Two years ago, we had the +perfect+ Itasca camping trip planned. Then, the State of MN shut down. Including the state parks.
I was heartbroken. See, Itasca has always been a special place for me and Greg. When we lived in North Dakota, it was an easy day trip to bike, hike, canoe, eat at Douglas Lodge and enjoy this amazing gem of red and white pines, gorgeous lake, wildlife, Pink Lady Slippers and of course the very start of the Mighty Mississippi. We’d camped there when our eldest two kids were younger.
Just before this year’s Independence Day, we returned!
Itasca is even more magical than I remembered, and in true MN style, offers something for everyone’s state of mind, from water to history, wildlife to wild flowers. Most of all, this is a place to experience our great state as God created it. High-five, Lord, you made yet another corner of unmatched beauty! Thank you.
Pines, flowers, wild friends
We spent much of each day in and on Lake Itasca, diving in for a swim in the middle of the lake (love the smell of wet dogs!), fishing, watching loons, reading, making sandwiches and…did I mention fishing?! Cara was her typical Mermaid. See a whole post on that here.
Take a hike
Amidst genetically modified mosquitoes (seriously, I’m STILL itching), hidden lakes and beautiful MN trees, we had the trail to Aiken Fire Tower completely to ourselves one evening. It was a great hike, and I was so proud of the kids for climbing the tower. That takes nerve. I made it further than before, but the top perch still awaits my shaky tennies. It’s so wonderful to see our kids conquer their hesitations. Hiking is a great way to do that.
And of course we crossed the Mighty Mississippi and ate wild rice pancakes with fresh blueberries at Douglas Lodge!
Best part of a Minnesota state of mind? It sticks with you.
Little Caroline, our third child, blazes her own path. She’s tried many things the other kids did not: cutting her own hair, cutting the dog’s hair, collecting gum wrappers, playing softball–and Girl Scouts. This week, she is spending three days at Girl Scout Camp. So of course mom chaperoned day one. Highlights:
Camp songs haven’t changed (much)
There are a few new verses to Princess Pat, but all the words come right back when the bus singing begins!
Learning a new “Do as I Do” ditty
Record-heat in a day away from a/c
This may be the time to share that this was not an ordinary day at Girl Scout Day Camp. The temperature hit 96 degrees F, the heat index 115 and we were not near a lake or any air conditioning. In fact, the temps, heat index and humidity levels hit record levels all over the state.
Of course we were outside all day. I can honestly say I have never been that hot in my life. And I’m an outdoorsy girl. I lived and worked at a camp for 4 summers. I grew up without air conditioning. But this was debilitating. The staff members did a great job improvising to keep the girls safe and (relatively) cool.
Our #1 activity
We drank water, we re-filled our water bottles, we turned on the hose to play in water and every activity included the instructions every few minutes: “Take a drink of water.”
On this day, the girls learned they can handle heat. Won’t that serve them well as students, professionals, spouses, friends and moms themselves someday?! Just don’t show your sweat, ladies.
I’ll always remember a very cool day with our neat little girl. Thanks for the experience, Caroline honey.
Is there anything better than the first at-home shower after a few days of camping?
As I washed away the layers of campfire soot, Root River water, sunscreen, biking sweat and pool chlorine (I think there’s still a bit of marshmallow on my ear), I thought back to what even my trusty bar of Ivory can’t ever erase:
5 kids = 5x more fun
Sidetracked from a state park because of the government shutdown, we trekked back to The Old Barn Resort with my bro-in-law Curt, his wife Janelle and their little Adam, age 8 (going on 15). Julia also had a friend, sweet Taylor, accompany us.
Tent zippers are a joyful noise
All the kids slept in the tent one night. The raccoons stayed out. And the only ghost stories they told were in the morning under the warm, bright safety of morning light.
Missed exits are good
We tubed on the gorgeous Root River, right from our campground. We missed our intended exit. Had we not, we also would have missed a little fawn playing in the river and the most beautiful summer river scenery. And the boys wouldn’t have perfected their deep, dark Coppertone tans, er, sunburns.
Wild tastes great
Raspberries, growing alongside a hiking trail, were a delicious afternoon treat. We left some for the deer.
1 part fresh air, 2 parts water
The best thing you can “feed” your kids and yourself is long, heavy doses of fresh air. The second-best is water — to drink and to swim in. We all got healthy helpings of both. Which makes for happy campers.
Simple is usually better
We again visited the Amish stand at the Lanesboro Park. I envy their simplicity and calm yet bright demeanor. Plus, it got the kids chatting about life without TXTing, which horrified them … as I wistfully recalled life before TXTing …
Home is the best
Even after our great river, bike trail, Lanesboro and other adventures, the sweetest sight of all is home. And a shower.
We made the reservations in February. Site 66E at Itasca State Park over Independence Day. Greg and I have treasured memories of the gorgeous bike trails and special moment of carefully escorting our kids over the rocks in the Headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi. The kids don’t remember their first visits there, so we were all thrilled to return.
Not to happen. The MN State Parks were all shuttered June 30 when the Gov and State Legislature could not agree on a new budget.
This came about though my friend Mary: her cousin’s husband is a freelance photojournalist and asked on Facebook about an unhappy MN camper. She connected us and there you have it.
