Wednesday, June 13, 2018

MN State Parks: Maplewood

We don't usually camp with a group, but this time we did. We were invited to join 4 other families in Maplewood State Park near Pelican Rapids, MN. We stayed at the Grass Lake Campground in addition to campsites they also had a couple of rentable camper cabins.There are other more rustic campgrounds in the park, that were less busy. 

Enjoying the water in grass lake.
Maplewood has several lakes. Fishing, renting boats and paddleboards are an option at Grass Lake, but there is no swim area. We drove to the otherside of the park to put in our kayaks. Lake Lida has a boat launch and a swim beach as well as a rustic campground. Weirdly there is no water filling station at the swim beach even though there was a bathroom and picnic shelter.  We also learned that Minnesota residents can fish without a fishing license in most MN state parks!

Most MN state parks have drinking water stations throughout their campgrounds and on or near any building with running water. I have a history of heat stroke so tend to be very careful about my water intake on hot days. I didn't pack extra assuming I could fill up at the swimming area before heading back. Lucky for me some of our friends had brought a cooler to the beach and shared water they had brought over.

The drinking water quality at Maplewood was poor. I don't know if it was just because it was early in the season, but the water was very rusty. The lemonade packets did not cover the taste, so we ended up getting some water in town. We did drink a little, if our water bottles drained before we could get back to camp and fill up, but we tried to avoid drinking it.

Jug of rusty "drinking" water waiting to be used to put out the camp fire.

We don't always opt for electricity, but in order to be near the bathrooms it was the only option. We got lucky again. The unseasonably hot weather was bearable thanks to the large fan we were able to run in the tent. This trip we brought a few extras than we normally pack.  The girls brought bikes that they rode all weekend, and we brought a movie projector and a sheet for an outdoor evening movie.

Swiss Family Robinson was a camping hit.

Something else different this time, was the group we were with planned themed potluck dinners. Everyone signed up ahead of time via email to make sure that all the bases were covered. Initially I was not looking forward to it, since it would disrupt our honed camping routine. It went well though and was a nice way of bringing us all together in the evening. We all ate really well and it wasn't super difficult for anyone. If you are camping with a group it made sense to plan together some of the aspects.

Even though our group had 5 kids, we had more dogs than kids! All had been well socialized and the few that were still learning were constantly on leash (MN state parks require all pets to be on leash at all times) and actively being trained by their people. If you do not have a well trained dog, or are unsure about your ability to control/train them, do not bring them to a busy camp ground. Read here to learn more about enjoying summer with pets.

Stuffed sugar cones warming in the fire.
This trip we learned about the Hiking and Passport club at MN State Parks. You can earn 2 free nights just by visiting. Find out more here. It costs $7 a day to drive into a MN State Park, or for $35 you can buy an annual pass. The annual pass is unlimited admission and can be used all over the state for day trips, camping, hiking etc. If you don't like stickers in your windshield the DNR also has a special license plate that admits you as well. If you live in the metro, some of the libraries allow you to check out a 7 day pass for free!

We love the time spent in nature and exploring, but don't forget the small towns nearby that are fun to explore. We had one rainy morning and decided to grab breakfast at a cafe instead of cooking in the rain. the kids had fun spotting pelicans all over town. While in town we picked up more ice and drinking water.

One of the 27 pelicans we spotted during our quick trip.

We visited over Memorial Day, but Maplewood is known for it's maple trees. In early spring they have a sugar shack that is used for maple syrup demonstrations! Maybe not the best time to camp, but worth a day trip.

** I may get paid for links that you click on this blog. Any posts that include free or discounted services or product in exchange for reviewing are plainly stated within the post.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

MN History Tour

Some MN History Sites are open year round, but may are only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. If you have school age kids, your kids have probably gone on a field trip to at least one of the 26 sites around the state.

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I like a good deal. If you are going to put the MNHS sites on your to do list, Become a member then visit as many as you can in the next year to get the most for your money. 

Once a year in the winter when no one is thinking about going to the mostly closed sites, they offer a fantastic Groupon deal. Throughout the year they have discounts for teachers, veterans, and seniors, and they have membership levels to fit the needs of your family

When you visit the State Capitol contact your local representatives to let them know, I'm not promising anything, but my group got to sit in the Legislative chambers for an hour asking questions and learning directly from our Congresswoman and Senator!

Oliver Kelley farm is great any time of the year, but we like the busyness of spring and fall on the farm. Alexander Ramsey and James J. Hill Houses are amazing at Christmas time.

My absolute favorite was Historic Forestville on the 4th of July. We made a weekend of it and camped nearby. MNHS goes all out for Independence Day. I'm talking red, white, and blue bunting all over town, a brass band, baseball game with period costumes and rules, a pie eating contest, 3 legged races, watermelon, singing patriotic hymns with the "towns people", and my personal favorite a recitation of the Declaration of Independence by the town vicar.

I admit that I geek out a lot, but that day invoked patriotism more than any other Independence Day I've celebrated. No fireworks, or BBQ on the beach can fully encapsulate the optimism and sense of community and purpose the way that did. Yes, the recitation got long. But the cheering and booing during the highs and lows gave a sense of exactly what it means to be an American.

We as a nation would do well to think on this declaration

"When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind ... We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, ...Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes..."
-Excerpt from US Declaration of Independence

** I may get paid for links that you click on this blog. Any posts that include free or discounted services or product in exchange for reviewing are plainly stated within the post.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

MN State Parks: Mystery Cave

When you have kids, camping can be a great way to explore nature.

Most people who aren't campers think a tent is too much work. I'm not going to lie, those first years we came home with lists of things we forgot, and over time have dialed in our camping routine. 

Located in Southern MN, near the bike trails of Lansboro, and in the heart of Amish county. Mystery Cave State Park offers visitors a picturesque retreat. Even though we were several hours from home, we still managed to run into people we knew from back home!

We've found that MN state park campgrounds are a great way to explore. Online booking makes it easy to choose a campsite that fits your needs. Most have nicely maintained bathrooms, the rest are slated for remodels in the near future. We saw staff cleaning the bathrooms daily, and the on site campground host was friendly.

This park has DNR staff and interns that conduct educational programs during the summer months. We spent an hour in the stream cooling off from the afternoon heat and identifying water bugs that indicated the health of the stream.

In addition to learning about waterbugs, we attended sunset seminars on lightening bugs (did you know they are actually beetles?) and frogs and toads. Later in the summer we were able to identify a banjo frog we encountered while kayaking. Make the most of your trip and visit over the 4th of July, when neighboring Forestville has special events.

Also be sure to tour the Mystery Cave that this park is named after.

Did I mention it was hot? The stream that flows through the park goes through these underground caves and maintains a cool temperature. It was nice to dip our toes during the heat of the afternoon. We also decided to sleep without the rain fly to improve airflow. In addition to airflow we also gained an impressive view of the night sky.

When booking campsites electric always goes the fastest, so if you can go off grid you'll have better luck finding a camp sight. The bathrooms have power for a quick charge or air mattress blow up.

Our kids don't spend enough time outside so it took awhile to get rid of the I'm bored while camping. Stick with it though. I now see my kids playing/exploring something that they learned from one of the many rangers we've encountered in the state parks. When was the last time you fell asleep looking at the stars?

** I may get paid for links that you click on this blog. Any posts that include free or discounted services or product in exchange for reviewing are plainly stated within the post.