Adventure & Relax on a Minnesota Camping Trip

Credit to Erica Wachker of ExploreMinnesota.com: https://www.exploreminnesota.com/travel-ideas/reconnect-on-a-camping-trip/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

Camping with dogs in Superior National ForestCamping in the Superior National Forest / Alyssa Hei

Relaxation, adventure, escape, and quality time with family and friends are among the many reasons why camping is a beloved Minnesota pastime. Whether you’re ready to take on the Boundary Waters or prefer the comforts of an RV, a Minnesota camping trip will surely be one to remember.

BOUNDARY WATERS & BACKPACKING

View from a boundary waters bluff

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness / Gary Hamer

 

Camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a badge of honor. There are no roads, buildings, motorboats, and definitely no cell phone service. The only mode of transportation is via canoe, with more than 1,500 miles of waterways to explore. When it’s time to set up camp, simply paddle to an open campsite and pitch your tent. Every campsite is private, so you’ll have a little piece of the wilderness all to yourselves.

Adjacent to the Boundary Waters, the Superior National Forest has a wide range of camping options, from primitive “dispersed camping” sites up to drive-in sites complete with bathhouses and electric hookups. Also in this picturesque part of the state, the Superior Hiking Trail covers nearly 300 miles of rugged terrain above the North Shore of Lake Superior, with more than 90 campsites along the way.

Lake Maria State Park camping backpacking

Backpacking at Lake Maria State Park

Another backpacking hot spot is Crosby Manitou State Park on the North Shore near Silver Bay, where challenging trails are flanked with spectacular views of waterfalls and forests. The secluded campsites are for backpackers only (though you may have to share them with moose, deer and other wildlife).

Similar camping experiences can be found in the northwest part of the state, in the Chippewa National Forest and along the North Country National Scenic Trail, which travels 800 miles across the northern half of Minnesota with multiple segments that stretch from the North Dakota border all the way to the Superior Hiking Trail.

Backpacking opportunities even exist near the Minneapolis-St. Paul area at AftonLake Maria and St. Croix state parks. Several state parks also have “walk-in” (less than half a mile) sites, with carts available to haul your gear in some cases.

CAMPGROUNDS & RV PARKS

Airstream Mille Lacs Mali Mish

Airstream at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park / Mali Mish Family

If you’re looking for a more laid back and family-friendly camping experience, Minnesota has about 500 privately operated campgrounds, most of which are on a lake or river, with sites for RVs as well as tents. Many are at resorts that also rent cabins and other indoor lodging.

These campgrounds usually feature an array of amenities, such as pools, playgrounds, game rooms, entertainment, boat rentals, Wi-Fi, and on-site laundry, groceries and restaurants. Many offer family-friendly activities like bonfires and other fun that make them a great choice for groups of all ages.

Many of Minnesota’s most scenic spots have been preserved as state parks, and most of the 75 parks and recreation areas have campgrounds with tent and RV sites. The settings range from forest to prairie; scenic hiking trails and access to a lake or river are among the highlights at these popular parks.

Camper cabin at Afton State Park

Camper cabin at Afton State Park / Kirsten Alana

Several state parks and some private campgrounds also rent camper cabins, an appealing alternative for those who don’t want to sleep in a tent. The majority have electricity and heat and can sleep up to six people. But without their own restrooms or running water, you can still say that you’re roughing it.

City and county campgrounds are another good option; in-town campgrounds are usually near shops, restaurants and attractions. If you don’t have your own camping equipment, various outfitters offer rentals of everything from tents and pop-up campers to top-of-the-line motorhomes complete with kitchens and master suites.

Traditional Minnesota Food; Transformation!

When you think of Minnesota food, you might think of a few classic staples: nutty wild rice, flaky walleye, and stick-to-your-guts hot dish. http://whitebirchresort.net

Change, of course, has arrived with a vengeance as a food revolution has swept the state, and tradition is increasingly seen as a platform for invention. Chefs around the state revel in adapting and sometimes completely transforming hidebound dishes, creating menus that riff playfully on familiar flavors and foods.

MPLS Dog

MPLS DOG AT UNCLE FRANKY’S, TWIN CITIES

Diners know the Chicago Dog and the Coney Island Dog but how about the MPLS Dog? Stop into Uncle Franky’s to enjoy this new creation. The MPLS Dog is an all beef hot dog topped with hot dish, a drizzle of ketchup, Cheese-Whiz and crispy tater tots. You can find the MPLS Dog at Uncle Franky’s in Minneapolis, Fridley and Plymouth.

