snapshots of people in the parks

State Parks and Trails Memory Book

A collection of memories to celebrate the 125th birthday of Minnesota State Parks and Trails.

Recovering from injury

by Arthur

George H. Crosby State Park

After having fallen and shattered part of my pelvis, I struggled to enjoy myself while I recovered. I could not wait to get back outdoors to where I feel at home away from the city. My roommate at the time had been wanting to get a mid-fall hike in somewhere. I was finally ready to get out after a winter of recovering. As someone who winter camps at least once a year, I dutifully looked at the forecast and assumed my roommate had as well. I brought my cool-layer sleeping bag leaving the others behind. We hiked from the park to the Superior Hiking Trail down to the Egge lake campsite, arriving around dusk. I got a fire going and prepped dinner. We then set up our tent and at that point I find out my roommate did not realize it was going to drop below freezing. The next day I asked him what was the coldest weather he had ever camped in and found out that the last night was, by far. The sunrise and foggy mist over the lake that morning was incredible and was just what I needed to get away from the city to realize I had recovered from my injury the past summer.

Visitor Center

Dedication of the visitor center

by Grant J. Merritt

Fort Snelling State Park

I have many good memories of times spent at Minnesota parks. Fort Snelling State Park has given me lots, as have the North Shore State Parks. I well remember our Parks & Trails Council gathering at the new visitor center at Fort Snelling State Park to commemorate good friend of state parks, Tom Savage. I knew Tom and his wife Betty principally from some great visits and hikes to Lookout Louise and the bog at Raspberry Island at Isle Royale National Park.

The dedication of the Thomas Savage Visitor Center was to recognize one of the early and constant supporters of our treasured state parks. The Savage Visitor Center has a picture on display showing Tom Savage with Sigurd Olson and Russell Fridley with the park in the background.

Surveying land for Crow Wing State Park

Scrambling to save Crow Wing’s Peninsula

by Mike Prichard

Crow Wing State Park

Year: circa 1993

The Land Acquisition Committee [of the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota], with Sam Morgan in the lead, scrambling to put together a purchase offer for (most) of the peninsula at the mouth of the Crow Wing River at the Mississippi. Unbeknownst to us, the then owner had platted lots and had already sold a few before our offer was made and accepted. And it was our most expensive purchase up to then.


Dads & Daughters weekend

by Steve Young

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Year: 2008

Once a year, my two brothers-in-law and I would take all the kids (8 girls) tent camping in one of Minnesota’s State Parks.  It was the one weekend a year our wives would get a needed break from the kids (and us).  Our favorite campground was Gooseberry Falls State Park where the kids would spend hours playing on the rocks and water in the beautiful Gooseberry River, exploring Lake Superior’s water pools at Picnic Flow for tiny creatures and discovering what treasures washed up on Agate Beach.  Of course, no vacation would be complete without stopping for pie at the Rustic Inn Cafe in Castle Danger.  The Dads & Daughter’s weekend during the girls’ formative years is treasured memory for all of us.

Birds helping each other

by Joyceann Merriman-Johnson

Zipple Bay State Park

Year: 1995

I was on a camping trip with my golden retriever puppy. As she and I were walking around the campground I observed a yellow-bellied sap sucker drilling holes in a tree, then hummingbirds coming to feed on the sap from the tree. All these years later it is still on of my favorite memories from that trip.

Brule River at Judge CR Magney State Park

Frigid Night with Dad

by Judy Granmo (Halver)

Judge C. R. Magney State Park

Years: 1965

I grew up visiting many of the Minnesota State Parks both before and after my dad, Bernie Halver, was the park planner from 1960 to 1966. My most vivid memory was camping in what would become the campground at Judge Magney. We were there early in July of 1965 so dad could assess the camping area for development. Unfortunately it was one of the coldest on record and we froze in our humble tent camper! I woke up to add as many clothes as I could find before crawling back into my sleeping bag on the top bunk to hopefully warm up. As an adult, I have visited most of the state parks as well as beautiful Judge C. R. Magney and I am proud of its history.

SHT in Tettegouche State Park by Gary Alan Nelson
SHT in Tettegouche State Park by Gary Alan Nelson

A Moment to Ponder

by Michael Tegeder

Tettegouche State Park

Years: 2011

In a early July of 2011 we had the unfortunate state shut down that closed our state parks. I was hiking on the Superior doodle of logHiking Trail and my journey crossed Tettegouche State Park. I had the place all to myself as the park was officially closed. I encountered no other person. Along the trail there was a large blown-down pine which made for a great place to take a break. I sat in silence for some time just appreciating the moment. All of a sudden I felt a presence behind me. I waited a while and then I slowly turned my head back and saw just a foot or so from me a young deer. Looking into each others’ eyes, we both remained frozen for a bit and then the deer quietly walked off into the woods. It was a moment to ponder.

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Huddled on top of the world

by Jeff & Sue Olson

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Years: 1985

Early in our marriage we camped very often in our beautiful state parks. We remember one weekend when a very big rainstorm blew into Gooseberry State Park — we felt like we were on the top of the world huddled in our two-person tent that grew larger with the wind. Doodle of a tentThe next morning the sky was blue and the air crystal clear. Park naturalist Harvey Djerf lead us on a wonderful hike!!


Skiing Before Thanksgiving

by Ann Morrissey

Fort Snelling State Park

Years: 1970s-1980s

In years past it used to snow in November. I remember driving down to Fort Snelling State Park and skiing a lap or two around Pike Island before heading to my aunt’s for the Thanksgiving feast. I appreciated having a state park so close at hand in the city — an oasis of silence, woods, river and peace.

The toughest human-powered race

by Tom Landwehr, Commissioner
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Itasca & Bemidji State Parks

Years: 1960

doodle of boatIn 1960, as part of the Minneapolis Aquatennial celebration, there was a “Canoe Derby” covering 400 miles over 10 days down the length of the Mississippi River from Bemidji to Minneapolis. My dad and uncle entered the race that year. I remember our family first driving to Itasca State Park then on to Bemidji State Park, the starting point for dad’s canoe race. When we entered Itasca State Park, the road was lined with local Indian artisans selling birch bark crafts, dolls and other souvenirs. It was a different time then, and things were still very rustic, but it stays in my mind still today. Dad and my uncle came in second place – billed as the “toughest human-powered race” in the country – and they won a powerboat.

