After I breezed past Iowa since I didn’t want to get another felony for speeding, I made my way up to the Star of the North (L’Étoile du Nord), Minnesota. Now I’ve been to Minnesota many times before but mainly to the Minneapolis area for work or to visit family friends. The original plan was for me to stop in Minneapolis to visit my artist friend who moved up there a few years ago at a local micro brewery. Sadly this plan fell through since he had to work till 8pm and I really wanted to be at my first car camping destination before night fall. Instead I beelined to this state park in Two Harbors Minnesota so I could get in the camp ground before it got too dark and get my SUV set up for my first night of many car camping adventures on this long road trip.
Now I used the roadtrippers app to find this state park because I saw a picture of this lighthouse that was just so pretty I had to see it. To be honest I came to the realization on this trip I love lighthouses.
I think I have 4-5 lighthouses already on my roadtrippers app to see on the first leg of my trip (since the app will only let you mark 59 spots of interest). It also needs to be mentioned that the roadtrippers app directions are not always correct. I learned this the hard way time and time again. This trip to the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park was no different. In the night around 8:30pm with the sun pretty much no longer visible on the horizon I was still trying to navigate my way to this state park. Now where the roadtrippers app wanted to take me was to a ditch on the left side of the road a few miles before the state park entrance. Luckily I had 3G coverage so I could pull up my maps on my phone and locate the park as well as get the proper turn by turn directions.
I finally located Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and pulled in. Now the park was closed but they had a little section of the building designated to housing tickets for you to fill out and either put cash in or leave your credit card information on them so they can process it for you camping at the state park. I filled mine out and dropped it in the little drop box and proceeded down the route to the campground parking. There I discovered that the campground was set up that you park in a parking lot and then walk/hike to your camping spot. Now since I was just car camping that didn’t really matter to me. I shifted all my items around so that I could get in my SUV to go to sleep.
In the morning I was awoken by my alarm going off at 6am and the sun slowly creeping into my car windows. Once I got myself ready to brace the cold that awaited me outside the confines of my SUV, I opened up my trunk door. Now keep in mind I was in Minnesota in mid April where the temperature was around 32 degrees and at night it dropped to 28 degrees. I ended up sleeping in two jackets due to the cold and my newly thinned California blood. Once the trunk door was opened Indiana jumped out immediately and ran to the nearest patch of grass to go pee. While I still rolled and wiggled my way out as gracefully as a baby panda. The sun had the sky in a crazy bright yellow and red color scheme that turned everything a hue of red. Now from the campsite parking lot you can walk towards campsite #1 and past to find a trail that will lead you down to a beach full of perfect skipping rocks. The trail is about .2 miles so it’s not a really long strenuous hike. However, you get a great view of the light house perched up on a nearby cliff as well as this island that you could pretty much walk to if you didn’t mind jumping a few rocks. I highly suggest this just because of the views as well as the solitude of being one of 3 campers in the area due to the cold weather.
After I took some stunning pictures of the lighthouse & the sunrise, I hopped back in my SUV and headed further north to Voyagers National Park. Now there are 3 entrances to the park. The first one I went to was the southern entrance (Ash River) because they had 2 hiking trails that didn’t require you to get across the lake to the main park (the park and campgrounds are only accessible by means of the lake). When I pulled into the visitor center area it was desolate. I was the only person in the park! As I got out of my vehicle the first thing Indiana and I did was check out the lake. It was as I expected, it was frozen over. Which, meant my plans of kayaking to the main park were not going to happen.
The nice thing about having the whole park to yourself is you can go anywhere and take as many pictures as you want with no one getting in your way or in your pictures.
Indiana and I ended up hiking one of the shorter trails in the park called Blind Ash Bay Trail. This was a good trail, however, at one point the trail became unrecognizable so I decided to turn back around since I didn’t feel like getting lost in the park with Indiana and only one can of bear spray. Once we were safely back to my SUV I decided to head up to the northern entrance up by International Falls. Once up there the visitor center was open so I could talk to a park ranger about bears to see if they were up roaming around since the winter warmed up earlier than expected. The bears were out but he said, but he had yet to encounter one in the 3 years he had worked in the park. I asked about the viability of the aurora borealis since I hadn’t been this far north before to hopefully get a chance to see it. He told me that due to the cloud coverage it would be almost impossible to see it.
Disappointed I left the visitor center and parked by the boat docks. There was also a picnic area near the boat docks where I let Indiana off his leash so he could run around in a safe area. I noticed a trail also near the boat docks called Oberholtzer Trail and decided to take another jab at hiking.
This trail while not that long (around 2.5 miles round trip) and a really easy hike, was not the best when it came to it’s scenic stops (where park benches were placed for a scenic view). By the time Indiana and I finished that hike it was time to find a place to car camp for the night. I drove to the very end of the peninsula off the highway that lead in to the northern entrance of the park. There I hoped to get a glimpse of the aurora borealis before I fell asleep. It just happened to be my luck that the park ranger was correct and there was no visibility.
I would have to say Minnesota is going to be hard to beat since I had almost two parks to myself so I could venture into the wilderness alone and clear my head.
Dog Friendly Rating:
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park: This gets 5 paws because you’re allowed to have your dog with you on hikes as long as your dog is on a 6ft or less leash and you pick up after it.
Voyagers National Park: I’m giving this a 1 paw because while you can bring your pet dog into this national park, you cannot take your pet dog on any of the hiking trails. I repeat, YOU CAN NOT BRING YOUR PET DOG ON THE HIKING TRAILS! You can, however, take a trained service dog on the trails but I’d be extremely careful of grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, and moose. Make sure your service dog is wearing a bear bell and their service dog vest. Also pack a lot of poop bags as well as a shovel so you can either bury your dogs waste 800 yards away from the trail or be stuck carrying it for your whole hike. Bear spray or wasp spray is great to have in case of a bear encounter.
Remember: ONLY TRAINED SERVICE DOGS ARE ALLOWED ON NATIONAL PARK TRAILS!
Indiana’s Final Thoughts