Do Something New: Harvest Your Own Christmas Tree

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Normally, I wouldn’t be thinking about our Christmas tree in October. In fact, we’ve had a hand-me-down artificial tree for about the last 15 years, so it wouldn’t occur to me at all. But some relatives were telling us they’d be at the cabin this year for Christmas, and I suggested they get a permit to take their tree from the woods for the occasion. So in the interest of encouraging others into the outdoors, I snooped around for information from Minnesota DNR and the Forest Service, and emailed them some web links. 

What I found actually surprised me. As far as I could tell, the permit for harvesting a tree from Minnesota’s state forest lands would cost $25. That was a higher price than I expected. However, the permit for a tree from Chippewa National Forest costs only $5. 

Yes, FIVE DOLLARS.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Harvest Your Own Christmas Tree”

Snake River Campground

Chengwatana State Forest is one of the closest sizeable state forest parcels to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. As a result, it gets its share of traffic, especially considering the fact that much of the forest is swamp land and difficult to access. To its east lies the St. Croix River. At its northeast is St. Croix State Park and the confluence of the Kettle and St. Croix rivers. At the south end of the main part of the forest is the confluence of the Snake and St. Croix rivers. Few roads offer access to its 29,000 acres, so there is potential for getting far from human presence, if desired. 

Snake River Campground, Chengwatana State ForestThe Snake River Campground lies 9 miles or so east of Pine City, on the south bank of the Snake River. When I visited there in the spring, the sound of the rushing river was a pleasant backdrop as I wandered through the campground loops, and a few of the campsites are a healthy stone’s throw from it. The campground is on the edge of a small pine grove, and most of the sites get good shade from the pines, oaks, and aspens. There are two vault toilets- two aging vault toilets in the first loop, and a new one in the second loop. Water is available by hand pump. There is also a picnic area next to the river. The first time I visited this campground was in midsummer, and the daytime mosquitoes were fairly aggressive; due to topography and dense forest, there is little hope that the wind will keep them at bay. I also noticed a bit of poison ivy along the camp road and bordering some sites, FYI. 

The Campsites

Site 1 is a gorgeous campsite, set back from the road with a great tent pad area suitable for a large tent, and well shaded by white pines. Angle of approach may prohibit long trailers, although there is enough room to accommodate one. 

Site 2, while small and difficult to back trailers into, is shady and close to the loop’s vault toilet. 

Site 3 also benefits from the shade of the pine plantation and seems very desirable overall. 

Site 4 is shaded by the campground’s oaks and pines. There is plenty of room for tents, if set up on the driving surface; this site lacks good tent areas otherwise. It is flush with grass and pine needles. 

Site 5 is the first site that is good for backing trailers into. Spacious and shaded by pines, it is fairly level as well, and easily one of the better overall campsites. 

Snake River Campground, Chengwatana State ForestSite 6 is a little more open and sunny, with plenty of room to park a trailer or set up tents on its grassy areas. It is also close to the river and the water pump. 

Site 7 is shady and level, with lots of good choices for tent placement. 

Site 8 is a bit more open and sunny than most sites here, would be good to back a trailer into, and has lots of area for parking. 

Grassy site 9 gets some midday sun, is long, and sits at a good angle for backing in a trailer. It seems well-screened from other sites. 

Site 10 would be a bit sunny, with little overhead tree cover. It has a good approach angle for trailers, good tent areas, and is close to the latrine. 

Site 11 is right next to the toilets, but does not have much room for parking. There is space at the back of the site which is nice and grassy, but appears lumpy. 

Site 12 does not have much grass. It would probably be best to use with a camping trailer as a result. 

Site 13 would perhaps be difficult to back long trailers into, but is shady, and fairly level and grassy. 

Site 14 is probably the most open and sunny campsite in the campground. Since it is fairly level with good grass, it would probably be good for a couple of tents, if desired. Otherwise, it has room for a vehicle and maybe a shorter trailer. 

Site 15 enjoys good shade among the pines, and is level with lots of room for tents. 

Site 16 is fairly shady and grassy, and is right next to the water pump. 

Site 17 also has good shade courtesy of the pines, and is nicely level and secluded. 

Site 18 has little overhead tree cover and is close to the site behind it (6). It is, however, one of the better sites to back a trailer into, with plenty of length. 

