Harriet Lake Rustic Campground

Harriet Lake Rustic Campground

Most campgrounds way up in Minnesota’s northwoods offer a forest camping experience; it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that there will be plenty of trees, shade, and mosquitoes. Conversely, there are few opportunities to camp in places that offer meadow views or plants and birds that flourish in forest openings. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t any mosquitoes, but I will tell you that if sunny open spaces are your cup of tea, Harriet Lake Rustic Campground (R.C.) should be on your list of destinations. What’s more, it’s one of several campgrounds in the Superior National Forest that are free of charge. 

Harriet Lake R.C. is on the site of a former farm. Some remnants of its farming era can still be seen, including what looks like the foundation for a barn. While many such farms in the area have long since grown over and been absorbed by the boreal forest, this one has been maintained as a forest opening for decades now, for the benefit of campers and wildlife alike. When I visited in the spring of 2019, it had recently been blessed by a controlled burn.

Somewhat anecdotally, I was told at the boat landing by someone who identified himself as a Lake County employee that the campground is a well-known place to pick blueberries. I also noticed there were plenty of raspberry and blackberry canes growing on the fringes of the campground. 

The Campsites

To the uninitiated, it might be hard to find where to camp at Harriet Lake R.C. There are, according to my count, only about 11 campsites (The official Superior N.F. brochure says 6), identifiable by fire ring and picnic table, and only 2 have typical parking spurs off the road. They are mostly approached via a dusty 2-track trail off the main campground drive; exercise caution, as they may be muddy or otherwise hazardous to ordinary passenger cars. Aside from the few near the toilet facility (in the boat ramp area), they are fairly spread out and inconspicuous if unoccupied. 

You may spot the first couple on your left as you drive in off County Road 7. The next cluster will be at the northern end of the opening, on your left as the road curves to the right. One- which has a spectacular view of the lake- is more easily found, but is completely exposed to the sun, wind, and rain. Beyond it to the north are 2 more sites, 1 of which offers much privacy and shade in the small group of trees. You will soon pass another campsite on the left, which, I’m told, has its own carry-in access down to Harriet Lake (it was occupied during my visit). 

The last 5 campsites are in the southeastern end of the campground, closest to the vault toilet. The 2 nearest the boat ramp area have the parking spurs, and may receive some shade early and late in the day. My wife and I set up camp not far away, in what is probably the most shaded and spacious of all the sites in the campground. A short distance across the field from us was another site with some late-day tree cover. The last site I found was to the southwest, tucked back in the woods; it was private and well-shaded, and would probably be the recipient of the least wind and most mosquitoes of all the campsites. 

What You Need to Know

The campground at Harriet Lake is designated as a “rustic” campground because it does not offer electricity or water. This means you need to bring your own water or be prepared to collect and filter it from the lake. On the upside, there is still a toilet facility (not too shabby), and camping is free of charge. It was moderately busy in the middle of the week in May; I believe that was due in part to being a free campground. As a result, I imagine it would fill up on the weekends throughout the summer. Since it is a developed area, dispersed camping is not allowed, so you must camp where there is a site with fire ring. 

There are several good fishing lakes in the area, especially for walleyes. Some of them have great boat ramps, including the one at Harriet Lake, which is right in the campground. Another good lake just up the road is Silver Island Lake, where another rustic campground with 8 sites might offer a place to stay if Harriet Lake R.C. is full. 

This part of Minnesota can be a foraging paradise throughout the season. The entire region is productive for berries, mushrooms, and more, and most land is either owned by the state or the feds, so access is easy. With millions of acres in Superior N.F. alone, nobody can say there isn’t enough room to roam. All you need to do is drive another half an hour to leave the crowds behind you. 

 

To read more firsthand descriptions of other state and national forest campgrounds in Minnesota, visit the Minnesota Public Land Camping page. 

 

 

BWCA Entry Point 44: Ice-Out Lake Trout

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Way up north, in the far reaches of Cook County, hundreds of deep cold lakes lie hidden in the hills and shaggy conifer forests. This is the stronghold of Minnesota’s lake trout population, with dozens of lakes hosting populations of one degree or another. There is a special place in my heart for lake trout, and an honored place on my table for any of the salmonid family. Since our trip to Crystal Lake last spring in the BWCA, I had been looking for my next opportunity to go after more of these delectable fatty fish. Also since last year, I had developed a deep burning desire to take a solo trip, which I had never done before. A permit for one person for Entry Point 44- with lake trout in Ram Lake and Little Trout Lake- seemed the perfect way to scratch both itches. 