Doodle of mosquitos

The ups & downs of the trail

by Tom Birkey

Heartland State Trail

Years: 2000

  1. Deer flies on a short (thankfully) segment of the trail. If they could not drive us crazy by landing in our hair or flying about our faces, they bit us on the seat (through two layers of clothes).
  2. Wild raspberries and hazelnuts along the trail begging us to stop and taste them.doodle-nuts
Illgen falls at Tettegouche

Cool Dips in the River

by Steve Peterson

Tettegouche State Park

Years: 1950 & 2008

A cold, short swim in the Baptism River beneath the High Falls on a family vacation in 1950. And another of the same while hiking the Superior Hiking Trail in 2008.

Encounter of the Wildlife Kind

by Terry Morrison

Sibley State Parks

Years: 1980

Doodle of a tentMinnesota State Park camping was something we could afford when my kids were little. Money was spent on equipment versus travel and admission expenses to water and amusement parks. Clearly these were meaningful experiences, I now have grandkids who go camping. One event, though, was very exciting. A skunk meandered into our campsite at Sibley State Park. She was looking for food scraps on the ground. All sat on the picnic table waiting and finally, my wife and daughter bolted to the car. The two boys and me just waited and my youngest son said, “daddy, pretty kitty, pet the kitty.” I was rather firm with my admonition for him to stay on the table. The skunk wandered away with no incident.

It Takes a Village

by K.J. Brown

Lake Bemidji State Park

Years: 1996

I started camping in state parks with my son when he was small. We usually stayed for 3-4 days, but in 1996, when he was 11, I decided to spend a whole week at a park, and Lake Bemidji State Park was our destination.

We had a glorious summer week, a perfect camping trip. My son was at the age where many of his friends were already obsessed with video games and rarely spent any time out-of-doors. I resisted allowing my son to follow this path, but always felt its strong pull in his life in the city.

As the week progressed, immersed in nature and activity, I saw him blossom into the curious, good-natured kid that I cherished. We saved the baby snapping turtle on the asphalt path, giving him shelter in the grass so he wouldn’t get run over by a bike. doodle-porcupineWe watched the large porcupine splayed out on the broad surface of a huge white pine bough in back of our campsite snooze the day away, then back down the tree, scratching the bark the whole way, as she set out on her nocturnal rounds. We biked the Paul Bunyan Trail, white-tailed deer springing out of our path, into the deep woods of red and white pine. My son named the chipmunks skittering around the perimeter of our campsite and tried to photograph them for a story he wanted to write. Doodle-cameraOne morning when it rained, we went into Bemidji for pancakes, poked around antique and junk stores and when the rain cleared, took our obligatory photos posing with the huge statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox.

One afternoon at the beach, my son struck up a friendship with a girl about his age who was also camping with her family for the week. She asked what number our campsite was and said she’d like to come visit us. I thought it was great for my son to have some company his age, so I enthusiastically invited her to visit us.

My heart sank when she showed up, not alone, but with her older high-school aged brother who looked like nothing but trouble.

doodle campfire

He had spiked hair, a souped-up bike and talked tough with a swagger. This wasn’t the sweet pre-adolescent companion I had hoped his sister would be.

For the next several days, the little girl didn’t visit us at all, but the troubled teen brother became a frequent visitor to our campsite. He sat around the campfire with us in the evening, talking about hating school, fights he had gotten into and he seemed to relish being tough and in trouble.

One afternoon, as my son and I geared up for a long bike ride, our visitor blew into the campsite again. I tried to contain my annoyance and told him that we were headed out for a ride so we’d have to see him later. I unzipped the tent and ducked inside to look around, realizing I was nervous he might steal something from our campsite while we were gone. While inside the tent, I heard this boy say to my son: “You’ll never know how lucky you are that your mom wants to spend time with you.”

Tears slowly filled my eyes and I felt so ashamed. I had bought his tough demeanor; only saw his sharp quills and not the soft, vulnerable underside to this teen. I came out of the tent and told him we’d be back soon, and he was welcome to visit us that night. On the bike ride with my son, I couldn’t help turning over his remark in my mind.

That night around the campfire, he shared more about his life. He felt lonely at the park, stating his parents left him and his siblings while they went off around the countryside without them. He had a lot of conflict with his father who he said had brought a boat up the lake with them but hadn’t even bothered to put it into the water. I listened. I finally asked him if he had asked his father to go out in the boat with him but he was convinced his father wasn’t interested. “Wouldn’t hurt to ask him…” I replied.

The next day when he visited us, the teen told us his mother wanted my son and me to join them for dinner that night. At the picnic table in their campsite, as I made small talk with his siblings and parents, I watched the teen and finally whispered to him “Ask your dad about the boat!” He looked away and seemed hesitant. I prodded him again: “The boat!” Finally he blurted out: “Dad, will you take me out in the boat?”

There was a pause, and I believe his father was truly surprised that his son wanted to spend time with him. He said, “Sure, I’ll take you and your friend out after dinner.” And so he did.

I wish I could say this was the beginning of a renewed closeness between them, a great experience that they built on in future camping trips. But I have no idea how their story continued. It’s like that meeting other families camping; at least that’s what I’ve found. You might share a meal, watch your kids play at the beach, join a family at the campfire or fishing at the dock, but soon you will all return to your busy lives in Willmar or Stillwater or Prior Lake, and the people you have met will become one summer’s memory. All I know is I spent a wonderful week with my son, watching him fully engaged in life all around him. And another boy and his dad took a nice boat ride on Lake Bemidji, and at least for that evening, were able to lay their troubles aside.

Split Rock Bridge

Under the Bridge

by Little Big Man

Split Rock Creek State Parks

Years: Early 1980’s

doodle of a fishing poleMy older brothers, Mark and Mike, took me fishing many times at Split Rock Creek State Park in Southwest Minnesota. One day, just below the Sioux Quartzite Bridge, I caught my first Northern Pike. What a fighter! I’ll never forget it. Thanks Mark, Mike, and Split Rock Creek!


