Charles A. Lindbergh State Park: A Quick Pick

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.

Trails

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.

History

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.

Summer

  • Hiking (7 miles of trails)
  • Canoe rental (check office for availability)
  • Camping
  • Playground
  • Picnic area
  • Volleyball (equipment at park office)
  • Horseshoes (equipment at park office)

Winter

  • Snowshoe
  • 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.

Keep It Simple: How to Rough-It With a Toddler

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:

  • Why
  • Where
  • Gear
  • Foods

Why?

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.

Where?

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 portage
  • No portage
  • No Motors
  • Short paddle in
  • Smaller Lake

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.

Gear

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.

Hammock

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.

Small Toys

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.

Life Jacket

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.

Food

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

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.

Granola Bars

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!

Breakfast

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!

Dinner

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.

S’mores

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.

Water

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.

Minnesota Winter Nights: 6 Winter Events to Embrace the Darkness

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.

Illuminated Events

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 6pm8pm 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.

Brule is Cruel: Lessons Learned in the B.W.C.A

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.

Ranger Station

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.

Tofte Ranger Station Info:
Address:7355 Hwy 61, Tofte, MN 55615
Hours:May 1st- Sept. 30th: Sun-Sat 8am-4:30pm
Oct. 1st-April 30th: Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm
Phone: 218-663-8060

Entry Into Brule

Entry Point #41
Permits Issued Daily7
Permit TypeOvernight Paddle
Ranger StationTofte District

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.

Campsite

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.

Fishing

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.

Day Trips

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.

Packing Up

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.

Lessons Learned

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.

Best Age to Tackle The Boundary Waters for Kids

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.

Teens/Tweens

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.

Children

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
  • Bonding
  • 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.

Infants/Toddlers

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.

6 Minnesota State Parks Not to Miss This Winter

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
  • Snowshoe- 9 miles (keep off groomed trails)
  • Hike- Use snowshoe trails
  • Snowmobile- .87 miles
  • Swinging Bridge
  • Warming House- River Inn Interpretive Center
  • Camping/Camper Cabins
  • Views of St. Louis River
  • Winter Events

2. Wild River State Park

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
  • Camping/Camper Cabin
  • 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!

Things to do & see:

  • Hike- ungroomed trails
  • Snowshoe- anywhere/ungroomed trails (rentals available)
  • Ski- 13 miles groomed trails
  • Skate Ski
  • Snowmobile: 31 Miles around perimeter, connects trails leading to nearby towns
  • Twinkle Light Trail (for night hiking)
  • Numerous Organized Events
  • Headwaters of the Mississippi River
  • Warming House- Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center
  • Camping & other Lodging

5. Minneopa State Park

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.

Things to do & see:

  • Hiking- 5 miles
  • Snowshoe- anywhere
  • Ski- use hiking trials (ungroomed)
  • Bison Viewing
  • Waterfall Viewing
  • Bison Drive (closed on Wednesdays)
  • Camper Cabin/Camping
  • Winter Events

6. Gooseberry

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
  • Waterfall viewing
  • Lake Superior Shoreline
  • Warming House- Visitor Center
  • Camping

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.

DIY Stroller Skis

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.

Supplies

  • Jogging Stroller- with air-filled tires
  • 2X4 lumber- 2 boards at 18 inches, 1 board at 14 inches
  • Old Cross Country Skis: 3
  • Jig Saw
  • Miter Saw
  • Sander
  • Drill
  • Screws
  • Zipties

Finding Skis

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.

  1. Center your tire on your board.
  2. Leave 1 inch of space between the bottom of the tire to the bottom of the board.
  3. Trace with your pencil to create your cutting line.
  4. Use the Jigsaw to cut out the crescent shape from the tire.
  5. Sand down the edges for a smooth finish.
  6. Test the fit, you may need to sand more to get a good fit.
  7. 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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. Using your drill, make a hole on each end of the boards broad side. These should be about half an inch from the curve
  2. 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.

  1. Place your board on a flat surface, curved side down.
  2. Center your ski over the top of the board lengthwise.
  3. Going through the bottom of the ski, screw the board ski to the board.
  4. It’s best if the screw is slightly embedded, this ensures that there will be nothing to catch on the bottom.
  5. 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.

  1. 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
  2. Fish a ziptie through each hole of the ski boards and around the tire
  3. 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!

Winter at Gooseberry Falls

“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.

Numerous Hikes

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.

Amazing Views

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.

Photography

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.

Visitor Center

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.

