Camping! Just writing that verb makes this reporter wish for a simpler time, a summer of day hikes and mess halls, running from odd critters in woods, giggling over a first crush. Who doesn’t hear the word “camp” even at age 30, 50 or 70, and say to himself, ‘If only I could do it all again?’
Well, adults, you can. So check that serious attitude at the door and get thee to Camp Wandawega, a camp as fun as the name sounds. For example, they have divided the accommodations into names of animals: Chipmunk – 2 vintage cabins, sleeps up to 6 comfortably; Racoon – 3-bedroom cabin, sleeps up to 6 comfortably; Deer – top-level, sleeps up to a baker’s dozen; and Bear – old bunkhouse, sleeps up to 2 dozen. Two dozen! (One could invite their entire soccer team or wedding party …)
Located just over the Wisconsin border from Illinois, it’s a lush, historic, expansive property that will tickle the kid in you not only while you’re there, but in your memory’s scrapbook. From campfires to croquet, this examiner wanted to hear more about this well-publicized, über deluxe camp, just two hours northwest of Chitown. So we sent its co-owner and camp director, David Hernandez, a few questions. He grew up visiting the camp, and as an adult, he and his wife Tereasa Surratt decided to actually buy it!
Following is a transcript of our conversation:
How would you describe your camp, and is it mainly adults (people over 18) who go there?
We’re a historic property (listed on The National Register of Historic Places) that has been many things over the last 90+ years, from speakeasy, to brothel, to lake resort, to church camp. In our current state, we focus on adult get-aways: a place where you can reconnect to the simple pleasures of a simpler time. Our guests tend to be in their twenties and thirties, but we have grown ups of all ages visit us. No matter what age you are, there’s a re-energizing effect you get from letting your inner child out. We joke that it’s like being back at summer camp, but all the camp counselors have gone missing, and you have the keys to the liquor cabinet.
People book thru Air BNB. How does that work?
Why do you do it like this? Our main events are larger private “all camp” events where groups rent out the entire camp for their own self-guided adult summer camp/creative retreats, etc. From college reunions, to companies, to bachelor/bachelorette parties, to a handful of weddings: these all camp events are our main focus, and people book those directly with us. Then, in the “down time” in between these bigger events, we let folks use airbnb to book our “remnant inventory.” We like using airbnb because it helps sets the table for the self-guided nature of stays at Camp Wandawega. If we used a fancy booking engine it would falsely set expectations that we’re fancy too : ) Also, please note, while most of our events tend to be for grown ups, folks who book via airbnb are welcome to bring kids along as well.
What mode of sleeping/accommodation is most popular there (with adults)? I like the tent cabins.
Groups love renting a floor (or two) of the old hotel. These floors are dormitory style, with communal restrooms, showers and kitchenettes. The communal vibe of it immediately forces folks back into a camp mindset. Many folks inquire about the old “canned ham” camper, the treehouse and the tipis. However, we do not rent those out individually: we simply leave them open so that folks who are staying with us can explore them, hang out in them, use them for nature watching, etc.
Some of the images look like people are pretty gussied up. How does this differ from a ranch, spa or resort? What makes it a camp in the traditional sense?
The images you’ll see online of folks gussied up tend to be weddings or culinary retreats. If it’s a standard retreat event or get-away, you’re way more likely to see folks in swimming trunks and flip flops all weekend long. We don’t offer any traditional ranch or spa amenities. Our activities are more in line with your memories of childhood “Y” Camp, Boy Scout Camp or Girl Scout Camp: canoeing, fishing, rowing, swimming, hiking, horseshoes, archery, volleyball, hatchet throwing, and the like.
What’s the typical age range of your campers?
See my answer to your first question.
How long do most people stay?
A typical stay is two nights.
Love the souvenir shop: What’s the most popular item?
Classic items unchanged from yesteryear are the most popular: simple items like Camp Wandawega stickers, a rabbits foot and arrowhead necklaces.
So what are you waiting for? Just remember: no A/C or heat on campgrounds. And as they say on their camp website, remember to “bring a cooler and fill it at the Elkhorn Piggly Wiggly!”
For more information on the camp, please visit their fabulous website. It has quite the history; read here for more info including how its Chicago-based organizers set it up in 1925. Book your stay on Airbnb, by keying in your dates. (New to Airbnb? For example, here’s one of the floors you can book at Wandawega. There are numerous other, including smaller and less expensive, options.) Directions to the camp are here. Fly into Chicago, rent a car, and head on out! Two-night minimum stays are required.