Frozen Fire

by Sue

Tettegouche State Parks

Years: 2011

My husband and I have taken our children on many photography outings along the shores of Lake Superior since they were born. On this particular outing, we went up the shore to photograph the ice formations at Tettagouche State Park. Doodle-cameraThe trees were so thickly coated with ice they strained with the sheer weight of it. While my children were usually good-natured on these adventures, on this occasion they had grown weary of the extended photography outing. I took the cue to find something for them to do. My solution was to have them pose by the ice encrusted campfire ring and hopefully get them to play along with my quirky antics. My children were not amused. The resulting image captured one of my most memorable trips out with my children. In case you are wondering, my children have since become enthusiastic nature photographers in the past few years and now enjoy capturing the beauty of the shore with their own cameras.

Old farmland with grasses

A Special State Park

by Arly Fuhr

William O’Brien State Park

Years: last 30 years

William O’Brien is a special state park. Doodle of a chickFor many years I’ve enjoyed the ski and hiking trails, canoeing in the river, camping. I remember on one hike seeing a woodcock with her tiny chicks. Another time in the spring the sandhill cranes were calling loudly. I’ve enjoyed the restored prairies. I love to hear the frongs in the spring and so many other things!

Girl Scout Adventures

by Jennie Gazdik

Soudan Underground Mine & Gooseberry State Parks

Years: 2008

The first weekend of October in 2008 my Girl Scout co-leader and I brought our troop to the Soudan Mine for a tour. As we dropped down in the mine elevator the bats came flying at us. The girls all started screaming and laughing until the tour guide informed them that the bats were going to starve to death because they had no food and no way out. This made the girls sad for the bats and they decided to do a service project to help the bat population on the Iron Range as a result.

Doodle of campfire and foodIt was a great trip and a fantastic weekend. We camped overnight at Gooseberry Falls and cooked hobo dinners in the dark on the campfire afterwards. The Girls are all now adults. But this is one of their most favorite memories of Girl Scouting. It would have been possible, though, without the State Parks and the opportunity to see a real mine.

Thank you for that!  You helped us provide opportunities for our youth to build courage, confidence and character!



by Jennifer Hernandez

Sakatah State Trail

Years: 2011

We’re on the Sakatah State Trail when we see them —
my middle son and I —
biking back to our campsite.
Framed on both sides by leafy trees
sun filtering through green canopy,

we see them and stop our bikes.
A pair of small raccoons emerge from trail-side brush:
masked faces, arched backs, striped tails
walking in tandem, an unsteady swaying gait.
Two sailors at the end of shore leave.doodle-bunny-trees

We wait in stillness for them to see us, to startle,
to turn away. But they keep coming closer
in their funny twin zigzag, until we worry that their mother
will come charging from the bushes, fierce and protective.
Do mama raccoons even do that?

We don’t want to find out. So we hoot and holler,
wave our arms, try to scare some sense into those little raccoons.
They’re not very smart, are they? says my son.
Not very experienced, I answer. And yet they linger,
gazing at us, maybe enjoying the show?

Until finally something clicks.
Those little raccoons scuttle into the brush — and up a tree —
where they peek out from behind the slender trunk.
Now, why didn’t we bring a camera?  I ask.
My son says, Take a picture with your eyes.  So I do.

Northern Lights at Minneopa by Manda Baldwin

Sky dance at Minneopa

by Manda Baldwin

Minneopa State Park

Years: 2015

We took our Girl Scout troop camping at Minneopa State Park last June and we saw the best Northern Lights show of my life! Doodle of moon and starsFor most of the girls, it was their first time seeing the lights. We watched up by Sepmann’s mill. While the millions of fireflies danced below in the valley, the Aurora danced over our heads. Nobody will ever forget that camping experience!

See video

Getting Married to My Superman

by Amy and Kris

Jay Cooke State Park

Years: 2014

I had just met Kris (who is now my fiancé) on a Wednesday. That night he said he knew I loved photography so wanted to know if I wanted to drive north to take some pictures on Sunday. I asked him if he had ever been to Jay Cooke State Park? He hadn’t so I knew he just had to see it! When we arrived I will never forget the look on his face when we got to the bridge! We regret never taking a photo that day together on the bridge. I took plenty of him.Doodle-camera

March 5, 2016 we will be getting married at the park in front of the fireplace at the River Inn! This place has so much meaning as it was what we call one of first dates (which lasted 5 days). Kris has kicked cancer’s butt two other times and now working on kicking it again! We are very grateful we are able to get married at the park!

Ivy with her dog

Zooey’s First Hike

by Ivy K.

William O’Brien State Park

Years: 2016

We took our dog, Zooey, to William O’Brien for the first time on National Love Your Pet Day. After weeks of freezing cold weather, she was not only happy to be out on a nice day but had SO much fun sniffing and exploring! doodle-dogWe hiked for almost two hours and she was completely wet and muddy by the end. The makings of a fabulous outing! She slept all the way home, one very content puppy! Thank you, MN State Parks, for providing great places to make memories with our furry babies!

Prepare to be Surprised

by Suzanne

Camden State Park

Years: 2010

While on a short family vacation and traveling on our way home, we were looking for a place to stop and enjoy a picnic lunch. We decided that we would stop at Camden State Park as we knew there would be picnic grounds and a place to rest and perhaps do some hiking. From the moment we drove through the entrance, we knew we had found a hidden gem. doodle of a mapLiving in Southwestern Minnesota ourselves, we knew that the southwestern Minnesota prairie area can offer some very beautiful scenery, but we had no idea that Camden State Park was so beautiful. We enjoyed our picnic lunch and then took time to do some hiking while at the park. The Redwood River flows through the park and there is so much nature to enjoy here. If you ever find yourself near Camden State Park, do not miss the opportunity to enjoy this State Park. We were impressed! Thanks for the great memories!

