I have now been camping three times and am officially a fan! I still maintain the fundamental need for toilets and running water, but as long as I have some version of that, I’m confident I will survive the excursion.
In keeping with what we hope will become an annual tradition, we embarked on another Labor Day weekend camping trip with our dear friends, Ruthann and Dan – and this time, River tagged along as well. This year, we explored Jay Cooke State Park near Duluth, and Cascade River State Park between Lutsen and Grand Marais on the North Shore.
We had originally planned a Memorial Day camping trip as well, but COVID-19 shut down the state parks thus cancelling our trip. By the time Labor Day rolled around, the parks were open, but COVID-19 was (and is) still a very real threat. After a candid group discussion regarding our concerns, we felt comfortable proceeding with our trip. By driving in separate cars, remaining outdoors, and sitting at a respectful distance across the campfire, we felt our risk factor was acceptably low. We came provisioned with extra cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and Ruth even created a super posh hand washing station (which came in really handy at Cascade)! Rest assured, we took the pandemic seriously, but I maintain that the best way we have remained sane during this pandemic is to remain socially distant with our loved ones while still enjoying the splendor of nature.
Jay Cooke State Park
Jay Cooke State Park was possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. When we arrived at our campsite, I told Logan, “I wish we could build a cabin right here.” Tall pine trees and huge rock formations surrounded our very large and secluded campsite. To my extreme pleasure, the restrooms were either spectacularly maintained or brand new. The campsites were spread out so we really felt a sense of solitude and peace. When Dan and Ruthann arrived shortly after dark we enjoyed a low-key night of laughter and hot dogs around the campfire.
The next morning, after skillet hash browns with green chile and cheese, we all explored the St. Louis River which was only a short walk away. The park’s suspension bridge offers gorgeous views of jagged river banks and rocky waterfalls. River did a little swimming in the shallow waters, while Dan and Logan went rock hopping. We only spent one night at Jay Cooke, but I’d love to return and spend a few nights in the future to explore more of this spectacular park. In the three years we’ve lived here, Jay Cooke State Park stands out as one of the “can’t miss” jewels of this state.
Cascade River State Park
The campgrounds at Cascade River State Park were decidedly less luxurious than those of Jay Cooke. The restrooms containing running water were all locked due to COVID-19, so we shared a very busy outhouse with many other campers… Thank God for Ruth’s handwashing station! The grounds were beautiful but the campsites were much closer together and we had very noisy and messy neighbors. (After two nights of their raucous drinking and partying ‘til all hours, as well as leaving food and trash lying around, I found myself wishing for the rampaging bear that I always fear!) Noisy neighbors and outhouses aside, we had a lovely time!
We hiked to the top of Lookout Mountain, which is aptly named for the gorgeous vista once you reach the summit. The hike is a 3.2 mile loop which feels a bit longer as it is pretty steep in some areas (especially when your group wanders off of the actual trail). But, steep hikes are the price you pay for beautiful views. At the summit, River collapsed and peacefully recuperated while we took some fun photos.
Like last year, we again attempted an afternoon in Grand Marais. We indulged in some ice cream and popped into a gift shop or two. River tried so hard, but the city proved too crowded for our comfort so Logan, River, and I headed back to the campsite early. One of these days, I look forward to exploring Grand Marais when it is not a busy holiday weekend nor in the midst of an all out pandemic.
That night, we had pizza pudgie pies for dinner, including Ruth’s fantastic addition of nacho cheese sauce. (Imagine a pepperoni Hot Pocket enhanced with creamy, processed yellow cheese. Trust me, it was gooey and fantastic.) River was so exhausted from all of the day’s excitement, that she slept in my lap and didn’t even try to steal my pudgie pie. (I felt her pulse to make sure she was ok.)
The next morning on the way home, we stopped at Cutface Creek Beach to do a little agate hunting. Dan and Ruthann had recently discovered the allure of seeking these amber colored semi-precious stones during their North Shore adventures and weren’t 100% sure what uncut, unpolished agates actually looked like. Logan and I helped them scour the beach until Logan exclaimed, “is this what they look like?!” He produced two beautifully polished and perfect agates!
It took Dan and Ruthann about 5 seconds to realize that Logan was teasing them and had bought the perfect stones for them at a gift shop in Grand Marais!
River and Maintaining Sanity
Overall, honestly, River was a champion. “Many hands make light work,” as they say, and whenever Logan or I got sick of puppy wrangling, Dan or Ruthann would gladly jump in and babysit. I was afraid that River would need constant supervision and be a major pain during set up, tear down, and any cooking. However, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that tethering her to a tree using a 25-foot lead allowed her to hunt chipmunks and squirrels to her heart’s content. She was so fascinated by all the critters, she didn’t even attempt to steal our food. Of course, the critters quickly realized that she was no threat as long as they maintained their own social distancing guidelines and teased her mercilessly from just out of reach.
Logan and I were a little concerned when River woke up at 5:30 am on the dot every morning (just like she does at home). But each morning we took her out to pee and poop in the pitch black, fed her breakfast, then brought her back in the tent with us where she slept peacefully for another two hours! At 7:30 am, when she would wake up again, Logan and I would take her on a short hike and take amazing sunrise photos without anyone else on the trails. It actually worked out well! Bringing River turned out to be a joy and not a burden – the kind of experience that we were hoping to have with our new baby.
In a nutshell, I am hooked. Never before would I have thought that I, a city girl by both birth and design, would actually love camping. But it’s true. Camping is a pure, transcendent experience that allows one to let go of technology and creature comforts in order to simply enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of nature while eating creative foods cooked over a campfire with your best friends. What could be better?! Especially during a time when we feel so distant from our loved ones, so disconnected from friends and family. Nature is how Logan and I have been able to maintain these relationships and our sanity.
If you’ve never camped before, and if you doubt it is for you, I suggest you find experienced, fantastic, and trustworthy friends like Logan, Ruthann, and Dan who will steer you right. I am excited and already planning next summer’s excursions. It may not be for you, but you may also be surprised.