For a park that isn’t as well known as others, it sure is a beauty! It’s a great spot for a day trip or a breath of fresh air if your staying in the Mille Lacs area.
Quick Review: 7/10 This park has one amazing highlight, easy trails that are maintained well, a rich history, and bugs. Swampy areas on some of the trails brought on bugs, bring the spray.
The observation tower is really the main draw to this park. I had originally planned on going to Mille Lacs Kathio last fall thinking that we would be able to see the leaf changes from the tower. Unfortunately, the tower was closed at the time of my planning, we opted to go to Crow Wing State Park instead and save Kathio for when the tower was open. The tower is open during the summer but closes for fall/winter due to icy, unsafe conditions.
Get there early! We made the decision to hit this highlight right away after entering the park. We had a little one along and when that is the case, hitting the highlights first is important. It was a good thing too, we had the Tower to ourselves for a very short time. It became crowded rather quickly. There are rules posted at the base of the tower. It clearly states that you should not climb if there are six people up there. People do not heed the warning. Please follow the posted rules, safety first!
The view from the top of the tower is fantastic. Another perk of experiencing this attraction first, is getting a panoramic view of the area yet to be explored. It’s a unique experience only available at 5 state parks in Minnesota.
If you are a history buff or have an interest in Native American history or archeology, this is a park for you. With numerous places to stop along the Landmark trail there is plenty of opportunity to catch a bit of information. The most interesting thing that I learned was that the name “Kathio” basically came from poor handwriting. Haha!
There are at least 30 archeological sites in the park alone. This area was the homeland of historic Dakota tribe and Ojibwe tribe. Pretty cool! Stop and read about the history of these peoples at different locations along the trail. This would be an ideal spot to explore for scouting groups learning about Native American history.
This trail is relatively short, just 1.5 miles. Once you’ve reached the last informative sign, it’s been 3/4 of a mile, turning back would make it 1.5 miles. The Landmark Trail is well cared for with a mowed picnic area near the Rum river and Ogechie lake.
Hiking Club Trail
Once passed the Landmark Trail and onto the hiking club trail it becomes more wild and secluded. Along the way, you’ll experience steep hills and marsh/swamp areas. This landscape has created the perfect environment for moss and fungi to grow. We encountered some rather unique mushrooms and plant life. Ferns galore!! I couldn’t believe the amount and variety of ferns growing along the hiking club trail. By completing the landmark trail and the hiking trail together, you’ll have covered about three and a quarter miles.
Other Park Activities & Amenities
While we chose to do a day trip at Mille Lacs Kathio, there are other options for enjoying the park. Whether you are staying at the park or just near by, it’s open year round with a multitude of activities.
Sliding hill near the Trial Center
Warming House- also the Trail Center
Snowshoeing and snowshoe rentals ($6/day)- just under 8 miles of trails
Skiing and Cross Country Ski rentals ($10/day) -about 20 miles groomed trails
Snowmobile Trails- Connects to Grant in Aid Snowmobile Trail
While we always bring snacks and water along for the kids and ourselves. It’s always a special treat to get a good meal after a day in the woods. This little spot on Mille Lacs Lake is just outside of the State Park. Actually as you are leaving the state park, go straight across Hwy 169 and you’ll find yourself at The Launch. It’s an okay place to eat. We sat indoors but the patio area looked really nice. We visited during Covid times and had some interesting service. It was difficult time, so we weren’t too concerned.
Hiking season is here, although it never really goes away, am I right? As the weather warms up, it gets easier and more comfortable to get the little adventurers out on the trail.
Keeping kids fed while hiking is essential for a good time. There is nothing worse than a hangry toddler or the complaints of “I’m hungry” or “When are we going to eat” when you are less than a mile in.
Water: I know this isn’t a snack. But it is the first thing you should pack. It’s a good idea to bring more than you think you need and to have some extra waiting in the vehicle for when you return. Hydration is key!
**Tip: During winter months, it’s worth it to bring a thermos of hot chocolate.
Fruit & Veggies: Non-perishable, hard to bruise fruit and veggies that stay fresh without being refrigerated. It’s a healthier alternative to sugar packed, processed fruit snacks. This snack is not as filling, but could be paired with another higher calorie snack.
Sugar Snap Peas (a ‘go-to’ for our toddler)
Trail Mix: A Classic! Trial mix on the trail is just so awesome. You can eat on the go and customize as you please. If you like the premixed stuff at the grocery store, have at it. For the picky eaters, those with allergies, or if you just know what you like; throwing together a quick trail mix is a snap.
Dried Fruit: If trail mix isn’t your cup of tea, maybe you’d prefer just the ingredients. Anyone have kids that don’t like their food to touch? Individual ingredients are the way to go.
Crackers: Here is a filler. Whole wheat crackers of any variety is bound to keep your little adventurer going. It’s something that can be paced and eaten on the move. The only downside, it can be crumby.
**Tip: If you have a little one in a backpack carrier, don’t feed them crackers until they are out of said carrier. You’re crumb-less hat and hair will thank you.
Pretzels: Twisted or stick, this snack can’t miss. I actually prefer pretzels to crackers on the go for two reasons. First, they make less crumbs and don’t fall apart in a strong little grip. Second, they seem to be more filling than crackers.
Fruit Strips: Not the healthiest choice but it is convenient and can be used a great reward/bribe for accomplishing a certain distance or hill. They don’t take up any space and can be easily tossed in the snack section of your pack.
Prepackaged Snacks: Isn’t the world of food great these days? There is a smorgasbord of ready to to roll snacks just waiting to be tossed in your hiking bag. Most snacks that your kids enjoy are sold in individual servings now. Some of our favorites include:
Gold Fish/ Cheese Whales
Cookie Snacks (as a treat)`
Puree Pouches: Apple sauce is the bee’s knees for our littlest adventurer. There are so many different flavors out there to try and bring along. We have migrated more to just apple sauce and the like, but there are whole meal pouches that can provide a more filling snack. If you are looking for a more filling snack, check out the pouches that have sweet potatoes, rice, or other carbs snuck in there.
What Not To Bring
I hate to be nit-picky, but there are a few less than desirable snack items out there that can stay home.
Allergens: Even if you aren’t the one allergic to a food item, leave any allergen that anyone in your group has at home. If a member of your hiking party goes into anaphylactic shock; you’re going to have a bad time. Avoid the risk altogether.
Perishable Foods: Leave the yogurts and cheese at home. I know some them come in convenient tubes and individual packs, but they go bad. Even with a cooler, they don’t stay cool forever and who wants to carry a cooler? I sure don’t. When that food starts to warm up even a little bit, you end up eating questionable dairy. That’s not something I gamble with.
Bruise-able Fruit: Bananas, pears, kiwi, etc…. Though delicious, they will bruise in your bag or squish all over everything. Bananas are, however, a great snack for when you get back to the car. And the potassium can help relieve muscle cramps.
