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Autumn Hiking Tips for Adventure Dogs

Autumn hikes are the best! Your adventure dog thinks so, too. The cooler temperatures are more comfortable for thick coats, the changing season brings forth new scents, and the bustle of critters before winters adds new entertainment. Changes in the season mean slight changes in the hike as well. Check out these tips to keep your adventure dog hikes going into autumn.

Autumn hikes are the best! Your adventure dog thinks so, too. The cooler temperatures are more comfortable for thick coats, the changing season brings forth new scents, and the bustle of critters before winters adds new entertainment. Changes in the season mean slight changes in the hike as well. Check out these tips to keep your adventure dog hikes going into autumn.


It’s hunting season! Ducks, bow hunting for deer, and other little critters. Whether you hunt or not, your dog’s safety comes into play this time of year. Be sure to put an orange or pink vest on your dog to distinguish them from other animals. Our Great Dane looks like a deer, it’s very important that we place a vest on her while out hiking in the fall. Even if you think you’ll be staying on the trail, accidents happen, he might get loose.

Xena-doo in her pretty pink coat! Great Danes have a thinner coat and a thin skin layer. When the temperature drops, her jacket comes out. Perfect timing for hunting season.

Stay Warm

Most dogs are fine in the fall with their built in fur coat. Those with shorter coats or naked dogs, may need an extra layer. Senior dogs also have a harder time regulating their body temperature. A light jacket or sweater is helpful for dogs having a hard time keeping warm. This can also double as their visibility vest.


Keep your pup hydrated, even in the fall. The blistering heat has gone away, yay! Hiking the trail can still make a pup thirsty. Bring plenty of water and dish for your adventure dog to drink out of. Our favorite dish is the silicone collapsible style. Sturdy enough to hold water, yet compactable.

Respect Autumn Critters

If you’ve ever sat in the woods in autumn, you’ll have noticed a frantic amount of activity from the critters. Squirrels are preparing, winter is coming. The increased activity from these prey animals will have your pup intrigued and that prey drive peaked. Take care to keep your adventure dog on leash, don’t allow them to chase the wildlife. Remember that this is their home, we are visitors. They have enough to worry about.

Xena loved the squirrels at Interstate State Park, MN. You can look, but you can’t chase!


Paws? What? In late autumn, we may have snow on the ground in northern parts of Minnesota. The fresh snow may cause snowballs to form between your dog’s toes, especially fluffy dogs. Some preventatives include; salve or balm specially made for dog feet, boots for tolerant dogs, and checking your dog’s feet frequently.

Be Aware of State Park Hunting Schedule

If you’re planning a State Park hike in Minnesota between mid-October to mid-December, be sure to check the hunting schedule. There are limited hunting opportunities in the state parks, but it’s good to know beforehand. The dates can be found on the DNR website, some area of the parks may be closed during these dates.

Basic Trail Etiquette

No matter what time of year you’re hiking with your adventure dog, follow Basic Trail Etiquette for Adventure Dogs.

Backcountry Pancake Lesson

Who doesn’t love a good pancake on a cool camp morning. It’s the perfect meal to begin teaching young campers how to be a camp chef. Check out these tips on camp pancake making.

One of the best parts of camping is teaching my kids about camping and camp skills. On this years birthday trip to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, my daughter, Sandy, learned how to make Backcountry Pancakes.

It was brought to my attention while we were driving out to the NP that she was missing apple cinnamon pancake day in Home Ec. class. No worries! I assured her that she most certainly would not miss pancake day. No losing participation points here! The perfect opportunity to teach an important camping skill.

On our first camp breakfast of the trip, we had a pancake lesson. Sandy learned how to mix pancakes in a bag, start the camp stove, grease the pan, and fry up some flapjacks.

1. Prep

I like to keep things as simple as I can with as few dishes as possible while camp cooking. The easiest way to prep pancakes before camping is to measure out as much pancake mix as your party will eat in a meal into a ziplock bag. Write on the bag with permanent marker how much water is needed per your pancake serving amount. Example: Kodiak Pancake Mix (our favorite) takes 3/4 cup water per 1 cup of mix. This feeds our family of 4.

2. Gather Cooking Items

You’ll need a few items to successfully make pancakes at camp. Your kids can help gather materials, a good job for younger campers.

  • Camp Stove
  • Fuel
  • Lighter (if stove is not equipped with an igniter)
  • Coconut Oil
  • Pancake Mix
  • Rubber scraper or spatula
  • Plate & Spork
  • Soap & Sponge
  • Clean Water

3. Mix Pancakes

Pour clean water into the bag of mix a small amount at a time. Adding all of the water at once may result in runny batter. This will turn your pancakes into crepes. It’s not as appealing as it sounds, it’s a mess, trust me. Mixing the batter in the bag eliminates a dish and offers an easy squeeze method in placing the batter in the pan.

When the batter is mixed to your preferred consistency, cut a small slit in the bottom corner of the bag. Set aside with the slit corner up to prevent leakage.