On the first portage out of the parking lot, I encountered a patch of snow on the trail; this did not surprise me much since the area received several late and heavy snowfalls, the most recent coming not much more than a week before my own arrival. A few aged footprints indicated others had gotten there first. BWCA Moment of ReflectionBetween Ram and Kroft lakes, however, the untarnished snow drifts hinted I was the first of the season to get that far. Hints turned to proof when a deadfall over the trail required some cutting in order to pass. 

Little Trout Lake

Once in my chosen campsite on Little Trout Lake (the fourth lake in), I settled into the absolute and unspoiled solitude. There was not much time left for fishing, but I paddled around a bit, casting and trolling without any strikes. Nightfall found me nestled tight in my sleeping bag, in complete silence; insects were still dormant, it seemed, and the songbirds largely hadn’t migrated that far north yet. 

The next morning was darn cold; intricate ice crystals had formed in the water with my leeches overnight. In order to warm myself up, some paddling seemed in order. Just a little distance down the shoreline, a 19-inch lake trout struck my chartreuse shad rap. That trout- while large for one guy to eat- made a splendid breakfast after it was roasted over a campfire. In fact, it was the most tasty and most perfectly done trout I’ve ever had. 

Stuffed but invigorated, I packed up camp and prepared for the long portage toward Misquah and Vista Lakes, where more lake trout and walleyes waited, respectively. Another, more massive deadfall near the beginning of the portage made me reconsider my plans. It was obvious no one had cleared the trails yet, and other roadblocks seemed inevitable. After a protracted internal debate, I reluctantly turned around, reclaimed my campsite, and prepared for much more trout fishing. 

Now, one thing I learned in my preparation for this trip is that until the water reaches a certain temperature, lake trout will be anywhere and everywhere in a lake, including (and perhaps especially) in the shallows trying to nab a minnow meal. Immediately after ice-out, there was no doubt they’d still be in that mode. From what little information I could scrape up on the subject, it also seemed the trout would be shallow in the early and late hours, and deeper in the middle of the day. My experience over the course of my trip seemed to bear all of this out, more or less. 

That afternoon another trout impaled itself on my lure, this time a blade bait pulled behind the canoe over deeper water. It was a smaller specimen than the first, but the prospect of catching and eating my limit of lake trout in one day was a new and irresistible milestone. This second trout was fried over another campfire. In retrospect, I wish I’d brought tin foil to bake it in with perhaps onions and/or potatoes. But since I’d anticipated frying walleye over the fire, tin foil had been exchanged for frying pan. Yes, a foil meal would have been optimal, but as they say, you “gotta dance with the girl that brought ya.” 

Thoroughly satisfied, I spent the evening in the campsite. It occurred to me I could still catch even though I couldn’t keep, so in an impromptu experiment I rigged up a slip bobber and tossed one of the leeches I’d planned to offer the walleyes into about 5 feet of water. Sure enough, in the waning minutes of daylight, the bobber bobbed and I set the hook on the biggest trout of the trip: a gorgeous 21-incher. The icing on the cake was the fact that it was caught on an old Heddon fiberglass rod of Grandpa’s, on the eve of what would have been his hundred-and-third birthday. A memorable sunset capped off what I’ve come to call a “one-percent day.” 

The next morning started at 5:40, same as the one before. There was no plan to awaken so early, but it was clear I was done sleeping. It’s amazing how soon my body adopts a new sleeping schedule. Anyway, I climbed sluggishly into the canoe and began casting toward the shallows with a gold shallow-running Shad Rap. It took a little while, but eventually my lure seemed a little too alluring to my next fish, a 12.5-inch laker. It was promptly released in the hope that it might still be there to greet me again in a few years. 

At that point, I’d caught four trout on Little Trout, and a group of at least six other people had set up camp on the opposite end of that little lake. I was growing tired of seeing their three canoes and hearing their voices, albeit occasionally. Mentally, I had settled in for another night on Little Trout, but Ram Lake contains lake trout and also rainbow trout, which would make for a nice bonus fish. Besides, one of my goals was to take some fish home with me, so more time fishing that lake would mean a better chance for fulfilling that request from my wife and kids. I packed up camp and paddled my way off the lake with chartreuse Shad Rap in tow. 

Just yards from the portage, I set my paddle down to reel the line in. At that moment my rod began to bounce, and I thought, “A moment too late; it’s already hitting the rocks.” I was proved wrong by an 18-inch lake trout. By the time I had let it go, I was about 1 canoe length from my point of departure and well within sight of those other guys on the island campsite. They were completely oblivious to my catch. It was a good way to end things there, and I may just go back before too long. 