Messy/Inconvenient Food: This one is more at your discretion on what you consider messy. Even a simple trail mix can become messy in the wrong hands. What I have in mind when I think of messy foods is something like pudding cups or fruit bowls. It requires more of a sit down style snacking and needs a spoon. Gets too complicated and in the end, messy.
**Tip: Speaking of messes; a small pack of wipes in your bag is quite handy.
Pack the Snack
Tossing your selections into a pack is a no-brainer; but here are a few things that I’ve learned from experience that I’ll share with you.
Taste Test: As mentioned in previous posts for little adventurers; make sure you kids like the snacks you bring before you bring them. In the middle of a hike is not the best place to learn your hangry toddler doesn’t like something.
Pack Options: This is especially helpful for longer durations, nobody wants to eat only dry crumbly crackers for six hours. Having a variety will help break up the monotony of trail food.
Pack More: Whether your kids are working those little legs or riding in a carrier, they will be wearing themselves out. Have extra snacks available to replenish those burnt calories.
Pace It: Don’t burn through your snacks in the first hour. If you’ve just started and your kids are asking for something to munch on, set a goal to reach before digging into the bag. I like to use benches or mile marks as our goals. If benches and mile marks aren’t an option at that location, I use the Alltrails app on my phone that tracks our hike. I can see how far we’ve gone and pace our snacks by that. Pacing younger kids is more of a challenge. If our little guy is in his pack, I like to hand him pretzels one at a time and only when he asks for them. Otherwise, he eats them all or tosses them into the woods.
Rewards: Having a secret, special snack ready for when your little adventurer accomplishes a great task or concurs a fear is a neat idea. For instance; if your are tackling a greater distance or encounter a steep hill/climb, encourage your kiddo to concur that a obstacle for a reward on the other side. Or don’t tell them and have it as a surprise.
Let the Kids Work: There is a sense of pride and independence that comes with having your kids choose there own hiking snacks and carrying it themselves. My 10 year old daughter has been carrying her own hiking pack for several years. It feels like she is more of a hiking partner now than a little adventurer. Her bother, 2 years old, is now carrying a pack around the house pretending to hike. He’ll have his own bag soon enough!
There are so many snacking options on the market and things you can whip up at home. You’ll find what works for you. I hope that these suggestions give you a head start and some of my trial and error has set you up for success. Happy snacking!
Sometimes you need to take advantage of surprise free time and hit the trails. I had a very busy weekend over MEA break. Lots of pet sitting! I thought there was no way we were going to spend any time in the woods on this gorgeous weekend. Oh well, there will be other opportunities, right? But luck struck, all of my clients ended up being back early on Sunday, I didn’t work at all in the afternoon! We quickly packed some snacks, chose a spot on the map and hit the road.
Quick Review: 7/10 Well maintained trails, beautiful river views and neat log benches to stop for a snack. There were a few places with tape to keep guests out, safety first I suppose and one not so sturdy railing for a set of stairs.
This park is located just west of Little Falls. It’s a short distance off of HWY 10. Google Maps will get you there! Even the drive to Charles A. Lindbergh Park at the end of October was appealing to the eye, some of the scenes looked like they belonged in a calendar.
There are seven miles of hiking trails available for exploring at this park. We chose to do a loop trail that crossed Pikes Creek a couple of times. This was a really neat fall hike. The oak and aspen trees hung their leaves over the trail with their gold and orange colors. When the sun decided to shine it made for some dazzling light play across the forest.
The terrain was pretty easy to traverse. Most of the trail was flat. We encountered two instances of stair cases. One wooded staircase right way, the next was stone. The stone staircase was very neat but don’t trust the railing. We crossed over a bridge that had a rock bed beneath it. This made a great little exploring spot for the kids. We could pretend to be the trolls under the bridge. Near the end of our adventure the kids made a pit stop at a log bench with a river view. It was a great place to rest and reflect on our time in the woods.
Near the trail head is a little park. The kids were more interested in the fallen trees and stumps than the swing set or slide. It made for an even more exciting natural playground! Good thing, the playground was a little dated and probably not the safest.
Main Park: The unique thing about this park is that the trails are not all in one place. The main park is on the west side of Grouse Road. This location contains most of the parks trails, camping, playground, and historic markers and sites.
Little Elk: Up the road lies a little section of park that is separate from the main park, but still considered Charles A. Lindbergh State Park. This is where you’ll find great views of the Mississippi river.
There is a tidbit of interesting history surrounding this little park. Congressman Charles A. Lindbergh Sr. is the parks namesake. His son Charles Jr. was the first man to fly a trans-Atlantic flight. There are locations throughout the park marking significant happenings. I wasn’t able to read all of the plaques as I was carrying a toddler on my back.
If you are into old homes and Minnesota history, try to visit in the summer. During this time, you’ll be able to tour the museum and Lindbergh home just across the street from the main park.
More to Explore
While most of the rentals and extra facilities were closed at the time of our visit, there is a lot offered at this park. Don’t forget; there is a whole little section of park just up the road.
Hiking (7 miles of trails)
Canoe rental (check office for availability)
Volleyball (equipment at park office)
Horseshoes (equipment at park office)
Winter hiking (3 miles of trails)
Warming House (Picnic shelter doubles as warming house)
This is a great little park for a quick trip if you only have an afternoon. The park was not crowded and had spectacular views for a shorter hike. If you’ve only got half a day, this is a great park to pick. For the history lover, this park could take you all weekend. Not to mention all of the history just up the road in Little Falls.
Well… I’m not going to say this was a breeze, but it’s doable and worth it! A bit of work and a little challenging, yet absolutely worth it. We’re going to go over a few things to help you tackle your adventure with your toddler and have it run smoothly:
Toddlers are frustrating anywhere, so why bring them to a place with such limited resources? Because we love it! And we want them to love it, too. Simple enough!
For us, it wasn’t just about getting Killian out in the wilderness; it was about getting our whole family out there. For various reasons, we have missed too many yearly trips to my favorite place, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. I am determined not to miss another yearly trip. So far Killian seems to have inherited my love for the outdoors, he’s always wanting to be outside and is so curious when we go on little hikes.
You have your own reasons for wanting to get your little adventurers out there, keep those reasons close to your heart when you reach a frustrating situation.
When it comes to planning a trip in the Boundary Waters there are so many options. Land of 10,000 Lakes, right? Not to mention that there are around 80 entry points. So how do you choose?
Keep it simple. This is key! Lets remember who you are planning your trip with; a toddler. They cannot sit long, they need snacks, detest being contained, may need a diaper change along the way, will likely need to be carried and cannot carry any gear. Basically, hungry free-loaders.
With “keeping it simple” in mind, go for an easy lake. So you’re looking for an entry point that has one or more of these qualities:
Short paddle in
Ideally, a lake that you can launch your canoe right from the truck and unload at the lake is perfect when voyaging with such young children. You really won’t find a lake with all of these things, but you can get close. You’re not looking for a long route. Short and sweet!