4. Light’m Up

This was Sandy’s first time starting the camp stove. She wasn’t completely new as she knows how to ignite the gas stove at home. We talked about safety and order of operations per our stove mechanics before lighting it. If you’re teaching a new camp chef, be sure to give safe, clear instructions on how to operate your stove. (Her angle is goofy in the photo, but she did well.)

Once the stove is lit, place the pan over the burner with a slice of coconut oil.

5. Frying Flapjacks

As soon as the oil is melted in the pan, add the pancake batter. Use the easy squeeze bag and make a circle of batter in the pan. Watch the cake carefully and adjust fuel flowage as needed. When the bubbles begin to rise to the top of the pancake, it’s time to flip. Use the rubber scraper to loosen the cake from the pan and flip the cake. It won’t take long for the other side to cook, so keep an eye on it.

Apply some sweet syrup and dig in!

Slick Tip: It’s a really good idea to reapply coconut oil between each pancake. When I don’t reapply, my cakes stick to the pan.

6. Clean Up

After enjoying some delicious flapjacks, use warm water, soap and a sponge to wash dishes. If the kids are old enough to learn how to make camp pancakes, they’re old enough to clean up camp breakfast. Put those hands to work!

Tip: We cut a standard sponge into thirds to make them camp sized.

Overall, Sandy’s pancake lesson went well. A couple “hey, don’t touch the pan, it’s hot” moments, but otherwise she did great! Looks like some of the camp work load is off of my shoulders.

Riverside Trail at William O’Brien State Park

Simple trail, spectacular views, and a short drive from the metro area. Riverside Trail at WOB state park is just the ticket to satisfy your craving for outdoor adventure while keeping the effort on the easier side. In our case, keeping the adventure low key for an injured 3 year old.

Our adventuring this summer hit a bit of a snag. Killian, our 3 year old, broke his foot in a freak swing accident (the rope broke). We needed to cancel one BWCA trip and reevaluated our adventuring strategy for the remainder of the summer. Killian would be in a boot for the next 4 weeks and needed to take it easy….

We don’t “take it easy” well. So, after receiving some trail intel from a friend, we decided to explore William O’Brien State Park. The trails are very well maintained and are relatively flat, meaning it’s stroller friendly (air tires only folks, leave the tiny plastic wheels at home).

Distance: 2.7 miles, loop

Level: Easy

Time to go: Open year-round, both summer and winter hiking

Dog Friendly: Yes, very dog friendly.

Fees: Daily ($7)/Seasonal MN State Park Pass ($35)


The park entrance is on the west side of the road, park passes can be purchased at the office on the right. Take a left at the T and continue straight, passing the visitors center. The road winds under the overpass, through the woods, and alongside Alice Lake. This short drive is gorgeous and would be breathtaking in autumn… I’m sensing a revisit coming on.

The parking area has ample space. This popular park is close to the cities, so the parking area does tend to fill up on the weekends. Going during the week is your best chance at avoiding the crowds.

Trail Head

The trail begins at the pavilion near the boat access. This is near the far end of the parking area. Also, check out the fishing pier for a fantastic view of Lake Alice. We spotted turtles and swans soaking in the sun on the calm waters of Alice.

Sandy Beach

Lake Alice has a sandy beach near the parking area with restroom and wash facilities. We opted to explore farther down the trail for a sandy beach area. About 200 yards down the trail, there is a soft sand shoreline to the right of the trail. A short climb down will reveal a hidden oasis of sand and solitude.

Caution: Though the waters look calm, there is still strong current in this area. The water depth drops off drastically and can be dangerous at times. We didn’t go in past out knees, but still enjoyed this beautiful spot.

There is also a petite cliff that as great for climbing and sunning on.


Though these cliffs are not as rugged as the North Shore cliff lines, they are still stunning. The trail leads along this spectacular and dramatic shoreline. The river just below flows by, many kayakers can be seen enjoying the view from a different vantage point.

There are so many look out areas. We spent a great deal of time exploring the St. Croix rocks along the shore. Sandy had a blast climbing down to the water to get a closer look.

Flood Plain

This is a must, on the northernmost section of trail there is a short spur before the trail curves around to lead back to Alice Lake. This little spur leads to a flood plain draining into the St. Croix. There is so much adventure to be had for kids in this spot. Check out the flowing creek, observe it’s entrance into the river, and look for frogs, clams and river otter sign.

Lake Alice overlook

The trail crosses the road and follows along the Lake Alice shoreline. A bench is placed in a very serene location which is perfect for a break and a snack. Watch for swans in this spot during the summer. We spotted a family paddling along in the lake and enjoyed watching them while we munched on some trail mix.

Ice Cream

Adventuring at William O’Brien State Park will surely leave visitors with a hankering for ice cream. The perfect remedy for this is to swing over to Nita Mae’s Scoop. The shop is just south of the park along the St. Croix Scenic Byway in the little town of Marine on St. Croix. There is also an old settlers cabin that is a great historic stop.

Bonus Trail: There is a trail leading down to the river from the parking are by the ice cream shop. This short trail hooks around and brings hikers to a waterfall coming from a culvert under the passing road. This was a neat and unexpected find. Worth the stop for sure!