Ram Lake

I spent the afternoon trolling, casting, jigging, and otherwise probing all points of Ram Lake. The wind and waves were the most acute up to that point of the trip, and it was exhausting work. The antidote turned out to be the campsite I chose that was on the east side of the lake and mostly sheltered from the north wind. It is perched up on a rock face that plunges into the lake, maybe 15 feet above the water, with a great view of the lake and the sunset. I thought there was a good chance of finding a trout patrolling in front of that mini palisade, so I casted different lures time and again while I set up camp and ate supper. Sure enough, a lake trout attacked my small crawdad-colored Husky Jerk, and I attached it to my chain stringer. The plan was to collect some snow from the woods in a plastic shopping bag, tuck the gutted fish into that icy bed, and hoist it in the air with my food bag for the night. It happened just that way, but was delayed by an even more spectacular sunset than the night before. I didn’t mind much. 

The next morning started early once again, but I was not in much of a hurry; the wind was still howling, if not worse than the day before. It seemed I better not end up on the other end of the lake, lest I should become stranded downwind. I sipped at my coffee while I did what casting could done from shore, but that wasn’t working. 

I snuck my canoe around the point and fought my way to the extreme northeast corner of the lake. After some time, I had covered the less-windy portions of the shoreline and was resigned to heading back to the campsite. On my way past the point, I made a cast across it, more or less in desperation. Something hit my floating Rapala, jumped twice, and threw the hook. I ducked back into the refuge behind the point and wedged the canoe against a log so I could keep casting. It dawned on me that a jumping trout would probably be a rainbow trout, which caused me to want it more than anything in that moment. Cast after cast produced nothing. Then another strike, jump, and spit. My blood was on fire with frustration and rage. I could not stand the thought of giving up; clearly that fish was active and there to feed, and it seemed only a matter of time until I would prevail. I grabbed my other rod, adjusted the bobber stop, and sacrificed another leech in my quest to take that trout. All told, the better part of an hour was spent working all the parts of that point with no more action. And despite my sheltered location, the wind and cold were slowly having their way with me and my body began to shiver uncontrollably. I dislodged the canoe and set it slowly into motion. 

In one more desperation cast, I tossed my Rapala far over the point. Something hit it with gusto and fought me every inch of the way. When I could see it was another lake trout, I could have been disappointed, but knew that second laker would fill out my limit and make a good consolation prize. I was more than happy to call it a trip and lay that fish alongside the other one in the bag of snow. 

My steps were light as I carried the canoe up and over the last portage to the car. 

 

 

To see a video compilation of highlights from this trip, see the video “Sights & Sounds: BWCA in Spring” on the NAGC YouTube channel

 

 

 

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”

Silver Island Lake Rustic Campground

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Silver Island Lake is a beautiful sprawling 1,200 acre lake close to the BWCA, known locally as a good fishing lake. Black crappies and northern pike are present in average numbers, and walleyes are historically abundant; sizes for game fish tend to be small to average in this fairly bog-stained lake. The boat ramp is a nicely protected concrete ramp of moderate steepness, however, boaters should use extreme caution in this lake due to the many rock hazards scattered throughout the lake. In other words, you could get a heavy fishing boat into Silver Island, but it would be unwise to cruise around with abandon. 

The boat ramp is in the middle of this no-fee campground, which features three (out of eight) lakeside campsites. Two of those (#3 and #5) feature lake accesses with short docks, which could offer boat mooring possibilities. There is no swimming beach, but one could take a quick swim in the vicinity of the boat ramp if desired.

Most campsites here will be best for a tent or small-to-medium size campers like a pop-up or shorter travel trailer. Longer trailers, fifth wheels, and motorhomes will be hard pressed to find enough level ground to set up on, with the exception of perhaps site #5, and even then it may be difficult to impossible. The Forest Service indicates on its website that all eight sites have “a parking spur of more than 21 ft. suitable for RV or trailer.” I would disagree, but my recommendations are based on the amount of level ground available, and not based on what’s within the realm of possible.

Amenities

The restroom is a two-hole (men/women) vault toilet building which is modern and clean, and each site has a fire ring and picnic table. The bad news is there is neither electricity nor a potable water source in this campground. Therefore, one must bring water and/or a generator if desired. The good news is it’s probably less busy than other campgrounds that offer such amenities (and remember- it’s FREE!).

Site 1 

There is little privacy available in this fairly wide-open campsite without much overhead tree cover, but is high and dry compared to most of the rest. It is probably one of the easier sites to back a trailer into, but is probably best for tents or a smaller pull-behind trailer. Users will probably incur headlights as cars enter and exit the campground, unless protected by artful tent placement and car parking. 

