State Park Chronicles: Interstate State Park

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Well, well, well… Looks like my last state park post was a lie. I had at least one more hike in me. Maybe more, depending on the weather and how much work/school gets to me before it snows. And surprise, surprise, it’s snowing….

Anyways, I tried to go to my library a few weeks back and upon turning into the entrance road I realized that it was Big Truck Day (firetrucks and dump trucks and all that jazz all parked in the parking lot for kids to go check out, very very very popular). I had a panic attack and had to get out of the zoo that was the parking lot as quickly as I could and then I ended up just going home and changing and heading off to Interstate State Park instead. The drive was absolutely gorgeous, the weather was perfect and I’m so glad I ended up spending my whole day outside instead of at the library (though that definitely wouldn’t have been a horrible way to spend the day either).

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Interstate was originally named “The State Park of the Dalles of the St. Croix” and was a joint venture between Minnesota and Wisconsin. It was created in 1895 and then Wisconsin purchased land for their portion in 1900. I thought this was really cool! This is one of Minnesota’s most popular state parks and averages about 300,000 visitors each year.

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If you’re looking for the Hikers Club trail, it’s the River Trail which is about 1.5 miles long. It’s definitely not a bad hike, it’s got amazing views! But make sure you’ve got good shoes and watch where you walk. It’s a very rocky trail and I definitely made a few missteps that had me shaky and almost twisting my ankles. I would rate it more of an intermediate hike, definitely not crazy difficult seeing as it’s relatively short, but with the terrain it could get dicey.

And speaking of views, here are some of my many river pictures:

 

It was super busy when I went out seeing as it was a Saturday and one of the last really good weather Saturdays at that. So I definitely hiked this a lot faster than I was expecting to. Worked up a sweat from going so fast but it was great overall.

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I did find this really nice sort of “hidden” rock overlook that I sat down at to do a little journaling and eat some snacks. There were a number of these along the trail and I tried to stop at any of the ones that didn’t already have people at them!

Nature is 100% my happy place and I could’ve spent all day here if I let myself.

 

After getting to the Glacial Potholes I explored a bit (again, very busy and I always get a little anxious being around people when I’m hiking, which also I feel like I should write an entire post about being a female solo hiker because people always ask me how/why I do that?) If you’re into rock climbing this is the park for you! I didn’t take any pictures of the climbers because I didn’t want to be creepy but you can get a permit and go climbing here. If I wasn’t terrified to try climbing on natural rock I would have loved to give it a go! Maybe someday!

Instead of pictures of the rock climbers, here’s a pic of some candy I ate:

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The glacial potholes area was super cool and if I wasn’t sweaty and tired and wanting to hike back to my car I would have explored this area a bit more. I do have to go back to get a stamp for my state park passport though so I think I’ll explore this area more then! It was really interesting and I wish I would have taken more pictures. Next time!

I snagged this geologic information from the Minnesota DNR website:

About 1.1 billion years ago, earthquakes erupted from Taylors Falls to Lake Superior and caused at least 10 different lava flows. The hardened basalt rock from these lava flows partly formed the Dalles of the St. Croix and the bottom of the river. From 530 million years ago up until 70 million years ago, the state was washed by advancing and retreating seas. Evidence of these ancient seas is revealed in the sedimentary rocks and formations found in the park. These rocks contain fossil remains of ancient animals, evidence of various creatures, and ripple marks left in stone by the now vanished seas.

There have been many different St. Croix Valleys through the ages. The first formed about 70 million years ago and current valley formed about 10,000 years ago. A glacier formed both Glacial Lake Duluth, now Lake Superior, and Glacial Lake Grantsburg, now extinct. Glacial Lake Duluth was much larger than modern day Lake Superior. As this giant body of ice thawed, its meltwaters roared south to carve out the broad valley of the St. Croix. Only very resistant basalts were able to partially withstand the torrent, resulted in the dalles, potholes, and cliffs we see today.

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State Park Chronicles: Itasca State Park

This summer I completed my 8th (or 9th, I’ve lost count to be honest) trip to Itasca State Park in as many years! Itasca is one of my all time favorite places to visit and it’s become my summer tradition to climb the fire tower there. Way back in March of this year I decided to book a campsite for a weekend and camp there for the first time. Usually I just make a day trip there while I stay at my grandparent’s house but I’ve been itching to camp again so that decided it in the end.

Itasca is Minnesota’s oldest state park and was established in 1891. It spans over 32,000 acres and contains over 100 lakes!

My best friend and I drove up to the park one Friday afternoon after I got done with work and arrived not long after dark. We quickly set up our site (not very well I might add), found the bathroom, and then settled into the back of my Jeep for a peaceful night.