Eating ice cream and hiking to a surprise waterfall, can’t think of a better way to end a day of adventuring.

Finding Johnson Falls: A BWCA Adventure

Drive, paddle, portage, then hike, in that order, to Johnson Falls for a wildly freeing experience in the BWCA. Johnson Falls is an incredible addition to the wilderness experience that the BWCA offers.

Drive, paddle, portage, then hike, in that order, to Johnson Falls for a wildly freeing experience in the BWCA. Johnson Falls is an incredible addition to the wilderness experience that the BWCA offers. I love chasing waterfalls, but the added thrill to this falls is that there are no guard rails, no boardwalks, no crowds. A good state park waterfall is wonderful, but Johnson Falls is still wild. That’s hard to find these days.

Quick Details

Location: BWCA, west side of Pine Lake

Distance: Variable depending on entry point

Level: Strenuous

Time to go: Late May- September

Dog-friendly: Yes, adventure dogs in good condition.

Fees: BWCA Overnight Paddle Permit

Getting there

Transportation: A combination of vehicle, canoe, and on foot is necessary for this trek.

From East Bearskin: Paddle east from the entry point, portage to Alder (52 rods), then paddle to Canoe Lake portage (25 rods), paddle to Pine Lake portage, Portage to Pine (380 rods). The trail to the falls is at the end of portage to Pine Lake, it leads west along the shore and creek feeding into Pine.

From Clearwater: Paddle east from the entry point, portage to Caribou Lake (140 rods), paddle east to Pine Lake, portage to Pine (76 rods). Paddle across the short distance to the south side of the lake. Canoes may be stowed at the Portage to canoe lake or at a small canoe landing to the west of the portage. Both spots have ample space for canoes. Follow the trail leading west along the creek to the falls.

From Pine: Paddle to the western shore of McFarlane Lake, portage 8 rods to Pine Lake, paddle the long distance to the western edge of Pine Lake. Canoes may be stowed at the portage to Canoe Lake or at a small canoe landing to the west of the portage. Both spots have ample space for canoes. Follow the trail leading west along the creek to the falls.

Hiking to Johnson Falls

A canoe will only bring explorers so far in their quest to find Johnson Falls. On foot is the only way to finish the journey. The trail to Johnson Falls begins at the Pine Lake to Canoe Lake portage, on the Pine Lake side. The trail goes west along the creek. The terrain is rough, and filled with rocks, roots, fallen tree and debris. Be ready to climb over logs and watch your ankles over those gnarly root systems.

Wildlife on Trail: Watch for wildlife sign. Moose, bobcat, beaver, bear, etc.. leave tracks along the way. There are some areas with thicker mud, these are prime locations to see who has been trapsing about on the Johnson Falls trail. We found the most adorable bobcat track and a whopper of a moose track.

What to bring

It’s always a good idea to have a daypack when going off on an excursion in the wilderness. Here are some suggested items to be sure to have along for a trip to Johnson Falls.

  • Good quality hiking shoes.
  • Map
  • Bug spray- seriously, they’re relentless.
  • Water & filter or water purifying tablets.
  • Rain Gear- watch the weather and be prepared.
  • First Aid Kit
  • Swim suit, towel, lifejacket.
  • Fishing gear.
  • Camera!


Yes, you can swim in the waterfall! Being that the falls lies in the midst of the BWCA wilderness, there is significantly more freedom to explore than in state parks or more heavily trafficked/managed areas. On the flip side of the coin, swim at your own risk. There are no lifeguards, no cell service, no help for miles and hours. Be smart, make well thought out choices. Bring a life vest for kids or those who aren’t’ strong swimmers.


My husband, Scott, thought he’d give fishing a try at the falls. We’re so glad he did. He caught a few bass in the pool at the falls, making the journey quite memorable for him. The pool beneath the falls was both wide enough and deep enough to accommodate swimming and fishing at the same time. Our daughter spotted a large unknown fish while exploring the pools edge. Scott wasn’t lucky enough to catch the monster, but we know he’s in there.

Bonus Fishing Spot: Cast your line out from the Pine Lake Portage, multiple fish were caught here while waiting for shorter legs to catch up.

S’mores Mash Up Ideas

Happy National Smores Day! Set that campfire ablaze and get toasting! Check out these ideas to mix up your S’more recipe and find your new favorite s’more.

The s’mores is an iconic summer campfire treat! Dress it up, deconstruct it, make a mess! Change the mallow, change the chocolate, change the graham! Mix it up, try new things. Eventually you’ll find the perfect way to smash your s’more.

S’more Facts

Did you know that National S’mores Day is on August 10th every year? What a great holiday! We celebrate with a campfire and s’mores, of course. Here are some fun S’more facts to get you fired up for s’more day.

Dressed-Up the Middle

Classic: Hershey’s has been the classic S’mores chocolate since the beginning of s’mores. With all of the different brands of chocolate out there, it’s time to dress her up! Try Cadbury, Ghirardelli, Lindt, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, whatever your chocolate loving heart desires!

