**Warning: This post may cause a case of the heebie-jeebies. I feel like they’re all over me.
The other morning I took Xena the adventure dog and my 3 year old, Killian, for a hike on Love a Tree Day. Killian and I came out clean, but Xena was a tick-magnet! They are horrendous this spring. I pulled 8+ ticks off of her in our first hour of being on the trail.
Ticks aren’t just gross, they cause diseases that are harmful to your hiking companion, and you! Some major illnesses include;
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Types of Ticks
In the U.S. we have several types of ticks in the woods,
American Dog Tick
Blacklegged Deer Tick
Brown Dog Tick
Pacific Coast Tick
Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
Western Blacklegged Tick
It’s a dirty job, but it has to be done. Tools are available at your vet clinic, pet stores or on Amazon. They range from just a few dollars to an whole $20 Tick Removal Kit. I use by fingers or a tweezers for a truly sunken in sucker. The trick is to remove the tick before it becomes embedded. This is when the tick has buried it’s head into the skin.
Embedded Tick: Use sterile tools, like a tweezers. As close to the skin as possible, grasp the head. Don’t yank, but pull gently to ease the head out of the skin. What you don’t want, is for a piece to be left behind. Clean area and watch the site for signs of infection.
It’s important to contact your veterinarian if your dog begins showing signs of illness after tick removal. These could be signs of infections or diseases spread by ticks. Symptoms such as;
Fatigue, lethargy or weakness
Swollen lymph nodes or joints
Loss of appetite or vomiting
Unnecessary shivering or panting
There is a smorgasbord of tick preventions on the market these days and it seems there is a variety to suit every pet owners needs. I’ve tried several different varieties over the years, all have been effective to an extent. Don’t be deceived; ticks can still latch on even when your dog has a preventative, but they do help and many kill ticks that have attached.
***Consult your veterinarian prior to beginning a flea and tick treatment and seek veterinary advice in the occurrence of side effects and adverse reactions. Always read prescriptions, directions, and side effect warnings on labels prior to application.
Price: $-$$ (price varies with quality)
Duration: 1 month of prevention
Application: This type of product is a liquid that comes in a tube with an easy squeeze applicator. Simply cut open the end of the tube and squeeze the liquid onto the skin under the fur. Application is usually placed between the shoulder blades so your pup can’t lick it off. Detailed instructions are on the label.
Pros: Topical treatments don’t just kill ticks on contact, many of them also repel them to start with. Most of them work about 12-48 hours to work on current flea/tick infestation.
Cons: If you have a dog that likes to get dirty, bathing will be an issue. Bathing or swimming could cause the solution to become diluted. This DOES NOT mean you should reapply, doing so is risking overdosing your dog. There can be side effects ranging from skin irritation to seizures. Contact you vet if you see adverse reactions.
We started using a different flea and tick treatment when we had small children. Kids love dogs and dogs love kids, most of the time! This close connection could result in flea and tick treatments contaminating your little ones.
Duration: Up to 8 months
Pros: One time payment and treatment that will work for the duration of the tick season. If there are adverse effects or reactions, the collar is easily removed. The flea collar is not effected by water and doesn’t need to be removed for swimming or bathing (I usually remove all collars for bathing anyway).
Cons: There are some side effects to watch for including chemical burns and seizurs among other things. The collar can also come in contact with children who love on their pup.
Duration: 1 month of prevention
Pros: These are great for families with kids. Unlike the topical and the collar, when children pet their dog, there won’t be any cross contamination. Oral treatments can kill fleas in as little as 8 hours and ticks in 48 hours.
Cons: There have been known cases of severe side effects, including seizures. Unfortunately, this treatment can’t be removed like the collar or washed off like the topical in the instance of a poor reaction.
Note: These types of preventatives require a prescription from your veterinarian.
Be watchful of dogs licking their legs and body, ingestion of tick sprays could be harmful.
Pros: This is an as needed application product, used at the time of higher risk exposure to ticks, so it wouldn’t need to be on your dog constantly. Many bands are usable for people and dogs alike.
Cons: There are so many brands out there, be sure to read the label before purchasing or applying the product to your dogs to ensue it’s pet-safe. Be watchful of dogs licking their legs and body, ingestion of tick sprays could be harmful.
Note: The range on this product is vast. Some are just for dogs, some just for people, some are for dogs, cats, horses, home, yards, everywhere.
I’ve added this option here as more of a warning than anything else. There are a great number of essential oils that are toxic to dogs and a very dangerous. Check into these oils before using them as a tick preventative or any other use. Even when you’re just defusing in your home.
With it’s growing popularity, it’s hard to find solitude in the BWCA. Bootleg Lake is the key to finding that peace. A waterfall, great fishing, and minimal traffic, it doesn’t get much better than this for solitude in Minnesota’s BWCA.
The year I graduated high school was the summer we ventured into Bootleg Lake for 4th of July weekend. I’ll take fireflies over fireworks any day! My favorite attribute about this area is the journey in. Little Indian Sioux River is absolutely beautiful.
This entry point is technically in the LaCroix Ranger district. That does not mean that you necessarily have to use that ranger station. We used the Kawishiwi Ranger Station in Ely instead. Ely is 32 miles from Entry Point 9 while Cook, MN is 53 miles from the entry point. There is also ample lodging in Ely for your night prior to entry.
Book your BWCA reservation in January to ensure that you get your preffered destination. Reservations can be made at Recreation.gov. Check out why you need to make your reservation in January here. Also, if you intend to stay at a hotel the night prior to your entry, book that immediately after your entry reservation is confirmed.
After your wonderful little video and quiz at the Kawishiwi Ranger Station in Ely, you’re set to hit the road. Take 169 N for a short quarter mile, then turn left onto MacMahan Blvd. Two miles down the road you take a right onto the Echo Trail. 30 miles on The Echo Trail will take you almost the whole way there. Watch for signs for Entry Point 9.
Little Indian Sioux (South)
Little Indian Sioux is a wonderfully winding river. Rivers are my favorite place to canoe, the water is alive and full of character. We did an out and back, a destination trip rather than a route. On our paddle in, we paddled against the current, that means the trip out will be with the current. The perfect situation for a relaxing exit trip.
