We had the most amazing last week in Minnesota. Our route took us all the way up the northern edge of the state where Lake Kebetogama meets Voyageurs National Park. There’s not a lot of RV camping options on the lake, but we heard about a state forest campground called Wooden Frog from some of our traveling friends. They reported that it was not only a nice campground with easy lake access, but that the cell service was great. Sounds perfect.
The campground was fairly empty and we had our pick of sites. There was only one or two with a kind-of, sort-of water view, and those were not at all Airstream friendly, so we settled on a long, back-in forested site. It was a little muddy around the edges of the site, and the on and off rain that we had all week only increased the sogginess (and led to more mosquitos). As a result, we didn’t spend any time outside at our site, but we did walk the campgroudn road a few times.
Most of our outside time we spent on the water. We went out once from the campground boat ramp, and once from the Voyageurs National Park visitor center boat ramp, which was only a few miles down the road.
Lake Kabetogama is full of islands. From tiny little ones only big enough for a single tree to larger islands that would be perfect for a lake house getaway. All those islands make for some fun paddling and we went from island to island, circling around and occasionally getting off to enjoy the rocky shore.
The real reason we came here is to do some camping on one of those islands. The national park manages over two dozen remote, boat-in campsites both on the islands and on the northern shore of the lake. Way back in March we reserved two nights on Grassy Island. It was only about a mile offshore, so we went to check it out one afternoon a few days before our reservation. Here we are approaching it from the south.
On Friday afternoon the big day arrived. We hauled all our gear down to the boat launch and set out to pack up the kayaks. Somehow all of our stuff easily fit inside the boats. With a bundle of wood strapped on the back deck, we set off to our island.
I could definitely feel the extra weight in my kayak while paddling, especially since I hadn’t paid attention to the weight distribution and all the heavy stuff ended up in the back. It really wasn’t a big deal since we were only going a short distance and the water was perfectly calm, but the next time we do this I’ll remember to balance my load better.
Our island had a little beach for docking, but Tim thought it would be easier to land on the front side. It wasn’t actually any easier, but we still made quick work of unloading and setting up camp.
This was the start of a much anticipated two-week vacation for Tim and he wasted no time settling into relaxation mode.
After dinner, we went for a little paddle. What started out as a gray, cloudy evening quickly turned incredible as the sun dipped below the horizon and the sky changed from orange to brilliant pink.
We ended the night with a lakeside fire.
Unfortunately, neither of us had a very good night’s sleep. Turns out sleeping on a thin pad in a tiny tent with a lumpy pillow is not that comfortable. Who would have thought? I knew this might be a challenge for us. I’m the type of person who really only sleeps well in my own bed. I’ve always been that way, but ever since we moved into the Airstream and I fell in love with our soft and squishy Memory Foam mattress the problem has gotten worse. I find that every other bed now feels like I’m sleeping on a rock. I end up tossing and turning all night and wake up in the morning with sore hips and shoulders from the unforgiving mattress (I can only sleep on my side). That’s exactly what happened in the tent. I woke up at least once an hour and had to change positions in an effort to get more comfortable.
Tim fared a bit better, but his major issue is that he’s about a foot too tall for our tiny tent. It was a free tent that we decided to try it out, but it looks like before we do this again an upgrade is needed. Not sure how to fix my comfort issue. Maybe I need two pads to make a thicker double layer? In any case, we made it through the night and awoke to find ourselves surrounded by a thick fog.
After a quick breakfast, it seemed like the fog might be lifting so we headed out on the water. Nope, still foggy.
We floated near our island for about ten minuets as the sun slowly started to burn through the fog. As we paddled towards our neighbor island the fog lifted more, and by the time we reached the far shore of the lake, it had disappeared altogether.
Our destination was a hiking trail on the shore of the lake. It was easy enough to find with a large dock where we tied up the kayaks.