Caramel: This is a real game changer. That fire melted s’more will turn a Ghirardelli salted caramel square into a dripping, mouthwatering morsel. Cadbury Caramello’s are just as delicious and work well for adjusting the amount of caramel in your s’more, Ghirardelli makes a square that is conveniently the same size as a graham cracker square.

Mint: Cool down the summer with a cool Andies Mint s’more. Line up three or more mints on a graham cracker for a bite of fire and ice.

Reece’s: For the PB lovers out there, here is the perfect mix of chocolate and peanut butter on a summer’s evening. The classic peanut butter cups fit perfectly on a s’more.

Fruit Filling: Add in sliced strawberries or raspberries for a fruitful twist. If fresh fruit isn’t available, bring out the fruit infused chocolates.

Mallow Mash-Up

Mallow Toasters don’t have to stick with the same plane mallow summer after summer. The number of gourmet marshmallow companies that have popped up in recent years is insane. You can find them all over, we even purchased some new ones at our local ice cream shoppe. They can be found in the baking isle at Walmart, too. Try out different flavors, we’ve found a few that are great and pair well with different chocolates.

Salted Caramel: Pair with milk chocolate, caramel, or fruit.

Mint: Pair with Andie’s mints, dark or milk chocolate. Make the ultimate with chocolate grahams.

Vanilla Bean: Pair with fruit, caramel, or both.

Birthday Cake: Pair with white chocolate or fruit.

Chocolate: Triple chocolate s’more with milk or dark chocolate, and a chocolate graham cracker.

Unicorn Poop: Mix with anything, the kids will love the rainbow mallows!

Exterior Make-Over

Don’t just change up the filling, get really creative and ditch the classic graham cracker for something new.

Chocolate Graham: The extreme chocolate lover can appreciate this bite of this double chocolate creation.

Cinnamon Graham: A cinnamon graham cracker is the perfect addition to a fall bon fire s’more. Bring some apple cider to wash it down, yum!

S’moreo: A what? Yep! A S’moreo, forgo the graham altogether and replace it with an entire Oreo. Cookie madness!

Chocolate Chip Cookies: Now we’re getting ridiculous. Or are we? This gooey mess is even better if you place the cookies near the fire to warm up while toasting the mallow.

Stroopwafels: Chocolate or honey, these are a unique way to squish your mallow.

Highlights of Interstate State Park

Minnesota’s Interstate State Park sites on the St. Croix, bordering Wisconsin. This dainty park holds great adventure from waterfall hikes to mysterious natural potholes.

Interstate State Park should be on every Minnesota hiker’s springtime bucket list. This petite park packs much adventure into it’s 295 acres, one of the states smallest state parks. The rugged terrain and plentiful views of rivers, rapids, a waterfall, cliffs and unusual landscape make this park seem more vast than a scant 295 acres.

Quick Review: 7/10 Interstate has much to offer. We were surprised by the amount of activity in this park. Great for a day trip of adventures, the trails are rough, needing some trail maintenance. Overall a very entertaining little park.

Howdy Neighbors

Interstate State Park was the first state park to coincide with another park across state lines. Interstate State Park is also Wisconsin’s first state park established. The Minnesota portion is just under 300 acres, but the Wisconsin side contains 1330 acres. The WI park also has an informative video, nature center and more than 9 miles of hiking trails. The Minnesota side only has 4 miles of trails.


Not the kind that wreck your tires. These are actually quite neat. The holes formed when glacial rivers tore through the area of rough basalt rock. The rugged terrain combined with rushing water created whirlpools and eddies that wore away the rock, creating the holes we see now.

The holes and other unique rock formations are strewn about the ridges and cliffs along the St. Croix River. Interstate State Park actually has the deepest explored pot hole in the world, at 60 feet deep. There are railings and pathways, but still, keep children in hand.

Hiking Trails & Curtain Falls

The mileage at this park tops out at 4. That’s a pretty scant amount of miles for a Minnesota state park, but this park makes those miles count.

Sandstone Bluffs Trail: The most unique hiking trail in the park, aside from the pot holes area, is the Sandstone Bluffs Trail. This hiking trail leads hikers to a spouting waterfall called Curtain Falls. The best time to see this falls is in the spring when water levels are higher and the snowmelt is feeding the creek. During drier months, the falls may only be a trickle and the creek is all but dry. For an in depth guide on the hike to Curtain falls check out Spring Hike to Curtain Falls.

Spring & Fall

The best time of year to visit this park is in the spring, in my opinion. The amount of visitors is still low and the waterfall will be flowing at Curtain Falls. Be warned; there may be ice yet on the trail and the cliffs and bluffs are steep. Check the DNR webpage for trail conditions before venturing out in the spring to avoid icy conditions.

Return in the fall for amazing colors and dramatic cliff views over the St. Croix. I love autumn hikes and this park was beautiful in late September. The conifers contrasting with the autumn leaf changes is stunning.

Camping & Lodging

Camping is available between April and October. Which makes sense, the parks icy surface and close proximity to a surging St. Croix make Interstate more dangerous in the colder months of the year, but a gorgeous oasis in the summer.

Dog Friendly

The great thing about this park is that it’s dog friendly! The dogs are allowed on all trails and shorelines, but not in buildings. Our Xena loved exploring the park with us, both in the spring and fall.

