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Camping at Itasca State Park: from a Memorable experience to a Transformative experience

Camping at Itasca State Park: from a Memorable experience to a Transformative experience

By Luisana Mendez

Camping is one of the most popular outdoor activities in Minnesota. There are many places available around the state where you can enjoy this activity at any time of the year, either alone or with others, as a family or in a community. However, for beginners the idea of camping is a great challenge. Mainly due to lack of knowledge, experience, equipment, regulations, etc.

This summer, on the occasion of the celebration of Latino Conservation Week 2022, we have developed a great agenda of activities in which we include a camping trip for beginners. We embark on the adventure of inviting Latino families to live their first camping experience in Itasca State Park together with the “I Can Camp!” of Minnesota State Parks & Trails.

This program provided us with the necessary knowledge when it comes to camping in Minnesota State Parks. Enjoying this program in community with Huellas Latinas Hiking Club allowed us to learn and have double the fun. Without a doubt, we went from a memorable experience to a transformative experience.

I Can Programs

I Can! are a series of Minnesota State Park & Trails programs. These programs are designed to teach different skills to people experiencing outdoor activities for the first time. Its programs include: I Can Camp! – I Can Paddle! – I Can Bike! among others.

We opted for the I Can Camp! for two nights and invited 10 Latino families to have their first camping experience. The program is paid and includes all the necessary equipment for camping: tent, inflatable mattresses, kitchen and kitchen utensils. They also offer practical workshops to learn how to set up and take down the tent and other equipment, how to make a fire safely, how to cook outdoors, security aspects and conservation of spaces. In addition, it includes a schedule of activities for the entire weekend. This program is very educational and ideal for beginners.

If you have never camped before and are curious about this experience, this would be a good place to start. However, it must be considered that each experience is different and can be influenced by different factors, for example: the size of the group, the personality of the group, the disposition to carry out the activities, the coexistence, the park, the weather, etc.

I Can Camp! with Huellas Latinas at Itasca State Park

Our adventure focused on two fundamental aspects. Choose a great park like Itasca State Park and make a group with common characteristics, in this case, 10 Latino families. The program was held from July 15 to 17, 2022.

Day 1:

Upon arrival at the park, each family had the opportunity to choose their campsite in Pine Loop, reserved for the program. We had the opportunity to meet the Ranger and learn many interesting things about the park. The first workshop was focused on the installation of the tents and aspects of safety and hygiene. We received all the equipment and each family was in charge of setting up their own camp. This was a great opportunity to put what we learned into practice and help each other.

At foodtime, we chose to share meals together so we selected one of the campsites to cook and eat. At our first dinner we enjoyed a super delicious pasta with beef and chicken meatballs, bread, salad and much more.

The next activity was a night hike. This Hike was scheduled for 8:00 pm and some of us were late. We had to quicken our pace to catch up with the group that had left on time. On our 2.3 mile hike we reached Lakeside Museum, passing Itasca Sport, where you can rent water equipment and bikes or buy fishing gear. We also passed through the amphitheater, the beach area and a playground where the children did not miss the opportunity to bathe, play and enjoy themselves for a while before going to sleep. That day we all enjoyed a fantastic sunset.

On the way back we tried to make a bonfire, but we were not very successful because the wood was damp. However, we were able to grill and eat some s’mores while fighting off the invading raccoons who started coming in to steal the food.

The night time was also the preferred time to take a shower. The bathrooms and showers were in great condition, so ending the day with a hot shower was comforting.

Day 2:

We got up very early to get ready and prepare breakfast since the programming would start at 9:00 am and we would never be late again. It was our choice to eat well and enough to sustain us through the day with snacks while we explored the park. Scrambled eggs with vegetables and sausage, combined with bread, was a great and quick option. In addition, there was cereal and milk, yogurt, fruits, coffee, juices, and other options for all tastes. We arrived on time! The morning workshop was focused on the different activities that the park offers its visitors such as hikes, talks with naturalists, bikes, etc.

In the morning, the group decided to hike to continue exploring the different areas of the park and reach the Mississippi Headwaters, where the Mississippi River rises to begin its 2,552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. This is one of the biggest points of interest in Itasca State Park. While some of us walked, others rode on bikes. On our tour we met many interesting and historical points. 

The place where Itasca Lake becomes the Mississippi River was full of people so at the time we couldn’t appreciate the beauty of the area. We continued our journey to the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center and there we enjoyed some delicious ice cream while we took a break. On the way back we included time on the beach, and while some of us swam in Itasca Lake, the others enjoyed activities in the water doing Paddle Boat, paddle board and kayaking.