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That first night we really didn’t figure out the optimal airflow situation so it was pretty hot in the car but I didn’t notice too much because I was far too tired to care.

So on morning one we got up and made the dumb decision to leave the campsite with no food. We ate breakfast before we left but decided we would surely make it back to the campsite before lunch and had no need to pack sandwiches for our adventure. Trust me when I say this was probably the dumbest thing I have ever done. I know better than to not pack food, I have always known better than to not pack food and I have literally no clue why I decided this time was any different than any other time I’ve been hiking.

Anyways, we headed off away from our campsite and meandered our way to the bike trail. We walked on that until we hit the crosswalk to head over to Peace Pipe Vista so we headed over to that side of the main road and embarked on Brower Trail.

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Peace Pipe Vista

Now don’t let the picturesque scenery distract you from the hell that was this hike. Thanks to all the lakes, the trails that are more densely wooded are very, very buggy. My best friend went hiking in shorts with no bug spray and her legs were absolutely covered in mosquitos for most of the hike.

I think overall my whole message for hiking at Itasca is bring bug spray and wear long pants if you can! One trail that I will always urge against going on is the Blow Down Trail. It’s less than a mile long (I think) but the entire thing is pure hell thanks to bugs. I literally could hear the buzzing of mosquitos in my ears for hours afterwards.

At some point during this morning, though, I got stung by something and almost fell off the trail because I was momentarily blinded by pain and twisted my ankle on some roots. I still have no idea what stung me but it made the rest of the hike absolutely hell for me. And I’m usually not a baby when it comes to pain (because thanks to chronic pain I always hurt) but dang this was bad. We eventually stumbled upon the Douglas Lodge area, a place that I have never actually been to despite all my trips to Itasca.

One of the employees at the gift store was very helpful and gave me some stuff for my sting and then I bought a jacket and a sticker. We walked over to the main visitor center after this, wandered around inside (they have really cool taxidermied animals displayed there along with a lot of interesting historical information) and then went back to the original gift shop we’d been at so that my best friend could buy popsicles.

Eventually we decided to make our trek back to the campsite but this time we were smart and stayed on the bike trail the whole time. A lot of people talked to us along the way and one guy tried to accuse us of being the “annoying choir group” that was apparently making noise and singing show tunes all night… We pretended that we had been in a completely different campsite because honestly both me and my best friend were so creeped out by his questions.

We totaled almost 11 miles of hiking by the time we got back to our campsite. I think by the end of the night I was close to having walked 12 miles. And while I’m normally on my feet for upwards of 8 hours a day thanks to my job, I was so not ready for this much physical activity with almost no calories going in my body. It felt like the day lasted like two days despite the fact that we were only gone for four hours that day.

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This was our more modified set up that we figured out for the second night. The tarp allowed us to keep the back half of the Jeep open so that we would have better airflow than the first night and also keep out the rain that we were supposed to be getting that night.

That afternoon we spent a lot of time just lazing around the campsite. I read the entirety of Graceling by Kristin Cashore and my best friend was working her way through books two and three in the Harry Potter series. We ate a lot of Cheez Its and peanut butter M&Ms and watched all the dogs pass by with their owners. That night we actually met a really naughty St. Bernard who took off from their owner’s campsite in order to come sniff out the food we had at ours.

My best friend showered and then we went off to buy firewood so that we could cook dinner. It took us a while to get the fire going but once we did I’d say we got really lucky because we barely finished cooking our food before the storms started rolling through.

I’m very glad that we were using my car as our shelter because the campsite basically drowned during a few complete downpours. We stayed quite dry in my trunk.

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This is us after it started completely pouring. I literally climbed in the open window in my trunk in order to avoid getting soaked. It was… Quite interesting to say the least.

On Sunday we got up and moved very, very slowly. And by we, I mean my best friend. Though I did sleep in until 9, I was completely ready to go by 9:30. But after we finally packed up the campsite we headed first to the Pioneer Cemetery before going to the Mississippi Headwaters.

I don’t have very great pictures of the Headwaters in this post but it’s always so busy there and it’s hard to get any pictures without people in them. I did make my best friend take “cute” pictures of me though because I’m trying to be better about taking pictures again.

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After the Headwaters we headed off down the Wilderness Trail drive and went straight for the fire tower. The Alton Heights fire tower is located a half mile down a trail at the end of the 10 mile one-way drive and is 100 feet tall.

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Though I’ve climbed this tower countless times, this time was a struggle!! I’m just going to blame it on the fact that I hiked 11 miles the day before and not what my mom told me (which is “well you are getting older”). I think I’m actually in better physical shape now than I have been in years but oh boy were my legs sore.

There are some pics from the top!

After we were done at the fire tower we headed out and drove over to my grandparents house for a late lunch and then for the long drive home. It was a whirlwind of a weekend but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Being outside is where I’m truly happy and I can’t wait for more camping trips in the future.