St. Croix River

The St. Croix River separates our Interstate State Park from Wisconsin’s Interstate State Park. The river can be explored along the park shores, personal watercraft with an access at the southern parking area, or via a third party tour or rental service.

Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours offer a variety of tours along the St. Croix river and departs near the visitors center at the northern parking area. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent along with a shuttle service. (Also dog friendly on some tours, check site FAQs for more details.)

Rock Climbing

Climbing the cliffs is an option for the experienced rock climbers out there. This is a climb at your own risk situation, and the park does not offer a guide service or equipment. Permits are required at no cost and can be obtained at the park office.

Highlights at Blue Mounds State Park

Get out to Blue Mounds this summer for an amazing variety of landscapes, bison, wildflowers, hiking, and even climbing! This park is a highlight in itself in South Western Minnesota.

A south western Minnesota gem! Blue Mounds holds adventure around every prairie covered corner. From cacti to bison, this park has everything one would expect in South Dakota, except the prairie dogs (we have pocket gophers instead).

Quick Review: 8/10 This park is great for a weekend of camping and hiking. Offering a variety of landscapes, wildlife and activities; this park has much to entertain.

Bison Range

The bison range begins immediately after entering the park. The viewing deck is on the right after the park office. The tipi and cart-in camping area is on the left. Check out the heard grazing and enjoying the sweet prairie grasses. The herd was sprinkled with babies.

The observation deck is complete with a set of high powered binoculars. We were able to see them even when they were far off and light was growing dim. Don’t mind the smokey photos, the Canadian fires didn’t help with visibility over the weekend.

Blue Mounds offers a 90 minutes bus tour through the bison range. This is available for ages 4 and up. The truck is open to the elements, so dress for the weather. No dogs allowed, we were unable to take the tour as we had a dog and 3 year old along.

Prices: Adult (13+): $10, Child (4-12): $6

Tickets: Can be purchased 15 minutes prior at the Park Office, Reservations are highly recommended but must still be picked up at the Park Office prior to the tour. Reservations can be made here.

For more bison exploration in Minnesota, check out Minneopa State Park.

Other wildlife: Bison aren’t the only animal to call this park home. Other critters are busy scurrying about as well. Pocket gophers and their holes are scattered throughout the park along with a number of birds, snakes and butterflies. Deer and coyotes reside in the park, but we were not privy to their whereabouts. We did find remains of something near the rock climbing areas.

Cacti & Wildflowers

Did you ever think you’d find a cactus in Minnesota? Well, they’re plentiful in Blue Mounds! Be careful, they are pokey! The wildflowers are breathtaking, especially blowing in a gentle summer breeze.

Eagle Rock

On the southern edge of the park, Eagle Rock overlooks the south end of the bison range. We enjoyed climbing up Eagle Rock and getting a grand view of this side of the park.

Eagle Rock Vista, near the southern parking area, is the highest point in the park. Watch for turkey vultures, we witnessed one resting on a rock on our way into the parking area. The old visitor’s center here is closed down and anticipating a renovation, but the trails surrounding it are still open.

Camp in a Tipi

Three tipis are available for campers to rent. Yes, you can actually sleep in a tipi!! How neat! They are not dog friendly, so we opted to reserve a tent campsite in the cart-in section of the camping area.

The floors are wooden and the walls, canvas. There are information sheets inside to educate campers on the traditions of tipis, how they are built, etc.. Some tipis were vacant, so we had a look around and were able to explore and experience the tipi set up without staying in one.

Camp Options

  • RV Campground
  • Cart-in Tent Sites
  • Tipi

Nature Play Area

I suppose a “Nature Play Area” is the best name for this area. A large rectangle filled with woodchips, big rocks and logs. At first glance, I thought it was quite lame. But the kids had a blast hopping around on the rocks and logs, playing hot lava. They spent a good 30 minutes playing on our first visit and another hour playing later in the day.

It’s something different, not the typical playground you’d see everywhere else. I think that’s what made this area so fun. A new way to play.

July fireflies

The summer months bring out the best on the prairie, including the fireflies! As the sun begins to set, watch the top of the prairie grasses. The fireflies begin to light up and dance around at dusk. The kids were mesmerized by these whimsical bugs, Sandy even caught a couple. She held them for a moment and let them go.


A feature that wasn’t on the map and was a delightful surprise. The dam is just across the road to the park office. There is a parking area near the campground with a trail that lead to the dam for a closer look. Some of the dam is fenced off, but there are some good vantage points around it.


Blue Mounds offers 13 miles of hiking trails, these 13 miles range in difficultly from easy to strenuous. Be sure to check the maps before taking off into the prairie. Check out 6 Hikes at Blue Mounds to pick a hike that fits your adventure.

Cliff Line Area/ Rock Climbing

Blue Mounds offers a designated rock climbing area on the eastern edge of the park. It’s a climb at your own risk situation and bring your own equipment. Climbers must obtain a permit prior to climbing in any Minnesota State Park. Climbing is dangerous, respect closure signs and hone in skills prior to climbing on your own.

