Hiking in Carley and Whitewater State Parks

In late July 2017, Alex and I spent a night in Whitewater State Park with our dogs Hannah and Mya. We took a detour to Carley State Park on the way there.

Carley State Park offers camping (drive-in, group), trails (hike, cross-country ski, snowshoe), picnicking, a playground, historic site, trout fishing, and access to North Branch Whitewater River.

At 206 acres, I assumed this would be a quick stop where we could grab the Call of the Wildflowers geocache (part of a Minnesota State Parks program that ended in October 2017), complete the Hiking Club trail, and be on our way.

Boy, was I wrong.

After quickly finding the first two stages of the geocache, we parked and decided to take the long way to the next stage so we could complete the Hiking Club trail (two birds, one stone).

A short while later, we arrived at the first river crossing. There was no bridge, so I questioned if it was even a trail. Alex and Hannah investigated a bit, and he said there was a bridge on the other side of the island. We quickly deduced that we needed to ford the water to get to the island. It was just above ankle deep, but the water was moving rather quickly, so Alex and Hannah went first to gauge the situation (I had all of the electronics, so a plunge would have been devastating). Then Mya and I carefully followed. We crossed the island and hopped across cement blocks that made up the bridge. Yeah! We were on our way.

The rest of the hike was fairly uneventful: a small tree to step over here, a little elevation gain there. Until we had to cross the river again. Cement blocks were available to hop across again, but this time, some of them had rushing water strongly flowing up and over the top of them. A view of this crossing once we were on the other side:


Alex and Hannah went first again. I was keeping Mya in a sit-stay and looked up as Alex and Hannah attempted the blocks with water flowing over them. Hannah’s rear-end rose up and started moving off of the block she was standing on! Our dear, sweet pittie almost was swept away with the current. Luckily, Alex had firm footing and the leash kept her from ending up downstream. He and Hannah turned back, and we decided to part from the Hiking Club trail and try the southern-most crossing. If that crossing was too dangerous, we’d turn around and hike the mile or so back to where we originally crossed.

The trail to the third crossing was overgrown and we rubbed up against some itch weed. We made it to the water and these cement blocks looked more passable. Alex and Hannah crossed, and Mya and I followed. There was about 10 feet between the last cement block and land, so I let go of Mya’s leash, Alex called her, and she propelled herself as far as she could go, hopped two times and safely made it across. I then carefully followed. Once I was across, we cheered and high-fived each other, excited that we made it.


Continuing on our way, we walked about 30 feet… and suddenly there was more river. We were on another island! And there were no cement blocks at this crossing. Again, Hannah and Alex attempted first. Alex waded in water that was over his knees and Hannah more or less floated at times. I let go of Mya’s leash again, and she bounced through the water toward Alex. I followed, being careful with my foot placements to avoid slipping, falling in, and destroying the electronics. The water was about mid-thigh on me at the deepest part.


Once safely across, we walked a short way and checked the GPS for the location of the final stage of the geocache. We walked past it already. We backtracked, found the cache, signed the log, and finally made it back to the car.

Whew. We survived Carley State Park! On the drive to our next destination, I read the detailed information on the back of the map, which specifically states, “Use caution at river crossings during high water events.” Oops, missed that part!

The next and final stop of this trip was Whitewater State Park. Whitewater is 2,733 acres and offers camping (drive-in, cart-in, group), lodging (cabins, group center), trails (hike, interpretive, cross-country ski, snowshoe), historic sites, interpretive displays and programs, picnicking, volleyball, trout fishing, access to Whitewater River and Trout Run Creek, and swimming. There are noticeably fewer mosquitos, too.

After maneuvering a cart around mud puddles and losing a wheel, we finally arrived at our site in the early evening. After setting up the tent, Alex and I played cribbage so we could all rest and cool off a bit.

Oh, yeah. It was a little humid out. too.

After a little while, we decided to venture down to the river. The water was refreshingly frigid.

The rest of the night was fairly low key. The next day, we packed up the car and quickly found the Call of the Wildflowers geocache. Then, we went for a short hike along Middle Branch Whitewater River and up to the Eagle Point overlook. So many wildflowers were in full bloom!

I was mostly excited to visit Whitewater State Park before our trip (the idea of fewer mosquitoes really drew me in!), and Carley State Park was more of an afterthought since it was so close. But our trip to Carley State Park ended up being one of the most memorable experiences of all of our state park journeys. I cannot wait to spend more time in both parks again.