Imagen by Huellas Latinas – © Huellas Latinas – Itasca State Park (July 2022) 

After noon it began to rain heavily giving way to a new adventure.

The afternoon program was to meet at the Douglas Lodge Visitor Center to walk up to the Fire Tower. The initial plan was to rent bikes for everyone and pedal to the next meeting point. However, due to the distance, the rain and the wind, some decided to return to the camp to take the vehicles and others instead decided to continue on bicycles despite the conditions. The cyclists (two adults and 4 minors) lived their own adventure riding a long distance in heavy rain. They all made it and I really felt a lot of admiration for the great job they did. Especially the two 9-year-old girls.

When we met again the rain began to stop. We decided to do the Wilderness Drive. A car ride to enjoy wildlife, observe red and white pine forests, and also connect with numerous trail options along the route.

The first stop was memorable for all on a half mile loop inside a White Pine plantation. There were so many mosquitoes that we started running around laughing and screaming, waving our hands in desperation at the incredible number of mosquitoes. It was a very funny moment that we still talk about and laugh about.

At the second stop we visited the Big Red Pine. This pine held a national record in 1998 as the tallest and oldest pine. At over 300 years old, this pine grew to be 126 feet tall and 120 inches in diameter. Unfortunately, a storm in the summer of 2007 affected the top of the tree and lost its record. However, you can still visit and admire its majesty.

The third and final stop was at the Fire Tower. We all had the opportunity to go up and enjoy the great views around the park. That day we walked a total of about 6.3 miles. When we got back to camp we were all seriously hungry. Burgers and Hot Dogs were a great option to cook and eat quickly. That night we had fun remembering the anecdotes of the day.

As night fell, a slight nostalgia set in as we realized that it would be our last night in the park. Well, at dawn, after breakfast, everyone would pack their things and go their own way. To close the night, through Huellas Latinas we gave a gift so that all the families could take home a nice memory of our experience in this camp.

Day 3:

This last day was very interesting. Take note! On the one hand, one of the families, made up of a father and two boys, went out to ride their bicycles around 4:00 am because they wanted to enjoy the sunrise. On the other hand, around 6:30 am I looked for an accomplice and we went back to the Mississippi Headwaters. This time there was no one and we were able to take some nice pictures and admire the scenery. A few minutes later we met another of the families. It is a very beautiful place, interesting and full of history.

By 10:00 am we had breakfast, packed, and returned the program equipment. Some decided to return home, others decided to spend some extra time at the beach or bike, and others went hiking to complete the Itasca State Park Hiking Club Trail.

From a Memorable Experience to a Transformative Experience

The camp was filled with lots of learning and fun. Without a doubt it is a Memorable Experience for all, we will remember it easily and we will continue showing it off to infect others.

Taking care of the privacy of the participants, I dare to share some of the anecdotes and comments:

  • Some children came to the program discouraged, the idea of camping was not exciting at all. During the camp they made new friends, participated in all the activities and at the end, they stated that they did not want to leave and that they wanted to stay longer.
  • Some husbands attended the program literally forced by their wives, as the idea of camping was not at all attractive to them. During the camp they were very active, curious and participative. In the end they expressed the desire to buy the equipment to continue camping.
  • 100% of the participants were so excited that they decided to continue in the I Can Camp group with Huellas Latinas to continue coordinating future camps.

This camp has become a Transformative Experience, as it changed our lives forever. Now we have included camping among our outdoor activities. All the families in this program have been in permanent communication. We have purchased our own camping equipment. Last August we held our second camp at Mery-Big Island State Park and at the end of September we will have our third camp at Mystery Cave State Park. Other families are joining the adventure and that fills us with great satisfaction.

Imagen by Huellas Latinas – © Huellas Latinas – Itasca State Park (July 2022) 

Many people are behind the success of this program and subsequent camps. To all of you we keep a special thanks.

1. Reserve your campsite in advance, preferably near the water points and restrooms.
2. Do not carry so many expectations, let yourself be surprised.
3. Plan quick-to-cook, nutritious meals.
4. Explore the parks, learn their history.
5. Try all the activities allowed in the park, connect with nature, with yourself and with others.
6. Be respectful of other campers and wildlife.
7. leave no trace

Would you like to try camping? If you have already done it, what has been your experience? Let me know your opinions in the comments.

See you on the Trails!



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