Whether climbing or not the cliff line area is a site see! Check out this area to see dramatic landscapes and uniquely colored rocks.

Historic Quarry

This quarry of Sioux Quartzite is unique to this area and hosts an amazing overlook. Whether viewing from above or below, it’s sure to make your jaw drop. The pink and purple rock formations pop in this lush green landscape. Be cautious of the edge, the drop is immense.

The Historic Quarry can be viewed from above via the Upper Cliffline Trail and from below via a spur off of the Bur Oak Trail.

Back Country Cast Iron Steak: What You Need to Know

There is something about devouring a steak in the backcountry that makes it taste so much better. Maybe it’s the starvation, hmmmm. Here is what you need to nail it on your backcountry dinner.

Backcountry cooking doesn’t have to be all freeze-dried mush. It can be delicious, satisfying and primitive. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about eating a steak in the backcountry that makes it taste so much better. Maybe it’s the starvation… hmmm.


Here’s what you’ll need to nail it on a BWCA camp steak dinner:

  • Camp Stove & Fuel
  • Cast Iron Pan
  • Cleaning Brush & Paper Towels
  • Steak
  • Coconut Oil (easiest oil to carry in)
  • Instant Mashed Potato Packet
  • Water, filtered/treated

Camp Stove & Fuel

We prepare our steaks using a propane fueled camp stove. With the cast irons being so heavy, I like to use a low sitting stove. It’s less likely to tip over. That’s why we use my parent’s Colman camp stove when they are along. We also have a single burner that sits atop the fuel tank, a smaller cast iron would be required if using that style. The two burner also works well for preparing the steaks and the potatoes at the same time.

Cast Iron can also be used over a fire. If using this method, there are three things to keep in mind. First, cooking over a fire does not allow for even cooking. Second, it’s the hot coals that’s important, not the flame. Last, the soot is annoying to clean off of the pan and blackens everything it touches. Bonus number four, we usually have a fire ban while camping in the later summer months anyway. This year it has already started in June with the fire bans.

Cast Iron

It is important to bring a well seasoned cast iron pan. Don’t pack a brand new one, it’ll cause a sticky and frustrating mess. Test out your pan on your camp stove prior to your trip to ensure it fits on the burner and that your steak size will fit in the pan.

Steak Cuts & Prep

This meal can vary greatly in cost. We acquire high quality steaks from our local butcher for this trip, but that isn’t necessary. Good steaks can be purchased on sale at the grocery store too. Our favorite is Ribeye beef steaks for the BWCA. These are tender and flavorful, and cooking on the cast iron always adds a little something. We also recently prepared a filet mignon, yum!

A Word on Bones: Bring your favorite cut of beef, but a word of caution; avoid bone-in steaks. They’ll fry up just fine and be delicious, but the bone takes up space in a small pan, and when disposed of, it can poke a hole in the trash bag that must be packed out. Bones cannot be buried in the BWCA. It’s less fuss with boneless cuts, even if you’re sacrificing a bit of flavor.

Seasoning: Season your steaks ahead of time. Doing so will eliminate a step out in the woods, allow the steak to soak in the flavor, and remove unnecessary items to pack in (like seasoning and marinades). We prefer a dry rub, but you can us a marinade as well. Keep in mind that you have to pack everything out. A bag of marinade is bound to cause a mess.

Freezing: Once the steaks are properly seasoned, wrap them in freezer paper and freeze them completely solid. Having them completely frozen will allow them to last longer. Steaks that have been thoroughly frozen will assist in keeping the cooler cold.

Transport: A good quality cooler will be needed for transporting these scrumptious chunks of cow into canoe country. I do not mean a large hard sized igloo or yeti. No way, that’s going to be horrendous and hazardous to hang from a tree. Use a soft sided, well insulated cooler that will fit in the food bag. Place the steaks in a one gallon Ziplock freezer bag to keep the meat juices from contaminating anything else in the cooler.

Thawing & Flexibility: We don’t have specific days set for our meals. Flexibility is key. When we eat our steaks is greatly dependent on two things; how long it takes to thaw and how the fish are biting. Last year, we caught fish for our second dinner and waited on eating our carried in protein. The temperature was also much cooler than usual, so the steaks stayed frozen until the last night of our trip. If you’re needing to cook steak sooner, take them out and warm them in the sun on a rock. Don’t leave them unattended! A bear can absolutely smell them and would love an easy treat.

Instant Mashed Potatoes?

Okay, so this isn’t the freshest option, but it’s the easiest for potatoes. You can bring whole potatoes out there with you. You’ll need to wrap them in foil and place in the coals or on the fire grate. Fresh potatoes take a long time to cook, instant is quick, easy, and light to carry. They can be ready quickly, making it easy to time it with the steaks.

Idahoan Instant Potatoes makes a variety of different flavors. We like the loaded or sour cream and chive. Whatever the flavor you choose, be sure there is no milk required. Most suggest putting a little butter in, we use coconut oil out in the woods. Dairy spoils easily.

Cooking the Steak

Level Camp Stove: Place the camp stove on a level surface. This could be a fire grate, flat rock or even a picnic table for really luxurious campsites. It’s important to keep that stove level for safe camp cooking.