Site 2

Site number 2 is an attractive site with a bit of an uphill approach, allowing for good drainage. It is a bit more private than Site 1, with the fire ring tucked into the back. There is room for a small to medium trailer, or a tent or maybe even two. This site is probably the one whose entrance is closest to the restroom. 

Site 3

This campsite is probably the premier campsite in this campground, with nice tree cover, one of two fishing docks, and lots of level ground. The majority of this level ground is not available for parking a trailer, as it is apart from the driving/parking surfaces, and would be suitable for a small to medium trailer. The good news is, it could accommodate two or more tents as well as a dining canopy. 

Site 4

Site number 4 offers the least privacy of all the campsites in this campground, and is situated right next to the boat landing. That could be good news for anyone who would be utilizing the boat landing, as it would only be about a 50-foot distance to carry any gear. This site offers room for a tent or small pull-behind trailer. Since it is a lakeside campsite, it may receive a fair amount of wind from the lake when the wind is right; the fire ring is nicely sheltered from such a wind by a well-placed boulder. 

Site 5

Along with Site 3, this campsite may share the title for the most desirable spot in this campground. With a longer driveway and a significant portion screened by trees, it is probably the most private site available. The fact that it features the second short dock and good overhead tree cover only adds to its appeal. Two tents could easily be placed at the back of this site, and it could also accommodate many sizes of camper trailers. Its only drawback- if it has one- is its proximity to site #6. 

Site 6/Site 7

Sites 6 and 7 are the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Silver Island Lake campground, nearly identical in specifications, and without much separation. If camping in a party that required two sites, these two would offer the best inter-site connection. They are probably good for a tent apiece, or a small to medium trailer. 

Site 8

This campsite is more secluded, but also seems to get much less traffic than the others with its downhill approach, small tent area, limited level ground, and proximity to the swamp. It is probably not suitable for anything but a tent. But in the event that one would desire to use a trailer, it would probably have to be a small one and it would probably need to be parked up near the road instead of at the rear of the site. 

 

Click on site pictures below to see larger versions, and toggle between photo and site description (please note there are 2 photos for site 3). 

 

 

 

 

Do Something New: Whitefish Gill Netting

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As many times as I’ve suffered from bitingly cold hands and fingers, there is only one time in my entire life that could possibly eclipse the way my fingers felt recently. When I was pretty young, my dad took my brother and me out in the boat to do some last-minute fishing before heading home from the cabin. All I remember was learning how to set the hook, the big juicy bluegills we boated, and my hands being so cold that I probably cried. Late last month, as I gripped my canoe paddle without actually feeling it, my old record for cold hands seemed almost certainly broken. Unlike that memorable day from my childhood, however, I definitely did not shed any tears. This was the last morning of my inaugural whitefish netting trip to northern Minnesota. The air that day was stuck in the low 30s, pushed around by a light wind, and punctuated by intermittent drizzle. The previous four days, unfortunately, were pretty much the same.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Whitefish Gill Netting”

What To Forage

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Expedition Food: Forager’s Fish Soup

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My wife and I had a great trip to the BWCA last week. My main goal was to catch and eat fish, and the first one (my wife’s first lake trout) fit the bill perfectly. I had tentatively planned stops at other lakes to fish for brook trout and splake, but the weather forced us to make choices that prevented it. Total time spent fishing was not what I’d hoped, but that’s why we don’t count our successes until afterwards. Persisting through the rain was a triumph in its own right, and fish soup was our reward. Therefore, I considered our time on Crystal Lake a resounding success with a lunch of lake trout soup and supper of fried walleye. Continue reading “Expedition Food: Forager’s Fish Soup”

BWCA Entry Point #64, destination: Crystal Lake

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End of May, 2018

For my fortieth birthday, I told my wife I’d like to take the river fishing float trip I’d been thinking about for over 5 years. As spring approached, I started to think critically about this plan, and realized that bad weather could turn a good river trip really bad in a hurry. On a river, we’d have a starting point, a destination, and a finite time to reach that destination. Rain- especially of the relentless kind- would not only make that time miserable, but potentially dangerous. Shifting the trip to the Boundary Waters would not only give us flexibility in terms of dealing with the weather, but also a chance to get into the lake trout that had successfully eluded me over the winter. Game on.  Continue reading “BWCA Entry Point #64, destination: Crystal Lake”

Guardians of the Treasure: Reflections from MN Public Lands Day Rally

Today I participated in my first-ever political rally. Compared to some “rallies”- you know, the kind that border on “riot”- it was pretty tame. Just a bunch of like-minded folks gathered in the rotunda of the MN Capitol building, listening to speakers and showing their support for our public lands. As I found myself explaining several times throughout the day, this rally was not a direct reaction to anything happening at the state level of our government right now. But the Feds have been toying around lately with some very alarming ideas regarding transfer of ownership. And while I don’t live in Oregon (or any other western state), those federal lands are as much mine as any Oregonian’s. These matters are not to be taken lightly. 