Trail Maps: 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.

Other Parks

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:

  • Split Rock Lighthouse
  • Tettegouche
  • Temperance River
  • George Crosby Manitou

Lodging

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.

Why Plan Your Summer BWCA Trip in January?

Snow is falling and lakes are freezing; there are so many winter activities to cram in after the holiday season! So why would you want to start thinking about your trip that’s a good 5 to 9 months away? There is plenty of time to get that set up… Right? Nope! In recent years the Boundary Waters has seen an increase in visitors. It’s bitter sweet really. I am so glad that folks are discovering this amazing wilderness. On the other hand, it’s more difficult to plan a trip with much flexibility. Learn from my mistakes and plan that trip now!

My Mistakes

So, my mistake brings us all the way back to last March… well, more like last January. Scott and I went on a trip to Vegas to celebrate our 10th anniversary, we agreed to start planning our BWCA trip when we returned. This Vegas trip already set us back in the planning process, I don’t know why I felt it necessary to wait on planning. That was silly. Scott and I decided to ask my folks to accompany our family of 4 on our summer BWCA trip. After all, they are the reason I love the BWCA so much, it only seemed fitting to invite them along to enjoy it with their grandchildren.

Growing up my dad has always been the “group leader.” I have taken on this role for my family of four now. I had no problem planning out the trips for my family or our couples trips. However, when it came time to plan the route for a trip with my dad, the pressure was suddenly on. I don’t know what happened! Decision making suddenly seemed impossible. I was on the phone with him constantly to discuss possibilities. By the time I had narrowed it down, it was March! Many of the entry points were booked up for the dates that we had available. Uh-oh.

Registration time

Registration for the summer season opens on the last Wednesday of January at 9:00am. This is for reservations between May 1st and September 30th. My goal this year is to have our lakes and routes for all of our trips ready to reserve on that Wednesday in January, not March. After the excitement of the holidays is over, it’s time to get cracking on those plans. Reservations can be made at recreation.gov. Get on it!

Permits are required to enter the Boundary Waters all year round. Between May 1st and September 30th, you can obtain a permit from an issuing station as a walk-in. The odds of that happening are pretty slim these days. It’s in your best interest to make a reservation ahead of time. Between October 1st and April 30th, a self-issued permit can be obtained at the entry point itself. There are little kiosks at the entry points, no fees or reservations during this time.

Alternate Plans

Back up plans are essential when coordinating a BWCA trip. Each time I delve into the world of wilderness planning, I am in awe at the expanse of possibilities out there. A backup plan can either be different entry dates or different locations. You really need to find which aspect you can compromise on.

Flexible Dates: It is understandable that flexibility in dates isn’t always realistic. Work, kid activities and family functions are sometimes set in stone. But flexibility when planning a wilderness trip can really make those plans fall into place. Some entry points only allow an entry every other day, such as entry point #9 Little Indian Sioux River South. If you are unable to make it on the day allowing entry, you’ll need to look elsewhere. We are not always flexible on dates, that’s for sure. But that means you’ll need to be flexible in other ways.

We had our weekend dates set, the days were not movable. Scott had to get them approved for work and during the busy season time off was limited. Thankfully my folks are quite flexible with enough notice. This really caused problems for us with entry dates, I waited too long to reserve our preferred entry location. Larch Creek was already taken and we couldn’t move our dates to an available time slot! So that brings us to the next element of back up plans.

Back-up Entry Points: Whether you have flexible dates or not you’ll want to have back-up entry points at the ready when making your reservations. Try to have 3 solid plans that start at 3 different entry points, check them in order of preference. You might just get lucky and reserve the location you’re after.

Again, this is something that we ran into problems with while planning our trips for last summer. I waited too long and missed out on the lake we wanted, oops. Really my daughter, Sandy, and I wanted to go to a new lake anyway as we had been on Larch before, so this worked in our favor. Thankfully we had a back-up plan. Unfortunately, our back-up plan was reserved, and our other back-up plan, and our other back-up plan… you can see where I am going with this.

Different Angle: If you are dead set on a certain destination or goal but you find that the entry point that you were wishing to use is taken for your available dates, look at it from a different angle. What I mean is; there are so many different routes in the BWCA you can likely find a way to get there from a alternate entry point. You may have to travel a little farther or conquer more strenuous obstacles, but you may just find a way to get there. Example: Lets say you were wishing to camp on Swan Lake by way of entry point #43 Bower Trout, but there is only 1 permit issued per day and it’s taken. An alternate plan could be to look at entry point #41 Brule Lake where there are 7 permits issued daily. This gives more opportunity to snag a reservation and still get to Swan with a different route through Vernon Lake.