Site 19 is a basic site near the river. It does not have much level ground and would probably be difficult to level a large trailer in. It is, however, fairly close to the river and therefore has no campsites behind it. 

Site 20 is shady and secluded, and near the toilet in this loop. It is fairly large with lots of room for tents. 

Site 21 has an uphill approach with limited room at the back of the site to set up tents. It would not be good for a larger tent, and maybe hard to level a long trailer, but it has a good angle for backing one in. This moderately shaded site is also one of those closest to the river. It may be one of the most desirable campsites in the whole campground.

Site 22 is near the vault toilet, and is a fairly secluded site. It has plenty of room and a good angle for backing into. 

Snake River Campground, Chengwatana State ForestSite 23 is fairly well shaded by pines and aspen, with some midday sun. It does not have a kind angle for backing long trailers in, but it does have a fairly long driving/parking surface. It may be good for multiple tents, but really does not have grassy surfaces to use. Also sits along the river. 

Site 24 is best suited for trailer camping, with lots of room for parking but not much grass. There is some room at the back for tents, but not much level ground. It is one of the more private campsites. 

Site 25 is the last of the campsites along the river. Well shaded and spacious at the back, it could host multiple tents. It is, however, mostly dirt/mud and other sites offer much better tenting surfaces (especially true for the first loop). There is a trail that leads from the back of the site down toward the river and the walking trail through the woods. 

Site 26 has a longer parking surface, and is one of the better sites to back into. This shady site is fairly level with limited grass, but could fit multiple tents. 

~Click on or hover over slideshow photos to see campsite numbers~

 

Boulder Campground

Read More Boulder Campground, St. Croix State Forest

Boulder Campground, St. Croix State Forest

Boulder Campground, although in a fairly hilly location, finds itself surrounded by low ground and saturated soils. That was the case in April when I visited, anyway. At any rate, there is a lake on one side, a permanent swamp on another, and the remainder of the border abuts a blowdown area from a windstorm in July of 2011. Few campsites here are very large, and fewer still offer genuine privacy. Like many state forest campgrounds, it is probably best suited to fall camping for hunters who want to take advantage of the thousands of acres of the surrounding St. Croix State Forest.

It’s quite a long way to drive through the state forest to get to this campground, but getting one of the lakeside campsites would probably make it worth it. Sites that qualify even remotely as “lakeside” are limited to sites 7 and 17. The access to Rock Lake is right in the campground, and there is a short dock which would seem to offer a little bit of fishing opportunity.

Rock LakeWhile there are lots of ATV and OHV trails in the state forest, they are not allowed in this campground. They will need to be trailered and left at the trailhead parking lot which is at the far end of the campground loop (still basically in the campground); this is indicated by a sign at the campground entrance. 

The Campsites

Site 1 is nicely laid out, with plenty of room to the side of the driving surface for tents. It is near the swamp, with some grassy surfaces, and lots of shade. 

Site 2, like site 1, is down by the swamp with good tree cover. There is lots of room, but no grass to put a tent on. In fact, it could be downright muddy on a wet weekend. 

Site 3 is also well shaded, but not very roomy. It is, however, very grassy. 

Site 4 is surrounded by low wet areas, but remains high and dry. This site is fairly spacious, but has no grassy surfaces to speak of. Expect some midday sun in this campsite that would be easy to back a trailer into. 

Site 5 is a fairly level site at the back, with a long driving surface. However, it would be difficult to impossible to back a trailer into. This is another shady site. 

Site 6 is nice and open at the back, with some grass to put a tent on- or maybe two. This site lacks overhead tree cover, allowing the sun in for most of the day. In the spring, the ground seemed rather lumpy, which may resolve itself before summer; tenters beware. 

Site 7 is right across the camp road from the boat landing, water pump, and picnic area. Along with site 6, it would benefit from the wind blowing across the lake (or suffer, in the case of a storm). It is also close to the latrine, which is in the middle of the loop behind the campsite. Easily one of the most desirable sites in the campground. 

Site 8 is another fairly long campsite with some grass in the back, although it may be a struggle to find a good spot to put a tent down. It would likely receive a bit of wind off the lake in a West or even North wind. 

Site 10 is a fairly short site with the road wrapping around it. It appears the trees offer little shade throughout the day, but it seems to have absorbed the table from site 9, which appears no longer in use. 