A Place of Magic & Indelibly Memorable Days

by Bill Carlson

Scenic State Park

Years: 2015

Scenic State Park is a wonderful place for autumn walks with a favorite friend. Chase Point walk in the afternoon yellow sun, a brisk westerly breeze among virgin-pine scent, erupting mushrooms in the needle duff, views of two cedar-lined lakes and abounding tranquility.doodle of mushrooms

Firetower walk in the morning dew with old cedar and pine giving way to flaming maple, yellow birch and aspen in the yellowing sun tinged with red. Tame but secretive spruce grouse are getting a wider view of their world on the trail, curious about their new company. The flat trail gives way to a rocky trail up the hill to the tower. Suddenly a tall wire fence enclosing the tower is spotted among the foliage. Footings of the watcher’s cabin is nearby and his water pump still pumps water.

An afternoon rowing about Coon and Sandwick lakes, balmy air, the quiet splash of oars, a soft soughing sound of the pines and cedar, an eagle overhead; all makes for a perfect outing.

Scenic State Park is undoubtedly one of Minnesota’s Special Places: a place of magic and indelibly memorable days to share with an extra special friend.

At Mt. Tom

Love at First Hike

by Briana & Josh

Sibley State Park

Years: 2015

This was our first vacation together, and it was an amazing weekend staying at the Spicer Castle and hiking Sibley State Park. Notice the heart our bodies form between us? Totally unintentional, but pretty fun! This picture was taken from the landing at the top of Mt. Tom.

A Visit to Jay Cooke

by Linda  and Loren Schwarze

Jay Cooke State Park

Years: 2015

This park was a total surprise to me. I didn’t expect the beautiful rapids and the wonderful hiking trails. We wanted to stay longer; it was so peaceful. We also visited the old cemetery in the park. What a sad place, but proud of the people that made their home there against all odds.

Family photo on the trail
Family photo on trail

Hiking in Itasca with Friends

by Cory Frank

Itasca State Park

Years: 2015

When I was a kid I use to go to Itasca with my family every year, but as a I got older we stopped going. Then a few of my friends said they had never been up there before. My son and his friend had also never been to Itasca, so I planned a trip and we headed up for the weekend. While up there we hiked all of the trails in the area and while going down one of them we ran into another hiker and had him snap a picture of all of us together. Doodle of boots and mosquitosThere were a lot good times and a lot of firsts for my son and his friend who were both only two years old at the time. I look for ward to going up there again this year and for many more.

Lake Carlos Sunset

Teenage Adventures & Lifelong Memories

by Jane Harper

Lake Carlos State Park

Years: Late 1960s

My first memory of state parks is when, in my teenage years, my family of four camped for two weeks each summer at Lake Carlos State Park. Many other large families stayed for several weeks each year at the same time. doodle of boatWe jockeyed for the first days to get a site on the lake. We had a boat and pulled it right up to our campsite. Skiing, swimming softball, hikes, campfires and many teenage pranks and adventure kept us occupied. What a great community we had for two weeks each summer. Thank you state parks for great teenage adventures and lifelong memories.

The ring at Jay Cooke State Park
My campsite at Lake Maria.

Visit a State Park: It’s Better than Therapy! (and you just might fall in love!)

by JanelleB

Jay Cooke State Park

Years: 2015

State parks have a very special place in my heart, but let me backtrack just a bit. I was fortunate to be born and raised on Lake Vermilion in the Ely/Iron Range Area, so state parks were a foreign concept to me most of my life — I just enjoyed everything beautiful Lake Vermilion had to offer. When I moved to the cities, and after the lake cabin was sold, I lost touch for many years with nature. I didn’t find my way to state parks until 2010 when I started reclaiming who I was during an unhappy marriage by going on solo hikes to state parks to include Fort Snelling, Afton, Banning, Maria, etc. and also buying my kayak to go on solo kayaking trips.

After my divorce, I took on the added challenge of going on solo backpacking/camping trips to state parks.  It was empowering to me and just adventurous enough, while also being a safe endeavor to really help me heal and grow. I had five solo hiking/backpacking/camping trips total: Lake Maria, Afton, Interstate, Frontenac and St. Croix. It was a time of finding myself, creating who I wanted to be and also with finding total peace and oneness with nature/universe.  Even though I was “alone,” I didn’t feel alone.  And that is the theme I always feel in the woods – you are never alone. During these times of being okay being alone, however, I knew I wanted to meet “The One” and still held out hope I would someday to experience the kind of love I dreamed of finding.

In the Spring of 2014, I met him. We met online, talking for several weeks before finally agreeing to meet in person at Lebanon Hills Regional Park (not a state park, but still a beautiful area in the southern Twin Cities, and actually one of the places I went on the first of my many solo/photography hikes in 2010!). He drove all the way up from Blue Earth, MN to meet me that day. With all of the parking lots at Lebanon, finding each other was an adventure in itself, but we eventually landed in the same lot! We walked and talked for hours, up the hills, around the lake; finding out that we were almost like the same person. At one point during the walk, he stopped to admire a tree – I was amazed to meet a man who appreciated nature! Of course he was the perfect gentleman, but I knew he would be before we met — gals, good men still exist!!

We started to fall in love and on our first trip together up north to meet my family (4th of July) we stopped at Jay Cooke State Park. Driving up there we didn’t even need the radio, we just held hands and talked and talked. Once there, I couldn’t believe how beautiful Jay Cooke was — I had never been there and it instantly became one of my favorites. I remember sitting on the rocks with him, feeling total love and calmness as we watched the raging river rush past. I knew then he was the one for me. He tells me that he knew the same. Actually, I found out a year later that on that same trip to Jay Cooke, he had planned to propose to me at that very spot if we were still together in one year.

Fast forward one year and many, many camping/hiking/kayaking trips to state parks together, we find ourselves at Jay Cooke on the way up to see my family again. “Let’s stop for lunch like we did last year,” he insisted. After lunch we climbed on some of the rocks to get a glimpse further down the river, that’s when I saw him pull something out of his pocket and get down on his knee. It was an actual proposal!!  I was so surprised! Of course, I said yes. We got married on 10/10/15 in a very small, intimate and meaningful ceremony in our new “chosen-together” hometown of Ashby, MN. We continue to visit as many state parks together as possible, with the State Parks Passbook now getting filled up with stamps. I love that we share a love for the simplicity of camping to enjoy the great outdoors; I still can’t believe I met a man as excited to see the full moon shine through the trees as I am!!

