Each year Memorial Weekend in the U.S. signals the unofficial start of summer. For many — my family included — this means vacation, time at a cabin, or camping out, plain and simple, a tent and a ring of rocks to make a fire. But in Minnesota, my home state, and in many other places, the big weekend equals big crowds. Popular state parks are crowded, and campgrounds are full.
This year, to beat the crowds, my family took an “off-grid” camping trip. Basically, we car-camped at a remote lake in northern Minnesota on a forested rise next to a gravel boat launch. Not the cushiest place — there wasn’t even an outhouse! — but as far as a positive time with family hanging out in the woods, it was sublime.
With our three kids (ages six years and under), the trip was also doable. Indeed, we met up with my siblings and their families, and the weekend turned into a veritable kid free-for-all. From the moment we arrived, the kids were running, throwing rocks in the lake, getting muddy, climbing trees, and exploring the woods.
The venue for the weekend was Bear Lake, one of many Bear Lakes in the North Woods, about one hour north from Duluth, Minn., and inland from Lake Superior. From Minneapolis, we packed our van, gear, and the kids, and drove north. Four hours later, and a few confusing gravel roads parsed, we cut the engine and unpacked on the shore of the lake.
Days at Bear Lake were lazy but fun — just like summer should be! We set up a hammock, pulled a canoe up onto the sand ready to go at any moment, and set two fishing poles against a tree. Meals were family style around a fire pit. One night, we cooked “pudgie pie” pizzas, which are made with clamp-together cast iron cookers held over coals.
The kids got muddy, dusty, wet, and bitten by bugs. We wore them down on day hikes. They tried fishing and took canoe rides into Bear Lake’s expanse of blue.
A stop on the way home at Lake Superior, where we explored Gooseberry Falls state park, was a final highlight. Then, after a weekend of exploration and play, my wife and I packed up Gwen, Charlie, and William, and drove south. The kids were sleeping quick, our tires humming on the freeway as we headed back home.
—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.