GRAND VIEW LODGE DINING ROOM, NISSWA

Plunge into a venison wild rice meatloaf at the Grand View Lodge Dining Room if you’d like to experience an elevated take on a Midwestern classic. The venison and wild rice take you to the arboreal wilds, and the presentation and technique bring you back into the comfort of civilization.

PIGGY BLUE’S BAR-B-QUE, AUSTIN

SPAM takes center stage in Austin, Minnesota, home of the famous canned ham that fueled American troops through multiple wars (and became an intrinsic part of Hawaiian and Korean cultures in the process.) Stop by Piggy Blue’s Bar-B-Que for a Spam Town Po’ Boy or Spam Burger.

FITGER’S BREWHOUSE, DULUTH

Fitger’s is a food, drink and music hub of Duluth’s social scene, so it’s no surprise that they’ve got some inventive takes on local flavor. The brewpub’s smoked fish salad uses smoked trout from local smokehouse Northern Waters, wild rice and smoked dressing, and it brings a hearty does of flavor to the table.

If you’re up for something a bit more edgy, try the Northern Waters Smokehaus Whitefish Burger, where the locally caught fish is seasoned with breadcrumbs, eggs, mustard and spice, served on a ciabatta roll and finished with wasabi mayonnaise.

Blue Door Pub burger
Photo courtesy of The Blue Door Pub

THE BLUE DOOR PUB, ST. PAUL & MINNEAPOLIS

The humble cheese-stuffed hamburger known as the Jucy Lucy got its start in South Minneapolis taverns like Matt’s, Adrian’s and the 5-8 Club. But it has been taken to inventive heights by the team behind The Blue Door Pub in St. Paul, with a new location in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood.

The Blue Door’s menu swims with creative versions of the stuffed favorite, but the one that caught our eye was the Bangkok Blucy, stuffed with coconut milk-soaked mozzarella and topped with pickled carrots, cucumbers, red onion, and ginger with a side of curry for dunking.

THE BOATHOUSE, ELY

Craft beer has come to Minnesota’s vacation country in force, as evidenced by frontier brewpubs like the newly founded Boathouse in Ely. The Boathouse’s beer-battered walleye uses house-made craft beer and thereby managed to capture a good percentage of a successful fishing trip in each bite taken.

Alternately, take your walleye to Mexico via India with the brewpub’s fish taco, which features breaded strips of fish on naan bread with shredded cheddar and a side of broccoli slaw.

5-WAYS TO MAKE THE MOST OF A MINNESOTA WINTER

Winter in Minnesota is the perfect time of year to get together with loved ones, embrace old traditions, or even start some new ones. Here are just five of the many ways to make the most of this special season.

GET IN THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT

Bentleyville Tour of Lights

Bentleyville Tour of Lights, Duluth

A hallmark of the holiday season in Germany and Austria, holiday markets—called Christkindlmarkts—have made their way to Minnesota. Holidazzle will take place in Loring Park again this year and will feature more than 40 vendors selling ornaments, candles and other handcrafted gifts, as well as mulled wine and brats. Other highlights include fireworks, Santa visits, holiday movie screenings and free ice skating. The destination is open Thursdays-Sundays from Nov. 25 through Dec. 23 and is free to attend.

Holiday plays and performances are a tradition for many families this time of year. Festive favorites include “A Christmas Carol” at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and the Rochester Civic Theatre, a dozen iterations of “The Nutcracker,” from classic to hip-hop, and Christmas concerts by artists including Kat Perkins, Blind Boys of Alabama, Lorie Line and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

For light shows worth a drive, don’t miss Duluth’s Bentleyville Tour of Lights, the Kiwanis Holiday Lights in Mankato and the Trester Trolley Light Tours in Winona. New in 2016, “Bruce Munro: Winter Light at the Arboretum” is the first large-scale outdoor light display at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen.

EXPLORE A NATURE CENTER

Great gray owl in Duluth; photo by Amanda Burcar-Annis

Photo by Amanda Burcar Annis

Many of Minnesota’s nature centers are open year-round, offering opportunities to interact with wildlife and the winter landscape. Owls are a big draw at the Agassiz Audubon Center near Thief River Falls, which documented dozens of snowy owl sightings last year in the surrounding Red River Valley.

