Minnesota: The Northside

My only personal experience with Minnesota had been a business trip that extended to the weekend in St. Paul, Minneapolis. Mostly, I remember being frisked by police while leaving a busy restaurant at a music event on Hennepin Street. In short, I was wrongly suspected of stealing a purse, but was only temporarily detained in a large crowd of people while the police searched me and my stuff to determine I didn’t have it. Weird experience but one that I think of when considering the state.

The other connection to Minnesota is my oldest son’s love of the Minnesota Vikings football team, As a result, he has lots of stuff, purple Vikings related garb and forced me to Google “Skol” after he kept yelling it on NFL Sundays. The passion obviously did not start based on a legacy of winning the big games but happened sometime around the era of Madden Football video games and has extended passionately into his adult life. Now if they could ever win the big one. 


Minnesota Travel Journey

Needing to personalize our relationship with the state of Minnesota, we rounded the curve along highway 81, passing over the Red River bridge and into the state of 10,000 lakes. Our destination for the day was Zippel Bay State Park that sits along the shore of one of such lakes, Lake of the Woods, in Northwestern Minnesota. There wasn’t much change in the landscape from North Dakota as we motored along. Large, flat fields of crops, some growing, others not. As we progressed, we hooked up with highway 11 that would get us most of the way there. We passed through the town of Warroad and witnessed the large yellow Marvin Windows and Doors facility that certainly employed many locals. We stopped for fuel and ice before leaving Warroad for the last 30 more miles and a few other turns on smaller roads leading us to the our camp. 

Zippel Bay State Park

We set up home on a reserved piece of real estate more legally known as, Zippel Bay State Park, Lady’s Slipper Camp, No. 1. The site is at the front, sits next to the old school water pump, and at the far end from the one pit toilet. There are about 15 other small campsites here, each tucked into densely forested trees off the small drive. No. 1, for some reason, sits just a little further away giving us more privacy if not for the cars that infrequently drive in, those walking to the water station, and the main road that extends to a boat launch and beach just beyond Lady’s Slipper camp. 

To get to the camp was a unique experience for us in a state park and has us curious as to others we might stay at in the state. The road, a single lane dirt road, weaves through the dense forest, packed with birch trees, and leads us about 3 miles back. As comparison, all other state parks we’ve stayed in have provided the typical asphalt single lane road wide enough for RV’s and trailered boats to easily pass. This is a way more rustic a feel, and we like it. 

From our camp, we have had the steady sound of wind in the tree canopy, and the waves breaking on the lake shore. Our first peek at the lake yesterday provided it to be a seashore experience with water horizon in the distance with no land in sight. The waves steady breaking on the shore, the shore spattered with rocks the size of small boulders to tiny pebbles, mixed in with clam shells and drift wood. The beach here, lined with the dense forest previously mentioned, was narrow, about the width of the dirt road that leads you here. 

This place definitely triggers the adventure nerve making us want a few days here. We go online to book a third night to assure this place gets explored. 

We backed the rig into the campsite, unhitched home, fed Toohey, and grabbed a beer and wine. With Toohey, now leashed on the 6-foot lead, as required by State Park guidelines, we stroll the 1/4 mile to the small beach for non-motorized crafts, such as kayaks, to launch. There was one young family there but otherwise, lots of gulls sitting on rocks and hovering in the gusty winds from the west. The break appeared shallow as small boulders could be seen sticking out of the crashing waves a good 100 meters off shore. We walked and talked about stuff, Toohey, now off his 6-foot lead, sniffed everything, learning all about shore life along the Lake of the Woods. 

We followed this with a quick dinner then walk to another public swim beach area along a long straight path and returned for the sleep. 

The night sleep was good. Each turn though allowed me to hear the wind through the trees and the breaking surf, reminding me of the day and exploring to come. Cool temperatures greeted us in the morning, feeling fall like, requiring me don my sweater and think of destashing my fall clothes from beneath the bed. 

We both worked on our travel projects and hung around the home until after breakfast when we decided to walk the park a little more. We set off, now in beach clothes several layers below pullovers and sweaters, heading back toward the first beach. As we approached we saw a bald eagle above us, tacking through the wind so as to never flap its wings. Then left down a really straight path to the second beach, more recreational with picnic areas on a flat grassy spot leading to the sand. 

We continued past, following the beach along the shore as it curved first a bit in, the outwards forming a small cove. The beach was narrow, sandwiched between the dense birch tree forest and the large lake. The water in the lake appears clear but tea colored, making us wonder if it’s stained by tannins from the trees bordering it.

As the beach rounded the point we stopped to talk with a photographer, the real kind, with tripod, fancy camera, and extremely large camouflaged lens. He informed us of the two bald eagles he had seen eating fish they’d caught on the beach just at the curve near where we were standing. That would have been a cool sight.

