Eight State Parks in Five Days (Part 1 of 2)

>> Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Sometime a few months ago, my wife mentioned that being the boys had 3 days off for MEA and a 4th day off before that for conferences, we should hit the road for some fall "camper cabin" camping. So we met with the boys' teachers on Tuesday around lunchtime, then we got home and loaded the car. Then we were off! The plan was to hit 8 state parks in the far northwestern part of the state and drive into Canada (just 'cause) by Saturday afternoon.

Our "regular" passports along with our state park passports.
(We now have 51 state park stamps in the 51 months since we started!)

Not long into our trip.

Our first stop was Taco John's in Grand Rapids. Charlie LOVES Potato Oles.

Lots of roads with no signs of lights once we neared Big Bog State Recreation Area.

Our camper cabin for the night (#6 in Big Bog).

We've stayed in ones with baseboard heaters, but these 3 loved to
warm themselves by this big gas burning heater!

My wife's post about Big Bog:

We made the 4.5 hour drive to Upper Red Lake with only one stop! Our camper cabin is rustic but cozy. Big Bog State Recreation area has a fire tower and bog that we can’t wait to explore. There are only two other sets of campers here.

Wednesday morning. Breakfast on the fire.

Eggs cooked and sitting on the wood. English muffins being toasted,
and ham frying for ham, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches.

The river just through the trees by our cabin. It flows into Upper Red Lake.

Hiking behind our cabin.

The view behind our cabin.

Ready to head out for the day. (Notice the "boot" [night split] next to the fan. Grrr.)

The fire tower just a few hundred feet from our cabin.
It's one of the safest feeling towers we've been on (says my wife).

The view of Upper Red Lake from the top!


Charlie A bear in the visitor's center.

Someone getting his face scratched off.

Then we hit the road for a few hours. We only had 30-70 min drives between all of our major stops, so that made it very easy. First we headed towards Franz Jevne State Park, but we discovered a rushing river (appropriately named "Rapid River") on the way there. So we pulled over and explored:

So loud!

We had just crossed that bridge to the left.

Selfie by the rushing river.

We only had a few more minutes to drive to get to Franz Jevne. We knew it was small and right along the Rainy River, so we were ready to be bored. But it was cute.

Canada over yonder.

Henry peering into Canada with his binoculars.

Selfie by a tiny flooded island.

Sarah and Charlie on a muddy hike.

My wife posted this on Facebook about Franz Jevne:

This is one of Minnesota’s smallest parks, and we get got to see Canada across the Rainy River! There were a few campers, but otherwise the park was pretty quiet. Charlie and I took an extra trail on the way back to the car, and it was totally flooded, so our shoes are now hanging above our heater.

We stopped in Baudette (just 15 minutes away) for lunch at a little diner called Alice's:

We heard our waitress cussing up a storm, and Henry and I got called "hun."

Willy the Walleye in Baudette.

Just 4 blocks behind Willy is the US/Canada border. We crossed over the Rainy River into Rainy River Ontario. Then we found this:

A big ole' Canadian steam engine (with my family up there on the left).

When planning the trip, I found a bakery in Rainy River. So that's where we went!

Henry was impressed/confused by his cinnamon twist.

My wife got a few toys for the long car rides, and the "Wikki Stix" were a hit.

Next was a short drive a bit farther north to the edge of Lake of the Woods. We were heading to Zippel Bay State Park.

After one other couple left, we had the beach to ourselves!

It took Henry a few tries, but he ended up making this nice photo of us. :)

We are in Zippel Bay State Park. The actual Zippel *BAY* is farther around
that point. We went most of the way there, but didn't get as far as the bay.

Soooo many shells.

Passed out (with the box of Wikki Stix in the middle) on the way back to Big Bog.

The drying socks and shoes my wife mentioned (on our clothesline brought from home).

My wife's comments about Zippel Bay:

We had the entire beach to ourselves save for one other couple. We walked the whole stretch and marveled at all of the shells and smooth rocks. We could see lots of fishing boats on the horizon. It’s humbling to realize that the other side of the lake is 80 miles away.

Supper on the fire, with Henry in the woods on the far left, and Charlie whittling something by the fire.

Garlic lemon pepper green beans.

Ham steak. (Our camping "go to" meal. You can't screw it up.)

Ham, beans, and blackberries for supper! (With hot cocoa on the right for the boys.)

Time for a bigger fire.

The boys playing in the bathroom. Much like we've encountered at other fall/winter state parks,
they leave a nice bathroom in the visitor's center open 24/7. It's makes things so easy.

My wife's photo of Upper Red Lake from her Thursday morning run.

Me and the boys exploring where the Tamarac River flows into Upper Red Lake.

We didn't plan this, but we spotted Mama on her run. So high-fives were given. :)

The boys in Upper Red Lake. They LOVED how it stayed so shallow for so long.

Some Skip-Bo before lunch.

Grilled chicken/feta/spinach brats on a toasted naan bun with cheese and apples. TASTY.

Good meal!