Prep the Cast Iron: Light the burner and place the cast iron over the flame. You’ll have to play with your settings as each camp stove is different. Find a good medium high setting for searing.

Grease it up: Add a chunk of coconut oil to the cast iron to keep the pan non-stick. Be sure that the entire base of the pan is coated.

Sear the Steak: Once the oil is headed in the pan, place the steaks in the pan, sear one side for 5-7 minutes depending on cut thickness and stove strength. Using your tongs, flip the steak over and repeat on the opposite side.

Potatoes: To time the potatoes right, start heating the water after the steaks are flipped, if using a dual burner. Follow the instructions on the package. Only used water that has been treated or filtered.

Cover: If you have a cover for the cast iron, feel free to cover the cast iron to help trap the heat. We don’t have a cover, it’s also extra weight in the pack. If you like your steaks more well done, reduce the heat and cover for longer more thorough cooking.

Devour: Monitor the steaks closely and remove from the cast iron just before they’ve reached your preferred level of doneness. They will continue to cook for a few minutes once they’ve been removed from the heat. Enjoy!

Clean Up: Be sure to clean up the cast iron while it’s still warm. It makes the cast iron easier to clean up and you won’t be wasting any fuel reheating the cast iron.

Clean Up

This is where that cleaning brush and paper towels come in. Cleaning your cast iron right away is important, especially in the backcountry. Cast irons are porous, so you’ll want to clean it while it’s still warm to keep anything from being trapped. Here are the steps taken to clean a cast iron in the BWCA.

  • Dig a hole 200 feet away from trails, campsites, and the shoreline per BWCA Regulations.
  • Pour any grease left in the pan into the hole, do not burry yet.
  • Return pan to camp stove and turn on the burner.
  • Add enough clean water to cover the bottom of the pan (no soap).
  • When the water begins to bubble, use the scrub brush to loosen up any stuck on food.
  • Pour dirty water into the hole previously dug, rinse once more with a small about of clean water.
  • When the pan is clean it’s time to re-season it. Return the pan to the stove once more and allow the water to evaporate off.
  • Once the water has evaporated, remove from heat. Immediatley, take a small amount of coconut oil with a paper towel and oil the pan.
  • Allow to cool completely before storing.

For more on back country dish washing check out How to Wash Dishes in the Backcountry.

6 Hikes in Blue Mounds State Park

Hikes ranging from easy to strenuous, something for every hiking level, both short hikes and long hikes. Rocky outcroppings, vast prairie vistas, cacti and so much more at Blue Mounds State Park in southwestern Minnesota.

Blue Mounds State Park sits at the south western tip of Minnesota. Offering vast prairies, rocky vistas, dramatic cliffs and unique wildlife viewing, this park is a can’t miss on any south western Minnesota trip. Strap on those hiking shoes and get exploring.

Hiking Club Loop

Distance: Approximately 6.5 miles

Level: Easy

Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash.

The Hiking Club trail covers a vast majority of the park and includes the Mound Trail, Eagle Rock, Upper Cliffline, and Mound Creek trails. This trail features views of the bison herd, a stop at the Eagle Rock and Eagle Rock Vista, cliff views from above on the Upper Cliffline and a trek around the viewing pond and Mound Creek. The only downside of this trail is that hikers won’t see the views of the cliffs from below.

Bur Oak Trail

Distance: 3/4 mile (one way)

Level: Strenuous

Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash. I would recommend taking only dogs accustomed to rough terrain and are in great hiking condition. Our senior Great Dane is not new to difficult terrain, but she was very tired after a steep section on this hike. You know your hiking companion, use your best judgement.

Bur Oak Trail can be accessed from either the Eagle Rock Vista parking area or the rock climbing parking area. Hikers will traverse the bur oak forest into the steep descent below the cliff line for startling sights of the rocky cliffs. Definitely one of the coolest parts of the hikes available at Blue Mounds.

Upper Cliff Line

Distance: 1.5 miles (One way, can be combined with other trails to form a loop.)

Level: Easy

Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash.

Great for jaw dropping and knee weakening views atop Blue Mounds’ cliffs and historic quarry site. Venture (carefully) to edge of the cliff to see the drop to the historic quarry below. This hike is amazing, hikers are sandwiched between two different landscapes. On one side, vast prairie with a cool breeze. On the other side, a rocky outcropping with a sheer drop. The great thing about this trail is that it offers these amazing views and features while remaining an easily traversed trail with a flat, well maintained trail.

Mound Trail

Distance: 1.5 Miles (One way, can be combined with other trail to form a loop.)

Level: Easy

Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash.

A long trail bordering the edge of the bison range, the turf is grass that is well maintained. This trail can be combined with the Upper Cliffline trail to make a loop. It leads from the parking area passed the park office to the Eagle Rock Vista, passing Eagle Rock and another viewing area for the bison.

Lower Cliff Line

Distance: 1 mile (One way)

Level: Easy

Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash.