As I listened to the various speakers and on the drive home, I reflected on several ideas, some of which I’d like to share.  Continue reading “Guardians of the Treasure: Reflections from MN Public Lands Day Rally”

Do Something New: Ice Fishing in the BWCA (Lessons Learned)

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Last week at this time, my immediate environment was about as good as it gets. I was in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for the first time in winter, trying to catch some bonus fish for the 2017-18 season. The MN DNR’s website pointed me to a lake within a moderate hike from an entry point, which has historically supported a bountiful tullibee fishery. I had wanted to fish it so badly in February or March, but gave up when I had a lot of work on my plate that prevented me from getting away. However, an extended period of abnormal cold preserved the ice perfectly for a good three weeks or more, prolonging the ice fishing season. I saw it as my chance.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Ice Fishing in the BWCA (Lessons Learned)”

The Sun Is Going To Win

The sun is going to win. I keep telling myself that lately. Our source for heat and light has never failed us, and deep down we all know it. Actual spring will come, followed by hot sweaty summer. We know this. But right now, smack in the middle of April, as most of Minnesota is in the grip of a full-blown blizzard and I’ve already cleared 7 inches of snow from the driveway, it’s almost impossible to believe. 

The last few days I spent outside, I couldn’t help but notice how powerfully the sun warmed my skin and clothing compared to the way it didn’t a few weeks ago. Earlier this week, as I sat atop the ten inches of crusted snow that sat atop almost three feet of solid lake ice, the sun played peek-a-boo with the help of passing clouds. When the shadows came over me, the wind picked up and I put another layer on. When the sun came back out, my black jacket became unbearably warm and it came off again. That never happens in January. I reflected on how much more intense the sun’s rays have become, and how the ice I was fishing through will ultimately have to yield. Cognitively, I knew spring will eventually win out despite this seemingly endless winter we are having. What I did not know was that the sun’s ever-stronger rays were bouncing off the snow and giving me an atomic-grade sunburn. It’s the worst one I’ve had in almost twenty years, maybe longer. The only consolation has been the moment of levity I seem to bring to everyone I’ve seen in the last 3 days. 

Now, I have never been a lover of the sun. I have never in my life sought to be in the sun just for the sake of it. My pasty skin needs extra protection, not extra exposure. In the summer (and from now on, in April too) I try to have a hat with a lot of brim available for sunny days, and I try never to go anywhere without sunscreen. I try really hard not to let the sun come near enough to hurt me. I mostly hope for cloudy days and shade trees everywhere I go. But I have never wanted so badly as I do now for the sun to give us some quality time. And I will be ready for it… as soon as I’m done clearing the next 7 inches of snow off the driveway in the morning. 

 

 

Product Review: Sawyer Mini Water Filter

When I decided to take a short ice fishing trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, I had a problem where water filtration was concerned. I have historically used a pump-type filter, but I didn’t consider this an option for this outing; even though the temperature was forecast to be above freezing during the days, the night temperatures would certainly imperil anything that would be damaged by freezing. Likewise, I couldn’t expect to keep containers of water on hand, so whatever amount of water I treated would have to be used in a short time. I decided that I would be able to keep something- if small enough- warm in interior pockets by day, and in my sleeping bag with me by night. What I didn’t know was how many different options there are now for water filtration/purification. Continue reading “Product Review: Sawyer Mini Water Filter”

2017-18 Ice Fishing Retrospective: Winter Colors and Textures

 

Coregonus artedi, Mille Lacs Lake, February 2018

 

The harsh, stark nature of Winter usually belies its inherent beauty. Those who stay indoors just to keep their cheeks warm will miss every opportunity to see new things, and even worse, new ways to see old things. Blues and grays can overwhelm, but their infinite shades and gradations challenge even the best artists to replicate with any degree of authenticity. Pines, spruces, firs, and cedars become minor celebrities for a time, soon to yield again to every manner of flower. Snow is ubiquitous, obscuring much of what we know under its nurturing torpescence. But even snow yields visual treasures on occasion; sun, wind, and warmth give it countless ephemeral forms that beg us to go, to find.

Continue reading “2017-18 Ice Fishing Retrospective: Winter Colors and Textures”