Site 11 is also fairly close to the road, and is basically an all-gravel site. 

If you like the sun, site 12 is your pick. This site is on the edge of the swamp and blowdown area. The sun seems to have fostered some ground-level vegetation, which sets it apart from site 11. 

Site 13 sits well off the road in the middle of the campground loop. It is very open and spacious, and a rather sunny campsite. The camp’s vault toilet is practically inside this campsite, which may be desirable for some, but obviously detracts from its privacy. 

Site 14, like 12, is very much in the sun on the edge of the blowdown area. On my spring visit, there was some standing water on the driving surface. There is, however, a lot of grass on the site and is one of the more secluded sites in the campground. 

Site 15 is another short site on the inside of the loop, but has good tree cover. It is a fairly level campsite on the whole. 

Site 16 is a fairly short and sunny site, but is fairly well screened from the road and other sites. It is fairly average in most other respects. 

Site 17 is a carry-in lakeside campsite, which is easily the closest to the lake. It is well shaded, with a gravel tent area. Along with site 7, it is easily one of the premier sites in this campground. 

~Click on or hover over slideshow photos to see campsite numbers~

 

Willow River Campground

Willow River Campground

The Willow River Campground in General C.C. Andrews State Forest is a well-maintained state forest campground, typified by gently used campsites in a wooded setting set well apart from each other. From fully shaded campsites in the woods to fairly open sites overlooking the reservoir (river bottom) area, to a couple of carry-in sites and a nicely-kept group camp, there is probably something here to suits anybody’s needs. At 38 individual campsites, this campground is on the larger side for state forest campgrounds. 

Parking for all sites is back-in; none are pull-through. Sites 1-9 and 33-38 have shorter driveways and steep angles, which might not be good for backing trailers- especially large ones- but most of the rest have longer driveways and gentler angles of approach for parking tow-behind rigs or boats. There are also several auxiliary parking areas scattered throughout the campground, perhaps to allow campers with a trailer in the short sites to park their vehicles elsewhere. 

The self-registration station is in the middle of the large camp loop on the left side, near site 20. Water is available by hand pump. There are ample vault toilets and water pumps available: between sites 5 and 34 (also close to 6 and 33) and near site 20 (also close to 21 and 30). There is also another pair of vault toilets tucked out of sight near site 38 (also close to 12 and 13). 

To get to the campground, you have to find your way through Willow River to the frontage road along the west side of Interstate 35 going north. There is one sign pointing the way from Highway 61, but it was not very reflective in the dark and I almost missed it. At any rate, if you get to Doe Street heading east, you will find the way. 

At less than 8,000 acres, General C.C. Andrews State Forest is certainly not one of the larger state forests in Minnesota. Hunters looking to roam will not find much contiguous forest land there that has not been fragmented by roadways or OHV trails. If, however, you are looking for a recreation area friendly to ATVs and off-highway motorcycles with easy access to an interstate highway, this is an obvious destination. Additionally, I know CC Andrews to be a first-rate destination for summer berry picking and camping, and a convenient distance from the Twin Cities area. 

A note about the river (former lake): Willow River Campground is surrounded on three sides, more or less, by the former Stanton Lake. The nearby Willow River dam washed out in the summer of 2016, leaving behind just the river and old river channels. There is a boat ramp in the campground, but it currently just goes down into a large dense area of cattails.

The Campsites

Sites 1, 2, 3, and 4 are situated in a white pine plantation. Well-shaded and fairly flat, they are shorter sites (more typical of state forest campgrounds) that will probably present difficulty when it comes to backing in long trailers. 

Sites 5, 6, 9, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37 are set in an aging spruce plantation, which appears to have been selectively logged in recent years. As such, they will receive a fair amount of sun through the course of the day; some will be shaded only at the very beginning and end of the day. As small-to-average sites, they are probably best suited to hosting a single tent. 

Willow River Campground

Sites 7 and 8 are the carry-in sites, just a short walk from the parking area along the camp road. Both are considerably more secluded than the rest of the campsites, with a nice view of the river bottom, and plenty of room. To access site 8, you have to basically walk through site 7, which does not lend itself well to privacy. Getting both these sites would be ideal for a group too large for one campsite alone. 

Sites 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, and 19 border the Willow River and lowlands, with good views. These sites would receive good breezes, especially when the wind is out of the West or North. This could be an advantage in hot weather or when the mosquitoes are especially fierce. 