I highly recommend Kawishiwi Lake. This was Killian’s first taste of the BWCA and it was perfect. We stayed right on Kawishiwi, actually we only paddled for about 5 minutes before reaching our campsite. Not our normal style, but with an infant, it was superb. Kawishiwi meets 3/5 on my checklist above. It has no portage, no motors, and can be a short paddle. It’s not a very small lake, but with all of the nooks, crannies, and islands, the lake is broken up enough to keep any high winds from reeking too much havoc.
Hog Creek was round two in Killian’s BWCA adventures. It’s more to tackle than Kawishiwi with it’s long paddle in and a beaver damn to hurdle over. For those more experienced already, it’s a good lake. Better for toddlers rather than for infants in my opinion. We landed on Hog Creek due to some misjudgments on scheduling, avoid these issues with this post here.
There is a surprising amount of equipment on the market geared toward babies and toddlers in the wilderness. I’m telling you, you don’t need much! There are a few things that might help you travel with ease, but you really don’t need all of that fancy stuff.
The hammock is one of the best purchases that we made. I highly recommend acquiring a hammock for a trip with infants/toddlers/young children. They are perfect for naps. But don’t let kids under 2 nap alone, you don’t need them getting tangled or wind up sleeping face down. Be sure to get one with a built in mosquito net! Depending on what time of year you go, those buggers can be brutal. The tree straps must be at least one inch thick, check that before you purchase.
We like to pack light! You don’t need to bring a whole slew of toys along. The whole point is to disconnect from modern life and reconnect with nature. Bringing too many toys from home will defeat the purpose of getting your kids out in the wilderness, but having a few things is a good idea. We brought a small moose and bear along. These went along with the trip environment and were great entertainment when Killian needed some kind of distraction. Mostly he played with sticks, rocks and moss. Cannot get more natural than that!
Warm Bedtime Gear
There are small sleeping bags for little ones on the market. You don’t need to bother with these if you don’t want to, your little one would outgrow it in a day anyway. We brought Killian a small nap mat that we had at home. This was really just to get him in the mindset of going to sleep. He actually slept in my sleeping bag with me. Our trips with the kids are during the summer months, but it can still get chilly, warm pajamas are a must. If you spring for one of those little sleeping bags, make sure that it holds body heat well. When Killian sleeps in my sleeping bag with me, I know that my body heat will keep him warm and I don’t sleep deep enough while in the woods to risk rolling over on him.
You can’t forget about the life jacket. Won’t get very far without it. This is a really important part of the gear list, probably the most important. A good life jacket will make a world of difference. For more safety tips on life jackets click here.
**Safety Tip** All members of your camping party, infant to adult, should always wear their personal floatation device while in the canoe. They really do save lives.
Now for the more delicious part of your little adventurers time in the wilderness: FOOD! It’s a well known fact that toddlers are atrocious when they are hangry. Best thing to do is keep the little gremlins fed. But how do you do that in the wilderness? Here are a few pointers.
Food pouches are amazing for being out in the wilderness! For Killian’s first and second trips, these were life savers. And on various hikes! They are like a whole little meal in one convenient pouch or just a simple apple sauce pouch for a quick snack. We used these most while we were preparing dinner. Killian didn’t understand that he had to wait for the meal to cook, he was hungry now! Understandable for an infant/toddler. We fed him one of his pouches while waiting for our meal to cook. This helped to tide him over until the real meal was ready.
One mistake that I made; not having Killian try the flavors beforehand. This sucked. He didn’t care for the chicken noodle flavor, so we had a whole pouch go to waist. Bring a few extras, they might have a voracious appetite after a long journey. Also make sure they know how to eat out of the pouches before your trip so they don’t squeeze it all over themselves. You don’t need them seasoning themselves for the wildlife.
Nutrient packed granola bars are nice to have on hand for your tykes. With so many options out there, I’m sure you’ll be able to find one that suits your family. Make sure that they are nutrient dense and high energy!
Oatmeal. This is the easiest breakfast you can have out there. Just mix with hot water and your done. So easy!! We used to bring pancake mix that you mixed with water and fried up there in oil…. long process and a big mess! Nope. Oatmeal is the way to go. For our trips with the kids, we went with the Quaker Oats oatmeal. I gave it to the kids a few times before our trip to make sure that they would eat it (not sure why I couldn’t figure that out with the food pouches, duh). They loved it! Of course they did, it’s mostly sugar… sigh. But it filled them up and gave them energy for the morning. You might have a different brand or plan for your meals. But oatmeal was the way to go for us.
Hot chocolate in the morning is a nice treat after a night spent in the tent. If you are looking to save on dishes (I always am), drink your hot chocolate first, then make your oatmeal in the same mug. This way, you won’t have oatmeal chunks floating in your hot chocolate and you will only use one cup per person. Yay!
Quick meals that are easy for your child to eat are the best. We went for pre-seasoned noodles or rice. Chicken flavored rice mixes pair really nicely with fish. Fish should be thoroughly cooked with no bones left in it. You don’t need anyone choking on a bone out there. A toddler cannot live on food pouches alone, so make sure you are bringing meals that you know they will eat, can you tell that I’m stressing this point a lot? Having food that is quick to make is important as well, kids don’t like to wait once they get hungry. I don’t like to wait either. We have had good luck with Good & Gather Spanish rice for fish tacos and Knorr Rice Sides. They are quick which saves fuel and time.
If you are wanting a classic ‘hotdogs over the fire’ meal, make that your first night’s meal. Freeze your dogs at home, put them in a small, soft sided cooler that fits in your food pack. Do not bring a giant cooler! They will thaw as you make your way to your campsite and be ready to cook by dinnertime. Leave the buns at home, they just get smashed and gross.
What’s a camping trip without s’mores? Lame, that’s what it is. You’ve got to bring s’more supplies. Here is a tip though: put your chocolate in the cooler with your hotdogs, this will keep them from melting during hot summer voyages. And bring wipes, it’s going to be messy. But the messy faces are worth the smiles.
Obviously you need to give your little adventurer plenty of water, dehydration is nothing to mess with. But here is the thing, have you ever tasted the water up in the northern part of Minnesota? It’s different. I don’t mean to be a water snob, but it’s different. You are not going to want to haul in all of the water that your family will drink while you’re there. But you will need to have a good water treatment system. Even after the water is treated, it still tastes different. Flavor packets are the way to go here. They are light, small, and potent. We don’t bring bottled water, it creates more trash that we have to carry out. The only exception that we made was for Killian’s formula on his first trip. We brought just enough plus one bottle to make his average amount of formula that he would have in the amount of time that we’d be there. We weren’t going to risk giardia with an infant. Breast fed babies will make this much easier as long as mom is going with.
Really, camping with a toddler isn’t as hard as it sounds if you cover your bases. It’s not easy, but it’s not so tough either. Having them out there experiencing the places that you love is what it’s all about. Preparation and thinking things through make the whole trip experience run smoothly.
Gather your fidgets and get out there, it’s so worth the effort.
There is something truly enchanting about experiencing a wintery woods in the darkness. So many in the Midwest complain of the long, cold, dark winters. Then there are those who embrace the darkness enough to see the glow of the snow under the moonlight. It brings out a different kind of beauty that is only witnessed by those willing to seek it.