The trail led us through a thick forest and to the edge of Locator Lake. Despite some overgrown areas and ferocious mosquitos, we made it to the lake after and easy two-mile trek.
Locator Lake is part of a chain of lakes deep in the back country of Voyagers National Park. There are remote campsites along the lakes and a snowmobile trail that travels for many miles connecting the them.
Back at our island, we spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing and enjoying another lakeside fire. The weather forecast was calling for rain to start early in the morning, and we went back and forth for a bit trying to decide if we should stick it out or not. In the end, our cheap, too-small tent with what we assumed was a useless rainfly, made the decision for us. Around 9 pm we packed everything up and loaded it back into the kayaks.
As we paddled back to the shore the setting sun gave us one final spectacular show. By the time it got dark around 10:30 we were back at the Airstream. Needless to say, we both slept great, and when I woke up around 6 am to the sound of pouring rain I knew we had made the right decision to come back early.
So even though we bailed on the last night in the tent, we still consider our first overnight kayaking trip to be a success. We’re already plotting a time and place where we can do it again — with a different tent this time.
And with that, we wrap up our time in Minnesota. We could have easily spent the whole summer here traveling around from lake to lake, but the family wedding in Maine is quickly approaching and the time has come to start making some miles eastward. Up next: we spend 10 days driving through Canada with NO internet (hello vacation). Wish us luck!
Soooo glad you made room for the chairs. Our first kayak camping trip was chairless. Big mistake. We then bought chairs, a 4-man tent for more room, and would, next time, get new technology sleeping mats; some are quite cushy! Oh, and I packed proper pillows in compression bags. Next trip was 10 days and relatively luxurious. Glad you’re enjoying the ‘yaks!
The chairs were a great addition. They pack down really small and are easy to assemble. I love the idea of regular pillows in compression bags – sounds much better than the lumpy backpacking pillows we used. Despite the sleeping issues we’re already dreaming about a longer trip.
I know everyone is different, but I’m also one who used to toss and turn in a tent. Until I got a Thermarest self-inflating pad. Even the thin hiking versions are good, but in a kayak I’d go for a thicker more “car camping” model. Who cares if it weighs five pounds as long as it fits in the boat!
Actually, after years of loyal Thermarestary, I’ve gone off them. Reason is that my last “Camp Rest” type one crackled every time I rolled over. What?! I contacted Thermarest and they said “Oh yes, we change the pad to lighten it slightly (why, when this is one of the super thick admitted car camping models?) and so we had to add a crackly layer to keep the R-value up. You get used to it.”
Erm… no, not even going to try! I now have an REI Brand 2.5″ “Thermarest Type” pad and love it (they also make a 3.5″). I even sleep on it at home (RV). I swear I could set it up on a bed of nails and never know it.
You may already know this, but REI stores have a big platform where you can try out all the pads they have ready to go. Not the same as a whole night, but it’s better than just choosing randomly.
As a native northern Minnesotan, your post brought on some major nostalgia. Thank you!
Thanks for the great advice. We actually tried out some pads on the sleeping platform at REI and then ended up buying cheaper ones from Amazon. I’m definitely going to try a self-inflating type next time.
Despite the discomfort, it looks absolutely lovely and romantic! I mean, it is your own island, complete with sunsets and foggy mornings!! That water is beautiful.
Right? It can’t be that bad when you’ve got your very own island!
What a wonderful trip, other than the sleep issues. I bet next time you have a bigger tent and a much more comfortable bed. :). I am so impressed with your little island. Looks like a great time. Happy travels. :)
This sounds really fun despite the poor sleep! Just a neat outing all together…I think I’ll have a kayak some day. ;-)
I could see you two with kayaks! We’ve never once regretted getting them.