I am very thankful for our state parks — thankful they exist so that we all can share the beauty of the land; it’s not just reserved for the rich and powerful who can afford to buy those plots with breathtaking views. If it weren’t for our parks, where would I have explored nature, find myself, heal, fall in love and get proposed to? All of my best moments have happened in state parks. Thank you so much for taking care of them for us.


Biking Itasca

by David & Karen Minge

Itasca State Park

Years: 2015

We rode our bikes through Itasca Park on a sunny autumn day, the last day of the season. Because there were fewer crowds we could enjoy the beauty of the trail and the variety of interesting stops. We walked around the big tree and across the Mississippi.Doodle of a pine branch

Itasca sunset
Itasca sunset by Janell Wesenberg

Years of Memories

by Charlyne and Dale Johnson

Itasca State Park

Years: 2000 – 2013

Every year on the second weekend in September, our family of five children, their spouses and (multiplying to) 10 grandchildren car-caravaned from the Twin Cities to Itasca to take over the housekeeping cabins at Bear Paw campground. We swam, fished, boated, biked, hiked, played in the woods, climbed the tower, walked the rocks and waded in the river at the Headwaters, bought souvenirs, picnicked, prepared all group meals and ate outdoors, sang around the campfire, played hide and seek in the dark, thrilled on a zipline, played board games inside in the rain, slept over at each others’ cabins or with Grandpa and Grandma, drank hot chocolate and made s’mores.Doodle of smores

Grandpa passed away in 2014 so our trips are over for now. The kids still recall the memories and want to return and I’m sure they shall!

Oh yes, and one time our unsung Eagle Scout grandson rescued a couple with their overturned canoe.

Doodle of a tent, thermos and sleeping bag

Swiss Miss Hand Warmer

by Dick

Nerstrand State Park

Year:  1980’s

A group of friends were doing a winter sleep out under the stars, at the group site in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The temperature was forecast to be below zero that night. Since I was the experienced winter camper in the group, I planned to hand out a small hand warming packet to each person to help them start their sleeping time with a little extra heat in their sleeping bags. After supper and after a short night hike to get the blood flowing, we bedded down. One of the men soon commented that his packet was not warming up at all. I suggested that he make sure it was getting enough air to function properly. He shook it up and made sure it was where it could work. Still no heat. He finally gave up and went to sleep. The next morning we got up and proceeded to pack up our gear, when I heard a loud laugh coming from the gentleman with the bad hand warmer. He had accidentally gone to sleep with a packet of cocoa mix instead. I told him he should have just poured some hot water on it to have better results.

Group ride on Paul Bunyan State Trail in Crow Wing
Celebrating the extension of the trail into Crow Wing State Park

Biking the Mississippi

by Steven S

Itasca State Park

Year:  2012 and 2015

I have done two bicycle trips down the Mississippi River, both beginning at Itasca. In May 2012, a group of us bused up from the Twin Cities to Itasca. It was after dark when we arrived at the Douglas Lodge. The first thing I saw was a “Closed for the Season” sign. The ride organizer had made special arrangements for us to stay in the lodge and cabins before the park officially opened to the public. He didn’t tell us this in advance. Breakfast in the lodge was excellent with a talk from a park ranger telling us what we might see. On this trip, we followed the Mississippi down to Fort Snelling.

In late August 2015, I was back to Itasca on another bike trip. I was able to see the park in a different season. On this trip, we camped. The Headwaters to Hills bike trip had a ribbon cutting at the headwaters for the Mississippi River Trail with several of the government officials involved in the creation of the trail. We mostly followed the Mississippi River down to Iowa passing through or near  several other state parks: Crow Wing, Frontenac, Lindbergh, John Latsch, Great River Bluffs, and Fort Snelling State Park. We also biked parts of the Paul Bunyan and Cannon Valley Trails along the way.

We’ll Never Forget It

by Lee and Steve Kingsbury

Maplewood State Park

Year:  Late fall, 2014

Maplewood State Park had been on our want-to-visit list of Minnesota state parks for some time (we’ve visited 40 state parks so far). Several fellow campers had recommended it as their favorite park. So although its famous fall colors were already gone, we decided to camp there in late October, 2014. The cool, late autumn days offered ideal weather for many of our favorite things to do. We hiked hilly trails; drove the winding scenic park road in early morning and late evening to catch glimpses of wildlife; and watched migrating ducks, geese and cranes feeding in or near the park’s many lakes and ponds. But a memory of a lifetime occurred one quiet, sunny afternoon within just a few feet of our campsite. I was sitting outside and heard a grouse drumming. It sounded very close. Just then, my husband Steve stepped out of our trailer and heard the grouse. doodle of logWith the stealth of a long-time grouse hunter, he quietly stepped into the woods toward the unmistakable sound. I followed. “Shhh” he whispered, “there it is, on its drumming log!”  It was oblivious to our presence and Steve was able to capture the moment with this photo. We slowly sat down and, for the next 30 minutes, watched one of the best live nature shows of a lifetime. We had seen many grouse in our 30+ years of walking northern Minnesota trails, but neither of us had ever seen one drumming. What pure luck to be witnessing a scene of such beauty… and right by our campsite. We’ll never forget it!

Rainy Tent

by Keith & Carol Ottoson

Bear Head Lake State Park

Year:  1990

Carol and I have many fond memories from our childhoods as our families visited many state parks in the ’50s and ’60s. We’ve continued this tradition into our 60s, with the children and grandchildren. Our defining moment, as a couple with young children, came in a torrential down pour at Bear Head Lake State Park, where our bargain-basement, “economy” tent failed completely, and we had standing water in the tent and everything was soaked. doodle-wet-clothesWe packed up early and stopped at a high quality outdoor equipment store on the way home. We purchased a “rain guard” tent that, along with later editions of similar tents, has kept us safe, dry and happy — up until this year. This year, Carol tripped over the tent stake while we were camping at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and tore her rotator cuff, requiring surgery, a sling and rehab!

