For nearly 20 years my family has made a yearly pilgrimage to Fort Wilderness in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Each summer we have piled 70 hours worth of mosquito spray protection, 7 days worth of adventurous clothing, and 7 hours worth of car-riding activities into the family vehicle to spend a week in the northern woods getting filled up with delicious food, outdoor activities, and Christian wisdom. Fort Wilderness was where I had many “firsts” in life. First time as a camper. First time kayaking. First time horseback riding. It is where I rededicated my life to Christ. Where I find peace, quiet, and rest and endless opportunities to stretch myself by trying new activities (see The Highlights).
My maternal grandparents spent nearly 20 years of their retired lives volunteering at Fort each summer. Trained as a carpenter, my grandpa helped to construct or repair many of the buildings on the property as well as much of the outdoor furniture (Adirondack chairs, picnic tables, porch swings, etc.). For many years, my grandma led Bible studies for the volunteer summer staff and played piano for the weekly banquets held during family camps. They very generously paid for my parents, sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins to come up each year for family camp, which was an extraordinary experience. We played games, cheered each other on to try new things, updated each other on our lives from the past 6 months, shared family meals, collectively ate gallons of ice cream from the canteen, celebrated milestones (births, graduations, engagements, marriages, new jobs) made more tie-dyed items than we could ever want, prayed together, cried together, laughed together.
This summer my sister and I were the only two out of 21 family members who were able to go up to Fort for family camp. It was so strange to experience such a familiar place with only one person by my side. Although I always loved going to Fort because of the time with family, I don’t think I ever fully realized what a blessing the past two decades were to travel and do life with people who loved, supported, and cherished me so deeply. Over the years, I’ve tried to explain Fort Wilderness and how it has immensely impacted my life to friends, but it’s always hard to sum up in a few sentences. Hopefully this post will provide a better picture (literally & figuratively) of how wonderful Fort Wilderness is and how truly special it is to me.
Fort food. Kayaking on Spider Lake (don’t worry, there aren’t actually very many spiders). Wrangler’s breakfast (eggs, hash-browns, and toast cooked over the fire after a ride in a horse-drawn hay wagon). Nature center classes. Adirondack chairs. Water color painting by the lake. Watching snow-shoe softball & amazing fireworks in the nearby town of Lake Tomahawk. Horseback riding to the hemlocks. Carpetball. Buckshot frozen coffee. Shooting 22s and shotguns. Archery. Sitting quietly in nature. Climbing tower. Ringing the dinner bell. Church services under the “Big Top” circus tent. Bipod swing into the lake. Looking up at a full sky of stars uninhibited by lights. Getting eaten to death by mosquitos. Lumberjack breakfast (pancakes to order after a hike through the woods). Spending way too much time agonizing over what to buy in the canteen. Taking basket-making classes. Experiencing God through nature.
Founded in 1956, Fort Wilderness has been a “stronghold of Christian adventure” for more than six decades. Over 8,000 campers visit Fort ever year to experience a “simple” week of nature-filled adventure. Although the camp has modernized over the years (plenty of electricity, running water, and even wifi), the serenity of the property and the endless activities really make you want to disconnect from normal life and operate at a leisurely speed. While most of the camps and events happen during the summer and early fall, Fort does thrive in the winter with activities including: snow-shoeing, sleigh rides, cross-country skiing, a toboggan run, ice fishing, broom ball, and ice skating (plus the standard amazing food, fellowship, and awesome Christian speakers).
The following photos span over quite a few years. Enjoy!