Monday, August 6, 2018

Superior National Forest: Paddling the Hunting Shack River Canoe Route

Ever since we got our canoe over 2 years ago, we've been wanting to give canoe camping a try. Even Sierra has voiced her excitement to try getting to a campsite by canoe. We had considered a trip in Voyageurs National Park, but with big lakes even a breeze of 10 miles per hour can make paddling a challenge. We would need to go somewhere with smaller lakes. However, the Boundary Waters is too restrictive and our canoe is too heavy (85 lbs.) to portage. Instead, after doing some research on the Superior National Forest website, I found a PDF brochure about the Hunting Shack River Canoe Route. I checked the weather forecast for Sunday into Monday and things looked pretty good. There was a slight chance of rain and the wind looked reasonable. Last night we packed our sleeping bags and other camping gear and today we loaded everything into the car and made our way out the Echo Trail to where it crosses the Hunting Shack River on a culvert.
Hunting Shack sign

We loaded the canoe at the side of the road
at the put-in
and made sure to pack all the essentials, including Baa Baa.
Sierra Baa Baa and Mommy
There were lots of aquatic plants with clusters of purple flowers growing in the shallow stream.
purple flowers
We pushed off and started to make our way upstream against a gentle current.
on the river
There were lots of lilies growing in the water.
water lily
After a brief wrong turn (we headed up a tributary to a culvert where Forest Road 200 crossed the stream) we made our way further up the Hunting Shack
paddling Hunting Shack
to the pretty Astrid Lake. The campsite on the east shore that I had read was the preferred site, was taken and so we made our way in a light headwind to the campsite on the south shore on an elevated rock outcropping. We pulled the gear out of the canoe and then carried the canoe away from the water to higher ground.
canoe at campsite
We set up camp and explored the site a bit. Sierra was excited to watch the sunset from the rock outcropping near the water.
Sierra at campsite

After getting cap set up it was time for a swim. Noelle and Sierra found a small beach while exploring, but it led into a mucky lake bottom.
Sierra in water
Instead we opted to enter the water from the rock.
Daddy and Sierra swim
We probably spent about an hour swimming around
Sierra and Daddy swim 2
before drying off on the rock.
Sierra and Noelle on rock
Eventually the biting flies drove us into the tent for a break before dinner. At dinnertime I cooked up some noodle/rice dinners on the Whisperlite Stove. There was a nice log to sit on near the campfire ring.
eating dinner
Butterflies seemed to be attracted to the ash there.
butterfly
After eating Noelle filtered some water.
Noelle filters water
Wildlife sightings included a loon swimming in the lake nearby, and a big, orange-colored garter snake that enjoyed basking on the rock we had enjoyed basking on earlier in the day.
snake
Clouds rolled through and thunder rumbled in the distance. We never did get any rain though. In fact, by the time the sun set, the sky was largely clear.
sunset

This morning we awoke to cloudy skies and much chillier temperatures. I explored camp one last time before we started to pack things up. There were some Indian pipe
indian pipe
and bearberry in bloom.
bearberry flowers
The bunchberry flowers were gone though, replaced with bunches of berries.
bunchberry
There was lots of alder growing around the site.
alder cones
We packed up camp and got into the canoe for the paddle across Astrid Lake
paddling Astrid Lake
and back into the Hunting Shack River.
back on Hunting Shack River
We made a short side trip into Pauline Lake, but didn't spend too much time exploring before we made our way back to Echo Trail and the drive back to International Falls. It was a successful first canoe camping trip. I enjoyed it and we didn't have too much trouble with the wind. If we had done anything different, it would have been a good idea to bring more things (books or games) to keep Sierra a little bit more occupied when we were forced into the tent by the bugs.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Voyageurs National Park: Paddle to Gold Portage

Today a friend from work and I had an opportunity to do some paddling in the park. The plan: put in at Woodenfrog State Forest Campground and paddle to Gold Portage to check out the rapids there. We arrived at Woodenfrog to light winds and cool temperatures, a perfect start to a day on the water!