Judge Magney SP by "Turn off your computer and go outside"
Judge Magney SP by "Turn off your computer and go outside"

The Magnificent Judge C.R. Magney and Grand Portage winter visit

by Kurt Zuppke

Judge C.R. Magney State Park

Year:  2014

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 was an extraordinarily memorable day for me. While on a solo trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior, I decided to visit Grand Portage State Park and it’s High Falls. I was courteously greeted by a Native American gal who informed me that my visit was free of charge and that I could either walk or ski to the viewing area. I chose to ski the short distance and then walk the remaining way up a wooden rampway. It was well worth the trip to see the falls in it’s splendid attire of snow and ice.

However, my story is just getting started, after leaving the High Falls, I continued back west to Judge C.R. Magney State Park where I found an almost empty parking lot. The weather that day was overcast and in the mid twenties, just good enough I figured for my very first visit back to the Devil’s Kettle. I snapped into my doodle-compass-trackssnowshoes (which I later deemed unnecessary) and proceeded to follow the east ridge line of the Brule River towards the “Kettle.” Deer sightings and signs were everywhere, as were well-traveled wolf paths. When I reached the point where I had to descend to the river, I almost turned around because confronting me was truly the Devil’s staircase to hell. Mostly snow and ice encrusted, I couldn’t use my snowshoes due to to steep pitch of the endless staircases. Walking straight down was also out of the question – I did the only thing I could and that was to grab both railings and walk down backwards in order to secure my footing. Reaching the bottom, I discovered that there was another climb just to get to the small observation deck positioned directly above the Devil’s Kettle. As I sat there mesmerized, staring down into the dark mysterious chasm, I thought to myself, “I wonder what all the good folks will be doing  at the annual Parks & Trails Dinner tonight?”……

Sibley State Park fishing pier
Fishing at Sibley by Dick Clayton

Sibley ~ Our Favorite

by Rick L

Sibley State Park

Year: 1988-2004

Our family “discovered” Sibley State Park a couple of weeks after we moved to Minnesota. It is within 30 miles of our house, and we soon found it to be one of our absolute favorite places to go. Our three kids were very young when we moved – we were able to spend time at the beach, hiking, camping and making use of the lake for fishing and skiing. There were many “firsts”: their “first fish,” getting up on water skis, cross county skiing, and going hiking with Mom early in the morning to look for a deer. We bought a pop-up camper and visited a dozen other parks in the state – while each had their own unique qualities, our family also seemed to like Sibley the best. We talked about Sibley as “going to our cabin on the lake!” Our kids attended every nature hike or program offered through the park naturalist and grew to appreciate nature and being outside. Our three kids are now adults with their own families – each continues to value the outdoors and make use of state parks in their own area (all live out of state). I do believe that their time at Sibley provided them with the opportunity to gain a deep appreciation of nature and value what the time can mean for families and for personal enjoyment. Thanks Sibley!

Sibley Morning

Night Hike Collision

by McGhiever

Sibley State Park

Year: 2008

doodle of a bunnyWhile camping at Sibley State Park’s Oak Ridge Campground I went for a night hike. It was quite dark as I was making my way back through a brushy field when something started crashing through the undergrowth, heading straight for me.  In the still of the night it sounded enormous, and I froze expecting at any moment to be bowled over by a whitetail buck. Closer and closer, louder and louder, I mentally upgraded it to the stature of an elk. The collision was imminent and I steeled myself to go flying when out of the grass at my feet there popped a juvenile raccoon. It skidded to a halt, as shocked to see me as I was to see it. Once we had both caught our breaths we inched past each other and continued our nocturnal journeys. And I gained a new appreciation for the quiet preserved in Minnesota’s state parks, quiet so intense that a small raccoon could grow to the size of an elk.

Beach Cleanse

by Melissa

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Year: 2010

I remember being stressed with trying to find a job/career shortly after graduating college. I wasn’t happy with my current job and I needed to get away for a weekend. My choice to visit Gooseberry Falls State Park was the best solution. I didn’t have any camping gear so I slept in my car, but I think the simplicity in every detail of the trip was just what I needed.

doodle of a heartAfter thoroughly exploring and taking pictures of the falls, I started hiking the River View Trail over to Agate Beach. Only intending to take a short break, I found a spot to sit along the beach. After several moments, I couldn’t leave. The waves brushing the sand on the shoreline in a rhythmic pattern had captured my full attention. It was beautiful, peaceful, and quiet. I began to journal about all my fears and concerns, which helped me release the stress I was feeling about everything. It was the only time in my life that I can remember feeling so peaceful and worry-free. My focus turned to every detail in the nature that surrounded me. I walked along the beach for several more hours before heading back to my campsite.

As I watched the sunset through the trees that night, I remember wanting to go back to the beach. So, the next day I woke up while it was still dark,  walked to the beach, sat down and watched the sunrise over Lake Superior. That may have been the only time in my life when I intentionally woke up to watch the sunrise, but I am happy to say that nothing will ever compare to it. That beach holds a special place in my heart, but watching the sunrise was an extra reminder of the revival that I experienced on that trip.

Bear Head Lake State Park, Ely, Minnesota

40 Years of Relaxation

by Judy

Bear Head Lake State Park

Year: 1974 About

A neighbor recommended Fall Lake as a good place to camp. It was nice. One afternoon we decided to check out Bear Head Lake. We drove down the gravel road for quite some time and even thought about turning around but there was no place to do it. We came across a creek. My husband got out to see how deep it was and whether or not we should attempt to cross it. He thought we could make it, so into the water we went and prayed. When we finally got to the campground, we drove around looking at the campsites and went down to the Doodle of guitarpicnic area. It was beautiful. We drove straight back to Fall Lake and broke camp and moved to A Lane at Bear Head. We finished the rest of our week at Bear Head and enjoyed every minute of it. The clear water, the quite campground except someone playing a guitar at a campfire, which was wonderful. We went back the next year for a week. That week grew into several weeks. We have gone camping at Bear Head almost every year since. My daughter also now goes. Although it has grown and there are many more campers and lots more amenities including a paved road into the park, it is still quite and beautiful. We love the loon calls, fishing on the dock, swimming in the cold water, and the campfires. We have camped here for 40 years. We don’t like the flies much but that is about the only thing. We love hiking around Lake Norby and going to the berry patch by Cub Lake.