From there, the beach walk continued a short distance towards the light house and harbor entry with a large stone bulkhead. At this point the trail went over a small hill exposing the large, marshy area that sits inside forming the bay. From a satellite view, the waterway looks like an overview of a tree frog swimming but from our vantage point at ground level, it appeared much like the Savannah coast marshes and creeks that I navigated throughout my life. 

We turned back to the sandy beach and grabbed a picnic table. Lysette had been collecting small white and black rocks along the way. She laid them all out on the table, organized them from smallest to largest and began to form images on the table, using the worn, weathered wood as backdrop. After a short nap on the bench, I became interested and started my rock art. While we did this, in our little world, other families started emerging from the trees with chairs and blankets, some swam, other sat, kids played. It never got crowded but was a nice feel on a beautiful midday on a beach on Lake of the Woods. 

Home was waiting for us as we returned hungry and ready for some afternoon funtivites. We ate, relaxed a bit. I made the short drive to the ranger station to pick up a bundle of firewood. We pulled the bikes off the roof rack, saddled them up and headed off to explore more. The place has three main dirt roads that extend from the park entrance. Our camp was to the right, or east. Straight takes you to the sandy beach where we just left awesome rock art for the rest of the beach goers to enjoy. The left turn takes you to the harbor with boat put in, a row of docks, toilets, and a screened hut for cleaning fish. We rode all of these and on the final leg, took a hiking path through a magnificent birch forest that reminded me of mountain biking through aspen trees in Crested Butte, although more roots and grass covered rocks. But beautiful. We toured all the other campgrounds confirming that our, Lady’s Slipper was the best. Returning home, letting Toohey off from his duty in the Tacoma to protect the assets, we prepared for the evening. 

The evening began with drinks and me cooking dinner while Lysette looked at her North Dakota photos for the blog. We ate, had a video call with her sister and brother-in-law that included the famous family phone shot. We lit a fire and enjoyed some fireside time and at dark, walked down to the beach to see what was there. It was a beautiful sunset sky to our north and west providing the colors, dark to light to dark matching the sky, water and land and the glow that the setting sun produces on a clear night. The sky behind us, a not yet full moon, with enough lumens to create well defined moon shadows of our figures as we walked back to the home for sleep.

Folks, fall is on the way. We are enjoying the first signs up here with trees starting to produce yellow leaves. The temperature is cooling and the feel is definitely college football weather. 

The campground called Lady’s Slipper has nothing to do with the type of shoe I wear when I get up in the morning (which is none of your business anyway) but more to do with a beautiful wildflower that apparently blooms in the area each spring. We will only see it in photos during our time here but the governor of Minnesota made this area a national wildflower area in 1990’s based on the beauty seen beside the road when they bloom. Likely a must see at some point.

Zippel Bay State Park is pretty, somewhat wild, and even with the camps, not a busy place. You can find lots of alone time walking or just sitting on the beach. Swimming is certainly an option, or like us, doing silly beach rock art. We stayed active with bikes and runs along the flat roads and trails that wound through the beautiful birch tree forest. Most people seem to come here to fish but there are plenty of things to do to just unwind along Lake of the Woods. We would certainly come back if this ever crosses our paths again.  

International Falls and Ranier

Our trip to International Falls was quick as we only had 80 miles to drive and extremely light traffic. The roads were flat and the prevailing wind to our back, giving the Tacoma relief from the hard work of the mountains and hills previously experienced. 

The short journey hugged the US/Canada line, separated only by the Rainy River. It is a large, wide river with vast farmlands on either side, an occasional small family home, and a few small towns peppered along the way. We rolled into IFalls with the first task of washing cow poop off the portside of the truck and trailer that we picked up from the dirt road leaving Ft Peck, Montana. We then moved to the Rainy Lake Vacation RV Park. We quickly set up home, grabbed our laundry and headed to the laundromat about a mile away, behind the 1st Stop Shop. Other duties of the day included a trip back into IFalls for ATM cash withdrawal, groceries and a package pick up at the Post Office.

Lysette did a project at the papermill here 20 some years ago. During one stay, while Hurricane Floyd was heading directly towards Savannah, she was staying in Ranier what would now be called an airBnB with no tv, just a radio and NPR, to keep up with the latest on where the hurricane would land. Everyone was evacuating (aka sitting in traffic on I-16 for hours) and it was a feeling of helplessness being so far away. Fortunately hurricane Floyd spared Savannah, but unfortunately landed in North Carolina doing immense damage there.