Sites 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 30 also border the river, but differ in configuration and generally have much less overhead tree cover. Instead of narrow and set off the road, these sites tend to sprawl right alongside the road, and do not offer much privacy from either the road or each other. Encircling the south end of the loop, they would be best cooled by southeast, south, or southwest winds. 

Site 22 is the accessible campsite in this campground. It is fairly spacious, and the parking surface and areas around the picnic table and fire ring appear very level. Tree cover over this site indicates it would receive a few hours of midday sun. 

Sites 31 and 32 are gorgeous level sites in the heart of the red pine plantation. There is not much undergrowth among the shady pines, which gives the appearance of lots of room in these deep-set campsites; unfortunately, this also means they are not the most private. With plentiful pine needles on the forest floor, they would probably not be very muddy in rainy weather. 

11, 14, 16, 29, and 38 are the left-hand sites as you drive through the campground loop. They tend to be smaller campsites with good tree cover. They also tend to be closer to the camp toilets, which may in itself be appealing for some campers. 

 

Do Something New: Smelt Netting

When I was growing up in the ’80s, the smelt boom on Lake Superior was already over and fading into collective memory, becoming legend. “Smelting” in its heyday was something everybody knew about and a great many rushed to the rivers to partake in. Nowadays, it’s almost exclusively a “used to” activity; you might have heard it too: “we used to go up there and fill up a barrel with smelt in half an hour.” In recent years, however, I’ve learned that the smelt still run and a select few still pursue them. 

Last Wednesday, I bought a smelt net from a guy on Craig’s List for 10 bucks. The next day I headed for Lake Superior with that net, hip waders, a 5 gallon bucket, what little information could be gleaned from the internet regarding current conditions, and a whole lot of hope. The plan was to start up the shore after sunset, and work my way down if I found nothing. The first stop was the booming metropolis of Knife River.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Smelt Netting”

Do Something New: Tapping Maple Trees and Making Syrup

Read More Minnesota maple basswood forest

When you try something new, sometimes it doesn’t go so well. A week ago, it was looking like I wouldn’t see so much as a drop of maple sap coming out of my taps. There was more than a foot of snow on the ground, and although the temperatures seemed perfect, nothing was happening. I didn’t know the first thing about how to make maple syrup, not to mention all the nuances regarding the tree tapping and sap collection along the way.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Tapping Maple Trees and Making Syrup”

My Public Lands: 2018

After the Public Lands Day rally at the state capitol rotunda last year, it seemed like a good idea to keep track of my public land usage until the next rally rolled around. I normally visit a lot of state and federal public lands throughout the year, but never kept a record, and so never really knew the extent of my own personal use. My mission to document my outings proved not only enlightening, but also spurred me on to go new places and try new things. 

The following is a visual representation of my visits- as well as my varied activities- on Minnesota’s public lands since last April. You may notice that not every single day or visit is represented by a photograph. For instance, some photographs represent an activity carried out on several different parcels, at noted. Likewise, some outings occurred on many different days, such as foraging in Chippewa National Forest and George Washington State Forest throughout the summer and fall. I only wish I had remembered to bring my rally sign with me every time; regrettably, there are some gaps in coverage. 

Our public lands, as you can see, are important to me throughout the year for camping, fishing, hunting, foraging, educating my children, and much more. If you are so inclined, please consider joining the Public Lands Day rally at the Minnesota state capitol February 7th, at 3:00. Thanks, and get outside. 

C.C. Andrews State Forest, Kettle River

Sucker fishing and camping, Cloquet Valley S.F. and CC Andrews S.F., April 2018 Continue reading “My Public Lands: 2018”

Sullivan Lake Campground

Unlike the other two campgrounds in Finland State Forest, Eckbeck and Finland, Sullivan Lake Campground does not fill up as quickly on the weekends, and may be a good alternative for those who want to camp “up north.” This is especially true if they wish to stay away from the hordes at state parks and all over the North Shore. When I stayed there in July of 2018, it was sparsely populated and quiet. The camping fee is the rate for state forest campgrounds; in 2018 it was $14. 