I have compiled a list of events that take place around Minnesota that give you the opportunity to seek the beauty. I hope you can get out and enjoy a few before the winter slips through our fingers.
Twinkle Light Trail- Lake Itasca State Park- December 1st- Mid-March (snow conditions vary). This event is not run on just one day of the season. The 3/4 mile trail near the Bear Paw Campground is lit for 3 months. This whimsical trail is available for hikers, snowshoers and skiers but the trail is not groomed for skis. The electric twinkle lights are illuminated from sundown to 10pm for your viewing and adventure.
Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7), Ski pass, if over 16 years old and skiing (Daily $10, yearly $25)
Candle Light Event- Mille Lacs Kathio State Park- February 12th 6pm-9:30pm The candle light trail will be between the Trail Center and the Interpretive Center. The trail is available to snowshoers, skiers and hikers. Trails will be packed but not groomed, ski conditions vary. Snowshoe and ski rentals are available on a first come, first serve basis at $6 per snowshoe pair and $10 per ski set. There will be a fire to warm you up after your wintery hike.
Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7), Ski pass, if over 16 years old and skiing (Daily $10, yearly $25)
Candle Light Event- Fort Ridgley State Park- February 12th 5pm-8pm Bonfires and a candle lit trail will make for a magical wintery evening in the woods. The trail begins at the Parks Chalet and winds its way into the forest and prairie. The trail is set for snowshoers and hikers.
Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7)
Candle Light Event- Frontenac State Park- February 12th 6pm-8-pm Snowshoeing, skiing, or hiking at this candlelit trail event will have you in awe at this beautiful park. Campfires will greet you at either end of this trail along with a warming shelter equipped with a woodstove. Snowshoe rentals are available for $6 on a first come, first serve basis.
Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7), Ski pass, if over 16 years old and skiing (daily $10, yearly $25)
Owl Moon Walk- White Water State Park- February 19th 6pm–8pm A quick presentation and education on the owls of Minnesota will find you out in the woods calling for these mysterious birds by moonlight.
Passes- Normally this park has a $7 daily use fee, but it just so happens that this event falls on the Free Park Day. There are a few freebie days throughout the year. Bonus!
Moonlight Snowshoe Hike- Minneopa State Park- February 26th 7pm-8pm Meet up at the group campground for an educational night hike at this unique park. The guide will take you through the woods and overlooking valley. Discussions will be had at numerous locations including talks about the five senses in the dark, this is a great chance for kids learn about themselves and to concur any fears of the dark. There are no instruments used for light on this hike, just the light of the moon.
Passes- Day Pass to enter park ($7)
Items to bring along
Beverages: Nothing warms the family up after a chilly walk in the woods like a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Here is a tip; bring a thermos of hot water and chocolate packets for your travel mugs (no ceramic mugs, the contrasting temps with shatter them). Thermoses are hard to wash hot cocoa out of, mugs are easier to clean up. If hot chocolate isn’t your speed bring along some tea bags or a tightly sealed thermos of coffee. You’ll be happy you have it at the end of the trail.
S’mores Supplies: Many of the State Park events have a roaring fire ablaze at the end of the trail, this makes for a great opportunity for some s’more making. But you’ll have to bring your own supply.
Headlamp: Though the trails are well lit with candles at these events, it’s not a bad idea to bring along a headlamp just in case. We’ve used headlamps for retying boots and fastening snowshoe/ski straps. It’s nice to have a backup light for emergencies.
Warm Gear: Dress for the weather! As night falls the temperature drops. The thermometer might read a different temperature by the end of your hike. Winter boots are a must, don’t try this in summer hiking shoes. Winter hiking boots and summer hiking boots are two very different kinds of footwear. Dressing for the weather should be second nature to most Minnesotans, but I still feel it necessary to mention.
Winter Sport Gear: Bringing your own skis and snowshoes will give you better odds of completing the activity that you have your heart set on. The only other determining factor would be snow conditions. Sometimes mother nature doesn’t always deliver the snow quantity or quality that we are hoping for. When we did our snowshoe hike at Minneopa State Park this year. We ended up leaving the snowshoes in the car, the conditions were better for boot hiking.
The 2009 Boundary Waters trip to South Temperance from Brule lake was a trip filled with lessons. We learn something new on each adventure taken. It was not only lessons about camping learned, but also discovering my own preferences. This trip in particular has shaped much of my future Boundary Waters excursions.
Preparing the Party
As always, my dad was the trip planner and group leader. I was just 16 and hadn’t yet learned the art of trip planning myself. Little by little, my dad was preparing me for that task, whether I was aware of it or not. The most effective way he taught me, was to include me in the whole process for hands on experience. I assisted in organizing, packing, and loading gear prior to departure, just like every trip before.
Our groups have changed over the years, occasionally we’d bring a friend along or my uncle would join us. For this particular outing, my mom’s sister and my brothers girlfriend were joining our party. Our group included; my dad, mom, my boyfriend, me, my brother, his girlfriend, my Uncle Blake, and my Aunt Diana. The 8 of us gathered at my parents place to consolidate gear and carpool for the long drive north to canoe country.
The ranger station for entry point 41 is the Tofte Ranger Station. It’s just off of Hwy 61 on the left, southwest of Tofte. This is where our group watched the classic pre-entry video and took our quiz. The process is different now with an updated video. Thinking back, I cannot recall how many times I have seen that old video. I actually miss that tradition on our trips now.
The morning of our entry on Brule Lake was not too bad, but even on a calm day, larger lakes can seem more breezy. Entry point 41 is one of the easiest, most accessible entries there is. With no portage to the lake and a large parking lot and landing area, you can drive right up to the lake and load everything directly into your canoe. Quite slick! But it is most appreciated on the way out, we’ll get to that later.
Once the canoes were loaded, restrooms were used (yes this entry point had a vault toilet, luxury), and the lifejackets were on; we were ready to hit the water. Our goal for the day was to get to South Temperance Lake. Just a huge lake and one portage away. Our party maneuvered around two points and a bay, then it’s a straight shot west to the portage. Right into the wind, lovely.
First and Only Portage
The portage into South Temperance Lake is a short 10 rod portage into a creek that leads into the lake. We were base camping on this trip, as per our family’s usual plan. Base camping gives campers more time to explore a single area and really get to know it. This can be helpful for future journeys to the same location; knowledge of fishing locations and good campsites (or poor ones), can make the next trip even better.
We made base camp on the north side of the lake on a point. This site made for spectacular views and a vantage point to see much of lake and foul weather approaching. This site had a nice landing spot large enough for our four canoes. We hadn’t camped with such a large party before, the extra space was necessary and appreciated.
My dad and brother are both avid bass fisherman. The goal for them this trip was to hit the fish hard, and they did just that. Actually, I don’t recall seeing them too much aside from meal times. The smallmouth fishing was spectacular. Dad often brings up that he’d like to return to this lake for the fishing when we are planning a trip or reminiscing about past trips.