Sioux Falls is the first portage paddlers encounter along the river. What a beauty she is! A small falls with a short steep 13 rod portage to the west side. It’s easy to take time here and appreciate the beauty of this falls. This area does not see much traffic compared to other areas of the BWCA, so you likely won’t have others waiting to use the portage.
Second Portage and River split
Beyond the waterfall a ways, on the east side of the river is the second portage, 85 rods. This is the longest portage of the journey to Bootleg. There will be a split in the river a short distance after the portage, for either the Little Pony River or continuing on the Little Indian Sioux. Take the eastern river, the Little Pony River, this is the most direct route to Bootleg Lake. Bootleg is a part of the Little Pony River.
Final Two Portages
Two more portages must be crossed on the Little Pony River. The first on the Pony is a short 16 rod portage avoiding a small rapids. The final portage, 48 rods, leads to Bootleg.
On our trek out there was so much recent rain that one of the portages flooded. We slogged through the first portage with knee high water. We could have canoed the portage! We did paddle through rapids rather than take the 16 rod portage. Pictured below features my uncle and brother, Derek, traversing the flooded path. Next is my mom and Derek triumphant in our rapid run!
**Note that I am not wearing a life jacket at the beginning of this run. That was dumb. Always wear a life jacket in a canoe, especially when running rapids. In my stupid defense, my adventure dog, Misty, was using my life jacket as a sturdy place to stand on and hide from the sun.
There are only two campsites on Bootleg Lake. The first site is at the northern end of the lake right as you enter the lake from the Little Pony River. This site has a sandy beach landing with an open tent pad. The second is on the south western side of the lake. This is the site that we camped on for our 4th of July weekend.
Being that our site was on the west side of the lake, the sunset magic was reflected on the clouds to east. A quick paddle out on the lake will get you a sunset sight you’ll never forget. The sunrises from this sight were absolutely phenomenal, early risers rejoice! The most serene part of the day with waters like glass. Enjoy a morning coffee with a scene so many travel hundreds of miles see.
Being a less traveled lake, these waters are not heavily fished. We had exquisite fishing weather conditions and nailed the fish left and right. The most caught fish of the trip was the smallmouth bass. We slayed them! It was one of the best fishing trips I’ve had in the BWCA.
Our campsite was a great fishing location as well. So many bass were landed right from the rock at the shore of our campsite. Of course, Misty had to inspect each fish.
Solitude on the Lake
Two portages and a river away lies the Trout Lake area. The entirety of this lake holds 30+ campsites. Solitude will not be found on Trout. Trout Lake allows 12 permits per day. It’s astounding to think that not far away, Little Sioux River South only allows one entry every other day. That’s such a drastic difference in permits, but it causes a drastically different experience.
If seeking solitude on a BWCA journey, which many are, this is the lake to voyage to. Just two campsites rest upon this lake at different shorelines. The lake is not large, but there is ample space between sites and no extra traffic as it’s out of the way of other routes. Bootleg is the only BWCA trip that I have been on that I did not encounter another paddler.
We didn’t take any day trips on this voyage, we were quite content with all that Bootleg had to offer and spent most of the trip fishing this untouched lake. Our camping party treated Bootleg as a destination lake, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for venturing farther.
A day trip can be made to Little Trout Lake via two 200+ rod portages and the Little Indian Sioux River. The portage to begin this journey lies at the southwestern side of the lake, at the “Toe” of the boot on Bootleg. The first portage is 204 rods. Next, is a paddle against the current along the squiggly Little Indian Sioux and finally finished with a 290 rod portage on the west side of the river. There is also an option to continue on to Cummings lake, this is quite a trek for a day trip.
Returning to Bootleg
While South Temperance is my dad’s favorite lake in the BWCA, he has been dreaming of a return trip to Bootleg Lake for years. The combination of solitude and fantastic fishing on this gorgeous lake make it hard to beat.
My apprehension to return to this lake was based on the length of the river paddle, being that our son is just 3 years old. Then I thought to myself, “He handled Hog Creek to Perent Lake like a champ.” Our little adventurer can handle it. Our trips for this year are already mapped out. Next year will be our year for a return to Bootleg.
Being the top state park in South Dakota, you know Custer has to have endless adventure! Check out the must-see places in Custer and add on to your South Dakota trip this summer.
Drive through these marvels of nature stabbing up into the sky! Stop along the road at overlooks and take in this unique, one of a kind highway.
Travel Tip: If you’re traveling with a large trailer or an RV, avoid this road in Custer. The narrow passages and tunnels could cause problems along your journey. Tunnels just wide enough for one vehicle.
Sylvan Lake has to be the most peaceful locations in the park. Arrive early to avoid crowds and to catch the lake at it’s most serene time. This lake is in it’s own section of park at the northwestern portion of the park. Taking the Needles Highway to the lake will give the illusion of driving through a portal to a different land.
Black Elk Peak
We didn’t have time to complete the Black Elk Peak trail, it’s still on my bucket list. Which means we get to go back, yay! This trail can be accessed by multiple locations, but the simplest is likely the trail head at Sylvan Lake. The trail is 7 miles round trip with, what I hear, is an amazing overlook at the top of the peak. The difficulty level of the trail is considered easy with areas of steep terrain.
Sundown doesn’t have to be goodbye when you’re staying the night. Camping at Custer gives adventurers the chance to see the park at it’s most beautiful times. Catch a calming sunset or a refreshing sunrise. One of my favorite parts of our Camping Trip at Custer was the sunrise though the needles at Sylvan Lake.
Wildlife Loop Road
I highly suggest driving the Wildlife Loop Road. It goes around the whole southern section of the park with areas for overlooks and short trails to explore.
After a time, Scott and I were being asked where all the animals were. It is true that we didn’t see any right away, with the exception of the rodents back at camp, but there had to be more critters than that! At long last, when we were on the southwestern portion of the loop we came around the bend and BOOM! Bison! We only saw 3 bison on our whole trip, but it was truly something to see them right next to the car. We also got a glimpse of the little prairie dogs and some pronghorn. There are other animals in this ecosystem that we didn’t see, be on the lookout for elk, deer and big horn sheep. All of the critters we saw were found in areas we weren’t expecting them. Stay ALERT!