From land I had scouted out a route using some landmarks I could identify. We would head for a point between Cemetery Island and another island just to the east that is unnamed on my map.
traversing kabetogama
We ended up navigating right to where we wanted to be and after passing through the islands veered slightly to west, passing between the large Rottenwood and Chief Woodenfrog Islands. Shortly thereafter we found the entrance to Gold Portage. We paddled the Gold Portage stream with the current.
following the current
It was very easy going and the scenery was very pleasant.

We made our way further and further downstream
paddling up Gold Portage
until we came to a sign marking the rapids that lay ahead, along with a dock.
nearing rapids
We pulled our kayaks up on the dock and put on some bug spray for the walk along the portage trail to the rapids. Along the way we saw some purple fringed orchis,
purple fringed orchis
and lots and lots of deer flies. The flies were very annoying. At one point my friend said I had about 100 of them flying around my head. We spent a few minutes admiring the rapids
Scot and the rapids
Gold Portage
and then started to make our way back to the dock and our waiting boats. We were back on the water shortly.

The paddle back upstream was a bit more difficult than the paddle into the rapids,
paddling upstream
but nothing too bad. After exiting the stream we took a short side trip to Day Use Site K10, Hacksaw Pass. The map says it has a sand landing and so I thought there might be a nice sand beach to swim at, but the shoreline was choked with cattails and so we simply moved on. We passed some interesting islands
little island
Scot from afar
and slowly made our way back to Woodenfrog Campground. The wind picked up quite a bit for the last 1/2 mile of paddling. We were paddling into it, which made for some slow going. Finally we made our way into the shelter of the point the campground lies on and then quickly to the beach. There was a big family of ducks waiting there to greet us upon our return.
bundle of ducklings
swimming away

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Living Prairie Park

Since my parents are visiting, I took a few extra days off. We decided to get out of town for a bit and opted for a trip up to Winnipeg. Today, for the last day of our visit, we decided to head over to the Living Prairie Park and Museum for their Monarch Butterfly Festival.

We arrived a bit earlier than the 12 noon start of the festival, and so we began our visit at the playground.
resting on swings
jumping down
Sierra enjoyed climbing a "rock formation"
Queen of the hill
and especially an old dead tree.
Sierra climbs tree
After some time at the playground we headed over to the nearby prairie remnant for a walk among the grasses and wildflowers.
walking trail
There was lots of purple prairie clover
prairie flower
and wild bergamot,
bergamot
along with some milkweed,
milkweed
a sunflower-like plant
yellow flowers
and even some goldenrod in bloom.
goldenrod
Noelle and I walked a little bit further than the rest of the group and found a mass of feathers on the ground.
feather
It appears a bird became someone's dinner.

Around noon we headed over to the festival, which quickly became very crowded. Sierra made some butterfly wings, some antennae and even painted some big bluestem in the parking lot with chalk paint.
chalk paint
Then it was time for lunch before heading out of town and back to International Falls. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Zippel Bay State Park

After last night's storms, and a restful night's sleep,
sleeping Sierra
we awoke to a beautiful clear morning. We ate breakfast and explored the campground area a bit. Sierra and I found some ripe wild strawberries.
wild strawberries
Yum! We also found lots of blueberries, but most of them aren't quite ripe yet. About mid-morning we headed out to do some exploring and swimming at the beach area. We walked along the beach to see what we could find.
walking beach
It was quickly warming up, and so walking in the water to cool our feet seemed the logical thing to do.
standing in water
We walked as far as a driftwood shelter
driftwood shelter
and then started to make our way back to the main swimming area.
Sierra and Noelle walk beach

When we arrived at the swimming area, it was of course, time for a swim. Sierra practiced her new swim skills a bit.
swimming Sierra
We also found life in the waters: dragonfly larvae
dragonfly larva
and tadpoles.
tadpole
The beach was mostly pleasant, except for the biting flies. Eventually the flies drove us back to our campsite where we packed up our still wet tent, ate lunch and then hit the road for the return to International Falls.