At the International Owl Center in southeastern Minnesota, Alice the resident great horned owl is so popular that the International Festival of Owls in early March is held in conjunction with her hatch day.

Since nature centers are often surrounded by trails, they make a great starting point for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or snowmobiling. Options include the River Bend Nature Center in Faribault (skiing and snowmobiling), Maplewood Nature Center (snowshoeing) and Hartley Nature Center in Duluth (skiing).

CHECK OUT A MUSEUM

At the Science Museum of Minnesota in downtown St. Paul, “Mindbender Mansion” makes critical thinking and problem solving fun, and “A Beautiful Planet” is featured in the Omnitheater. Open until mid-January, the “Gridiron Glory” exhibit at the Minnesota History Center features the Vince Lombardi trophy and other artifacts from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While you’re downtown, be sure to stop by Rice Park to see the ice sculptures and live entertainment as part of the Saint Paul Winter Carnival.

Other museums worth a winter visit include the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, the recently reopened Spam Museum in Austin, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which recently debuted a new entrance and restaurant as part of its major renovation project.

WARM UP AT A WATER PARK

Family Cascade Bay Water Park 440x440.jpgWaterslides, lazy rivers and splash pads aren’t just for the summer months. Several Minnesota water parks can be found indoors, offering a tropical escape no matter the weather.

Paul Bunyan Water Park, inside Arrowwood Lodge in Baxter, features tube and body slides, a treehouse equipped with water cannons and an indoor/outdoor hot tub. At the Edgewater Hotel & Waterpark in Duluth, a vortex pool allows guests to swim with or against a fast-moving current.

There’s even a waterpark right by Mall of America, so you can take a dip after completing all your holiday shopping. Find more options, from Bloomington to Alexandria to Thief River Falls, on the water parks page.

GO MAPLE SYRUPING

A sure sign that spring is coming, maple syrup demonstrations and festivals start cropping up in March. On Maple Syrup Day, the Audubon Center of the North Woods in Sandstone hosts a pancake brunch as part of its syrup celebration. Or see how the sap is gathered and turned into syrup, and get a taste of the end result, at the Wargo Nature Center in Lino Lakes.

Many Minnesota state parks, including Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Whitewater near St. Charles and Lake Maria near Monticello, offer maple syrup programs. Nature centers and other parks, like the Three Rivers Park District in the metro area, also get in on the fun.

3-Fun Filled Days along Minnesota’s I-35

Lakes food and beer banner

Curious Goat burger / TJ Turner; Castle Danger beer / Brian Jeremiason

If your first thoughts when reminiscing about summer don’t take you to a lake, you have been doing your summers wrong! Minnesota is teeming with a trifecta of summer fun statewide, with its gorgeous lakes, delicious and unique food selection, and up-and-coming brewery scene.

We’ve compiled three days’ worth of these summer treats to help you experience Minnesota the way the locals do, or if you live here, to ensure you have a summer to remember.

This tour loosely follows Interstate 35 from north to south, but feel free to start wherever you choose and create your own adventure.

DAY 1—NORTH SHORE

gooseberryfalls

Gooseberry Falls / Photo by Eve Schrank

If you’re starting your trip in Duluth (the north end of I-35), drive about an hour up the shore to begin your day on Lake Superior. (If you can’t wait to eat, stop at the Duluth Grill and order a hearty plate of corned beef hash and eggs to fuel up.) Hike or bike along the Gitchi Gami State Trail and catch a view of landmarks like Split Rock Lighthouse and the spectacular waterfall at Gooseberry Falls State Park. Snap some pictures and soak in as many beautiful hiking opportunities as possible as you make your way down the shore; the gorgeous and lengthy Superior Hiking Trail connects with the Gitchi Gami at both of these sites.

You’re going to need some hearty food to make it through the rest of your adventurous day along the North Shore. Fuel up at the Rustic Inn Cafe, a local favorite, with menu highlights including the cranberry and wild rice waffle and the Logger’s Skillet, a hash-brown assortment of Italian sausage, cheese and more, including a full side of pancakes. And be sure to save room for pie!