Here’s a fun throwback to an old post that I wrote about Itasca. It was actually the second post that I ever published on the blog!

I would recommend Itasca to people who are looking for a nice place to camp, it’s a fun park to spend a few days exploring. It’s also a pretty “touristy” park so if you make a day trip it’s easy to hit all the big sites while you’re there. However, if you’re looking for a quiet park, this one won’t be for you. This is one of the most popular parks in Minnesota and can be very busy most days so plan accordingly! Be prepared to encounter a lot of people. And if you’re going to be climbing the fire tower, you might have to wait a while at the bottom if you get there during “peak” hours. There’s a limit of 6 people on the tower at a time so the line can get pretty long when it’s busy.

And now it’s time to start planning my next state park trip!

State Park Chronicles: Nerstrand & Lake Sakatah

A few years ago, when I bought my first yearly state park pass, I made it my personal mission to try and go to every single state park in Minnesota. While living in Duluth for a few years I frequented parks like Gooseberry and Jay Cooke and this summer I’ll be making my 9th trip (I’ve gone there eight years in a row!) to Itasca State Park and camping with my best friend.

I’ve decided to chronicle my trips to all of the state parks here on the blog. I mean I might as well considering it’s been quite some time since I’ve kept up with the “Adventure” part of Adventures and Espresso. Not sure if I’ll go back and pull old pictures from some of those northern parks or if I’ll post new ones the next time I decide to drag myself to the North Shore.

To kick off this series, however, I’ve got two parks to share with you! Nerstrand Big Woods and Lake Sakatah. I went to both of these in one day, a Saturday a few weeks ago. Afterwards I promptly ended up sick, either with incredibly bad allergies or a virus. I’m still recovering from that!

Alright, so let’s start off with Nerstrand Big Woods State Park:

This park is located northeast of Faribault and takes it’s name from the Big Woods which is a large contiguous forest that covered most of Minnesota back when. Here’s a little snippet from the DNR about it:
When the first settlers arrived in 1854, they discovered an island of woods in the vast oak savanna prairie which now makes up Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Sugar maple, basswood, oak, hickory, aspen, elm, ash, and ironwood trees shade the land. Over 200 varieties of wildflowers, along with countless varieties of ferns and mushrooms grew in the Big Woods.

Park highlights include 11 miles of hiking trails, gorgeous wildflowers, and a “hidden” waterfall!

While I was there I hiked around 6 miles. The trails were really nicely upkept and there were only a few spots where the mud got bad in the middle of the trails. It’s really nice and shaded for most of the trails, so many huge trees help with that. I think the only thing that I disliked was that the trail that leads back from the waterfall to the parking lot is almost entirely uphill… That was rough!! But I made it!!

I would love to go back to Nerstrand in the fall because I bet the trees will be absolutely gorgeous! I highly recommend this park.

 

The second park that I went to was Lake Sakatah. Members of the Dakota Nation originally inhabited this area and they named it Sakatah which loosely translates to Singing Hills. Cannon River, which the lake is part of, was an important way of travel for the Native Americans of this area because the Big Woods in this area made it difficult to travel across land.

So what did I think of Lake Sakatah? I was there for I think half an hour total? I will definitely go back there but the amount of mosquitos was so horrendously bad that I had to leave. I was coated in bug spray and yet they were still all over me. It was awful! There also wasn’t anything really clearly marking trails and I think that from where you park you almost have to take the main park road back to trails but I also didn’t do a ton of exploring to try and find out otherwise.

It has a nice fishing pier though and the lake seems gorgeous so if you’re more of the fishing or boating type over the hiking type this might be a good park for you to check out.

I think I’ll try to return there sometime this fall when the bugs have died off and attempt to explore just a little bit more. There’s also a paved biking/hiking trail that runs 39 miles from Mankato to Faribault and I think it would be fun to bike this sometime.

Overall it was a really fun day and it was great to be able to check two parks off my list. Hopefully I’ll be able to update this series soon! Just as long as the weather is nice I’m hoping to spend at least one day every weekend out at different state parks.

 

Throwback Thursday: Great River Bluffs State Park

Last summer my boyfriend and I had a lovely adventure to Great River Bluffs State Park.

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The trails were pretty easy, and a lot of it was shaded which was nice. The weather was gorgeous and the views were absolutely stunning.

One helpful tip! Check yourself for spiders before you leave the park! Because there may be a chance that you will have one crawling all over you and then your boyfriend will have to smash it with an almost full cup of coffee while you’re driving so that you don’t panic and drive off the road. (WHAT A FUN TIME).

Great River Bluffs is a beautiful park, small yet totally worth the trip!

Hope y’all enjoyed the pictures.