Ah, my camping trip to Voyaguers in 2003 sparked twin ideas of becoming a full-time RVer (and doing seasonal park ranger work). I so wish I had time to get back there again this summer– your pics are phenomenal! I never got to kayak or camp on an island, but it looks like the very best way to experience the park!!! I’ve not done a whole lot of tent camping recently, but do have some great Big Agnes Air Core mattresses that pack down into coffee can size but are very comfortable (you inflate to the firmness you prefer). They’re a bit pricey, but worth it– not only for camping but easy to bring along for non-RV overnights to supplement an uncomfortable rock-hard guest or hotel bed!
I’ll definitely look into the Big Angus. Voyaguers really is a very special place. I can see us going back and exploring for longer next time.
Gorgeous photos! And so glad that you’re still delighted with your trip, despite the rain/mosquitoes/too small tent/uncomfortable night’s sleep. Comfort is a high priority for me, too, but adventures like that are worth a bit of discomfort! (A good quality tent and self-inflatable THICK sleeping mat makes all the difference. Speaking from experience. :-))
We used to have a great tent camping set up and then gave it away when we started RVing. I think once I get the proper sleeping mat the next time around will be more enjoyable!
Most Canadian McDonald’s and Tim Hortons have free wifi.tp:/
For long backpacking trips, I used a thermarest and added a ridgerest green cell foam thing 3/4 length so it would help my shoulders and hips. Worked well enough, but when car camping – I got a battery operated inflatable double mattress at wal mart and that was **wonderful** in my tent when car camping — all depends on what will fit in the boats! It always seemed to take a few days to sleep well & adjust to whatever system I was using. The ridgerest also did double duty as a sit pad for on the ground.
We used to have one of those extra thick inflatable mattresses for car camping. It was great, but we’re trying to make sure the gear we get now will work for both kayaking and backpacking, so weight is a factor. I really like the idea of adding a foam pad for shoulders and hips.
I’m swooning over this kayak to Grassy Island and spending the night. We tried two years in a row to get to Voyagers and both years it was so flooded they did not recommend coming to kayak. Hmmmm what else would you do there? Anyway, two questions. How long are your boats. I’m impressed with all the gear you got into them. Those chairs are especially fantastic! They must come apart to fit in the dry wells? or not? Where did you get them? Thanks so much for this great post.
There must have been a lot of water for them to recommend no kayaking! Our kayaks are 14.5 feet long and they have storage areas in both the front and back. We were very impressed by how easily everything fit – with room to spare. The chairs came from Amazon and the brand is Helinox. You can also find them at REI and Cabelas. We have the Chair One and the Sunset Chair. Both come apart and store in zip top bags. They only weigh a few pounds each and are both comfortable and durable.
I want my own island! We tried to go to Voyageurs a few years back but changed plans and went hiking on Isle Royale instead. We had a blast so no regrets. But I can’t wait to make it to Minnesota for Voyageurs.
Isle Royale has long been on our “must visit” list. Next time we make it to that part of the country, we hope to make it happen!
Oh man! I’ve lived in Minnesota for more than 22 years and have never been to the boundary waters or Voyageur National Park. So embarrassing! But I’m going to correct that this summer, and after reading about this wonderful trip I can’t wait. Less than 5 weeks. Wish I had a fast forward button. Did you ever get a chance to visit Grand Marais or see artist point? I’m going to spend a month on the North Shore hiking the Kadunce River, visiting Grand Marais, artist point and then up into the boundary waters. Eventually over to the Upper Peninsula Michigan. Do you have any tips on how I should document on my travel blog http://www.aowanders.com? If you had to do it all over again would you do a daily report like, “I did this and this?” or would you recommend doing weekly summary recaps? Thanks in advance for your advice.
Awesome! Sounds like an incredible trip. We have not explored that area nearly as much as we should. Definitely need to go back and see more. I think for a trip like the one you are planning a daily log would really help preserve your memories. You could even record a quick daily log and then compile it into a week-long summery for publication. Since we generally work during the week and only play on the weekends, I tend to go the summery route, but if we have an extended number of days in a row filled with adventure, I like to create a daily log to ensure nothing is forgotten. Have fun!