This shorter trail features distant views of the cliff line. It is a simple mowed grass trail that can be combined with the Upper Cliffline trail for a longer hike with a larger variety of scenery. This trail can also meet up with the paved bike path which offers spurs to the rock climbing areas and historic quarry.

Nature Trail

Distance: 1/4 mile, out and back

Level: Easy

Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash.

Located near the nature play area this short hike is a great spot for a moment of peace, bird watching, and catching a glimpse of the creek traveling through the park. The bench at the end of this trail looks like the perfect place to settle down with a good book, if one is not hiking with kids of course.

Our Trail Adventure

We started our day off at the bison viewing deck. Early in the morning the bison were immediately in front of the gate and deck. The mothers and their babies were so sweet together.

Next, we started our attempt at the hiking trail beginning at the Mound Trail next to the Bison Range. After a quarter of a mile, Killian needed to poop. Such is the way when hiking with a 3 year old. We turned around to used the vaulted toilet at the trail head.

Instead of continuing on the Mound Trail, we explored the Nature Trail instead, a good call. Killian was able to toss some pebbles into the river, his favorite! We also sauntered over to the bridge that crosses Mound Creek.

After some free time at the Nature Play Area, we loaded into the car to drive to Eagle Rock Vista. From there we explored and climbed Eagle Rock and admired the cacti, prairie grasses, and butterflies.

Next, it was onto the Cliffline parking area where we tackled a portion of the Bur Oak Trail, a short section of the Upper Cliffline and returned to the vehicle via a steep descent passed the rock climbing area to the paved bike path.

Our goofy array of hiking exploration actually gave us some of the best views in the park without pushing our junior hikers and senior dog too hard in the July heat and Canadian fire smoke. We had a great view of the historic quarry, witnessed rock climbers at their work, experienced some of the parks most rugged trails and peaceful prairie. In total ,we hiked about 3 miles and were able to experience the most inspiring views in the park.

Make the most of your hike in Blue Mounds. Keep in mind that not every hike needs to an A to B kind of hike. Sometimes a little jaunt here and short excursion there is the best way to keep junior hikers interested, stay flexible.

Tips for Hiking Blue Mounds

  • Bring plenty of water (for your hiking dog too).
  • Wear proper footwear and dress for the weather.
  • Use sunscreen, much of the trails do not offer shade.
  • Stay on trails, cacti are present and can poke through clothing and thin footwear.
  • Carry a map, little cell service is available
  • The Tasty Drive-In located in Luverne, just 6 miles south of the park, has a number of delicious treats. They even have a butterscotch milkshake, yum!
  • Bonus Park: Split Rock Creek State Park

6 Day Trip Things to do at Split Rock Creek State Park, MN

A quiet, simple park with peace and nature at it’s heart. Add Split Rock Creek to your Southern Minnesota Bucket List. Split Rock Creek State Park offers a tranquil hike to a historic bridge and dam, picturesque lake views, a fishing nook and more.

A simple park with little treasures strewn about, a great place to spend a few hours or a relaxing afternoon. Knowing that this was not a large park, we planned just a few hours here during our excursion to Blue Mounds and Pipestone National Monument.

Quick Review: 5/10 While this park is pretty and quiet, it does lack in number of drawing features. A great place for simplicity and peace, though. This park does redeem a point in my book for the lack of bugs! No bug spray was used, yay!

1. Beach

We found this beach to be on the shallow side, a great place for little adventurers to cool off and play in the sand. The buoys were set fairly close to shore, the deepest point inside the buoy line being at my 11 year-olds knee. Despite it’s shallow depth, the kids were excited to get their suits on and play in the sand.

Bonus: There is a wash station for those sandy feet.

2. Fish

Bring your fishing gear, there are perch, crappies, sunfish, bullheads, and catfish in these waters. We were able to land several crappies, a perch, and a pumpkinseed off of the fishing pier and on the small peninsula near the swimming beach.

Seasonally, this park offers a fish cleaning station for campers to use.

3. Paddle

Canoe and kayak rentals are available on a first come, first serve basis at the park office. Or bring your own and put in at the boat launch.

4. Hike

While this park doesn’t have a long hiking system (only 4.5 miles), the hikes here are simple and pleasant. The trails are well maintained and easy for all levels of hikers. In those short miles, there is plenty to see and aquatic wildlife to spot.

Distance: 4.5 mile loop covers entire park, can be shortened with other turn offs and parking areas.

Level: Easy

Time to Go: Summer, spring or fall. No groomed ski trails in the winter, snowshoers welcome.

Dog Friendly: Yes, leashed pets welcome.

Fees: $7 day pass or $35 yearly State Parks Pass.

5. Historic Bridge & Dam

On the southern edge of the park, a historic bridge and dam wait for hikers to explore. The dam was dry at the time of our visit. Still a very cool place to check out. Hikers are able to walk across the dam over a concrete bridge and walk along Split Rock Creek to the historic bridge.

6. Wildlife Spotting

The parks quiet qualities are likely an attributing factor in the wildlife viewing. We were able to spot several birds out on the water, butterflies, rabbits and a number of turtles. The turtles didn’t seem to be too disturbed by our presence, even while fishing.