Ranier is a small community about 5 miles east of IFalls and sits on Rainy lake facing Canada. There is a two-story weathered white wooden building on a corner with a bar/restaurant downstairs and living space upstairs. When Lysette was there it was Woody’s Pub. Woody was famous for his Fairly Reliable Guide Service. He still has his guide service and has started a distillery which was under construction. Ownership of the bar changed and, according to the new owner, to keep things simple they replaced the W with L and the d with n, renaming it Loony’s. We stopped in for a beer at Loony’s, sitting on the dock on a cool but sunny afternoon.  Nice.

Rainy Lake RV Vacation Park has a small manmade inlet cut into the park with docks. Each RV site comes with a boat dock space. They have seasonal occupants who have fishing boats at their dock, have constructed wood decks around their RV’s, and have a festive jolly atmosphere among them. The place is owned and run by a young family with two small children. The young boy of maybe 4 years, scoots around shirtless in camouflaged shorts on his balance bike, riding through puddles and seeming to command the place. The mom, doing most of the work, manages it all while on the move. We take it in, having conversations with several others and learning of their time here, fishing desires, in exchange for our travels and mostly interest in our plans.

Our site, No. 11 backs up to the docks, has a fire ring and picnic table. The area was wet from big rain the night before so we stay close to home. The sites are small and other than fishing, provide no real opportunity for funtivities. As contrast to the nice bathrooms in the last few places, we have a portable toilet (aka port-o-jon, port-o-let) here, which isn’t terrible as we are the only ones here without plumbing. So it is ours for the moment and clean. But the walk of shame in the morning to this hunter green molded plastic statue, sitting in the middle of a treeless park, was obvious, so we try not to look around too much, never make eye contact, and just take care of business. 

The Journey to the North Shore 

Our destination the next day was, again east, but with no definite camp. The Research and Travel Department of Travels with Toohey had done lots of work finding specific Superior National Forest campgrounds west of Highway 61, which is the path that leads north and south along the Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior, and our future. We had previously contacted several campgrounds, all of which were booked solid for the big Labor Day weekend. So getting there early for a first come first serve National Forest Campground was the plan. 

We waved our goodbyes through the window to the owner slash camphost of the Rainy RV Vacation Camp as we began our move to the shore. We fueled the truck and the small propane bottle used for the chef, me, to prepare meals on the Camp Chef stove. We followed Highway 53 out of Ranier picking up Highway 1 that would take us past the Voyeur National Park, of which we could only dream about for the moment and then through the small outfitter town of Ely, and into the Superior National Forest. There were more wildflowers that we had never seen before so we slowed so the Photography Department could roll some film. Besides the interest in the new wildflower, the land had gotten hilly, not mountainous, but rolling and winding roads through heavily forested areas. The trees were various pines and birch. It was a pretty drive, few cars and trucks, reminding us of the mountains we left and look forward to seeing what’s ahead. 

We drove past several of the campgrounds Research & Travel had pegged that were farther out from the coast as a backup plan should we need them, but noticing that they were closed. Remaining calm was in order but certainly not something she had seen in her research. Lysette immediately called up the Research & Travel to start studying this potential issue. What if they were all closed? We carried on and hocked a left in the small town of Finland on a forest service road (it showed as 7 on our National Forest map but none of the numbers matched the actual roads) that would take us 17 miles of so to the first of a few camps she had targeted. The road was good, remote, as we drove up on the Nine Mile Campground. Gate closed. We then moved down the road thinking we’d head to the ranger station in the town of Tofte sitting on highway 61 to ask questions but we missed the turn as the road numbers did not match the numbers we had. We suddenly drove up on Toohey Lake which was something of happy moment. We had this identified as a spot for the namesake of our trip dog and as a bonus, it was free. We pulled in and it was open. We stopped the wagon train at the entrance loop around the pit toilet as driving the train down an unknown road is not advised. As we got out to walk, a National Park Ranger pulled up wearing bullet proof vest and side arm. We waved him over to get some information. He informed us first that it was going to be crowded, not for Labor Day alone but also for opening day of bear season. Great. He provided information on some boondocking spots close by and told us not all camps were closed but that their campground concessionaire could only provide service to a few sites based on staffing. 

We felt better about that, but not that Toohey Lake was completely full. The residents were all hunters: the campground smelled of cigarette smoke, had cases of Natural Light and Budweiser abound, and armed camouflaged crazy-eyed bearded men riding ATV’s looking to shoot defenseless cute black furry animals for sport and a fire place rug. Sadly we left wanting to get a little farther from this lake. 

