Minnesota has a total of 67 State Parks and Recreation Areas, ranging alphabetically from Afton to Zippel Bay. Way back when we were young whippersnappers, Pat and I decided it would be fun to try to camp at (or at least visit) every one of them over the coming decades. Now that we’re both sexagenarians, accomplishing that goal seems very unlikely. But we did add two more new ones to the list and revisited another during the month of September in the course a trip that took us to Winkler, Manitoba, Canada, and back. That brought our totals up to 24 total State Parks visited, including 13 where we have camped.
The first State Park on the trip was Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, which we have visited in the past. The highlight of our visit was a tour of the retired underground iron mine, first established in 1884. We started by travelling a half mile underground in a cage lowered by a cable that unwrapped from a large drum driven by a 1920s-vintage motor. We then rode on an old ore train along one of the many branches to see where and how the ore was mined. Learning about the hard lives led by the old miners was fascinating, and the displays were interesting and informative. When our guide turned out the lights, it was so dark I literally could not see my hand in front of my face.
In its time, the mine was a critical source of iron for steel making, helping to build the railroads and supply the military through two world wars. It was shut down when its technology became outdated. There’s plenty of iron ore left, but it would be too costly to mine it any more. (Here’s a hint for the old coal miners waiting for their jobs to come back — the same thing is happening to your industry. Wake up and smell the coffee — or the coal dust.)
Our next park stop was Lake Bemidji. This was a new one for us, and we were very pleased with our campsite. Unfortunately, it rained all night and we awoke to the prospect of another rainy night. So we wimped out and traded the tent for a nice little Camper Cabin, in which we stayed cozy and dry the second night.
The park had miles and miles of well-maintained hiking and biking trails through the woods and along the shore of Lake Bemidji. We especially enjoyed the bog trail.
On our return from Winkler, we were slotted to camp again at Zippel Bay, another new one for us, located alongside an inlet of Rainy Lake with a lovely sand beach. Unfortunately, it was still raining and getting colder by the hour, so we blew it off in favor of a motel in Baudette. We did at least stop and look at the park — it was very beautiful and had three large campgrounds with spacious sites nestled in the woods.
When we got back home, we had to admit that our tent camping days are most likely over. Which brings me to the reason for traveling to Winkler in the first place. Next spring, we will be the proud owners of a 24-foot RV from Leisure Travel Vans, located in (you guessed it) Winkler, MB. We went up there to tour the factory and confirmed that our selected model is a very high quality unit suitable for traveling about and camping at many more of our beautiful State Parks during the months they remain open. With the new vehicle, we can laugh at the rain and cold and just enjoy the parks. Hopefully there will be many more yet to visit, even if we don’t make it to each and every one.
We also plan to spend time in the winter months traveling to many of the fabulous National Parks. I’ll probably do a blog post about that in late 2018.