My husband grew up spending almost every weekend of his summer vacation camping or at the lake. I did not. Part of loving him as meant learning to love the things he is passionate about. As parents, we also think it’s important to share our passions with our kids and give them as many experiences as possible. Their first camping trip was when they were just 3 years old and 7 months old. We drove about three hours north of our home to Minnesota’s North Shore for 2 nights of camping at Gooseberry Falls State Park and a day trip to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
The bestest part about camping is everything camping.
Paxton Ament, age 3
We packed our camping gear and a ton of patience for this adventure. Our baby camping survival kit included; toys, sunscreen, bug spray, clothes for all types for any type of weather, oodles of snacks and a positive attitude. The Gooseberry Falls State Park campground afforded us easy access to the falls area. From the campground, the River View Trail is 1.25 miles one-way to the lower and middle falls.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is about 7 miles from Gooseberry Falls. On our second day, we drove to the lighthouse for foggy views of the lake and a misty trail hike.
Though it required more gear and we didn’t do any long hikes, our time at both Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse gave us the confidence to continue to explore the natural world with our young boys.
One pack. Just one pack crammed with all you need to survive in the wilderness for a couple nights. It’s liberating and empowering if you’re willing to tolerate the latrine situation.
About two hours north of Duluth, MN on the North Shore sits a secluded and less visited state park called George H. Crosby Manitou (just Manitou for short). While most visiting the North Shore explore Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse and Tettegouche, a short journey off the highway led our family on our first backcountry backpacking experience.
We arrived at the park around 10:30am and set out on a 1.6 mile hike to the cascades area via the Humpback Trail. The Humpback Trail is a narrow, rugged trail up and over a variety of landscapes. Look for orange diamond markers to ensure you’re still on the trail. At one point, we found ourselves navigating a very rocky, dried river bed and got off course. It took us just over 2 hours, including the time it took to retrace our steps when we lost the trail for a bit, to reach the cascades. Here we found a flat rock and sat down for a little lunch of cheese, crackers and sausage and sliced apples. Tummies satisfied, we took the Middle Trail (0.8 miles) back to the Benson Lake Area where we would collect our packs for the short jaunt to our backcountry site.
We chose to camp for just one night, since this would be our boys’ first brush with remote wilderness camping. This was also the reason that we chose a backcountry site that was no more than a half mile from the parking lot. Our oldest son is 9-years- old so we purchased a 40L hiking backpack from him. This allowed him to carry his sleeping bag and clothes, all four camping pillows, our hammock, and a few odds and ends. For our 6-year-old, we stuffed his school backpack (he’s a bit small for a hiking pack and will likely inherit his brothers in a couple years anyways) with his sleeping bag and his clothes. Both boys carried water and a new stuffed friend we bought them at the state park visitor center where to bought our vehicle permit.
An early afternoon arrival at our camp site allowed all of us time to unwind and disconnect. No phones or tablets. We chilled in the hammock, read and snuggled a new friend (Bridger only).
The remote camp sites on Benson Lake are located up on a ridge just above the lake. We find camp sites with access to water give the boys another venue to explore and typically make for nice evening strolls or sunset views.
Even though our trip was just one night, we opted to make dehydrated meals and test the boys’ taste buds. We made a couple different entrees; sweet and sour rice and chicken, mac’ n cheese and chicken alfredo. One boy liked the meals and asked for more, the other survived on trail mix and Clif bars. I think we’ll still chalk it up as a win.
Overall, our boys say they enjoyed and experience and are looking forward to the next time we strap on backpacks and trek into some less traveled territory.
Backpacking is better than car camping because you’re just trying to survive.