Buffalo Round up
Interested in watching Park Rangers and wranglers round up the bison, plan your visit to include the last Friday in September. This way, you’ll be guarantied to see more than three bison, more like 1,300! The bison are rounded up annually for the management of the herd.
Some of the best views that we had were at random unplanned stops along the way Wildlife Loop. Some had unique rock stacking, signs for kids to read, and some small areas with ruins, each stop had a little something different to explore. These were my favorite areas to explore.
This is a MUST for a western South Dakota trip, it is in the town of Custer, just west of Custer State Park. The Purple Pie Place is complete with a purple pig! I usually order my basic chocolate or French silk pie when in the mood for pie, always afraid of being disappointed. But I went out on a limb and ordered Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. It was probably the best pie that I have ever had, Chocolate or otherwise. I highly recommend this slice ala mode. The rich creamy ice cream is a perfect accent!
When I think of South Dakota, I think of prairie dog holes and parched grass. On the drive out to Custer, that’s about what we saw. But once you’ve reached the west side of South Dakota, it’s a whole different story. The landscape drastically changes from a parched land desperate for water to a glorious ecosystem where life flourishes.
Sylvan Lake Campground
Even with nine campgrounds to choose from at Custer State Park, it was easy to choose Sylvan Lake. This section of the park is almost like a subsection of the park, closed off a bit from the rest of it. Sylvan Lake Campground is at the northwestern tip of Custer. It’s basically it’s own section of state park, it’s clear in the map. Campers can make reservations on the South Dakota reservations website. Many of the sites are close together and do not allow room for long trailers or large tents. We seek seclusion anyhow when searching for a campsite.
Travel Tip: If you are traveling with a tow behind or RV, avoid the Needles Highway, take Hwy 89 N from US Hwy 16A in Custer.
We stayed at lot 16. I was thoroughly impressed with this campsite. It was a walk-in campsite, offering seclusion but close enough to the parking area for quick access to the truck. We were not in view of any other campers.
Camp set up was quite simple, and we really didn’t need much in the way of prep. In fact, there was already a space cleared and leveled for our 4-person tent. It fit perfectly, such luxury!
The surroundings of our campsite took us into another world. We didn’t have to go far to feel like we were in the wilderness. We climbed, with our newly 7 year-old, way up on top of the giant rock next to our camp. For Sandy, this was quite impressive. The view was stunning.
Rising early in the morning granted such peace in this oasis. the fog rolled off of the needles sticking high into the sky revealing a glorious sunrise. The perfect place to enjoy a warm beverage in the morning.
Hike around sylvan Lake
Distance: 1 Mile
Best Time to go: May-October is the best time of year, arrive early to avoid crowds. Camping at Sylvan Lake gave us the advantage of hiking without others.
Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash.
The hike around Sylvan Lake was unreal, like we were in some kind of fairytale. We passed an area being set up for a wedding, that will be a very memorable destination wedding for that couple. So many nooks and crannies to check out and climbable places to get a better vantage point.
This hike is quite short, but with all of the things to see and explore, it took a while to make the loop. Going at a normal speed, it would have taken about 25 minutes, but with all of the exploring it was well over an hour. At the end of this little route, there is a little gift shop where Scott was able get his coffee fix for the morning.
Hiking Tip: Watch out for squirrels, I’m convinced they are the most aggressive animal in the park. I’ve never witnessed squirrels so whipped up. We had them barking at us and one even tossed pine cones at us! There are also thieving chipmunks in the campground, they are hilarious!
Silvan Lake is a must when visiting Custer State Park. Even if you’re not camping there, take some time to drive the needles highway and pause to hike Sylvan Lake. You won’t regret it!
On these dreary, wet spring days when it’s too yucky to play outside; grab your favorite snack and pop in an old adventure movie to watch with your kids. Any one of these thrilling nostalgia filled titles will have you amped up for adventure season.
Fly Away Home
This is a tragic story turned heartwarming. 13 year old, Amy, lives with her mother in New Zealand when a horrific accident lands her reunited with her father in Canada. While Amy adjusts to her new circumstances, her inventor/artist father tries to help her along but to no avail. Amy happens upon a nest of Canadian goose eggs. Father and daughter bond over their attempt to rescue these birds from living a captive life.
If you can get passed the first tear jerking 5 minutes, this is a great wholesome father/daughter movie. I enjoyed it growing up and I appreciate it in a new light as a parent with my own kids.
Young musher, Will Stoneman, enters a dogsled race with his late fathers dog, Gus, in an attempt to save his family farm. Will bonds with Gus as they both mourn his fathers death over the course of the race. All odds are against the inexperienced musher and fellow racers are of no help. Will and Gus face many challenges along their trail, from dangerous terrain to villainous racers. Catching the eye of a news reporter gains Will some fame and gives America new hope as the country watches as this young man race to save what he holds dear.
Two brothers, Marty and Mark, work hard to break free of the fate their father has set for them, working in his business. They set off to film wild, endangered animals before they disappear. Their little brother, Marshall, stows away in the van to join them on their journey. These boys face many dangerous encounters from the Louisiana swamps to the Rocky Mountains. The best part about this film is that it’s based on the story of a real wildlife videographer. This is the tale of Marty Stoffer, the wildlife videographer who created the series “Wild America.”
This cinematic adventure was one of my favorites growing up and has been my daughters favorite on this list so far, too. There is something freeing about this movie. These boys experience America as she was when there were fewer restriction and the land was more wild.
Following their fathers tragic plane crash, two teen siblings head into the Alaskan wilderness on a rescue mission. Their hope is to find their father, a bush pilot, before it’s too late. The two need to work together to find their father amid their own struggles. It’s a heartwarming tale of siblings working together for the love of their father.
We didn’t have this movie growing up, but our neighbor did. I remember borrowing this video over and over. We had a very kind neighbor with an extensive movie collection. Yes, most were VHS! Thanks Jill!
Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog
A boy and his dog brave the coastal Canadian wilderness after a raging storm causes them to fall overboard from his fathers boat. The pair must rely on one another to find food, shelter and survive the brutal environment in hopes that a rescue crew will find them.
This is a great movie to introduce to your kids if you’re trying to drive home the importance of basic survival skills. All adventuring kids should have some outdoor survival practice.
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
Oh my goodness, grab the tissues! Even if you’re not a dog person, this movie will hit you right in the feelings. This wholesome movie follows the journey of two dogs, Shadow and Chance, and their kitty cat companion, Sassy as they search for their way home after fleeing their pet sitter’s ranch. The crew traverses mountains, battles a raging river and wards off wild animals, all in their search for their family.
This was absolutely one of my favorite movies growing up. While on a road trip, our kids were playing this movie in the back seat. I wasn’t even watching it, but when I heard Shadow come over that hill, I reached for the tissues. If you’ve seen this one, you know exactly the moment I mean. Moving on, these words on my screen are beginning to blur. I need to go hug my dog.
George of the Jungle
Okay, who doesn’t love a good Brendan Frasier movie? Haven’t watched a moving staring him that I didn’t like. George of the Jungle is an adventure comedy about a man who grew up in the jungle, was raised by apes. Ursula (not a sea witch), enters the picture while on safari and is saved by George, both from a lion and an unworthy fiancé.
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Okay, this one actually came out in 2008, but it still needs to be on the list. Another great action packed adventure movie starring Brendan Frasier. An uncle and nephew journey to the center of the earth (obviously, duh) in search of their brother/father and discover the truth of what happened to him.
A fantastic State Park for a northerners winter getaway. Take an escape to the adventure filled Manatee Springs State Park, Florida. You won’t be disappointed in the wildlife, warmth, and new experiences.
A fantastic park for a winter getaway. Wildlife, cypress swamps, boardwalks, and a whole world of other adventures. Manatee Springs was our first destination on a road trip from Minnesota to Florida in February of 2022. We were in need of a break from the winter weather and I had grown antsy in the camping department. Our daughter Sandy was craving the warmth and I was craving a camping adventure. A compromise was struck and this state park delivered.
Location: 11650 N.W. 115 St. Chiefland FL 32626
Cost to Camp: $20 per night +tax, $6.70 reservation fee
While driving to this state park, there is a very country, non-vacation destination feel about it. It’s certainly a different version of Florida than our daughter was expecting. Once there, with the palm trees reaching over the roads and the sand at the wooded campsite, relaxation and warmth began to set in.
There are 80 campsites available at the park, some are RV friendly while others are tent only. We stayed in the tent only section. The camp areas weren’t particularly secluded, but the other campers in the area were quite respectful of noise and boundaries. We are all after the same relaxing camp experience.
Our site was located on the border to the “Catfish Hotel.” It was a unique view for our first camping trip to Florida. The sites are spacious enough to set up a tent a fair distance from the the fire ring and picnic table. The parking space is basically inside the camping area. Our site also had an orange tree in it. That was pretty neat.
Boardwalk in the Cypress Swamp
Manatee Springs has an amazing 800 feet of boardwalk that weaves through the Cypress Swamp, immersing hikers right into the Florida wildlife. The boardwalk leads from the springs out to the Suwannee River. We spent a lot of time on this board walk. Every direction you turned, there was something new to see. There is also fishing available at the end, don’t forget your gear and your fishing license.
The springs at this park are crystal clear. Perfect for snorkeling and swimming. Two words of caution; brr and alligators. The water is quite cold, even for a desperate Minnesotan looking for sunshine. Numerous postings that state the risk of alligators are scattered about the area. We did see alligators near the springs, it is a “swim at your own risk” situation. That being said, we didn’t have any issues while swimming and had a great, yet chilly time. Sandy even got up close to a turtle with her snorkel.
Scuba diving is allowed at the springs and the Catfish Hotel. The Catfish Hotel is a 35 foot deep spring that has catfish in it. The diving is heavily regulated and is on a first come, first served basis only. We did not dive on our trip to Manatee Springs, but we did see several divers getting ready for their adventure. It was quite intriguing.
Fun in the sun! Who knew that a simple playground would be one of the top attractions for our kids. They were so happy to run in the warm sunshine and play on a playground that wasn’t covered in snow. It’s a great park with seating for exhausted parents to watch their kids burn off endless energy. Take time to slow down and let them run on this park within the park.
Wildlife is abundant in this park, but watch closely, the camouflage is impressive. We did see alligators and snakes, but sadly, no manatees. After speaking with some other campers, we learned that the manatee pod had left the day before we arrived. The only manatee we saw was the statue at the beginning of the boardwalk. That was too bad for us, but we did get to see plenty of other species in the park. The most entertaining and least exotic was the squirrel. They were so funny, racing around, stealing and burying nuts. Aside from the charismatic squirrels, we did see many species in the park:
Variety of Birds
Lizards (Killian loved the little ones around camp)
Some we didn’t see but rumor has it, they are in the park:
Armadillos (this would have been cool to see!)
Of course, Manatees
During out stay at Manatee Springs, we took advantage of a shuttle/canoe rental service provided by Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures. We were picked up from the spring area and shuttled to a boat launch farther up the Suwannee River. Here we were dropped off with our fishing gear, canoe and paddles. The canoe experience was so unique and I was very thankful for being able to enjoy one of my favorite outdoor activities on new waters with my family. They currently offer canoe/kayak trips on the Santa Fe River, check them out for a paddle adventure.
Keep a good hold of your sunglasses. Killian was looking over the side of the canoe and his slipped off. He was convinced that the alligators ate them. He still talks about those “naughty” alligators who ate his sunglasses.
There are 8.5 miles of hiking trails available at Manatee Springs. We only took advantage of a short distance, it was quite hot for our northern blood down there. We did get a chance to experience some good Florida woodland here. If you choose to go hiking, watch for snakes and bring plenty of water, the heat is unreal after a MN winter. Our little man was tired when we started and ended up falling asleep on me. We all stayed hydrated by bringing water bottles along in the child carrying pack.