Alternate Permit Holder: When you are applying for your reservation, be sure to have an alternate permit holder/group leader on your reservation. This is a safety net to ensure that your trip goes on even if you yourself do not go on the trip. Life happens, things come up. But if you have an alternate listed on your permit, the rest of your party can still go on an adventure so long as the alternate is accompanying them. The alternate must be assigned at the time the reservation is made, you cannot add them after it has been secured.

Loop Hole? This might sound silly to say, but you know someone has done it or there wouldn’t be a rule regarding this issue; a person cannot reserve multiple entry points per day, one permit per day per permit holder. Super clear. The National Forest Service can cancel overlapping permits as well. Those canceled reservations will be made available for others to reserve. I’m glad that they have the ability to do so, it will keep reservation hogs to a minimum. Please don’t try to reserve multiple locations or dates in an attempt to save you own behind on planning. It can really foil another campers plans if you’ve tried to reserve multiple dates/entry points. The rule applies to alternate permit holder as well. So making multiple reservations under different names doesn’t work either. This is not a “loop hole,” please don’t attempt this.

When All Else Fails

After you have exhausted all of your potential plans go to the recreation.gov site and make a list of all available entry points for the dates you’re hoping for. Once you’ve completed your list, you can start checking out these entry points on BWCA.com. This is my favorite site to get information for upcoming trips and new areas. I use it every time I start planning.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to your best options, again, get your spot reserved as soon as possible. We did the same process and had one entry point picked out, it was available one day and gone the next. Don’t stall!

Things to remember

  • Reservations open the last Wednesday in January
  • Flexible dates are helpful
  • Have 3 plans with 3 separate entry points
  • Have an alternate permit holder at the time of reservation
  • One permit per day per permit holder

I have learned my lesson on procrastinating and being ill-prepared when attempting to make a BWCA reservation. The trip we wound up going on was a success and we got to explore somewhere new. We reserved entry point #36 Hog Creek and had a wonderful little adventure on Perent Lake. You can check out that adventure here.

If you love the wilderness, no matter where you choose/settle on going to in the BWCA, you’re going to love it. Even if you find your planning process to be a pain, it’ll be all the sweeter when you get there.

Know your plan, your back-up plan, and your back-up back-up plan. Happy adventuring!

Bower Trout to Swan Lake: A weekend In-and-Out

The importance of “getting away from it all” as a couple is immense. It’s a really difficult thing to do in the go-go-go world we live in. Scott and I have been together for 13 years. Our first trip together to the Boundary Waters was when we were 16 years old, just babies! We’ve gone up multiple times with my family, we’ve gone up with our kids, but we had never had a trip to my favorite place just the two of us. It was long overdue!

Ranger Station

The Ranger Station for Entry Point 43, Bower Trout Lake, is the Gunflint District Ranger Station. You really can’t miss it as your enter Grand Marais on Hwy 61. It’s just off to the right before the mini golf place.

Our quiz was taken outside alongside another couple. The building was closed at the time of our trip due to covid-19. We had watched the short film before our previous trip this summer, this allowed us to bypass that tidbit. You are only required to watch it once a season. If you’ve watched the video in the past, you’ll find it has been updated. I actually missed the tradition of watching the old video on the tiny tv screen in the ranger station.

Gunflint Ranger Station Info:
Address:2020 W. Hwy 61
Grand Marais, MN 55604
Hours:May 1st- Sept. 30th: Sun-Sat 8am-4:30pm
Oct. 1st-April 30th: Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm
Phone:218-387-1750

Entry Point Details

Entry Point #43
Permits Issued Daily 1
Permit TypeOvernight Paddle
Ranger StationGunflint District

Getting to the Entry Point

Our route got a little goofy at the beginning of our drive due to some construction. We had to bypass that and go a little bit passed our turn, but it was easy enough to circle back around. The road conditions passed the Gunflint Trail were actually quite good, I was impressed. I recall the sketchiness from when I was a kid. Do not rely on your phone GPS, you will loose signal somewhere along the Gunflint Trail, have a map with you and know your route before you go. I actually like to have printed out instructions along as well.

