'll put links to 'em all up there for people to see. Now, who is this type of camping for? What RV can't do it?

Campskunk:                                This is for self-contained units. If you're going to stop overnight in these places, which are big box stores, and other drug stops and things like that, you're not camping. You are parking. Your should be able to sleep in your unit and cook breakfast or whatever that you're gonna do, while it is ready to drive away. Now, if you have to go out there and put all these slide-outs and so forth to operate it, you're not gonna be particularly welcome in these places, because you're basically camping instead of-

Mike Wendland:                         So you're basically talking a class-B, class-C, maybe a tow able that you don't have to put slides out.

Campskunk:                                 Right.

Mike Wendland:                         But the big class-As with all the slide-outs and the levelers and stuff, those are-

Campskunk:                                Yeah, I have been looking at some really big holes in some asphalt parking lots that-

Mike Wendland:                         That they cause?

Campskunk:                                 Yeah, those levelers.

Mike Wendland:                          Those levelers.

Campskunk:                                Get in there and just tear the whole thing up.

Mike Wendland:                          Yeah. What about the dispersed camping? What kind of an RV vehicle is that for, and which ones are it not for? When you're up in the wilderness in these back roads and-

Campskunk:                               Well, I'm in a camper van with fairly low clearance and a long wheelbase, so I can creep along a decent dirt road without doin' much damage. You would probably be better off … It's the drivability of your unit. You've gotta be able to get to these places-

Mike Wendland:                         And turn around easily.

Campskunk:                                 Yeah.

Mike Wendland:                         So class-B.

Campskunk:                                Yeah, class-Bs-

Mike Wendland:                         Class-A, not probably. Class-C would be okay.

Campskunk:                                Right.

Mike Wendland:                          And a smaller tow able.

Campskunk:                                 Yeah, anything that's fairly maneuverable and you can … If you don't have much trouble getting around town, you'll probably be okay in looking-

Mike Wendland:                        So back to the cost of all this stuff, when you look at a typical year, or a typical month, even, what does Campskunk pay for camping?

Campskunk:                                 Well, when I get stuck in those expensive places, I'll spend $200, maybe $250 a month on campsites.

Mike Wendland:                          Now, you're full-time?

Campskunk:                                 Yes.

Mike Wendland:                          They'll need to know that. This is full-time for you. That's your-

Campskunk:                               Yeah, but for most of the year, nine months out of the year, I spend nothing on camping.

Mike Wendland:                          Nothing?

Campskunk:                                Nothing. We're out west now. And you're throwing your money away to spend money on camping out here.

Mike Wendland:                         Now last question, and just kinda walk us through, we don't wanna necessarily say where you're gonna go camping, but you're gonna be leaving this little group that we're with here in Montana, where we're talkin', but how will you find your next spot? Do you have an idea already where you're gonna go, or will you just get in the vehicle and drive?

Campskunk:                                I will look for the National Forest, which you can't avoid out here.

Mike Wendland:                         Yeah.

Campskunk:                                 And you're driving through 'em all the time. Everybody wants to go to Yellowstone, they don't realize Yellowstone is surrounded on all four sides by National Forests. So I am going to work my way south down to Wyoming and go to the different camping areas. I've been docked along the bear tooth highway up there at 10,000 feet. Next month it'll be pretty hot, and I'll be at 10,000 laughin' at people. I'll be cool.

Mike Wendland:                         Yeah, we've had you on before, we've talked about your travel, but you travel so it's about 72 degrees year round. You just go up and down in elevation. You might-

Campskunk:                               Yeah.

Mike Wendland:                         We'll end the interview with you tellin' how you do that.

Campskunk:                                 Well, what I do is I spend the Holidays with my family in Florida, and that's my annual visitation and so forth. And then in February and early March, I take off, and I'll head out, head west on I-10. I'll go down to south Texas, waiting for things to warm up. By March, it's warm enough in southern New Mexico you can go up there, and it won't freeze overnight in the desert. And as it warms up from there, I either go north up into the mountains, northern New Mexico. By after memorial day, I'm up into Colorado and all north. Or, I go out to the Pacific coast highway and just work my way north there. And then it's just the reverse process as it cools off in the fall, you go south.

Mike Wendland:                          And you drop in the altitude.

Campskunk:                                 Yep.

Mike Wendland:           1              Well thank you much. Campin' for free with Campskunk. We'll put some pictures of the best of 'em with our show notes for this episode. Always a pleasure to have you on the program.

Campskunk:                                Okay, Mike. Nice talkin' to you.

Mike note: Do you like having a transcript of the interview? If so, please let me know.

The interview of the week is brought to you by SunshinestateRVs.com, where every new or used Roadtrek motorhome is delivered to the customer free, anywhere in the country

TRAVELING TECH TIP:

Steve Van Dinter

By Steve Van Dinter

Verizon Wireless

The Fourth of July holiday means gathering with friends and family, barbecues and pool parties. And nothing pairs better with these summer activities than tech.

For any outdoor gathering, music can make or break a celebration. But since showers or splashes can happen at anytime, you also want to make sure your speakers are summer ready.

A great choice is the UE Blast with Alexa. This speaker will be the talk of any pool party or BBQ. Not only is it waterproof and drop proof, but it also comes packed with Amazon’s Alexa allowing anyone to request a song via voice. It’ll also connect via bluetooth giving you yet another option for playing music. And with a battery life of 12 hours, it’ll definitely last the whole party.