After brunch, continue down the shore to Castle Danger Brewery and kick back in the taproom surrounded by the beauty of the area. The brewery hosts a variety of live music performances and allows outside food to be brought in while you sample the beer selection. Try the summer seasonal Summer Crush ale to get the full “summer” effect.

lake superior canoe ride

Lake Superior / Photo by Alyssa Hei

Lastly, venture back to Duluth’s harbor and rent a watercraft to explore the greatest of the Great Lakes. Be adventurous and kayak, canoe or even take a sailboat excursion along the harbor to discover why it’s Instagrammed so often. Sunset kayak tours are offered through The Duluth Experience, and sunset cruises can be booked via Moon Shadow Sailing and Vista Fleet.

If you’re in the mood for a night cap, head to Fitger’s Brewhouse for some food and beer to reward yourself after an epic day. Other options include Canal Park Brewery (try the Pils Popper), Bent Paddle (try the Paddle Break Blonde) and Thirsty Pagan Brewing (try the Stoned Surf IPA).

>Find places to stay in the Duluth area

DAY 2—MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL AREA

lake harriet calm

Lake Harriet / Photo by Shawn Orton

After checking out of your hotel, head about two hours south for a day of urban exploration. Start in the capital city of St. Paul with brunch at the Happy Gnome on Selby Avenue. Try the Bloody Mary bar along with an artisanal cheese plate, or chow down on some apple-bacon pancakes.

Next, cross over to Minneapolis for a combination of gorgeous skylines and soaking up some sun on the calming Lake Harriet. There are walking and biking paths around the lake and other areas to explore, including a rose garden and a mysterious elf who allegedly lives in a tree on the south side of the lake and replies to letters left for him (just look for the tiny door).

Sociable Cider Werks brewery_square

Sociable Cider Werks

Lake Harriet also features a band shell for concerts in the park, food at the Bread & Pickle and lots of rentals, including paddleboards, pedal boats, double-kayaks, and single and tandem bikes. Another popular spot nearby is Minnehaha Park and Falls; be sure to grab lunch at the Sea Salt Eatery if you go.

End your day with a visit to Sociable Ciderwerks in the eclectic Northeast neighborhood. Sociable specializes in cider that even beer lovers will love. Varieties named after biking accessories—Fat Bike, Freewheeler and Spoke Wrench—flood the tap list, and each have unique flavors but remain crisp, refreshing and not full of sugar.

>Find places to stay in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area

DAY 3—SOUTHERN MINNESOTA

Before hopping back on the highway to venture south, have a hearty breakfast at The Buttered Tin in St. Paul’s hip Lowertown neighborhood. This quaint and cozy restaurant has all your breakfast favorites and some great new tries, such as the huevos rancheros Benedict and falafel burger.

Faribault Woolen Mill_Kirsten Alana

Faribault Woolen Mill / Photo by Kirsten Alana

Once you’re fed, head about 45 minutes south to the charming town of Northfield. Best known as the site of the defeat of the notorious Jesse James Gang, it’s now a shopping destination as well. Highlights include The Rare Pair, A Bag Lady, Eclectic Goat and Swag.

From Northfield, continue south to Faribault, home to the historic Faribault Woolen Mill, where throws, scarves, clothes and even puppy blankets are for sale. Tours are also offered every Friday and second Saturday of the month.

After you’ve picked up some local flair, get your daily brew at F-Town, which serves up glasses of beer with quirky names such as Nutso and Flex Less. Brewery tours are offered on Thursdays and Saturdays.

From F-Town, you can easily get to the Cheese Cave and have yourself some delicious, locally made cheese. Faribault’s esteemed blue cheese of three different kinds (they also serve artisan sandwiches, like the raved-about grilled cheese or southwest beef panini) are the perfect snack as you continue exploring southern Minnesota.

Sunset fishing in Fairmont_Greg Abel

Photo by Greg Abel

We can’t forget the lake on this leg of the trip, so we saved Albert Lea, dubbed “the land between the lakes,” for your last stop on the journey. Experience Fountain and/or Albert Lea Lake and all of the activities on them: fishing, boating, waterskiing, or just relaxing and taking a dip.

Be sure to soak up the natural landscape around these lakes at Myre Big Island State Park and Edgewater Park. There are also special events like the Bayside Water Ski Shows on Thursday nights, June through August. The Pelican Breeze II offers guided boat cruises from June to October, with themes nights and other surprises. Or bike along the Blazing Star Trail for a memorable end to your trip.