As you exit the Gunflint Ranger Station parking lot, head east on Route 61. Just a mile down the road, turn left onto 5th Ave W. The Gunflint Trail will be .7 miles down the road, turn left here. Stay on the Gunflint Trail for 16 miles. Next you’ll take a left onto South Brule Rd (325), follow this until you reach a T in the road. Go Left onto 152, the entry point will be half a mile after the turn. The sign is quite small, so go slow or you might miss it.

Parking

For only issuing one permit daily, this entry point has a generous parking area. We were able to back into a space with relative ease. There is no bathroom area (there usually aren’t). Folks can obtain a day use permit, there may be vehicles parked in the area for single day use.

Route

Scott and I chose to go farther in for this trip and take on more portages. We felt free to do so since it was just the two of us and no small children. We took advantage of our lightweight situation and went on an adventure!

Our route would take us from Bower Trout Lake into Marshall Lake, through Dugout and Skidway, up the South Brule River, and finally into Swan Lake. A total of 6 portages, 5 Lakes, and a river. Though there are longer and more treacherous routes, this was the first trip we had been able to take in a long time that was more than one lake in. I was excited!

Portage #1: The Launch

Do not be deceived! There is no view of the lake from the parking area, but you will get there. It’s a 72 rod portage to Bower Trout Lake, but it’s a beautiful portage at that. Depending on what time of year you go, we went in early August, there are groves of wild flowers. Raised planks have been installed on the trail to walk across as it is a more swampy area. The water was so low at the time of our travels that we did not have to worry about getting our feet wet right away.

Portage Tip: We spoke to some rangers on one of our excursions about footwear. This gal and her partner wore boots treated with mink oil, this made them waterproof. We usually wear our athletic water shoes, closed toe only. They look more like mesh tennis shoes. And we pack our dry shoes in our pack. This way you will have dry footwear when you reach your destination and don’t need to worry about trying to keep your feet dry.

Bower Trout Lake

This first sight of the BWCA is breathtaking. Soak it in before loading up the canoe, you’ve earned a moment to take in the scenery after that first portage. Seeing the high hills on the south side of the lake on that cool morning was a reminder of why this wilderness is my favorite place.

Bower Trout Lake has two campsites. If you are planning on staying on this lake there is a good chance that you will obtain a site quickly. This is a rather small lake that offers Walleye, Northern Pike, and Smallmouth Bass. We did not see any campers on this particular lake and kept that knowledge in our back pocket in case of there being no availability on Swan or Marshall.

We shared the lake with a pair of swans as we paddled our way across. They were neat to see and kept their distance. We joked that they were on the wrong lake.

Portage #2

The second portage on this journey is on the opposite end of Bower Trout Lake. It’s really a quick paddle away as Bower Trout is a small lake. There is a small inlet under some bushes from the South Brule River. The portage is farther than this point, though it is worth a quick look. The Portage will be very obvious, there is actually a dock. Not the usual primitive experience but when the water is high, I’ll bet that is appreciated. There are also planks to walk across, to get to more solid ground. This portage is 91 rods with some steeper areas, long but not too rough.

Marshall Lake

Marshall Lake is even smaller than Bower Trout, it is a very short paddle across to the next portage. Not much of a break from carrying gear. There is only one campsite available on Marshall Lake. In our case, it was taken, not that we planned to stay there but that eliminated the easiest backup plan. This lake offers Walleye, Northern Pike, and Smallmouth Bass.

Portage # 3

The portage from Marshall to Dugout was not as obvious as the previous portage with the lack of a dock, but it felt more natural. This particular portage was short and sweet at 28 rods. Really this portage brings you into the South Brule River that leads into Dugout Lake.

Dugout Lake

This was a very cool area to paddle through… or should I saw walk? We reached a point of shallow rocks and small rapids that required us to exit the canoe and guide it upstream. This was almost the most thrilling part of our journey to Swan Lake.

On our way out we watched a pair of paddlers try to maneuver their way without getting out, it was a mess to watch. Just get out, it’s easier, less noisy, and causes less damage to your canoe.

Skidway Lake

Surprisingly there is no portage between Dugout and Skidway. There is, however, a narrowing of the river. Which brings us to the most thrilling part of our route; a small sand bar island in the middle of the stream. Here we found fresh moose tracks and clams that had been cracked and eaten. Obviously, this was a high trafficked area for multiple creatures. There are also multiple beaver lodges to check out. Stay alert, you don’t want to miss the chance to witness something amazing.

There was a spot along this stretch that at least one paddler needed to exit the canoe and guide it through more rough area. No matter, dive in!