We moved on now looking for a camp closer to Tofte. We checked out one boondocking site, Toohey Helispot, but decided to motor on based on all the ATV tracks. About 7 miles later we drove up on Temperance River campground. This piece of land sat along the Temerance river about 12 miles from the town of Tofte and Highway 61. We drove in and did the loop at the end, eyeballing number 7. We backed it in and unhitched. It had the proximity to the destination of Highway 61 for the shore experience, community water, pit toilet, and flat ground. It has lots of healthy, pretty trees typical of the area and several hikes a short drive away. Gravel and road biking are an option as the gravel turns to asphalt just outside of the camp entrance. The big down is the $18 per night price tag. As compared to the North Dakota camps of $20 where you had fully plumbed bathrooms with showers and a staff who cleaned them regularly, I’d say someone has a good profit margin. But relative to the $50 dollars a night we’d be paying along highway 61, it is a bargain. Note: we later learned out National Park Pass gets us 50% off so the price was actually $9/night which was much better and the pit toilet was cleaned daily by the vendor which vastly improved the value.

After setting up camp, we decided to make a quick run into town to see the shoreline. The drive rolled up to a pass then jetted down with glimpses of the vast Lake Superior over the tree line. We drove up to Highway 61, made a starboard turn then one back portside to a Safe Harbor park. According to the sign, these parks are located up the shore, provided with rock bulkhead along the rocky shore to allow boats to safely put in and out without getting plummeted by waves. 

The place was nice and seeing this coast was amazing. It is hard to believe fresh water in what appears to be an ocean or a sea. Whatever. The park was also nice and called Tofte Park. The land originally donated by the Tofte family to build a park using red, white, and blue cobblestones for the small bridges and wells, of which are all still there in good condition. 

After Toohey’s drink in the lake and me, getting my feet wet, we returned to camp, had dinner, and did the night thing before a great night sleep on our new piece of National Forest land. 

Superior National Forest and the North Shore

We spent our first full day in Superior National Forest basing operations out of No. 7, Temperance River campground just off Sawbill Rd. The camp is nice, small, well treed and so far, early in the week, lightly used. The day started slowly by design but by midday we decided on a bike ride up a forest service road to see Whitefish Lake and its campground. As we were rolling out of camp, a ranger was sitting at the entrance so we thought what a great resource opportunity. She was completely unarmed and was amazing. She told us about the campground she’d move to another 12 miles at the end of Sawbill Rd called Sawbill Lake Campground. She said she was up there yesterday and there were plenty of first come first serve sites and the lake was the entrance to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and included an outfitter. She went on to say that she works winters in Summit County Colorado and lives in Leadville and we shared stories. Her main job at the moment is to educate campers on wildfire safety and the importance of never leaving your campfire anything but cold, especially with the wind we’ll be experiencing over the next few days. Everything inside of me wanted to ask, so what has changed here? 

She was great, the information timely, giving us dialogue for conversation as we pedaled out of the campground, turning right then a quick left up a gravel road.

The other thing interesting about Superior National Forest is the designated bike route perfect for gravel bikes. The forest service roads provide miles of paths all through the area, are well marked and have extremely low vehicle traffic. The loop we rode out on was called Honeymoon Loop and started on road 164 and took us to the spots we wanted to explore.  

The road was beautiful, rolling and curvy with lush dense forest on both sides. Our ratio of bear sitings to vehicles was 2:1, with the one black bear, perfectly marked with jet black hair and the light brown snout moving through the woods in the opposite direction as I yelled BEAR. The bear ran and Lysette, not seeing it had no idea where it was, where it was going, and if she’d be eaten. It ran off and we continued to ride together loud talking and singing Tom Petty songs. We made it to Whitefish Lake to see that it too was closed but we continued on to the the boat ramp and lake. Our return back to camp was uneventful as the bear was long gone, zero vehicles passed, and no human sightings. We ate, read, dozed, read some more. 

By now we had decided not to move to the Sawbill Campground as suggested by the ranger but at least to drive up there and see what all the fuss was about. We fed Toohey, loaded up in the Tacoma and drove the 12 miles. The road, a main gravel route, is wide, well maintained and moves you along through the forest at a pretty fast pace for a forest service road. We reached the camp, drove the loop seeing lots of available sites, decided again, that our camp was fine and that we could easily drive up here for the day if the lake was on the list of funtivities. 

The one cool thing about this camp is it sits at the wilderness area and the outfitter provides all the gear for those canoe packing the wilderness. The wilderness is basically lake after lake that either connect or closely exist within a short portage of one another. There are no roads so remote is a thing here. The parking lot to the outfitters was packed with cars from all over. We asked about daily canoe rentals and they allow dogs, so Toohey can play in a boat with us. Oh, and they also rent SUP’s so maybe, just maybe the 3 of us can actually SUP a distance together. This is something on our list.