Next, you’re going to want pics or the party didn’t happen right? That’s where the Go Pro Hero 5 comes in. Unlike other Go Pros, the Hero 5 doesn’t need a waterproof case, it’s waterproof right out of the box. And that makes it great for pool candids. Its one button operation means it’s simpler than ever to capture pictures or 4K video. And you can review what you shot right from your smartphone.

If you’ve got your own pool, or are looking to get fit this summer by swimming more, then you’ll want to have a gadget that can track your progress in the pool. The FitBit Versa is made for swimming. Just click on swimming mode and it’ll track your time in the pool, distance you’ve swam, pace and calories burned. And it’s completely waterproof up to a depth of 33 feet so you can swim with confidence.

Now onto the barbecue. Maybe you’re a master griller looking to do more or a novice that needs a little guidance? Either way, you’ll want the JBL Link 10 speaker by your side. Not only can it play songs to keep you company, but when those all important grilling questions come up like “how long to grill corn on the cob” or “what herbs go well with grilled chicken” you can ask the Google Assistant built into the speaker. And no need to sit over the hot grill to monitor your meats, instead ask google to set a timer to remind you.

Lastly, you may be juggling food cooking inside as well as outside. So how can you keep track of both? Grab a $20 WyzeCam and set it inside. Now you can watch what’s going on in the kitchen live from your smartphone. And when you’re done, just move the camera anywhere inside your house to monitor your child’s playroom, your front door or even a birdhouse.

Everything talked about here besides the WyzeCam can be found at your local Verizon store or VerizonWireless.com. The WyzeCam can be found at WyzeCam.com.

This part of the podcast is brought to you by Verizon, which operates America’s most reliable wireless network, with more than 112 million retail connections nationwide.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH REPORT   

By Tom and Patti Burkett

Patti and Tom Burkett

Imagine a hunting lodge, long and low, nestled on a hillside overlooking a lake. There's a happy hum of conversation, the clink of glasses, and the smell of steak on the grill. Add some tiki torches and a well-stocked bar and you have the elements of a Wisconsin supper club. One of the granddaddies of these is the 1930s-era Ishnala, set on the shore of Mirror Lake within a state park that was created around it. But that's where our story ends. It begins in a swimming pool. We were visiting the Wisconsin Dells for the first time and struck up a conversation with another swimmer, who'd vacationed here more than fifty times. He recommended we try a restaurant called Wally's House of Embers.

Set a bit back from the road, the building of stacked stone sports a ten-foot-tall neon martini glass with a cherry inside and bubbles floating up from it. Inside, it's all dark wood and brocade fabrics. Polished glassware and cutlery sparkle on white linen tablecloths, and a hostess burbled “We're so glad you came” nearly before we were in the door. The two-sided menu was simple. Steak, fish, ribs, a choice of potato, a soup, and a few desserts. Soon enough our platters arrived, the meat perfectly prepared and the portions generous. Our server, an area native, was pleasantly attentive and chatty, responding to our many questions about the restaurant and the town.

The next day, on the way north to visit relatives, we passed a billboard advertising a book about Supper Clubs. “Hmm,” I said from behind the wheel, and with an overly dramatic sigh of resignation, Patti pulled out her cell phone and began to type. Supper clubs, it turns out, are a phenomenon of the upper Midwest, but especially Wisconsin. Sixty years ago there were thousands of these restaurants, and though perhaps a thousand remain, many no longer fit the true ideal. Even experts struggle to provide a succinct definition, but a comprehensive one would include the words road trip, relish tray, fish, steak, prime rib, and tradition.

As you might have guessed, the House of Embers is a supper club. Looking forward to the ubiquitous fish fry on Friday night, we hunted around for another of these establishments, and settled on the Summit House, about a 30 minute drive away. It was much simpler and more rustic, along a country highway, but still had the bustling well-stocked bar (Did we mention that cocktails are also part of the supper club experience?) and the simple predictable menu. We ordered fish, which was delicious, and as we ate watched multiple generations of families arrive and gather around long tables.

Having dined in modest and mid-range examples, we decided we really should make the trip over to the Ishnala, where if we weren't willing to spring for dinner we could at least enjoy dessert. We arrived a bit before nine and there were still parties waiting for a table. The dining area is on two levels to ensure everyone an expansive view of the lake. Decks and patios provide additional outdoor seating. We chose to sit in one of the three bars to avoid a wait, and watched darkness fall across the water. The moment had a magical feel.

Wisconsin has many supper clubs, and each one will provide a different experience. Pick one, anywhere, and keep an eye open for us, Patti & Tom Burkett, because nearly every one of them is off the beaten path.

Resources:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/dining/chi-defining-wisconsins-supper-club-culture-20150119-story.html

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16000410-wisconsin-supper-clubs

http://www.houseofembers.com/

http://www.ishnala.com/

This part of the podcast is sponsored by All Stays Pro, the best, most detailed and helpful website and app available for finding great campgrounds and places to stay all across North America. Go to https://roadtreking.com/allstays to see for yourself.

RV CALENDAR OF EVENTS
JUNE
25-29
Passport America

Music City USA Mega Rally

Wilson County Fairgrounds
Lebanon, TN
JULY
9-13
Roadtreking Natahalla River Wildwater Adventure
Smoky Mountains Meadows Campground
Bryson City, NC
JULY
18-21
FMCA International Convention and RV Expo
Cam-Plex Multi-Event Facilities
Gillette, WY

 

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