Fall Camping on the Rum River, Minnesota

Hard to believe that it has been weeks since I was camping in Minnesota in September. Finally, I am back on stable ground here in my adopted home of The Netherlands.

I had planned on visiting and camping at Mille Lacs Kathio and Father Hennepin State Parks located on the southern edge of Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota in the Spring of 2020. Then COVID hit and those plans were ruined for 2020. My hope of getting to enjoy both those parks were also not realized in the Spring of 2021 and almost didn’t happen this fall due to international travel restrictions.

I scheduled my time at these two parks for the September 11th weekend so that I could relax in nature and be entirely away from the news. Something about reliving one of the worst days in American history is not something I celebrate or find it fun to relive each year. Nature is the answer to most things that are traumatizing and I intended on this escape to be my peaceful reminder that nature holds the key to wellness.

I reserved one of the cabins at Mille Lacs Kathio for two days and then planned on tent camping at Father Hennepin for September 11 (the Saturday night). I had heard that making reservations at Minnesota State Parks had gotten darn near impossible during the weekends due to everyone trying to escape “the cities”. When I booked most everything was full in most all the parks in the State of Minnesota for that weekend except for a tent site here and there. I felt pretty lucky that I was able to find a site.

Do I have everything?

I loaded my car from storage with all my gear for the weekend and headed out on this adventure.

Somehow the book didn’t help in my packing efforts.
All the camping gear packed in my Subaru

I drove from Barnum, Minnesota to Mille Lacs on the dirt roads across country. These less travelled roads took me through the countryside where my Dad once travelled with his sheep shearing gear. Through an old turkey farm in Lawyer, large old dairy farms in Aitkin county that now sit like ghosts without dairy cows now only populated with hay ground and vacant buildings. Fall leaves and the damp earthy fall air gave me a feeling of freedom and a sense of a welcome homecoming.

I came along roadside farm stands, I stopped to see what was available. It was all part of the journey, taking time to enjoy what the day would bring. All the time wishing my Hubby was there to enjoy it with me.

Roadside veggie stand in Aitkin County.

I finally I ran out of dirt road and came out on State Highway 47 and started skirting the east side of Lake Mille Lac. The largest lake in Minnesota outside of Lake Superior. This lake has long been a destination throughout time for indiginous tribes and explorers. Now it is lined with small towns that cater to the tourist industry of fishing or the weekender escapees from city life.

My route marked in yellow. I even travelled through the town of Thor!

Once I reached the town of Isle, the area started to feel more like the populated areas of the Twin Cities. Larger houses, newer cars, boats, and then suddenly the opposite… an Amish boy walking or an Amish family riding in horse driven wagons. Strange the contrasts of modern and simple living in this area.

Once I arrived at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park, I was checked in by a very friendly employee who helped me with information about the park. I had wanted to kayak but didn’t want the trouble of loading and unloading my gear from my car. She told me that they had kayaks to rent and I quickly took her up on the offer of a rental. She did inform me that the river level was very low.

The gear was clean, well organized and reasonable at $15.00 for the afternoon rental. The kayak was at the launch and was not new or very clean but it was usable. Making this a great option to bringing my own gear from my storage unit.

The river that runs out of the South end of lake Mille Lacs is the Rum River. It continues across the middle of Minnesota running through four counties before dumping into the Mississippi River in Anoka, MN. I have fished part of the Rum River in Isanti county but I have never paddled this part of the river.

Heading out in the Rum River.

As I went and unpacked the car at my cabin I didn’t waste any time to get down to the river and load the rented kayak into the Rum River.

The main channel of the river was a bit deeper to paddle.

The summer drought in Minnesota was obvious instantly, the water level was well below normal, the launch point was crowded with weeds.

The levels in most of the river was about four to six inches and was filled with weeds. The water remained remarkably clear so it was easy to see the small fish swimming around the kayak. As I inched my way up river towards a larger lake like area, I got into the main river current flow. Even in the current the river was only at the most four feet deep as I tested the depth with my paddle. I could still clearly see the fish skirting (now much bigger fish) to get out of the way of the plastic boat intruder.

The dam across the Rum River. Incredibly low water levels due to the summer drought.

From the kayak I could see and hear trumpeter swans on the larger area just past the dam. There were also two eagles sitting on the shoreline of rocks surveying the water for food. Unfortunately my presence scared the wildlife into a frenzy of escape activity. Eagles and swans filled the sky as they headed in any direction that would deem them safe from the blue intruder.

I slowly turned and floated back downstream to the boat launch enjoying the stillness of the fall afternoon. I wasn’t alone as an Bald Eagle watched my every move from a perch high in a pine tree that overlooked the river.

I returned to my cabin ready for a cup of coffee. From my new coffee machine purchase. Yes, I was glamping this vacation!

Single cup coffee machine. A new addition to my camping gear.

It was a peaceful night at the State Park cabin. These are wonderful spots, located at this park, in a wooded semi secluded area. They have electricity, table, and beds but no toilet. The cost has increased to $90.00. I paid a few years ago $65.00 at another Minnesota State Park, but still a good value in my opinion.

Friday morning, I woke with a plan to hike before the weekend brought the crowds. I started with a hike up to the fire tower.

Up, up, and up!

I love hiking these icons of Minnesota past timberland history. To think that men spent many lonely endless hours during fire season spotting for the puffs of smoke that could determine ruin for entire areas of forestland. But, the views from these vantage points are always breathtaking.

The South shoreline of Mille Lacs Lake from the fire tower.
The view looking straight down wasn’t bad either.

After hiking the tower and several other trails within the park I went to a local restaurant and had a wonderful walleye lunch.

The view of the lake from my inside seat was wonderful and the conversation with the local wait staff enlightening. Let’s just say I think that there seems to be either a lack of information in that rural area or maybe a lack of trust in government. With that in mind I read just yesterday that Mille Lacs area hospitals are now overwhelmed with COVID patients in their ICUs. I find that sad.

So let’s all be like the rock from Mille Lacs Kathio State Park. Enjoy what we all can, when we can, with respect to each other and to nature.

A big rock! A happy hiker!

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