The Powerful Draw of a State Park

by Sue Harrington

Tettegouche State Park

Year: 1979

doodle of ropeIt was over the July 4th weekend in 1979 that I joined a group of Twin Cities people for a retreat held on the North Shore entitled something like, “Spirituality and Nature.” The gist was that we would engage in rock climbing, new to most of us, during the day and then each evening two professional psychologists would help us process what we’d learned about ourselves and others through the experience. After some basic training and practice at Carlton Peak we were taken to Palisade Head and to Shovel Point to rappel and climb. We had a young man from Ely who trained us for the climbing and who, in turn, did his climbs. However, the big difference in his case was that he challenged himself by doing things such as doing the climb blindfolded or without any ropes or both! This man was Will Steger, later to be made famous by his polar expeditions. Tettegouche was then known as Baptism State Park not knowing that at that very same time (June 29, 1979) legislation was passed establishing it all as Tettegouche State Park. I did not pursue rock climbing as an ongoing experience but learned how outdoor experiences could give me new insights into myself and life….it was a magical, transforming experience.

Unusual backcountry wildlife encounter

by Matthew Davis

Itasca State Park

Year:  2000

Doodle of a flashlightIn June 2000, my wife and I hiked into the gorgeous DeSoto Lake campsite at Itasca State Park, set up camp, and explored the immediate area. That night we were awoken by a rustling outside our tent. It was a snapping turtle trying to burrow under our backpacks.  After shining our headlamps on the turtle, he/she ambled away slowly and we returned to sleep. The next morning as we climbed out of our tent there was a giant painted turtle in the middle of our campsite.

Now, 16 years later our family volunteers to maintain the segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail that leads to that campsite. Every time we’re out there on the trail and pass through the campsite we think back to our camping experience with turtles and hope that our kids will one day see the turtles.

Bare Bottoms & Warm Tents

by Chuck Wanous

Tettegouche State Park

Year:  Late 60’s to mid 70’s

Doodle of moon and starsI grew up in a small town and spent countless hours in the woods and became an Eagle Scout. Thus our children never stood a chance but to grow up camping, hiking, biking, and skiing. Our tradition was to go to the North Shore every MEA weekend to camp. This was in October so it often got, shall we say, chilly. One year it was 25 degrees and we were changing our two year old daughters diapers in the tent 2-3 times a day. We’d spend our days exploring the rocks and the lake and the nights huddled by a warm inviting camp fire and enjoying the beautiful black night sky. It was the stuff life-long memories are made of. Some 40+ years later our children are sharing the great outdoors with their children. It has been a blessing.

campfire cooking

Whoops… A scout’s first burnt offering

by John Lindstrom

Sibley State Park

Year:  1950

My scout troop had a weedoodle campfirekend camp out at Sibley.  One troop member brought a huge steak for supper.  He put the steak in a frying pan over the roaring fire.  The handle on the frying pan was loose and the steak did a 180 degree turn into the fire.  It was my first experience viewing a “burnt offering.”

Whitewater SP Great Eastern Point

8th graders thriving alone in the woods

by Rudi Hargesheimer

Whitewater State Park

My introduction to Minnesota State Parks came when I was probably eight years old. My church in Rochester organized a group of campers to go to Whitewater State Park. Those big limestone bluffs, the hole in the Chimney Rock and the swimming pond are memories that stuck – especially swimming – I hated it! But that introduction spurred my land-lubbing ways at many parks and trails to follow.

doodle of a fishing poleMy next adventure was a big one. My parents allowed me and some friends to spend six weeks of the summer between my seventh and eighth grades camping out unsupervised in the Whitewater River Valley back-country. We caught a zillion trout, as I recall. We explored the far recesses of tributary streams including a great fishing hole beneath the “Great Eastern Point.”

These southeast Minnesota adventures got me going. I continued to explore – all over the world – but these days my favorite places are close to home, right here in Minnesota’s parks and its incredible trails. There is an adventure waiting around every corner of our state.

Couple kissing at the Headwaters

Beginning a life at the Headwaters

by Dave Simpkins

Itasca State Park

Year:  2009

I snuck out from a meeting at Itasca to take pictures of the Headwaters of the doodle of a heartMississippi River on a foggy October day. As I approached the Headwaters I hear a woman yell, “I love you with all my heart and I always will.” At the Headwater I saw a young woman sitting next to a young man in a wheel chair and the two were kissing and kissing and kissing. I got pictures from every angle before they came up for air. The short story is he had just asked her to marry him and she said yes. His idea was to start their life together at the start of the Mighty Mississippi. Parks are really for lovers.

Bemidji State Park cabin in winter
Camper cabin in snow

Bachelorette Party

by Anne Flueckiger

Wild River State Park

Year:  2003

I became friends with the bride & groom through the Outdoor Program at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and I moved to Duluth shortly after they did. Their wedding was planned for late March, and the bride asked me to help organize a pre-wedding get-together with her women friends (otherwise known as a bachelorette party). We decided to rent one of the cabins at Wild River State Park. We knew it wouldn’t be spring yet, but we had not anticipated a snowstorm. Everyone managed to arrive safely and we enjoyed a cozy evening of burritos, conversation, and laughter. Thank you, Minnesota State Parks, for providing a beautiful setting to celebrate an important life event!

View of the famous lighthouse located in the state park.

Weekend on the Northshore

by Verónica

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Gooseberry Falls State Park

Year:  2014

We went hiking over MEA weekend (October).  It was colder than we expected, but loved every minute of it!  We took the kids, so we were not hiking great distances daily. We walked up to the camp site at Castle Danger and then I drove over to our final destination, Split Rock, and biked back.  We got to visit Gooseberry Falls SP on the way and ended up the day at Split Rock Lighthouse walking by the shore of Lake Superior. It was the perfect way to end our weekend!

Itasca State Park headwaters in winter
Itasca Headwaters

Two Faces of Itasca State Park

by Jo Ann

Itasca State Park

Year:  1989

My first trip to Itasca State Park was during the coldest time of year—mid February. I and about 15 other people went to Itasca through a trip organized by the Bell Musem of Natural History. As a transplant from subtropical Washington, D.C., I was first shocked by the cold, white Minnesota winters, but gradually adapted and came to be in awe of the beauty and extremes winter could bring. Wanting to do this proved I had become a Minnesotan at heart, if not by birth.

