August 20-21, 2012
So we abandoned the kid with Lee’s parents and went off to Maplewood State Park for ~24 hours.
The Summer Trails map has contour lines, which made for good practice for me (Lee is a fabulous navigator. Me, not so much.)
The ranger asked if we wanted a long or short hike to camp, and when we did not surprise her by asking for long, she parked us about a mile from the Cow Lake site we’d reserved. So we took a few minutes to plot the best route from car to campsite, which ended up being about 5.5 miles. Much better.
First we walked around Beers Lake. Some of the sumac was starting to turn red. I really miss that about MN. Much of the trail was dual use horse and hike. So we had to watch our step, which was occasionally annoying. I reminded myself that this way both groups got more trail, which was much better. It obviously wasn’t heavily used by horses, either.
The day couldn’t have been nicer. The lakes were bright blue mirrors. I saw several dozen frogs. Lee saw none. She claims I was making them up.
The trail wound through forest and grasslands, with some rolling hills. We had to walk along dirt park roads, but even those skirted the lakes. The first day we saw no traffic, and the second day we saw the same ranger truck three times.
All the lakes had a ring of dead trees sticking up around the edges. We learned later that the water levels have been rising in the area for the past few decades.
We stopped for lunch on a shady rise overlooking a prairie area. It was beautiful. As we were finishing up, I heard voices and horses. I’ve been told by riders that horses are freaked out by backpacks, so I was glad we already had our packs off. I shouted a hello and waved so we didn’t surprise them. The horses stopped. “Hi, can you just chat with us for a while? He’s really skittish.” … So I talk about the weather, because what else can I come up with on short notice to discuss with a stranger I can’t even see? And yup, that is a skittish horse! It took a while for it to even start moving up the hill again, and was barely on the trail as they went past.
We passed a crabapple tree! I have not located a crabapple tree with edible fruits near my house, so I’ve been without for several years. Not surprisingly, they weren’t ripe! But I had to try…
The Beers Lake campsite is right on the trail. Like really right on the trail. Since it’s on Beers Lake, one can canoe to the site, too, which is pretty cool. We took a break to refill our water. We didn’t see anyone on the trails besides the horses, but we were still glad we weren’t camping directly next to the trail.
Walking around Cow Lake we passed several small scummy ponds. At one, the trail lead down to the water… and vanished! Which was somewhat startling. We could see the trail a few yards away, but no obvious way to get there. Lee looked around and suggested we walk up the hill away from the pond a bit, and low and behold the trail reappeared.
We also walked through the Grass campsite. This was even less nicely placed than the Beers Lake site, as it’s on the intersection of two trails. Not off the trail, but right there. It does have a nice little shelter for firewood or tent failure.
The Cow Lake campsite turned out to be the best one. It’s a decent length spur off the main trail. Cow Lake is very pretty. There’s good shore access for fishing, it looks like the lake drops off pretty quickly. There’s another little shelter that is a few feet into the water. Outhouse, firepit, and picnic table. Lots of nice spots for fishing.
We waded into the muddy water to cool our feet off (ahhh). It was very nice. Sure there was a lot of debris on our feet when we came out, but that’s to be expected. But no, those tiny little mud bits are actually tons of tiny little leeches! I am annoyed but not seriously grossed out by regular leeches. But tiny ones… *shudder*
We enjoyed the site, enjoyed the kid-free time. Eventually it was dinner time. Lee had two new recipes to try. I got pizza couscous (I’ll link the recipe when I find it), and Lee had a Thai-inspired meal.
When we’d checked in, the ranger had said to pay for the firewood we used when we checked out. “Wanna have a fire?” So we did. Which was cozy, and kept the mosquitos off, and let me dry out my boots some (they are apparently no longer completely waterproof, I discovered when refilling the water. But they kept the horrible tiny leeches away!).
We went to sleep to the sounds of owls, frogs, and crickets.
We had a leisurely breakfast and breaking of camp, knowing we could only make our hike so long.
Once back on the trail, we approached the Grass campsite, and were startled by several large dogs barking at us. We paused, waiting for their people to call them in. The people reassured us that they wouldn’t hurt us (they didn’t seem aggressive, just loud and in the path), but made no move to get them off the path. OK then… Apparently that had started their day in the car campground and been driven out by raccoons. They had laptops, and big coolers, and all the dog stuff, and just a huge amount of gear. I was honestly impressed they made it the half mile from the road.
After that, we swung back to an adult hiking pace. We waved at a ranger truck. We walked through a lot of prairie with a lot of little lakes. One had what might have been a muskrat lodge. We paused by Cataract Lake to watch birds diving, and the ranger truck passed us again. We rolled over some hills around Grass Lake, and through a car campsite. The ranger passed us yet again and remarked that we were making pretty good time. Then it was just a little bit further along the road to our car.
We went to Perham for the best sammiches I’ve ever eaten.
Maplewood is a great park for one or two nights out with kids. The lengths can be pretty short, or you can take a more circuitous route. All three sites have outhouses. The terrain changes relatively often without being difficult. Boo totally would have loved it if we hadn’t been gleefully taking some adult time.