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Most of my hikes in May started early with the sunrise. When people ask me how I have time to hike, I tell them, you make time for the things you love to do…this means going to bed early and getting up before the sun sometimes. Setting goals for myself such as the 52 hike challenge, Minnesota Hiking Club and being part of a couple of other hiking groups has also made training for my SHT Thru Hike part of my weekly routine and easier to preserve time for it. A few weeks ago, we did a 15 mile training hike at Afton State Park that started at 6am and we were done by 10! I was with a bunch of fast hikers that kept us at a solid 3.5 mi pace. It felt great to get back home before my family had even rolled out of bed and still have the rest of the day to do whatever I needed.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I took a vacation day, picked up my sister at 6am and drove south to visit a local gear company, Enlightened Equipment and hike my 35th and 36th Minnesota State Park Hiking Club Trails!
We made a quick stop in Winona, MN to visit the folks who make the quilt I have started using to lighten my pack weight. Here’s a review I just posted if you want to check out my take on it. We got to see how their quilts are made and meet the fine people who make them.
Since we both sew and love gear, we geeked out when we got to see their sewing machines and assembly areas. It was really nice of them to let us have a tour and put up with me touching all of the fabrics and squeezing all of the quilts!
One of my favorite things about my Revelation Quilt (other than it’s antigravity super-fluffy lightweight construction) is that I got to design it. I picked the style, temperature rating, color and type of down. It’s exactly what I wanted. Custom quilt lead times vary, so if you need something sooner, they have pre-made items that you can buy off the shelf or order online. It really was cool to see where my beloved quilt was made and meet the fine people that work there.
WHITEWATER STATE PARK
LENGTH 2-8 miles
DIFFICULTY Moderate with hills
DATE May 14, 2018
MAIN FEATURES Wildflowers, birdwatching, bluffs, elevation, stairs(!)
We got to Whitewater State Park while it was still early and headed straight to the visitor center for a map. I hadn’t done much research on this park, and all I had heard was the claim that they have NO MOSQUITOES. That’s a pretty steep claim in Minnesota and kind of hard to believe. I had no idea that we would be in for some great training terrain including sheer bluffs, rooty trails and lots and lots of stairs! We were pretty stoked when we saw the topographical map and then immediately regretted leaving our hiking poles in the car.
Right off the bat, we had a floating bridge to cross, that required some maneuvering on and off due to the high water. We had never crossed a bridge like this, so we thought we did pretty well. Use caution on this trail, it is one of the more challenging Minnesota Hiking club trails and may not be accessible for those with limited mobility.
After the river crossing, the Coyote Trail trail immediately goes up. It’s shady and lush with trees, and reminded me of the Superior Hiking Trail. We finally made it to the top but not without having to catch our breath!
Here’s are the photos I’m supposed to post of us reaching the top, looking like outdoor models.
There are a three nice overlooks at the top. While we were up there, we saw Jack in the Pulpit and some sort of yellow lily I have yet to look up in bloom.
Just after the third overlook, you’ll see the stairs. These stairs are so steep they are actually marked as a ladder on the yellow warning sign and connect to another couple of long sets of stairs that lead you down to the end of the Hiking Club trail and the parking lot to the campground. We got a good laugh each time another set appeared and tried not to wipe out.
Since it was early and we did the whole Hiking Club Trail, we opted to link up with the Dakota Trail, adding about another 6 miles onto our 2 mile hike. We went over the road, up and own another 1,000ft hill, to the South Park Picnic area.
This park is a popular birding site. We discovered a couple vans full of Audubon Society Bird watchers with binoculars pointed towards Falcons nesting in the bluffs.
We continued on to the Swimming Beach and North Picnic area in search of Chimney Rock, one of the main features of the park. Somehow we managed to go the opposite direction, completely missing Chimney Rock, but had a nice extension to Inspiration Point and part of the Trout Run Creek Trail. It was a good reminder to keep an eye on the map as you hike, since we got turned around even on a popular, well marked trail.
Rain was headed our way, so we circled back through the North Picnic area and headed back on the road to the Visitor center. There are two campgrounds, the Cedar and Minneiska. The latter is new this year and looks to have more electrical sites and less tent sites. We didn’t get to check out the cart-in sites, but wish they had some backpacking sites to offer since it’s such great hiking.
Whitewater and Carley are fantastic trails for hill training and are only about 2 hours south of Minneapolis St Paul. Have you been to Whitewater State Park? Did you have any mosquitoes or see Chimney Rock? We loved this park and hope to go back and maybe camp next time!
Stay tuned for part 2 of our field trip, as we head down the road to hike at Carley State Park!