I am going to throw out a restaurant suggestion here along with a fair warning. Don’t let the drive to the restaurant deter you from getting there. It is a sketchy and nerve wracking drive for northern folks. The road is full of holes, the homes along the way obviously have suffered a great deal of damage and disrepair, many of them are on stilts. Scott and I gave each other many questioning looks on the drive there. I am so glad we stuck it out, though. Once there, the restaurant did not disappoint!
Suwannee Bell Landing: 282 SE 989th St, Old Town, FL 32680
New meals were tried and we were blown away. Sandy and I tried alligator tail for the first time, they did it right at the Suwannee Bell. The meat was juicy and flavorful with a crispy breading, not at all what I was expecting. Sandy also tried some of the seared Ahi. She enjoyed that too, Scott and I were impressed with her willingness to try new things. The Alfredo was sensational! And award winning, we were told. I highly recommend a stop at the Suwannee Bell Landing for a sensational dinner if you’re in the Manatee Springs area.
Watching the sunset over the Suwannee River from the upper level was an amazing end to a great day in Manatee Springs State Park.
Sometimes plans go awry. Even with meticulous planning and an abundance of camping experience, plans can still go… awry. Good stories never come from everything going according to plan. Lessons aren’t learned that way, either. So take a gander at this mess and learn a bit from our mistakes. Perhaps your next trip will run a bit smoother because of it.
The camping trip was all planned out for Scott, Sandy, Killian, and myself. On our first night we would stay at Cascade River State Park. A hike-in site would ensure solitude in the popular park. We’d pack up camp in the morning and explore a bit before heading to the BWCA for a second night of camping and to tackle Eagle Mountain, the highest point in Minnesota. That’s not entirely what happened.
Original Plan: I would spend Friday morning packing up the Pathfinder and getting things ready to leave while Scott went to work. At 10:30am I would do my short list of dog walks for the day and be back by noon. Scott would leave work early and be ready to roll by 1:00pm.
What Actually Happened: On Thursday, the air conditioner in my vehicle went out. We brought it to the auto shop and asked if they could fix it in a hurry. They said it would be done by noon on Friday.
Perfect, that still gave me an hour to get things loaded before we hit the road. No worries. I’d have to bike to my dog walks, but that was okay. 1:00pm comes and no phone call to say the Pathfinder is done. I give them a call to see how it’s going. I’m told that the part was supposed to arrive over an hour before I called and still hadn’t shown up. It was after 3pm by the time it was ready to be picked up. We got on the road at 3:45pm. This was going to be close, we were now racing daylight.
Arriving at the Park
Original Plan: We’d stop in at the park office for a look around, grab a map, park approved firewood, and perhaps a souvenir or two. I do like to chat with Park Rangers a bit before heading out to a campsite. They are a great resource for recent happenings in the parks and on trails.
What Actually Happened: We hauled a** and pulled into the park at 8:55pm, precisely sunset. The park office was already closed for the day. No stopping to get a map or even venturing toward the office to see if maps were left by the bulletin boards, as is the case at some parks. Nope, I pulled up the map that I had saved on my phone and called it good.
Hiking in the Dark
Original Plan: We were to arrive at the park with a good 3 hours of sunlight. Ample time to get loaded up with gear and have a leisurely mile and a half hike with a 10 year old and a 2 year old. Stopping to see the sights and enjoy the woods. Plenty of time to set up camp and have taco rice for dinner and s’mores. Taking in the last glimpses of sunset over the vast expanses of forest beneath Lookout Mountain.
What Actually Happened: Scott and I exchanged concerned looks. Not because of the risk of coming across moose, bears or wolves along our way in the dark, unfamiliar, foreboding forest. No, it was the daunting task of hiking with a now crabby and tired 2 year old and his equally crabby, tired, and slightly frightened 10 year old sister. Yikes.
Having been in a flustered hurry while packing earlier in the day, I seemed to have overlooked packing any headlamps or flashlights… a very unfortunate mistake on my park. Thankfully, our daughter keeps a flashlight in her daypack. Scott used his phone to light his way at the front of the line, while simultaneously looking at my phone for the map. I was using Sandy’s flashlight at the rear of the group to make sure we didn’t lose any kids or the dog.
Killian was not afraid. Being 2, he was naïve to the dangers of the forest and very into the “Going on a Bear Hunt” song that his grandma had taught him. Wildly convenient! Once he got moving on the trail, he was in his own little world of adventure. He did not stop talking the entire hike. This was actually comforting to his sister, Sandy. We assured her that no animal would want to come anywhere near that nonstop chatterbox.
Arriving at Camp
Original Plan: We were supposed to arrive at camp with hours of daylight to spare. The kids would have a chance the check out their new surroundings and explore.
What Actually Happened: As darkness fell, we kept checking our map and scooting along a quickly as a toddler can go. Based on the map indications, the campsite should have been at a little turn off of the main trail. But we only saw one, questionable turn off. We checked around for indications of a campsite. There was a small remanence of a past campfire with a circle of rocks and a small clearing where a tent had been placed. Our options were to push the now exhausted children to hike further in hopes of finding the actual campsite or make due with our location right there. We set up camp.
Original Plan: Getting to the campsite would be a great accomplishment for our two young hikers. The fearless adventurers would assist in setting up the tent and unrolling their sleeping bags. Setting up camp is always a great experience with the kids and gives them a change to use all of the cool gear and learn new skills.
What Actually Happened: Deciding to stay in this little clearing meant having to make due with the conditions set before us. With no daylight left and very little artificial light given, I set to work setting up the tent. I can move fairly quickly in this endeavor when needed. It was needed. Sandy helped with some parts of the tent setup, the parts that were most in the light of the flashlight. Killian huddled closely to his dad, who was holding flashlight and phone up high, trying to provide the most light possible. We accomplished our set up and quickly threw our sleeping gear inside.
Original Plan: After camp set up, we would sit down to have a delicious meal of taco rice. Once dishes were cleaned and stowed away, we’d be able to make a quick little fire to roast our s’mores and gaze up at the stars from our great overlook destination. The bear box provided would make quick work of storing our food pack. The box was located on the side of the lean-to shelter at the campsite.