I found my journal entry from this trip: “We stayed in the U of M [Biological] Station cabins. They are very cozy and large. There is a great variety in the landscape—a feast for the eye. Many hills—round and knobby–then the vistas across the lake . . .” We learned how to make a quinzee—it’s kind of like an igloo, but you pile up a lot of snow and dig it out enough for a person to fit inside. I made one and slept in it that night. The outside temperature was -15doodle beartracksº. I slept in two sleeping bags and used a scarf to cover my nose. There was a full moon that lit up the whole landscape, reflecting off the deep snow. One night we took a hike on the frozen lake, looking for wolf tracks and listening for wolf howls. We were lucky enough to experience both.

That amazing experience caused me to want to go back to Itasca in the summer to show my friends what a wonderful place it was. July—what a difference warm weather makes. It was so crowded after my winter experience where we had the park to ourselves. On one of my runs I found a little forested point and encountered an ermine, white as the snow of the February trip.

Cascade River State Park

My First Visit to the North Shore

by Andrew

Cascade River State Park

Year: ca. 1987

Doodle of a tentI was young enough during my first visit to the North Shore that my memories are stored only as vignettes. On the first night, after a long day of driving, my parents tried to reward my sister and I with a bedtime snack; Instead we got a cloud of black smoke billowing from a Jiffy Pop. The next evening we went on a moonlighted, naturalist-led nature hike on which I heard an owl for the first time. And on our final morning, just before heading home, we climbed down to the lakeshore where my sister and I found two small pieces of driftwood that, to our young imaginations, looked just like little wooden boats. We set our newfound treasures into the chilly waters and waved bon voyage before heading home. I spent the car ride home starring out the window, trying to imagine all the places my little wooden boat might be exploring and the great adventures it must be having.

Interstate State Park Potholes by Doug Kerr
Interstate State Park by Doug Kerr

Seeing nature with new eyes

by Lisa Filter

Interstate State Park

Year: 2013

Doodle of boots and mosquitosI’m always trying to drag my son to go to a park with me. I remember one time when I told him we were heading to Interstate State Park, a park we’d been to several times before and loved. Well, he didn’t remember the park so he was dragging his feet, up until we arrived. Then, like a switch turning on, his face lit up and he started running for the rocks. It was like his whole body was turned on and he was in heaven, running along the rocks, challenging himself to scramble up every difficult rock face he could see–to my confusing mix of emotions: unease at the thought of my son slipping and total elation in sharing in his wonder and joy for this place.

Interstate State Park is one of the most beautiful state parks I’ve been to. It has beauty beyond compare just squeezed into its small and important place on earth.

Carley State Park stroll by Manda Baldwin

Before it was a park, it was my own private retreat

by Glen Devery

Carley State Park

Year: 1930s

Excerpt from Minnesota Conservation Volunteer Magazine Sept-Oct 1983

It wasn’t a park then. In the 1930s it was just that part of the farm useless for planting crops. But to me it stood as the most intriguing, remote acreage of the Old Wedge Place where we lived. The farm, about 2½  miles due south of Plainview, was one of several owned by then state Senator James A. Carley. Tenant families lived on each of his farms under a kind of share-cropping arrangement. The north fork of the Whitewater River looped through a corner of the farm. (Although designated a river, to us it was simply “the crick.”) Some of the happiest days of my boyhood were devoted to roaming those wooded hills.

On the eastern fringe of Carley Park, there was a spring. Cold, sweet water quenched our thirst in hot weather. Watercress grew in and around the spring, but that held no interest for young boys. The attraction was the swimming hole just below the spring where it joined the stream. There we could skinny dip in the warm sun — “go bare nekkid,” we called it… With our homemade seining net of gunnysacks, we scooped out “crabs” — crayfish — just for the sport. None of us realized that such ugly creatures were edible.

Time has etched inevitable changes on the aging farmstead…The spring dried up, and the pool that gave us so much pleasure is now only a foot deep. And yet, winding through steep wooded slopes, the peaceful stream flows on. Now a road leads to picnic tables and a campground above its banks for park visitors. Convenient hiking and cross-country ski trails have been cleared.

Carley State Park was once my own private retreat. As a boy, I alone possessed its grandeur. I dreamed of buying that coveted land when I grew up. Still I’m glad it became a state park for everyone to enjoy.

Preserving pictures of my past

by Margaret Haapoja

Hill Annex Mine State Park

Year: 1930s and 1997

Excerpt from
Minnesota Conservation Volunteer Magazine Mar-Apr 1997

The mine permeated every part of my childhood in the village of Calumet on Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. Ore dust colored my world as it sifted through the cracks and turned everything the same rusty shade of red. China rattled in the cupboards as blasts shook every house in town. School days were punctuated by the rattle of rocks being dumped, the squeal of electric shovel cables, the rhythmic thumping of the churn drill, and the clash of colliding oar cars. The sounds emanated from the Hill Annex Mine, a gaping pit just a block away from the edge of our playground. Neighbors were knit together by their connection to the mine…

TOURISTS TODAY SOMETIMES MISTAKE OUR “DUMPS” for mountains, but they are the remains of soil stripped from the surface to uncover the iron ore. Nothing grew on the dumps in those days when we children scrabbled up the sides, slipping and sliding, until our clothes and shoes were stained ore-car red…

Since I was a child, trees have sprung up on the dumps surrounding Calumet, making them look more like mountains than ever. Green grass creeps over the edges of the pit, as if seeking to heal that open wound in the earth’s red surface. An azure lake conceals the depth of the pit…

Yet Hill Annex Mine State Park preserves pictures of my past. Tourists now climb the worn, wooden staircase of a museum, a building once known as “the clubhouse,” where townspeople held parties and dances. Among the displays and artifacts are my dad’s dinner pail and photos enlarged from Grandma and Grandpa Will’s family album. From the museum’s front steps, I can see what was our school playground. Park picnic tables surround the spot where the merry-go-round once whirled. Standing there, I can still hear the voices of my schoolmates and echoes of the Hill Annex Mine.