Portage #4 & #5

The next two portages 35 and 40 rods. There are some steep areas, but this short distance makes it a breeze compared to the 91 rod portage near the beginning of the journey. There is quite a bit of muck at these next couple of portages. Thankfully, there is a fallen tree near one portage that can be used to avoid some of that mess at one spot.

Keep an eye out for animal sign. We found what we believed to be bear scat. Exciting! If you look through the trees, you’ll be able to see the rapids of the slim river.

South Brule River

There is a small and oddly rectangular section of river that is paddled up the South Brule River. This leads you to the last portage to Swan Lake, yay! The bugs are little more viscous in this area due to more stagnant water. But overall they weren’t bad, thank you dry season.

Portage #6

This last portage brings you up the Swan Lake. The area at the end of the entry has a flat space to organize your gear before loading the canoe. It’s also a good opportunity to check out the map and decide where to search for a site first.

Entering Swan Lake

Immediately to your left as you exit the portage is a group of fallen trees over the river exiting Swan Lake. It’s a very unique scene. More than just a view, the sounds and smells of the crisp water flowing is peaceful. Take a moment to enjoy it and breath it in. Paddling right up to the fallen trees, you’ll see numerous fish swimming in the shelters created by the debris.

Campsites

Swan lake has 3 opportunities for campsites. We took the eastern most site. This site had something that we had yet to see in the BWCA; stairs. That’s right, there was a set of steps leading up to the campsite on a rock. What!? It was definitely a first. I thought it would take away from the wilderness experience, but after setting up camp, they grew on me. It was like sitting on our front step at our backcountry home while drinking tea at the end of the day.

The sites on this lake seemed quite large. There were two areas for tents at our campsite. Our dinky two person tent was dwarfed by the open space. The latrine was quite luxurious as well, it even came with a lid!

Fishing

We had rotten luck again, we entered on a cold front. This made for some rough fishing on our first fishing excursion, Scott caught one northern and I caught one smallmouth bass on our first night. It was great to be out in the canoe with no place to be. We were satisfied with our catch, we weren’t fishing for dinner anyway.

Day 2 of fishing wasn’t any better. We fought the wind for some time until we finally gave up and trolled while the wind pushed us down the shoreline. Eventually we found a little bay on the northwestern side of the lake, that was a small haven away from the wind. We caught one northern for the day. Dinner.

The loons on this lake were rather chatty, we loved listening to their eerie call in the evenings. We also happened upon a family of loons in the bay where we took shelter from the wind. They were quite entertaining to watch as the mother taught her young to fish.

Relax

Fishing, canoeing, exploring, daytrips, swimming, hiking, adventuring; all great fun! I’m up for any and all of it. But when you finally get a break in the action, and no kids tagging along, it’s like striking gold when you can sit down and read your favorite book.

I read the WHOLE book, cover to cover, in one B.W.C.A. weekend. Call of the Wild by Jack London is my favorite book, and I got to read the whole thing in my favorite place. Bring a hammock folks, you can do it too!

If reading is not your thing, find some other way to relax while you’re up there. Some say fishing is just as relaxing. If that’s you, go for it. Scott chilled in the hammock while I read. The point is, find some time to breath and embrace the time that you have there. You’ll want to go back home feeling refreshed, not like you need a vacation from your vacation.

Solitude

Swan lake is farther in than we’ve traveled for quite a while. This offered us a more secluded oasis. We shared the lake with a family for one night and after that we had the lake to ourselves. That time alone was so needed, I really do prefer my solitude. The farther in you go, the fewer people you will see. In some areas it’s quite noticeable, especially when you start to see more wildlife and the squirrels aren’t as friendly.

Time Together

Like I said at the beginning of this post, it was the first time that Scott and myself went on a camping trip just the two of us. I have to admit, it felt a little weird sometimes. We weren’t chasing any toddlers or rushing anyone to activities. So we could actually talk to each other. Or NOT talk to one another and just be in each other’s company without words, silence is a treasure when you have kids.

What separates a couples trip in the Boundary Waters from any other couple’s trip is that you are not distracted by things going on around you. There isn’t some show that you need to make it to by x-o’clock, you aren’t meeting anyone at a certain time, there is no itinerary. It’s just you and you’re favorite person in the most serene place on earth.

All in all, Swan Lake was absolutely worth the trek in. It offered solitude, beautiful scenes, a great campsite, wildlife encounters and time together. I sure missed my kids, but having that time together alone in the woods was much needed! If you have the chance to make it out there with your significant other, do it! You’ll never forget the experience.