What Actually Happened: With camp set up complete, it was time to hide our food pack. Problem is, no campsite means no bear box. We always pack rope on a camping trip, we’d need it the following night in the BWCA. The trouble was spotting a tree good for hanging a food pack in the dark. We found a tree that would suffice, it was over a small gorge. We were thankful that we weren’t new to the whole concept of hanging packs from trees.
Original Plan: I had packed cards and a book for the kids to entertain them before bed. Killian had a “Goodnight Minnesota” book, it would be the perfect read in the Northwoods. Our favorite card games to play are while camping are Go Fish, Crazy 8’s, and the classic Old Maid. I was looking forward to fooling Sandy into being the Old Maid. Following our competitive festivities and story telling, we’d cozy into our sleeping bags and get our dog settled with her blanket.
What Actually Happened: We did not play games. We did not read stories. It was straight to bed. We got the very tired kids into their pajamas and sleeping bags. We had planned this trip for the middle of July, the hottest month of the year. The kids stayed plenty warm. Scott and I stayed plenty warm. Xena, the Great Dane, did not stay warm.
I was hoping that because it was July and we had brought her warm blankets, she would be toasty warm. Not the case this weekend. She found herself wrapped in not only her blanket, but my sleeping bag as well. I also curled up around her to keep her warm with my body heat. I wasn’t cold at all, but she was shivering before I snuggled up to her. After readjusting her sleeping arrangements with snuggles, my good old girl slept like a baby.
Original Plan: I’d rise early to catch a peaceful sunrise at the overlook and have a few quiet moments before the kids burst out of the tent with youthful energy. We’d have a simple break of oatmeal and enjoy our hot cocoa and coffee. Xena would eat up her kibble and maybe a jerky snack or two. Packing up camp would be a snap as we usually pack pretty light and have a good system down.
What Actually Happened: Something stinks….. bad. Xena stretched in her cozy spot and the smell became more putrid.
Side note: Xena was 8 years old on this trip last summer. With her age, she has developed mild fecal incontinence. This means that occasionally a little nugget will fall out without her knowledge. We were aware of this problem, but it’s not too frequent and is usually quite easy to clean up.
Miss Xena had indeed made a mess on her blanket and my sleeping bag. This was not a simple clean up. The mess in question was smashed into both items. This two night trip had now been knocked down to a single night trip. I was not going to sleep in a soiled sleeping bag, no thanks.
We fetched to food pack to prepare breakfast for the kids and Xena. While they ate and had their hot cocoa, I tore down camp. This is usually a group effort. With a stinky Xena mess on our hands, I didn’t want it ending up on their hands. This was a job for mom only.
Xena decided that burying her breakfast in the dirt was better than eating. I spent a great deal of time picking kibble out of the dirt; leave no trace. By the time I was able to eat breakfast it was cold. Excellent… Not.
Original Plan: The hike out was supposed to get us motivated for the day of exploring ahead. Seeing the trail we had concurred the night before in a new light of a bright sunny morning. Checking out the waterfalls once more as we meandered back to the Pathfinder.
What Actually Happened: We started our hike out by hiking farther in. The motivation was to see where this illusive campsite really was. To our dismay, it was a scant quarter mile farther down the trail. But it ran right next to a huge drop, hence the name Lookout Mountain. It was indeed a great overlook. The cliff stood over an astounding view that would have certainly looked breathtaking at sunrise… had we actually been there to see it. We checked out the camp, it was a nice little area.
Now that we had seen what could have been, we were ready to venture back to our starting point. It was a brand new hike, even though we had traversed the same path ten hours earlier. It the morning sun, we were able to see all that we had missed in the dark. Killian was a great little hiker, once we got moving. Sandy was most pleased when we stopped to play at a bridge and creek. She is fascinated by water of any kind.
We spent some time gazing at the falls on our way back. We hadn’t taken any time to appreciate them the night before while rushing to get as far as we could before total darkness. They were wonderful. I highly recommend getting a glimpse of these beauties when visiting the far North Shore.
Original Plan: We would grab a map quickly at the Sawtooth Outfitters in Tofte and head to the trail head. We would hike in to one of the two campsites available on the way to Eagle Mountain. This is inside of the Boundary Waters, a permit is required, we had such permit and hoped for the campsite on Whale Lake. Being that we would be staying at a campsite for the night, we would only be doing half of the 7 mile hike that day. Three and half miles would be no problem for the kids.
We would leave our gear and hang our food pack at the campsite and hike the rest of the way to the peak of Eagle Mountain. The break of dropping off gear would give the kids a break from hiking and a chance to play by the lake on a hot summer afternoon. The hike back to the campsite after reaching the peak of Eagle Mountain would be short as it’s fairly close.
What Actually Happened: We picked up our map from Sawtooth Outfitter and made our way to the trail head. The parking area was surprisingly full. I hadn’t packed the child carrier. The original three and a half miles was not going to be an issue for our littlest hiker. After Xena’s incident, we were not staying the night. Our hike was just doubled. No carrier was now a problem.
Killian was a trooper for fair distance in. His energy began to fade and his lack of sleep caught up to him. It was dad to the rescue. Scott carried Killian on his shoulders on and off for a great deal of the trail. Killian’s legs would get sore after a while from having his legs pressing into his dad’s shoulders. Then he’d walk for a while until he was tired. Sandy was amazing! She carried on with no problem, such a great hiker.
While we had to modify our plan for Eagle Mountain, it was a great hike. I would highly recommend it for every Minnesota hiker! Be sure to bring a child carrier for the little ones, though, even if you think you don’t need it. Hiking Eagle Mountain was a great experience.
Saturday Night Dinner
Original Plan: Return to camp on Whale Lake from the hike to Eagle Mountain and enjoy another camp dinner with a fire and watch the kids play by the rocky shore. Have a s’more or two before hanging the food pack for the night.