Sullivan Lake is in a great location for those seeking outdoor recreation in Finland State Forest and southern Superior National Forest. Thousands of acres of county, state, and national lands are right on the doorstep of this campground for the use of fishermen, grouse hunters, deer hunters, foragers, hikers, and others. The historic settlement of Toimi is nearby, as is a Forest Service interpretive facility, for those interested in the logging history and early settlement of the area. 

Amenities

Most of these campsites have good shade provided by ample trees, if that’s your pleasure. Campsites 3-6 appear to have access to the lake; I couldn’t verify due to some sites being occupied when I was there. 3-7 can probably expect a breeze off the lake when the wind is out of the west. There are two vault toilets, one of which appears to be rather new. Water is from a hand pump, which is quaint; kids usually enjoy filling up with it…the first time. 

The Campsites

Site 1/Site 2

Sites 1 and 2 are close to each other and similar in makeup. Both grassy and expansive, they are great sites to set tents in, and could easily accommodate more than one each. Both sites are back-in parking. 

Site 3

This campsite is easily one of the more desirable sites. It features a generous tent area well off the road and screened by trees. Furthermore, it has one of the better lakeside areas in the campground. Parking is pull-through near the road, but carrying gear down to the lake is a small price to pay for this gem of a site. 

Site 4

Site 4 is another very desirable campsite with its developed lakeshore area and secluded tent pad. In fact, its private lake access and (small) swimming area make it the envy of the other campsites. The tent pad is good-sized, but is a gravel surface. Parking is pull-through, and this site could be the one with most sun exposure. 

Site 5

Parking in site 5 is pull-though, and would be a good choice for a camp trailer. The tent area is gravel. 

Site 6

Site 6 is another pull-through site, and would be a good choice for a towed camping rig. 

Site 7

There are decent-looking spots to put tents, however, they are next to the camp road. Ample shade and back-in parking. 

Site 8

This campsite is well-shaded and, compared to most of the rest, fairly secluded. The tent pad is gravel and looks marginally comfortable. It is at the end of the loop; parking is back-in. 

Site 9

Site 9 is the handicap accessible site in the campground. It is one of the more spacious sites, with the most level ground. There is lots of room for tents; the back-in driveway is long and would accommodate a large camping vehicle/rig. 

Site 10

This is another grassy campsite. May be best suited for tents; backing into it with a pull-behind trailer would be difficult due to the angle of approach. 

Site 11

Another grassy, spacious campsite. Back-in parking.

 

 

 

Minnesota Public Land Camping

Public Land Camping Resources

Dispersed Camping in Minnesota

Minnesota Camping Online Resources 

State and National Forest Campgrounds

Boulder Campground, St. Croix State Forest

Harriet Lake Rustic Campground, Superior National Forest

Silver Island Lake Campground, Superior National Forest

Snake River Campground, Chengwatana State Forest

Sullivan Lake Campground, Finland State Forest

Willow River Campground, C.C. Andrews State Forest

 

Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Cranberries

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The fourth Thursday of November is still more than a month away, but now is the right time to go out and find that Thanksgiving staple: the cranberry. Didn’t know cranberries are growing wild in Minnesota? You’re definitely not alone. Yes, wild cranberries are fairly widespread in our great state, and with a little patience, a person can harvest enough to get a good taste.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Cranberries”

Bring a Kid: Backpacking

Read More Kids Hike Through Tettegouche

After a hot and sweaty couple of miles on the trail, it didn’t matter how cold the water might be or that there wasn’t really a beach. Once we’d found our campsite, taken off our packs, and changed, my kids and I took to the lake for our hard-earned reward. We spent about an hour playing in the water before going ashore for a break. I was made to promise we weren’t done swimming. After sitting in the shade and eating raspberries a while, my son said wistfully, “I wish we could stay here a week, just to swim and eat berries.” He was in paradise. We all were.  Continue reading “Bring a Kid: Backpacking”

What To Forage

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Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Thimbleberries

Read More Rubus parviflorus

August 2005, Isle Royale    My wife and I went ashore from the ferry as it stopped at Windigo. With half an hour until the ferry continued around the island, we went into the visitor center to get our book stamped and ask about what we might find on the trail. We learned about the wolves, moose, and thimbleberries. “Whatberries?” I wasn’t sure if I’d heard correctly. “Thimbleberries,” repeated the Park Service employee. She described the berry she was talking about, and sure enough, we found plenty over our 6 days of hiking the island.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Focus on Thimbleberries”