We ate well on this trip, but not bass. We try not to eat bass, only if we are unable to land walleye or northern pike. Bass are a sport fish, not an eating fish for us.
Our party was content with learning what South Temperance had to offer, but there was some talk of a possible day trip to North Temperance Lake in the future. If you are feeling the need to branch out and see more, this day trip is just a quick 37 rod portage on the north side of the lake. Another possibility would be to take the southern portage, at 225 rods, a quick paddle and another 54 rod portage into Weird Lake. Lengthier portages don’t seem so daunting when your aren’t loaded down with all of your gear. Either option is sure to be a neat addition to your stay on South Temperance Lake.
The morning of our departure started just like any other exit date. Once everyone was up and out of their sleeping bags, we all grabbed a quick bite to eat and worked together to pack up camp. The wind was starting to pick up a bit, not too concerning at first, we just knew that Brule would be tough.
By midmorning we were getting concerned. From our vantage point campsite we could see the approaching darkness. The clouds were threatening, the wind had begun blowing hard. As group leader, my dad made mention to us all that it would be best to wait this one out and depart later in the day or even tomorrow. The other adults in the group wanted to leave as planned to return to work the following day. My dad insisted on waiting it out, but he was overruled.
Listen to your group leader. They are responsible for getting you in and out of the wilderness safely.
Paddling South Temperance
We launched our canoes from the convenient landing rock. We wore our raingear in preparation of a wet and blustery paddle, and that it was. Yikes.
The paddle across South Temperance was unpleasant but quite doable. We made decent time as the wind was with us and quickly made our way back over the 10 rod portage. What awaited us on the other side of that portage was a daunting mess.
The Paddle Across Brule
We should have waited. Four foot high waves greeted us at the other end of that short portage. Nervous looks were exchanged. The leading paddlers examined the map and loaded into the canoes. I remember the look of worry on my mom’s face as two of her children set off on those dangerous waters in two separate canoes. My brother and his paddling partner set off in the lead. Uncle Blake and Aunt Diana were next to follow, then Scott and myself. My parents were in the back of the group. This was strategic. They could keep eyes on all of us, and assist as soon as possible. My mom later told me that she was constantly scanning the water counting our canoes the entire nerve-wracking paddle back, “One, two, three. One, two, three.”
The power of the wind and water was overwhelming. In waves like this, there are times that it is only safe for the paddler in the stern to paddle in order to keep the canoe from being thrown off balance. Scott and I had not paddled in these conditions before, it was only a matter of time before we flipped. My dad motioned for us to follow them to shore. Dad gave Scott a crash course in rudder work and told me not to paddle until told to by Scott. Being that the wind was pushing us, it made ruddering the best option for us. These techniques would give him better control over the canoe and keep us afloat.
Once we had our new instructions, things went more smoothly in our canoe and there was some relief found. It was short lived and the worry sunk in again. As we neared the exit point, we approached two islands. We needed to stay to right of these islands, this was pointed out to the canoe leaders at the beginning of our paddle on Brule. We watched helplessly as my brother and his partner went to the left, in between the islands.
When paddling in strong winds and high waves the number one rule is to never turn your canoe. The best way to make a turn is to gradually guide your canoe nose to your destination without turning your canoe broadside to the waves. This being said, my brother is a beast on the water. As we all watch in horror as they went the wrong way, we felt powerless. And even more shocking was watching him turn that canoe 180 degrees and paddle against the wind and raging waves while his partner sat in the bow unable to assist. His canoeing strategies and general water knowhow has always astounded me, he is a natural on the water to say the least.
Safe at Last
If I have ever felt the need to kiss the earth, this would have been the time. Once we entered the bay where our exit point lay we were shielded from the wind. That graveled launch was the sweetest sight. We all celebrated with cheers and embraces. Bonus, this easy landing meant there wasn’t a gear loaded hike back to the truck.
Our battle against wind and wave was fought and won. But this could have been a very different story. We went against the advice of our most experienced group member. We pushed forward even though everyone could sense the danger that shrouded our situation. And we all learned from our mistake. We are so very grateful that every member of our party made it back to the truck. Not everyone in canoe country is so fortunate. Accidents do happen, rescue teams do have to be called, there are no guarantees.
This hasn’t deterred any one of us from venturing into the wilderness and shouldn’t discourage you either. All experiences, good or bad, are lessons to be learned. I learned two very valuable lessons on this trip. First, if you have chosen a leader that you trust, follow the guidance of that leader. Second, when threatening weather is afoot, hunker down and wait it out. Nothing is worth risking your safety, even getting back to work on time.
Not only did I learn about some tripping lessons about trust and judgement; I also found a new preference for canoeing. In comparison to previous canoe trips, I would rather paddle small lakes, rivers, and streams. They are my favorite, I avoid big water when I can. I do not take my kids on Brule and will not until I can trust in their ability to handle a canoe in rough weather.
Every adventure has something new to teach us about the world and about ourselves. There is so much nature has to teach us if we only slow down enough to listen. I hope you are ready to go adventuring and learn new lessons, too.
What age is best to bring your kids into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for the first time? That all depends on you and your determination. This amazing wilderness can be enjoyed by ALL ages. Everyone has different skill levels and enthusiasm for the great outdoors. You can instill in your family a great appreciation for this spectacular wilderness at any age. It’s never too late or too early. Here are some examples that my family has experience to help guide you in your decision.
Lets talk teens and tweens. In general this group of kids can handle a more intense canoe trip, and they may be in need of it. There are number of reasons to get your teens/tweens out there.
Disconnect- getting away from screens and distractions
Reconnect- with family and nature
Slow Down- Take a break from the insane schedules kids have now.
Rebuild Relationships- With the phone off, the schedules paused, and the distractions at bay, you have a chance to spend uninterrupted time with your kids.
This is really an experience they won’t forget. There are a few things to keep in mind when getting your teen out there and making sure they are prepared and ready to go. These are just some notes from my experiences that I felt should be mentioned for this age group.
Proper clothing– We had a brutal exit one year, 4 foot waves on Brule Lake. Our whole group celebrated once we made it back to the entry point. As we hauled the gear back to the truck we witnessed the most atrocious attire for the wilderness. This kid had skinny jeans that were two sizes too small, skater shoes, and the thinnest sweatshirt that can still be considered a sweatshirt, also too small. I don’t understand fashion. Don’t let your kids do this, wear the appropriate clothing.
Phones down– The only thing they’re going to do is kill the battery. I can think of just a single reason we have our phones on and that’s for photos. We don’t have a camera anymore, so the phones act as our cameras. Stick it on airplane mode to save battery if you are in the same boat. But there shouldn’t be games being played, this is family wilderness time. Without any cell service, this shouldn’t be too hard.
Practice– Be sure to have them out in a canoe prior to your trip. Most teens/tweens will be paddling, give them a few lessons before the trip. It was only my husband’s second trip when we encountered foul weather, those waves on Brule that I mentioned earlier. Thankfully, my dad is a fairly decent instructor. He gave Scott a crash course in rudder work and Scott put those new skills to the test and we made it safely to our exit point.
