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2020 has been a year of adjusting and re-adjusting. Back in March, when the pandemic hit, I hunkered down, set up a home office (thankful!), cancelled all of my trips, tripled my vegetable garden and set out to be a happy homebody. It’s now July and my grande plan to cancel EVERYTHING to prevent future disappointment isn’t really working…something is missing. Watching a ripening tomato every day is cool, but I need some responsible outdoor adventure!
When the state parks opened back up and some of the other stay at home orders lifted, my hiking buddy grabbed a spot at Beaver Creek Valley State park in Southern Minnesota. We’ve wanted to go there for a few years since they have a hiking club trail and I have heard how beautiful the hiking is in the area. I thought, “YAY! Camping! Can we really go?”
I ended up just going for one night, but it was great to get back in the saddle and recharge my batteries! It’s been a while since I’ve written a trip report, so buckle your seatbelt, grab your mask and hand sanitizer…and join me on a little trip to scenic southern Minnesota!
Beaver Creek Valley State Park
LENGTH 6.2 mile Hiking Club Trail
DIFFICULTY Easy to moderate (details below)
DATE June 13, 2020
MAIN FEATURES This trail winds through the prairie and hilly terrain via two loops that are distinctly different from one another, offering an adventure for every level of hiker. Fly fishing and birding are also popular in this park.
On Saturday morning, I filled up my gas tank, packed a lunch, mask and hand sanitizer and headed south to Beaver Creek Valley State Park! Woo hoo, road trip!
The park office was closed due to Covid when I arrived, but the Park Ranger came out to chat over the balcony and told me a little about the trail before I got to camp. He described the hiking club trail as two distinct loops, an easy side and a hard side…both sounded great to me!
I grabbed some firewood and met my friends, who had camped the night before at the very last cart-in site. Our site was worth the extra walk in order to have the quiet privacy and be surrounded by the woods.
We ate our lunch, grabbed our packs and started on the ‘easier’ side of the trail in the mid-day sun.
I usually try to avoid hiking in the heat of the day, but my friends had already hiked the ‘hard side’ that morning. The Beaver Creek Valley trail was wide and flat with mowed grass and a few patches of shade to cool off under. It was a relaxing 3 mile hike with plenty of opportunities to stop and look at the creek and up at the open blue sky. Families camping at the park seemed to hike more on the Beaver Creek side due to its accessibility and water features.
I’ve never seen a park with so much Cow Parsnip! I thought these plants were the nasty cousin Wild Parsnip at first, but was relieved when I realized I wasn’t walking through a valley of towering, blister-causing poisonous plants! I remember seeing 6-7 foot flowers like these a few years ago in Glacier National Park.
Note: This park does have Wild Parsnip, which grows shorter and has yellow flowers. These plants can cause a photo sensitive skin reaction that’s worse that Poison Ivy (I’ve had it, its awful). There are also signs for rattlesnakes…So, be watchful and stay on the trail.
My friends headed off to soak their tired feet in the Big Spring, the main source of Beaver Creek, as I continued on to the ‘Hard Side’ of the trail.
The ‘Hole in the Rock’ trail starts south of the park office and loops around the hillier, east side of the park. The trail starts with a big climb right off the bat that reminded me of the SHT and Frontenac State Parks. I was huffing and puffing up the hill, a stark contrast from the flat easy-going 3 mile hike on the Beaver Creek loop!
I welcomed the cool shade, but so did the bugs that were also enjoying the green tunnel of trees and mossy ravines. The trail was narrow and twisted and turned with occasional long views. It felt like parts of the Superior Hiking Trail, and I appreciated having my trekking poles. After months of social distancing, it was great to be here with friends, but also enjoyed this peaceful little jaunt alone in the woods.
I made it back just in time to set up camp before a brief rain shower.
I recently had to repair my beloved Enlightened Equipment Paladin Tarp after a run in with my boisterous dog in the backyard. I was able to repair it with some Tenacious Tape and Silicone Seam Sealer and tested it a few times at home in the rain to make sure it would hold. I also had a chance to finally use my big cushy Big Agnes sleeping pad that I got in my 2020 Groundskeeper gear kit. I ordered the wide/long pad to fit in my wide/long bivy and it was nice to have the extra room without carrying much extra weight.
I was also glad I finally got to try out a tasty new backpacking meal that came provided in my Groundskeeper kit as well. I had the garlic, green bean, cashew stir fry and threw a little southwest rail mix into it since I accidentally added a little too much water. Mmmmm, spicy!
Hiker midnight struck at around 8pm and we forced ourselves stay up one more hour, until it was actually dark. Going to bed and rising with the sun is one of my favorite parts of summer camping.
One of our camp mates made eggs and fried potatoes for breakfast! Dude! This was a treat compared to the instant oatmeal I brought along. We packed up, said our goodbyes and I headed off to the next closest State Park to see a little more before going home and to grab one more Hiking Club Password.
Great River Bluffs State Park
LENGTH 2.5 mile Hiking Club Trail
DIFFICULTY Easy with a few hills
DATE June 14, 2020
MAIN FEATURES The Hiking Club Trail is an out and back, ending at Kings Bluff, overlooking the Mississippi River. The trail starts high up on the hillside, leaving a reasonably flat hike to the bluffs.
Great River Bluffs State Park is approximately a 45 minute drive from Beaver Creek Valley. I stopped at the open air visitor center to learn more about this park and found myself starting another hike in Southern Minnesota in the mid day sun. Even though it was a short hike, I made sure I had a full liter of water and a wide brimmed hat. I brought my trekking poles expecting hills, but didn’t need them.
The trail starts out flat with a wide, mowed grass path and transitions into a fragrant pine forest, with soft pine needles underfoot. The rest of the trail features sprawling Burl Oak forests and prairie bluff views with a couple of overlooks.
The Hiking Club trail ends with a panoramic view of the Mississippi river valley from above.
When I was up there, there was some sort of photo shoot going on with a bunch of people and costume changes. It might have been a bunch of high school kids getting their senior photos taken, but I didn’t hang around long enough to ask. Note: The Kings Bluff is accessible to the public, but the trail that continues on, the Queens Bluff, is on private property and only accessible with a special permit.
Since this is a shorter trail, I took the long way back, winding around another mile or so on adjacent trails. I was curious what the rest of the park looked like but wanted to get home, so I drove down the hill and explored a bit with my car. Great River Bluffs State Park has 5 more overlooks that I did not get to see and offers both car and cart in camping. I would love to camp at this park next time I visit and explore all of it’s nooks and crannies.
Here’s a list of some of the gear I used on this trip. It feels worth noting since most of it has been in storage since my Superior Hiking Trail Hike in September. I have a few more short adventures planned this summer and am glad I have everything dialed in for a hiking, biking or paddling trip – stay tuned!
I talk about joy a lot in this space, and defending it. I believe that joy is an act of resistance and worth protecting. And the bible says that hope is the anchor of the soul. I am reminded that we need to find ways to refresh ourselves even when its counterintuitive, so we can care for others and keep doing the good work. I am grateful for this little adventure and am planning a couple more…just to have something to look forward to. Maybe they will happen, maybe not, but knowing I have something to look forward to, brings me hope… and I’ll still be happy when those tomatoes ripen!