We kicked off the unofficial start of summer with a one-night stay at Maplewood State Park.
Maplewood is 10,279 acres and offers trails (hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling), camping (drive-in, hike-in, horse, group, cabins), interpretive exhibits, picnicking, boating and paddling, fishing, and swimming. We first visited this park with a brief stop in early July 2017 and wanted to spend more time exploring.
We arrived at about 7:30 PM — plenty of sunlight left for this time of year! On the entrance road, we stopped to admire the setting sun overlooking one of the many lakes in the park.
And then Alex pointed out a swan with its butt in the air.
We checked in and headed to where the ranger instructed us to park. Park Road is magnificent, and I highly recommend the drive if you only have a short time to visit.
We parked, loaded our backs with everything we would need, and made the ~1-mile, hilly but fairly easy hike to our campsite.
And, guys, I AM IN LOVE.
The campsite was right on Cow Lake. The mosquitoes were out, but healthy populations of dragonflies and songbirds were doing great work keeping the tiny vampires bearable.
Alex noticed a loon (which was camera shy and dove under the water before I could get a photo). We saw a swan go on the offensive against a couple Canada geese, chasing them away from our little lake.
Songbirds sang at dusk, and one almost attacked Alex. Fish jumped nearby. The moon was out in its almost-full glory.
Once the sun set, fireflies came out and a barred owl’s “Who cooks for you?” call was heard nearby. A cacophony of swan, loon, and songbird calls was replaced with frogs croaking into the night, which we would fall asleep to. I was as happy as can be.
Songbirds were our alarm clock at about 5:30 AM, after a restless sleep on slowly deflating sleeping pads. We finally ventured into the world just before 7 AM and while we made breakfast and coffee, our lonely swan was joined by a friend.
They left in pairs shortly after. Alex also saw a bald eagle and another raptor we were unable to identify.
It was forecasted to be very humid with a high of at least 90°F, and we began our hike at the early time of 10:30 AM.
We stopped about halfway at a trailhead to fill up with water. Except there was no water, so we walked ~¼ mile to an RV fill station. After, we returned to a building at the trailhead to eat snacks and cool of a bit.
After fueling up, letting our feet rest and air out, and reapplying sunscreen and bug spray, we quickly found the Aquatic Quest geocache, a new geocaching challenge offered by Minnesota State Parks that runs through October 31, 2020. We started to head back to the campsite along the Hiking Club trail.
We hiked a total of 9 miles, and the last part of the trek was pretty brutal, as it was the hottest part of the day. Fortunately, it was mostly shaded.
Unfortunately, we came across a steep hill. UFF DA.
The Hiking Club trail followed a road for a while and meandered through one of the campgrounds and past another lake.
Then back into the forest we went. We startled a bald eagle, which startled us in turn when it flew out of a tree about 20 feet ahead of us (we weren’t quick enough to get a photo).
And, ugh, we had yet ANOTHER hill to summit…
Back at the campsite, we set up a tarp to get some relief from the sun.
We debated packing up and leaving that evening or the next morning. After doing a tick check, Alex found a teeny, tiny one in my left shin. That, plus the heat and increase in bugs as the day wore on, sealed the deal and we decided to leave that night. While Alex packed up, I took photos of some of the nearby wildlife.
Once we were packed up, it was time to return to the car.
The Cow Lake hike-in campsite was one of my favorites: We had a whole lake to ourselves and saw/heard wildlife the entire time we were there. The main issues were bugs and lack of shade, so bug spray and/or head nets and an extra tarp are a must if it’s forecasted to be sunny and warm. Although the weather was unseasonably hot and humid, I LOVED Maplewood State Park and highly recommend visiting.