What you don’t see in the clip is that I’ve always been a very proud Minnesotan. I haven’t always lived here, but I’ve always extoled the beauty of my home state, especially the forests, streams, vibrant big cities and of course the lakes. Right now, I’m a sad Minnesotan, hoping our leaders can sort this out soon. For far larger reasons than empty campsite 66E at Itasca.
See, Baylor Regional Park Campground was the very first spot we ever camped as our family of 5. That was a few summers ago. We’re much better prepared campers now, but the spot still feels as familiar as home. It’s tough to get in, with only 50 sites, so I got online in February to book a prime site. The entire park is full of huge old oak trees that offered welcome shade during the steamy weekend.
Actually I have a family connection to the park. My mom’s family once farmed there, and the home and barn remain. I like thinking of them milking cows, growing corn and probably a huge garden, weathering the winters and beginning each spring with renewed hope.
The boardwalk hike is one of the fun hikes around Baylor. The boardwalk, surrounded by cattails, attracts garter snakes, which are fun to watch. Two ponds hold “millions of froggies,” according to Caroline.
The pond above was our “backyard,” so the kids had fun finding frogs, toads, crayfish and other little friends. But the wildest life of the weekend was cousin Adam, who joined us to camp. He and his mom Janelle, my dear sis-in-law, came down from Grand Forks. Dad Curt (Greg’s brother) stayed home to keep finishing things to get their home sold before a fall move to Fargo.
Friday night, my mom, aunt and uncle came for a campfire visit. Aunt Carol and Uncle Rich live in Arizona and it was lovely to catch up and laugh with them.
Friday night gave way to a rainy morning, which dispersed the all-night partiers with “not mom-approved language” (Matt). I love the sound of rain on the tent canopies of our camper, and I’m always happy to find our camper has no leaks. Watching the tenters hang up everything to dry, I’m reminded what I don’t miss about more rugged camping…
Breakfast at a very exclusive restaurant
Saturday, we had the only reservations accepted at a wonderful restaurant (otherwise known as my mom’s home, just a few minutes away on the other side of Eagle Lake).
What a wonderful way to spend a dreary morning. As we headed back to camp, the skies cleared for a hot, humid day. We spent the afternoon at the beach, paddle-boating, fishing, swimming and just relaxing.
One of the coolest advancements in camping is the programs offered at campgrounds. Saturday evening’s feature was an Archery Session with great teachers and not many students, so our kidlets had ample opportunity to try out their bows and arrows.
Even Matt got in on the action after a killer game of croquet with Greg kept them back at our campsite
At the last moment while packing on Thursday, I grabbed a long-forgotten Pottery Barn Kids croquet set and packed it. When Julia and Matt were little, we played it four hours in the backyard. It was a neat addition to the weekend. Matt still has to be green; Julia still has a left hook. To me, they are still 2 and 4, carefully planning their shots. Happy memories.
We ended the night with more croquet, critter-searching by lantern and flashlight and of course s’mores.
Sunday morning, it was time to leave home and go…home. Another lovely weekend in the great outdoors.
Camped Baylor? I’d love to hear about your camping adventures in central Minnesota.
“You have to camp at The Old Barn Resort.” “You really should go to The Old Barn Resort.” We heard it from colleagues and hockey parents who also camp, so we listened. And we’re thrilled we did.
The Old Barn Resort is off GPS in the southeast corner of Minnesota, surrounded by glacier-carved bluffs and the Root River.
Ah, the things this door has seen…
The barn’s history, according to the resort’s website: In 1870, Milwaukee entrepreneur Edward Allis, founder of the Allis Chalmers Machinery Co., decided that his playboy son, Jere, should settle down. Edward purchased the land and the wheat mill. Jere farmed, ran the mill and raised Poland China hogs, then purebred Holstein cattle–which is why he built The Barn. Jere later added 20 race horses and a tack room to the barn, plus two private race tracks to the acres. Word is The Barn was a center for dances, basket socials, ball games, then winter ice skating and skiing. The socializing must have gotten out of hand because Jere and Emma were divorced in 1889, the same year his father died. Edward didn’t leave the farm to his son, but Jere and his second wife, Gladys, eventually gained control of the farm, then were forced to sell it in 1906 for a mere $15,000! Vernon Michel purchased the farm in 1988, just before the Root River State Trail (biking) opened, restoring the barn to its former glory and developing a campground. We’re thrilled he did!
Highlights of our time there:
Instead of cooking at our site this time around, we savored dinners at The Old Barn’s restaurant. Saturday afternoon, Julia and I sat at the bar and watched World Cup soccer, er, football! (We were the only ones. Everyone else was watching golf. America’s heartland, indeed.) Above is a view of Friday’s sunset through the original barn windows, which was pretty much all we saw of the big, red fireball all weekend.
Auntie Terri joined us Fri night and all of Saturday!
Julia with Terri’s little guy, Riley
A+ Geology Students
As we headed home, we started making plans for our next visit to the area. An Amish tour, more fishing and biking. Matt says he’ll remember (at least one of) his swimsuits. Meanwhile, we all have happy camping memories of the area around The Old Barn.
Have you visited the Lanesboro/Harmony/Preston area? Must-sees?