We left and made the drive past our camp and back to Whitefish Lake where we biked to earlier so Toohey could swim. Again, no one was seen and we had the boat launch area to ourselves for Toohey to chase sticks into the lake, getting some good swim exercise in for the day. As we stood there one thing dawned on us. These lakes, over 9999 of them in the state, were pretty in a gnarly kind of way, based on the four we’d seen. The water is calm with loons floating around. The forest is a lush green, pretty where the trees have been allowed to grow. The dense treelines around the lake meet the water’s edge with rocky shorelines. As you stand across looking at the forest with the sky as a backdrop, bad haircut comes to mind. When my mom would cut my hair as a child, she would be mostly done with the perfect bowl cut then look back, finding all kinds of hairs she’d missed along the way, extending below the bowl line, looking scraggly. If not clipped then, they would get scragglier as all the hair grew. Not that she gave me a bad haircut, but these tadpole looking straggly trees certainly make me think “bad haircut” and of my mom.

We drove home, had dinner and weather proofed the camp for more nightly rain which was in the forecast. 

Drive to Grand Portage

One of the things we wanted to do was drive the Minnesota North Shore, see it all the way up to Canada and back to Duluth. Today we planned to drive North from Tofte to Grand Portage. We had an early departure from camp to the intersection on Tofte and Highway 61. The high winds the night before had downed a tree on the way, but it was passable. We fueled up the Tacoma, checked some emails, made some phone calls, then headed north. We made several pulloffs to see views of the large swells crashing against the rocky shores with the following noteworthy events for the day:

Cascade Falls – these are a series of falls through a tight gorge leading to the lake. They are spectacularly powerful, with calm pools sitting between each. The water, tea colored stained from the tannic acid from trees.The hike is short, up hill, and provides bridges aver the falls to form a loop and great scenery. There are other trails leading from there which can make it a day or extend the entire length of the shore line on the North Shore Trail system. 

Cool Beard – This isn’t a hike but a first for me. Okay, I haven’t shaven or manscaped the face or hair for that matter since May 17th. This started as more of a “what’s the point” thing than for any other reason. As we made the cross over a bridge on Cascade Falls to turn back a guy, girl, and dog were approaching. As we passed them, the guy said, “I like your beard.” I uncomfortably said, “thanks”, as this is a first time in 55 years of life a dude has complimented my unkempt facial hair and the only other guy I know is Brian Reed who would even verbalize such things. Lysette and I had a good laugh about this for the rest of the day.

Grand Marais – This is a small, somewhat touristy cool spot, and the last real town going north. They have a Safe Harbor inside a large bulkhead with a lighthouse tower and coastguard station sitting lakeside. The large concrete bulkhead extends along the harbor separating the calm waters of the harbor from the storm driven beastly waves of the lake. There are small rock islands and obstacles all along the bulkhead as if the bulkhead were constructed into it. We walked the bulkhead towards the lighthouse to the first rock island where we turned back based on the large blast of water that were striking the next section towards the lighthouse as I didn’t want to get my really nice beard wet. 

The northern end of the bulkhead stops at a large rock island with trees and foliage back from where the ragged rocks meet the lake swells. We walked there for a few more photos before heading back. The beaches on the inside of the island that extend back to the small town and along the harbor are covered in red stones. These stones, which were on every beach we touched are the perfect endless stone for stone skipping. The are smooth, mostly flat, with each having the perfect rounded curve for your index finger to loop to give it the spin. I skipped a few, Toohey stood in the water and watched. 

The town also has many small restaurants around the harbor side village to include The World’s Best Doughnut Shop. We can’t confirm this to be true through experience but we passed it three times at varying points on this journey and the line outside speaks for itself. 

Grand Portage – We are still debating whether this is a town, Indian Reservation, or something else. I initially thought it was going to be a town but really all we passed was an Indian Reservation sign, a National Monument with replica village and old people dressed in period attire to answer questions, and a large convenience store placed just outside a large casino. We stopped at the replica village which told of the North West Company, a summer trading post where traders and trappers met to trade furs and stuff. The local Native American Tribe, the Obijwe, would also set up camp there to trade.  We viewed the teepee’s made of birch limbs and bark, the canoe building, and the replica structures sitting in the spot where the originals sat and constructed out of period methods.

As we left I asked a park ranger a question that has been burning in me for a while. When you drive the coast of Maine, there are lobsters, lobster rolls, and clams for sale at roadside stands everywhere. When on the coast of Oregon, there are dungeness crabs, fresh fish, and prawns. When in Washington, oysters. So I asked, what is the local thing here as we haven’t seen anything but the World’s Best Doughnuts? After she got done looking at my really nice beard, I was told if you see herring or lake trout on the menu then it is likely authentically local. Toss in wild rice and you have nailed it, as that was a Native American cuisine. So far, we haven’t seen a lake trout taco stand or a veggie wild rice burrito truck. But we continue to look. 