My Husband, Scott, took his first trip when he was 16 years old. He went along on our annual summer trip with my family while we were dating in high school. It was amazing to share my favorite place in the world with him. Scott’s most favored part of the trip was the fishing, the bass fishing on this lake is fantastic. We also spent a lot of time exploring the woods and shoreline. There had been a prior fire, the ash laden forest springing with new growth was brilliant. Scott’s first trip was on Clove Lake, entering in at the Larch Creek Entry Point. This experience must have left an immense impression as he was more than willing to go along on the next summers B.W.C.A. trip, and nearly every trip after.
There is no greater wilderness experience than watching your children take in the wilderness and grow to love it. With so many screens in todays world, it’s so important to get them in touch with nature and set them free into the wild. Catching their interest at such a young age can impact them for the rest of their life, it did for me. Benefits of getting your kids out there are endless, but here are a few:
Learning new skills
Growing confidence in their own skills
Gaining appreciation for the wilderness around them
Learning to respect nature
My first trip into the Boundary Waters… Wow! My family went to Lake Isabella, I was 6 years old. I have such vivid memories of the stream near our campsite where my sister and I jumped on rocks for hours. I have a not so clear memory of a red bridge, my dad argues that it was not red nor was it in the B.W.C.A…. He may be right about that. Anyway, 6 was a great age for my first trip in. My parents had made several trips prior to my first adventure, they were experienced and confident in bringing us kids in. Their willingness to introduce me to the wilderness as a kid inspired my love of the great outdoors. I am forever grateful for the experience.
Our daughter, Sandy, took her first trip was when she was 4 years old. My goal was to take her in when she was potty trained. She potty trained at 2, but we were living in a different state and didn’t have the opportunity until she was 4. Scott was deployed at the time, but I was able to take her with my parents. We took her to Clove Lake, a great lake for a first timer at that age, and it was her dad’s first lake too. She was hooked!
Now Sandy looks forward to it every summer and loves to help plan the trip. That first trip really had a great impact on her. I love how eager she is to get out and see new areas. For this summers’ trip we invited my parents, they started it all and hadn’t gone on a trip with us in a couple of years. One of my dad’s favorite lakes is Clove, he suggested that we go there. Sandy was bummed at first, she wanted to go to a new lake! She got her wish, our dates were taken for the Larch Creek entry point, a new place it is! Hog Creek was next, She was very excited! See here why planning early is a must.
This age group requires more work. These little adventurers come with more gear and less help. But it’s so very worth it. If you plan it just right, you can really have an enjoyable experience with your tiniest explorers. It was a debate in our house whether it was a good idea to bring Killian along, and I’m so glad we did.
Our boy, Killian, was the youngest to enter the Boundary Waters in our family at just 10 months old. He did great! As long as you are prepared for the trip and have a little experience in the wilderness yourself, bringing an infant into the Boundary Waters can be a wonderful experience. We also chose an easy lake for his first time, that was important. Killian’s first trip was on Kawishiwi Lake. Those entering at the same entry point were amazed that an infant was taking his first trip in while this fellow paddlers son was too nervous to take his 4 year old on a trip. This gentleman assured us that he would be letting his son know so he could get his grandkids out there. More on Killian’s first BWCA Trip here.
Killian’s second trip up to the B.W.C.A. was to Hog Creek this last June. He did very well! But I will say, bringing an infant was easier than bringing a toddler. With a very mobile and independent fellow, it was eyes on at all times. That is a must. We had four adults to share the load this time and more eyes were helpful at this very curious age. Hog Creek was a bit too long of a journey for such a little fellow, I would recommend a shorter distance for a younger toddler. He did get to see one of his favorite animals, a moose! He talked about it for some time afterwards. It’s so fulfilling to watch them experience it all.
Are your kids ready to make that journey? Again, it’s your call on whether or not you think your kids can handle it. I’ll tell you, Scott and I didn’t agree right away on taking Killian in for his first trip as an infant. It was a debate and we had to weigh the pros and cons of taking him in and talk about the risks. Ultimately, we came to the decision to take him in. We are both experienced enough and went on an easy low key lake. Check out these posts to read more about Toddlers in the BWCA and Killian’s Hog Creek Adventure.
What ever age you decide that your kids are ready, they’re sure to be inspired by the adventure and realization of their own capabilities. Growing up with these kinds of experiences will give them a unique sense of confidence that can only be brought on by braving the wilderness. It’s not just camping, it’s learning skills that are becoming more and more rare in every generation. You will relish in the opportunity to watch them grow out there and gain a new appreciation for the world around them.
Only those who have experienced this beauty themselves can truly understand the affect that it has on the soul.
Winter does not mark the end of the hiking season here in Minnesota. It marks the change of footwear in Minnesota. Break out the boots, snowshoes, skis, and hot chocolate! It’s winter and we are loving it!
I have put together a short list of State Parks that offer a variety of accommodations for your winter excursions. Try a few activities out, what have you got to lose? It’s a long winter, don’t waste it indoors.
Know Before You Go: Skiers over the age of 16 must have a Great Minnesota Ski Pass to ski on groomed state park and state forest trails in Minnesota. You can purchase your yearly pass($25) here or a daily pass($10) can be purchased in person. Why the fee? It helps pay for the cost of grooming trails.
1. Jay Cooke State Park
For those hard core skiers our there, here you go. This park is for you, with miles and miles of trails ranging from easy to difficult you’ll be in a cross country skiers paradise. For those wanting to keep it less intense, stick closer to the trails near the visitor center. The farther out you venture, the more extreme the trails get. Located just south of Duluth, it’s easy to add in during a weekend trip to the northern city.
Things to do & see:
Cross Country Ski- 20 to 32 miles groomed trails depending on snow conditions
A short hour northeast out of the metro lies a winter wonderland of a park. This park is very well kept during the winter months with many groomed trails for different winter sports. Hold onto your pups, there are many dogs that visit this park with their people. Being that this park is closer to the city, it is a popular day trip location.
Things to do & see:
Cross Country Skiing- 19 miles groomed
Back Country Skiing- 13 miles ungroomed
Skate Skiing- 6 miles groomed
Snowshoeing- 5 miles of trails & anywhere off trail
Hiking- Use snowshoe trails
Ski & Snowshoe Rentals
Warming House- Trail Center
St. Croix River Views
3. Lake Maria State Park
Just an hour northwest of the metro, this park is a great option for those wanting to take a daytrip for some winter fun. Lake Maria State Park usually has winter events such as a candlelit winter hike. Unfortunately, this year events have been canceled. We are a bit bummed, but there are plenty of winter adventures to be had by daylight.