Henry used his pocket knife to try to take down this stump.
He made progress through the rotted wood, but the center was still quite hard.

We got all packed up and headed for our next stop at Hayes Lake (where we'd be spending the night). But first we had to stop by THEE BOG at "Big Bog" which was 8-10 miles up the road ("disconnected" from the campgrounds and Upper Red Lake where we were staying).

At the pond that we had to walk around to get to the "bog walk."

Around the pond at the start of the boardwalk.

The pond (and where we parked) was an "island" in the bog. And the boardwalk
went for 1 mile north (to the white arrow) over the bog. An amazing ecosystem!

It started more "brushy" and wooded.

Tamaracks changing color.

Much more open.

Headed back among the pines and tamaracks.

There were 2 families there when we got there, but they were gone
by the time we were ready to leave. Yet another quiet adventure!

My wife's post about these first days:

Days 1-3: Big Bog. We climbed the fire tower, built campfires courtesy of Daddy, did a bog walk in the biggest bog in the lower 48 states, and got to see how big bear claws are in the interpretive center.

Now we had about an 80 minute drive to Hayes Lake. It finished on 13 miles of gravel heading through Beltrami Island State Forest (technically, both Hayes Lake and Big Bog are within this forest). We got a little lost as my map got me to the "edge" of Hayes Lake, and not actually to the visitor's center. So we had to backtrack for 2 miles at one point and go just a half mile farther down a road to get INTO the state park.

Gravel started like this, and then the trees REALLY filled in. (And so did the deer hunters.)

Our cabin for Thursday night.

A gas FIREPLACE! This cabin had a lot of unique features we hadn't come across in other cabins.

Me and Charlie looking over Hayes Lake.

The boys and Mama starting a 2 mile hike. (I stayed back because
walking/standing hurts my foot, and I could set up the cabin.)

The view walking back to our cabin.

Inside. Two tables!

Here's what made this cabin a bit different:

- Just one outlet
- Just 1 bare bulb (no extra light fixture over the table)
- No ceiling fan
- No gas/baseboard heat, but a gas fireplace instead
- TWO tables when 100% of the other cabins we've been in have 1 with an open space on the other side
- LOTS of hooks (I ALWAYS wish these cabins had 3x the amount of hooks)
- A clothesline (barely visible in that last photo to the far right, stretching over the fireplace)
- No lights over the beds (it's 50/50 if these cabins have those)
- A tiny shelf above each bed (never seen that)

I talked to another family camping there (the only other people in the park) and they said there's a hand pump for water. We never saw anything about where to get water. Usually the park says something like "Drinking water is available year-round at the park maintenance building and at the Visitor Center." (Direct quote from Big Bog's website.) Our only complaint is that they could have made that clearer, because I was about to drive 20 miles into Roseau to fill up with water. But luckily, I got this iron-heavy water from the hand pump:

No need for my multi-vitamin today!!

A mini-bog just a few hundred feet from our cabin.
(Totally lackluster having just visited the "biggest bog in the lower 48 states" at Big Bog.)

A selfie at the dam a mile from our campsite! The boys loved it!

Getting ready to prep for supper with this brown water. :)

Fire place and clothesline. YES! (Also [and awesomely], the fireplace was
controlled with a thermostat one the wall, so it would only kick on when needed.)

Paninis and dogs for supper.

Leftover ham steak from the night before made a GREAT panini!

A long exposure on a PITCH black night before the moon came out.

I posted that photo with the caption:

A tiny cabin, a dying campfire, 1 bare bulb, 1 outlet, and just a fireplace to keep us warm for the night on the shore of Hayes Lake. Finishing up our 5th day “up north” right now. [Edit: I posted this 2 days after taking it.] Like WAY north... we drove into Canada to go to a bakery. This night, it was PITCH black. A darkness I’ve never experienced before. This is a 30 sec exposure with the lens wide open, and even some of the foreground on the left was lit by a small lantern.

My wife had this to say about Hayes Lake:

Days 3-4: Hayes Lake: Our adorable cabin had a gas fireplace to warm the space, and it was SO cozy. The boys and I went on a 2 mile hike where we got to see a ton of red squirrels and the big dam, which they thought was super cool. Some of the camper cabins have notebooks for people to tell their stories, so Henry and Charlie both left a message. There was no running water anywhere in the park this late in the season, but thankfully the hand pump was still in service.

No running water, no park staff because it wasn't a weekend, purchasing wood on the honor system, and just 2 families in the park. AWESOME. We loved Hayes Lake.

Charlie with his koala bear on his shelf.

Breakfast on the fire Friday morning.

More breakfast sandwiches (using up the rest of our sliced ham).

So that takes care of Big Bog, Franz Jevne, Zippel Bay, and Hayes Lake. Over the following 30 hours, we made quicker stops at Lake Bronson, Old Mill, Red River, and Buffalo River. I'll be back with those pics in an upcoming (and shorter) post.

Related: here are 2 instagram posts that each have 1 photo from each of our state parks that we visited: yesterday's post and today's post.

UPDATE: here's the 2nd part of this post.


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