Yard Art – On the way home we stopped at this delightful fence line with decorative yard art. Sometimes people under do yard art, making it feel cheap, while others just get personal with crafty signs and worly gigs made with the new shop equipment. But this person nailed it with area specific garb, mixed with eclectic mannequin head art, while recognizing the State of Minnesota timber wolves and black bears and mixed in with local lake driftwood We were even able to grab a selfie complete with really nice beard, in the mirror tucked in amongst the bears.  This is the perfect yard art and a must do while chomping down your world’s best doughnut. 

Beach Fun – Our last stop of the day was just off the highway to play on the red rock beach. The grade of the shoreline didn’t give the large swells time to slowly roll so they crashed hard. Then the force of the retreating water undercutting the next swell’s force made them simply break shallow. This phenomenon made it hard for me to toss sticks into the water for fear the waves would catch Toohey wrong, potentially injuring him. But we played, using the timing of the toss to make sure, mostly, that he didn’t get pummeled. Once though we got close, but the agility of this old guy wouldn’t be the victim. We played on. 

Carlton Peak – We traveled back, stopping to pick up some groceries more beer and wine. Along the way we stopped at the Carlton Peak trailhead for a quick hike up to the summit. The rain showers that had been coming and going all day were lightly falling as we set off. The trails was a little muddy at the bottom but dried out as the trail elevated and the view of the coastline at the summit, atop a large exposed rock, was amazing. The 360 degree view of the shoreline, massive Lake Superior and the surrounding hills of the Superior National Forest was a perfect end to this day’s journey. 

We returned to a full campground which remained this way through the weekend, and enjoyed a damp, cold night using the heater while Lysette continued her card dominance over me in gin. 

Superior National Forest is a pretty awesome place to play. From access to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and all the other accessible lakes to fish and paddle, the many forest roads with gravel bike routes, the designated mountain bike trails, hiking trails and for the cold/freezing weather outdoors enthusiast, loads of cross country ski trails. As we woke up we decided on a run from camp on one of the lonely forest service roads. So we sported our day packs with bear spray and headed out. It was a sunny morning, the first full sun morning, and did the run with no bear sightings but plenty of birds, squirrels and whatnots. We returned to camp and did the morning thing which included breakfast. We did some needed minor repairs to the home and improved some storage organization of the Tacoma. We chose a hike for the afternoon activity and specifically the Britton Peak hike that starts from the same trail as the Carlton Peak Trail and links to the Superior Hiking Trail through-hike. From this same trailhead parking are mountain bike trails and cross country ski trails. 

We had no idea of this hike so we quickly checked the board at the trailhead seeing 3 miles to the summit and set off. The hike went pretty much straight up to the summit, which turned out to be .3 miles. We laughed as we obviously missed the “.” on the sign, took some photos and called some family while we had cell reception. 

The descent was as quick as a .3 mile hike should be but we hung a right turn on the Superior Hiking Trail following the blue blaze as the single troll wound through the woods. We stopped and talked to a couple of through hikers who had completed the Appalachian Trail the year prior and plan on the PCT next year, depending on the conditions the cooties prevention.  This trail section was pretty with healthy and this forest, moist ground cover, decaying fallen logs, and the potential as always of seeing some bear activity. 

Bear Hunting

The one “sport” that I didn’t mention above was that of bear hunting, as I don’t think of it as sport, as I don’t I think any trophy hunting is. Bear hunting provides no meat to eat and in today’s time, the pelt or other parts aren’t used to support living, unlike the need for pelts and whatnots from days past. Minnesota allows for a certain number of permits given through a lottery, don’t allow white bears, cubs, or bears in dens to be killed. I’m not sure why they allow this but if keeping the number of bears healthy is a reason, then I could debate that as well, as this was never an issue before Larry moved to town.

The activity of killing a bear is complicated so let me break it down. It begins with setting up bear treats in large 55 gallon metal drums, this is called baiting. So the National Park Service spend loads of resources telling campers not to attract bears with sweet smelly stuff and then we allow hunters to train bears to find sweet smelly stuff in the same woods we camp. The video we watched had a hunter cooking a concoction of marshmallows, jello, sugar, maple syrup and peeps which they poured over 50 pounds of dog food in a drum. They are allowed to start this process two weeks prior to the opening of bear season. 

So if a bear comes to a camp and gets sweet smelly food from a tent, we shoot it as a nuisance, dangerous to humans. If it gets sweet smelly stuff from a 55 gallon drum with the hunter’s name on it, we call it a trophy. Then, what of all the other bears that feed on this hunter’s stuff that don’t get shot? They are now trained to look for this stuff that will eventually get them into trouble and killed for being a nuisance. 