Things to do & see:
Cross Country Ski- 6 miles groomed trails
Skate Ski- 2 miles groomed trail
Snowshoe- any ungroomed trail
Hike- any ungroomed trail
Pond & Lake Views
Warming House- Trail Center (may vary due to covid)
Secluded Camping/Walk-in Camper Cabins
4. Itasca State Park
This is on my list! We have visited Itasca State Park during the summer months and will do many more visits in the coming years, my parents have hunting land conveniently located 40 minutes from this park. I have yet to visit in the winter and am very eager to do so. I have looked into the activities and will have a hard time choosing which to do!
Minneopa State Park is just an hour and a half southeast of the Twin Cities. Not a far drive for what’s in store at this park. The trails are not as numerous as other parks. But you’ll have plenty of things to stop and see, if you arrive before dark that is. We had the pleasure of participating in a candle light hike at night. Though we were unable to see the bison in the dark, it was a near full moon and the frozen waterfalls were spectacular in the moonlight. With far fewer folks out in the dark, we were able to hear the trickle of water still flowing around the ice.
The north shore holds Gooseberry Falls, one of our family favorites. Currently our daughters all time favorite. Visiting this park during the winter months eliminates the excessive crowds at this very popular park and creates a more serene environment for exploring the beautiful area. For more on Gooseberry in the winter click here.
Things to do & see:
Hike- use snowshoe trails
Snowshoe- ungroomed trails & anywhere ungroomed
Cross Country Ski- 12 miles groomed
Snowmobile- 2 miles
Lake Superior Shoreline
Warming House- Visitor Center
Bonus Park: Split Rock
After Visiting Gooseberry, travel up the road a few miles to check out Split Rock Lighthouse. Stop in for just a quick peak at the light house or enjoy 8 miles of fat tire biking or snowshoeing.
Getting out and enjoying the snow and ice is a great way to embrace winter, not just get through it. Winter is my favorite! Don’t tell the other seasons. Snowshoeing is one of the best winter activities. It’s very simple to toss a baby into a carrier and get moving. But unless you have a really roomy baby carrier, all of that winter gear is going to gum up your plans and possibly cut off circulation for your little one with all the straps and snow gear. A stroller is more spacious and has a lot more carrying room for your little ones and all of their supplies.
Sure you could invest in a kick sled with a basket and cruise around the winter that way. These days used kick sleds are hard to come by and new ones are quite expensive with all of the material cost going up now. Best way to cut costs and use the resources at hand is to make one yourself. My daughter and I whipped this one up 2 years ago for her brothers first winter.
Jogging Stroller- with air-filled tires
2X4 lumber- 2 boards at 18 inches, 1 board at 14 inches
Old Cross Country Skis: 3
Most folks don’t have old/unused skis lying around, at least nobody that I knew did. You can search online for an old set, ask friends and family, check Facebook marketplace. In our case, we went to our local Play It Again Sports shop, a used sporting goods store. I asked the owner if he had any mismatched, ancient, broken or unsellable skis in the back. Sure enough he did! I paid 5 dollars for 3 skis. Bonus: two were even a matching set!
A Word on Strollers
When our daughter was little we had one of those four plastic wheeled kinds of strollers and a little Minnie Mouse stroller that folded up into a fat stick. These stroller have their use and their place. But their place is no longer in my life. We have moved up to the Babytrend Expedition fat tire jogging stroller and that thing can take a beating! No, I am not sponsored by this brand, I just really like it! I cannot tell you how many times I have taken that thing to state parks, county parks, off trail, over rocks, through cow pastures and even skiing. I have no doubt in my mind that you are capable of turning a different kind of stroller into a ski stroller; but an air tire jogging stroller will make it much easier.
Lets Get Building
Step 1: Cutting the Boards
Your first task is to trace the tire shape onto your first board. The longer boards will be used for the rear tires and the smaller board for the smaller front tire. Pretty obvious, but it felt necessary.
Center your tire on your board.
Leave 1 inch of space between the bottom of the tire to the bottom of the board.
Trace with your pencil to create your cutting line.
Use the Jigsaw to cut out the crescent shape from the tire.
Sand down the edges for a smooth finish.
Test the fit, you may need to sand more to get a good fit.
Repeat for all 3 tires, be sure that the back blocks are fairly close to the same position on the wood so that you stroller has good balance.
Step 2: Cutting the skies
This step was a little nerve wracking for me. I can always try again with more 2X4s, but I only had these three skis. They had to be just right on the first try. Pressure is on!
Use a matching set for the rear two skis. If you were unable to secure a matching set, use the two skis that are most alike.
Measuring from where the curve starts, the rear skis should be cut between 30 and 35 inches. Be sure the rear skis are the same length.
The front wheel ski will be shorter to accommodate turns on trail. Cut this piece at about 20 inches.
Step 3: Drilling the holes
It’s easiest to drill the holes for the zipties before placing the boards on the skis. I know because I did it both ways. I first drilled only two holes. One on either end of the board, that was not enough on my first test run, you do in fact need the third hole in the center on all three wheels. If you only have the two holes, your ski will slip off to the side of the tire and you’ll spend your whole excursion fixing skis. Not fun.
Using your drill, make a hole on each end of the boards broad side. These should be about half an inch from the curve
Next make a hole in the very center at the bottom of the curve on the broad side. This will prevent the whole ski from turning on it’s side while going over bumps
Step 4: Securing the Boards to the Skis
During this step make sure that the rear skis are placed on the boards in the exact same location. If they are off, you will not have good balance in you ski stroller.
Place your board on a flat surface, curved side down.
Center your ski over the top of the board lengthwise.
Going through the bottom of the ski, screw the board ski to the board.
It’s best if the screw is slightly embedded, this ensures that there will be nothing to catch on the bottom.
Repeat for all 3 skis, make sure the rear two skis are placed in the exact same location on the board. Measure twice, cut once (or screw in this case).
Step 5: Putting it all Together
Finally near the end of this project, you are almost ready to hit the trails! But it’s pretty hard to go anywhere when your skis aren’t attached.
Place the skis under their designated wheel.
Having them all in place at the same time will ensure that they are all level while fastening them
Fish a ziptie through each hole of the ski boards and around the tire
Use a pliers to tighten the zipties once they’re all finger tight.
Do not cut off the ends until you’ve had a test run. You may find that after some shifting, you need to tighten some more
**Tip** I like to lock my wheels while skiing over loose snow, it makes steering easier.
Using The Stroller Skis
The best places to use this set up is on groomed trails. This is not the right gear for a backcountry adventure, for that you’ll want to use a backpack carrier. We tested it on different terrain and here are the results;
Groomed Trails: Yes, works wonderfully! Be mindful on rules and regulations of parks that you visit. Depending on your own footwear, some trails may be limited.
Ungroomed but packed trails: Yes, they are not as easy as a well groomed ski trail but these trails are still great for an outing.
Ice: Yes, fantastic on ice. Also gives an unstable parent or child something to hold on to.
Backcountry: No, does not work well at all. The front wheel gets stuck in the powder and the whole thing sinks. Use a backpack carrier.
There you have it! You’re little ones can cruise along with you all winter long! We’ve used these skis for three winters now. With any luck, our next winter will involve teaching our youngest how to ski, and maybe just a little stroller skiing. Happy Trails!