What Actually Happened: After our longer than planned hike to Eagle Mountain, we were starving. Of course we had brought snacks, but sometimes snacks are not enough. We headed toward Grand Marais in search of a place to grab dinner. This was a great alternative to camp dinner; My Sister’s Place. This restaurant hit the spot and they even had blueberry milkshakes. It was delicious. After our delicious dinner we headed straight for home.
Every camping trip should teach an adventurer something new. If you’ve learned everything there is to know about camping and the great outdoors, good for you. The rest of us will learn as we go and strive to take a little something out of each trip. Or in this case, a lot of somethings. Here are the lessons we learned from this disastrous, yet memorable, camping trip.
Ensure the vehicle intended for the trip is in working conditions well before the journey. We already knew this from our Accidental Trip to Tettigouche State Park several years ago, but I guess we needed a reminder.
Have a printed map prior to arriving at your destination.
Pack the damn flashlights.
Camp at designated campsites.
Always pack rope (we had this one down).
Bring cleaning supplies when traveling with a senior dog.
Bring a jacket if that senior dog might get cold (it was July! How was she cold?!)
Always pack the child carrier, even if you think you won’t need it.
The biggest one:
When the camping trip doesn’t go according to plan, that doesn’t make it a bad trip. Despite all of the weird events and misfortunate circumstances that occurred; we had a great trip. Our Cascade River/Eagle Mountain experience wasn’t what we expected but it certainly made some lasting memories.
A stay in a Camper Cabin was on my Winter Bucket List this year. Jay Cooke really delivered on the winter wonderland/cozy cabin feel for the weekend. Not knowing what to expect for our first Camper Cabin stay, we were truly impressed with this experience and will absolutely be seeking out more adventures like this one from our State Parks in Minnesota.
Our choice of park was Jay Cooke State Park. 29 of the 66 state parks in Minnesota have camper cabins. Not all are available year round, this excellent map from the DNR website shows which parks have camper cabins specific to the time of year. With all of these locations to choose from, you’re bound to find one at a park that suits your family and the adventure you’re looking for. The DNR website is an amazing resource and has a map of all parks offering cabins here.
We landed on Jay Cooke for two reasons. First, I was a little late in the game to reserve a cabin and most were take already. Jay Cooke had just one cabin left. Second, the close proximity to Duluth for the Cold Front Winter Festival and site seeing along Lake Superior. For more on Jay Cooke in the winter check out our Winter at Jay Cooke post.
Campground Winter Accommodations
Majority of the campground accommodations are shutdown for the winter, including water, showers, and restrooms. There are still a few things available in the area for winter campers and cabin guests.
Frost Proof Spigot: The park provides a frost proof spigot for water that is available for cooking and drinking water year round. This is close to the cabins and campsites that remains open for the winter.
Vault Style Toilets: These ‘restrooms’ remain open year-round. They are surprisingly more pungent in the winter than in the summer. I would image the reason for this is the lack of microorganisms breaking down the waste. Toilet paper is available and not lacking in supply in the restrooms.
**Warning: Vault style toilets in winter are chilly on the buns. If you’re camping with kids, use the restroom first to save their little buns from a frosty shock.
Inside Gabbro Cabin
We stayed in the Gabbro Cabin. This cabin sleeps 6 people comfortably. There are two sets of bunks. A single sleeper on the top bunk with a double on the bottom. The mattresses are surprisingly comfortable. Bring your own bedding, the mattresses do not have sheets on them. We brought our sleeping bags, worked like a charm and made it feel more like camping.
The cabin contains a small breakfast nook. It works great for meals, organizing the daypack and play cards late at night.
Cooking is not allowed inside the cabin. That’s no problem as there is a nicely placed picnic table outside that works great for a cooking surface. It’s perfectly level for a camp stove. We made our morning coffee outside and enjoyed our thermal mugs of liquid energy inside the cabin.
Firewood can be purchased at the Park Office upon check-in. They also have fire starters available. I recommend purchasing two of these fire starters as the wood takes a bit of effort to catch. We had a heck of a time getting the kiln dried wood to start, as usual. Thankfully, I had a fire starter in my Winter Emergency Kit that I keep in my vehicle. Collecting firewood from around the campground area is not allowed.
Fire rings are not shoveled out by the park service. If you intent to have a campfire during your stay in the winter, plan to bring a shovel to clear the snow.
**S’mores Tip: Eat your s’more fast or you’ll be holding it over the fire to thaw the chocolate before you’re finished.
The cabins at Jay Cooke have electricity and heat. Our cabin was kept at a comfortable 65 degrees during our stay, though it is requested that campers turn the temperature down to 60 when leaving camp.
A simple clean up is the responsibility of cabin guests. The park doesn’t ask for much from the campers. A broom and shovel are in the porch for guest use. Clean up is a snap as there are boot mats and rugs inside the cabins.
Wipe down surfaces.
Sweep cabin floor (mops available at park office if needed).
Pack out trash, larger trash bins are located inside the campground.
What to Bring
Sleeping Bags/Pillows: The cabin is equipped with bunks and mattresses but campers will need to supply their own bedding.
Camp Stove/Cookware: There is no kitchen inside the cabin. Plan to cook just as you would for outdoor camping or bring along food that doesn’t require cooking.
Eating Utensils/Dishes: No kitchen also means no utensils or dishes. Treat this just like a camping situation and bring your own dishes for making meals, eating, and cleaning up.
Headlamp: The vault toilet is conveniently close but it lacks light. Our stay was during a full moon so the path to the restroom was well lit. Inside the shack, it was quite dim and a headlight was required at night.
Cards/Games: It gets dark early in the winter. Bring some cards or other family favorites for entertainment inside the cabin at night. My daughter whooped my butt several times in Uno. Good times.
Water Jug & Dispenser: There is a spigot available, this one is not essential. But it sure does make things easier. I love having this along on all trips that we’ll be having the vehicle along or nearby. It’s great for filling water bottles and cooking at camp.
Shovel: If you are intending to have a campfire, bring a small shovel to dig out the fire ring. There was a shovel in the cabin porch, but it wasn’t the right shovel for the job.
Add this winter adventure to your Winter Bucket List and experience the snowy wonderland of the Minnesota State Parks.