Secondly, there is no sport in luring an animal to something you know it needs most to survive, during the season it needs to bulk up in preparation for hibernating, then standing a “safe” distance back with a man made killing machine and shooting it through the heart. Sport would suggest competition and there is no fair competition here. I suggest a simple rule change to the game. The hunter’s bait box be the hunter,s tent. The hunter then has to go man to bear with no weapon of advantage. Which ever one walks away gets the trophy. That’s sporting while more naturally defining the pecking order of life. Mic drop.

The evening came and we made a smoky fire with wet wood, ate a Thai dish made with dark meat chicken, onions, ginger, sweet potato and my camp culinary cheat, a can of vegetarian Thai soup. We finished the day with a few hands of gin which we evenly split in wins, me in total points, but her getting about one nights match play closer for the over all victory of 2000 points.

Drive South to Two Harbor

In order for us to do the entire Minnesota North Shore, we needed to hit the Southside. We decided to drive south for a bit so we could do the sight seeing without the trailer. We targeted Two Harbors as our turn around point based on proximity to Duluth and the last seemingly interesting place before then. We set off with this plan, fully aware that it was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend so likely all roadside events would be crowded. Our first stop into the Parking Lot/rest area/trailhead for Shovel Point proved the masses were indeed, out. Cars were parked in every conceivable spot and then some, while others circle the lot for a space. We were lucky and found one quickly. We walked to the restrooms and on the way started up a conversation with a couple of Superior Hiking Trail north to south through hikers from West Virginia. My focus was getting some scoop on places to see in the mountains of West Virginia, of which we succeeded. As for them, this was their first through hike on any trail. He was an apprentice electrician and his buddy, a quality control guy. They were packing light, like 8 pounds without water and food which is particularly light. With water plentiful on on the trail, they each only carried 2 liters of water at any given time. Their struggles were with the towns listed being little more than a campsite and a convenience store, if lucky. They hadn’t thought through the Labor Day thing so getting a place to sleep and shower during stops was also a struggle for them. But they were still all smiles and happy to be out there for their first adventure like this. 

As for us, we said goodbye and hiked the short mile out to the tip of Shovel Point, stopping for photos and to see climbers, repelling then climbing the steep cliffs down to the lakeshore. We watched as a large dive boat picked up divers, surfacing after visiting a shipwreck below. 

These cliffs are remarkable, steep and high. They weave in and out of many coves, some with rocky beaches. We visited one on our return back from Shovel Point to allow Toohey to drink and stand in the cool lake water. 

We headed back to the truck, grabbed some food from the food bin for a snack lunch and motored on south. Based on the traffic coming north and all the sites on the side of the road against the opposing traffic, we decided to get to Two Harbors and do the other stuff on the return trip. 

We passed through Silver Bay which was a small town with no cute town center, bay or harbor but a large North Shore Iron facility. There was a stretch following that we passed other attractions before making it to Twin Harbors. Highway 61 was busy through here with several road side ice cream shops and maybe a restaurant or two but the cute little Main Street, running about an 8th of a mile off of this closer to the harbor was dead other than a brewery. We found that interesting as these are the historical buildings not getting any of the tourism love that you’d think. Most of the traffic was simply passing through the busy highway 61 missing a great opportunity.  

Just beyond the old deserted Main Street was the harbor where a huge iron loading facility used to load large amounts of iron onto ships for transport, sits. There is a cool park overlooking it and the historic steam powered tug now out of service and moored for viewing. A short walk or drive out towards the lake and light house, ship wreck museum and walk along the concrete bulkhead, which we did. It was pleasant and the winds were light so there were no waves smashing against it. But you could still only image how this would change on a stormy day. We returned along the bulkhead then extended the walk along a path around the light house that passed some rocky shoreline and wooded areas. We stopped for a bit to let Toohey have a drink then moved the tour back to the rig and began our trip back up north. 

There was a brief stop at an overlook of Split Rock Light house which apparently was the first lighthouse constructed even before roads made this area of earth accessible which is amazing given the cliffs they would have had to work with to get tools and supplies there. We then stopped at Temperance River to witness the gorge. For those following along, we are camping at Temperance River Campground along Temperance River. This is the place down river where it meet the lake. Just before meeting the lake the river has cut a huge, magnificent gorge into the solid rocks sitting beneath the bridge. This sight is spectacular as the tea colored water, made this by the tannic acids from trees and roots along the way. We grabbed lots of photos and made our way back to the Tacoma and return to camp. Our last stop was the store at the foot of our road for a bag of ice and dry fire wood. 