“Can we go to Gooseberry? How about Gooseberry? Gooseberry? I think Gooseberry sounds good. Lets do Gooseberry!”
These are the things that came out of my 10 year old daughter’s, Sandy’s, mouth this morning when I asked where she’d like to go on our annual winter trip. I tried suggesting places we haven’t been to yet, but she was so adamant about Gooseberry. She even suggested it while her girl scout troop was planning their upcoming spring trip. She’s obsessed! I guess we’ll do Gooseberry… Again. No complaints here!
For sure this is a park that you can visit during any season for really any length of time. It is one of our family’s most frequented parks. We stop during summer on our way up to or on the way back from the BWCA. Winter here is absolutely stunning and worth a trip of it’s own. It is one of my all time favorite winter parks. I will share with you the wonders of this truly unique winter oasis.
Quick Review: 8/10 I know I said that this is one of our favorite parks, but I am still docking it 2 points. One point for the crowds and one point for lack of seclusion. Yes, this park has a lot to offer in the way of sights and beauty, but you’ll likely have company in many spaces in the park. Even when you choose to camp at this park, it’s quite crowded at the campground.
Crowds… or lack there of
I’ll let you in a little secret here; I don’t like crowds. Well, maybe that’s not a secret… Or uncommon. Do you enjoy weaving through packs of people when you’re “enjoying” nature? Me neither, that’s not enjoying it at all. Gooseberry is a VERY popular state park in Minnesota. But most folks don’t venture out into the cold winter months to do their exploring. This is where we winter lovers rejoice.
Winter at Gooseberry means wide open groomed trails mostly to yourself. You can walk a reasonable distance without seeing another visitor once away from the main falls. Although most of the winter visitors are at the main falls area, there are fewer of them. Some trails are designated for skiing, snowmobiling, and skate skiing. This does not mean they forgot about those who just want to take a stroll in their boots.
There is a short trail that leads from the visitor center to the falls, this is paved and cleared. The ungroomed trails can be used with snowshoes or boots. Really we are just asked to respect the groomed trails for skiers, which is understandable. I explain further on the designated snowshoe/boot trails below. On our last winter trip to Gooseberry we brought our snowshoes along, but ended up leaving them in the car. The temperature was dropping and our daughter was already rather tired. We did manage to explore the main falls area and hike down to the shore of Lake Superior before the cold did her in for the day.
Seeing the usually raging waterfalls now encrusted in crystalized ice and snow is enough to make my heart skip a beat. The winter struggle of nature is something that can stir instincts inside oneself and make you think and dig deeper. Don’t rush through this park, even in the cooler temperatures. It has so much to offer if you stop, look, and listen. When you’re about to reach the peak of a hill or are coming around a bend on a trail, approach slowly and pay attention, you don’t want to miss anything.
For wildlife photographers, this place is a real treat! Photography is not one of my talents, but man the number of opportunities available at this park are unlimited! Frozen shorelines, ice crusted falls, trickling streams emerging from their icy confinement, silent wildlife peering through the trees. So. Many. Shots.
The real beauty of Gooseberry in the winter for a photographer is the lack of crowds. Getting here early in the summer means fewer people, getting here early in the winter means no people. Snapping a shot of these falls without people cluttering up your photo can take a lot of patience and work during the summer months. It’s a whole lot easier in winter’s bitter chill and so worth it for those priceless frozen photos.
After your chilly excursion, warm up by the fireplace in the spacious Gooseberry Visitor Center. There are restrooms, places to rest, snacks and items to purchase in the gift shop. These things may have changed since COVID. When we stopped last summer, the visitors center was open only for restroom use. Hopefully, the situation has relaxed a bit for snacks and souvenirs to become available again. Fingers crossed!
Dog Friendly Activity
Dogs may not be allowed in the Visitor Center but they are welcome in the park on leash. Xena loved being there with us. We do our best to take her along on the adventures when we can. I’m sure your pooch gets just as excited when they realize that they are going, too! We have a red backpack that I call the “Adventure Bag.” Anytime I grab that bag, Xena knows there is an adventure afoot.
**Tip** Please remember to clean up after your pets and keep them on leash so we can all continue to enjoy bringing our furry friends along for the journey.
Variety of Activities
While I really enjoy snowshoeing and skiing, during our trips to Gooseberry we have only boot hiked. Why have I not experience every activity availible at this park? I don’t know, I feel like I’m really missing out! Pick your favorite adventure, grab your gear and get going!
Snowshoeing: Snowshoeing at Gooseberry is welcome on ungroomed trails and off trail. The Fifth Falls Trail, the Gitchi Gummi Trail, and the trail to the shore of Lake Superior are all available for snowshoe enthusiasts; these are ungroomed trails. If you did not bring snowshoes, you can boot hike these trails as well.
**Tip** If you are exploring the area around the upper, middle, and lower falls, I recommend that you take your snowshoes off. There are areas of ice, pavement and stairs. The teeth of your snowshoes will surely be bent in your attempt to snowshoe on these areas.
Skiing: Cross country skiing trails are groomed and consist of 12 miles ranging between easy and moderate. There is also about a mile of skate-ski trail.
Snowmobiling: With the 20 miles of trails at Gooseberry, just 2 of them are available for snowmobiling. This trail connects to the North Shore State Trail. But if you are snowmobiling in, it’s worth the stop and walk to the falls. The winter falls is such an amazing sight to take in.
Fat Tire Bikes: These are not allowed on Gooseberry trails. It is, however, allowed at Split Rock just up the road. If you are into this sport, it might be worth the extra few minutes drive to Split Rock.
TrailMaps: There is a very clear map indicating where certain activities are allowed. You can pick them up at the visitors center or you can print one ahead of time from the DNR website. I like to have a game plan prior to arriving, it saves time and energy when you arrive at the park for your adventures. And having little ones along mean you have only a certain amount of time before they are done. For more on adventure with little ones read my 8 Tips for Day Hike Success with Little Adventurers post.
We have about a three and a half hour drive for us to get to Gooseberry from our central Minnesota home. With such a drive to one of our favorite destinations, we like to make it worth the trip. One of the great perks about Gooseberry is that there are so many other parks in the area. This is especially nice if you enjoy winter sports that are not allowed or are limited in Gooseberry, such as fat tire biking and snowmobiling. Some close parks include:
Camping: Camping is available year round at Gooseberry but there are fewer options during the winter months. Only 3 sites remain open for the winter that are walk/ski in. The campground roads are not plowed. The showers and some flushable toilets close for the season. There are still vault toilets available in multiple locations.
Alternative Lodging: If winter camping does not interest you, there are plenty of cabins, hotels, motels, and bed & breakfasts in the Two Harbors area. When we make a winter trip to the North Shore, our go-to place to stay is the Inn on Gitchi Gummi. It’s right on the Scenic Route 61, north of Duluth. You’ll still have a 30 minute trek in the morning to get to Gooseberry but it’s worth that little bit for the fantastic service and hearty homemade breakfast.