State Parks in the Minnesota summer buzz with activity from visitors seeking natural wonders. The magic of these parks doesn’t stop with the snowfall. The snow gives way to a new adventure and a quiet park to be explored. With crowds dispersed for the season, Jay Cooke can be appreciated more fully for it’s wintery beauty.
Quick Review: 9/10 Jay Cooke is not lacking in whimsical winter views. Well packed trails and clear signage is obvious evidence of the hard work the park rangers put in at Jay Cooke.
The majority of the parks trails kick off at the parks main draw, the swinging bridge. The bridge allows winter travelers to cross the aggressive St. Louis river that roars beneath the ice below. The incomplete ice gives glimpses of the strong current of root beer colored waters that flow to Lake Superior.
Snow Covered Falls
During the spring and summer the flow over the rocks is thunderous and intimidating. Some points of the year, depending on rain fall and time of year, the waterflow slows. In the winter months the ice takes hold on much of the falls, leaving sparse sections of water to be seen through the snow and ice. Snow accumulates over the icy rocks giving a calmer atmosphere around the river. Take time to appreciate the calm that winter brings.
The trails at Jay Cooke are well maintained and well marked. I was thoroughly impressed with how well the park rangers here keep up with trail maintenance. Not only are the trails marked for direction but also for usage type. No mistaking which method of travel is to be used on a given trail at this park.
Snowshoe/Hike: While Jay Cooke has no lack of trails in it’s territory, there is but four trails designated for hiking and snowshoeing. The trails still cover a vast nine miles of winter hiking. Two trails embark from the visitor’s center leading either around the campground or across the swinging bridge, then west along the St. Louis River. The other two trails require a drive to another parking area, one of which connects to the Superior Hiking trail.
**If hiking with small children, the paths are not suitable for strollers and can be too narrow or steep for many carriers. We needed to carry our 3 year old over some of the rougher areas, not a hinderance though.
Ski: This State Park is a cross country skier’s paradise. There are a total of 32 miles of ski trails in the park with a variety of levels. Closer to the visitors center there are easier trails. As one ventures farther away, the trails become increasingly difficult.
Fat-tire Biking: This is one of the few parks that allow for fat-tire biking. There are about 5 miles of trails designated for bikes, a section of which is shared with skiers.
Jay Cooke can accommodate a variety of different camping styles, everything from backpack “roughing it” to rustic cabins. During the winter, the camper cabins remain available for reservations as well as 12 campsites in the campground. The 12 sites and the cabin areas are plowed for the season. The showers and bathrooms are closed but there is one frost proof spigot for water and a vault style toilet nearby.
We stayed in one of the five available cabins during our stay at Jay Cooke. I highly recommend an overnight adventure in one of these cozy cabins. During the winter, the campground feels much more secluded and void of crowds. Our weekend getaway at the Jay Cooke Camper Cabins was a wonderful winter experience for us and our kids.
River Inn Visitors Center
The River Inn Visitor’s Center doubles as a nature center and warming house. From outside, the smoke coming from the chimney is quite inviting after a day of snowshoeing or skiing. Get toasty warm by the fireplace in the main area of the building or check out the informative nature displays. There are even some sensory displays for the kids.
Park Office & Store
Park passes and camp check-in can be obtained at the Park Office at the entrance of the park. Available inside is a variety of souvenirs, snacks, maps, camp items, firewood and starters. It’s worth a visit, especially if you’ve forgotten a piece of essential camping gear.
A canoe camping trip into the wilderness with a toddler doesn’t have to be a 30 mile route. In fact, that sounds horrible. Keeping the distance short, the terrain easy and the stress low will keep your trip from becoming a disaster. There are around 80 entry points into the great BWCA. That’s a lot to sift through when planning for a trip accompanied by the most junior of adventures. Here is a list of 4 entry points that I would consider easy when in the company of children under 2 years of age.
1. Kawishiwi Lake
Entry Point #37
Entry Style: Drive up to the lake
Campgrounds Nearby: Kawishiwi Lake Rustic Campground
Daytrips: To Square then to Baskatong/Kawasachong Lake loop or up to Lake Polly
Kawishiwi Lake is my number one recommendation for those with infants wishing for a wilderness experience with the safety net of being near an exit. We loved our home away from home on Kawishiwi with our 10 month old adventurer. Even with the campground right on the lake, there wasn’t much traffic generated from it. We still experienced solitude and wilderness. Our family stayed at the campsite near the entry point, it has a wonderful little beach for the kids to play on. Check out the full experience here.
Entry Point #35
Entry Style: 35 Rod Portage
Campgrounds Nearby: None
Daytrips: Isabella River, Boga Lake & Perent River
Isabella Lake is a slightly larger lake that can become windy at times, but on a calm day this lake is wonderful. This was the first lake my parents took me to in the Boundary Waters. I was six years old. I have fond memories of playing at the Isabella River, hopping on rocks and catching crayfish. My dad and brother spent a great deal of time fishing. Isabella has walleye, northern, bass, panfish and several other fish species. The campsites are low to the water and relatively flat, making them ideal for camping with smaller children.
*Note: The lake was greatly affected by the Pagami Fires of 2011. A past fire has yet to deter my family from a visit to a lake. It’s a chance to see the impact of wildfires and to witness natures ability to bounce back and regrow.
Baker Lake does not have any campsites on it’s shores but the portages to the nearby lakes are short and easy. The route is actually along the Temperance River. This a very easy and simple area to bring small children. The campsite at the north end of Kelly Lake is perfect for junior campers. This are has a very cool and not well known day trip waiting to be explored, but watch for bear sign. Get the scoop on Baker Lake here.
Daytrips: Fishing on Alton or tour the fire themed lakes; Smoke, Flame and Burnt
With a campground and outfitter right on the lake, there is a greater amount of traffic on this lake. That being said, campers can still have a great experience on this lake. Most of the paddlers on this lake are headed deeper into the wilderness. This gives those who intend to stay on this lake with junior paddlers a chance at claiming one of the 12 campsites available. If these are all taken, there is a short portage to Alton Lake to the west. Alton has 18 campsites available, surely one of these would be available.