Our night included a sweet potato accent to dinner cooked in the coals for the fire, a fire, and comfortable time sitting and talking. We retired to the home for what turned out to be the concluding hands of gin which we started playing 7/13/2020 in Spark Lake, Oregon. Lysette edged me to the 2000 mark, winning by a score of 2026 to my 1950. Well done and I’m ready to roll it back for round 2.

As we reflect on the coast, we both enjoyed the drive north more than south likely based on expectations and being the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Our drive north was a Thursday and a little weathery giving it a nasty coastal day with winds and spotty rain showers. It provided, to us, more access to the lake and the charming lake town of Grand Marias, which is what we expected to see up and down the shore but never developed. Once past this town moving north, there were few cars at all. The drive south came with great expectation of more cute shore towns which there weren’t one (at least to Twin Harbors) and lots of stuff to see, which there was but not without fighting for space, which we didn’t do.

Last Day Funtivities

This, our last day in the area, so we loaded the bikes and gear and headed about 7 miles back to the trailhead with lots of options. There are a variety of mountain bike trails, some recently constructed, running trails, and what turned out to be lots of other fun seeking folks. We off loaded the gravel bikes and did the green trail loop. It was fun, lots of dipsey doos, flows turns, bridges, and well placed rock crossings reminding me of the Golden Bike Park off Easley road but with shaded forest all around and tight squeezes between trees. All set in the beautifully forested national forest. We returned after a loop to don trail running attire and headed north on the Superior Hiking Trail for an out and back run. Again, beautiful. We ended that with a hike back up to Britton Peak where we did some travel research and returned a few messages. 

Hungry, tired, and dirty, the sun replaced with a grey sky, we grabbed a snack lunch from the back of the truck for the short ride home. Lysette warmed some water in the teapot for long ovedue bathing before setting in for an easy afternoon. We used this time to prepare for our departure the next day in search of a full on warm shower and a good grocery store to build up the food supply before our move to the shores along Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula or Michigan. 

Superior National Forest and North Shore – Concluding thoughts

Our time here has been wonderful, a great place to hunker down for the long Labor Day weekend, a place were we felt at home back in the woods with lots of opportunity to play. Our plan of getting here early in the week for a camp and staying proved to be a good one based on the number of cars looking for spots as they circle the campground each day. Our site has given us great access to experience the north shore drive and the splendors of this national forest. The area has so much to offer from camping, canoeing, fishing, road, gravel, and mountain biking, hiking, trail running, rock climbing, and diving shipwrecks. The through-hikers we engaged with provided energy and conversation for us as to things we want in our future and if only I had a canoe to strap to my roof would I have felt more like a local. There are also loads of winter sports here but I’ll pass on them as I think Colorado winters are my extreme for cold weather experience, I believe this place gets nasty cold and icy.

Last Night and Final Thoughts

Our last night in the fine State of Minnesota was in a KOA, which is AOK, in between the small towns of Cloquet and Carlton. This camp is a Journey so not as much classy stuff to do and the pool is shut down. In fact, this is the time of year where the face of the traveling family changes much like the leaves we are starting to see on the trees. Fewer families, more adults living the retired lifestyle. We do have one dad with 2 older sons from Austin Texas at the camp next door who are traveling up to the boundary waters to drop off one son in a Outward Bound Backwater month long adventure which sounds pretty cool.

The small northern slice of the state that we have experienced has been wild and remote. Those living here enjoy what nature has provided from fishing the large lakes, canoeing the magnificent wilderness areas, to rock climbing the cliffs along the lake shore, this part of the state is active and fun and one can only imagine what the remainder of the state holds. So today we close up the camper and set sail for the short journey through the north coast of Wisconsin.





4 responses to “Minnesota: The Northside”

  1. Ken Mikkelson Avatar
    Ken Mikkelson

    Another nice read Kemp. I’ve traveled that area for both work and fun – believe it or not, CIC actually insures businesses up in the Warroad area. I’ve fished Lake of the Woods for musky and traveled through International Falls on our way to Canada to fish. Truly a beautiful part of the US

  2. Stephen E Dale Avatar
    Stephen E Dale

    Nice article. I have to admit, Kemp looks more and more like Tom Hanks after 4 years on the island. I expect him to spear a fish at any minute.

  3. John Fisher Avatar
    John Fisher

    Still love the detailed and colorful descriptions of this awesome journey. The one thing I want to know is how could you not have stopped to try one of the world’s best doughnuts!??

  4. Patrick Klein Avatar
    Patrick Klein

    Another detailed journal entry. Minn sounds great. My next BBQ will include sweet stuff in a 55 gal drum. I also noticed that Kemp has this woodsy beard and Lysette not a lick of hair on her face. Enjoy, next I will read about Wisconsin.