Of all the places we stayed during our time in Minnesota, the Akeley City Campground was our least favorite. It sounded so charming from the reviews I'd found online, but it was really not much more than a sandy road with a plethora of RVs parked up and down the sides of it, tightly spaced. I guess for folks who want to be right on the lake, it might be just right, but to us it felt tight, cramped, and kind of haphazardly constructed.
Our site was a dirt pull-through across from the lake and shared between two sites (12 and 14). With two rigs, it was tight, but fortunately we had it to ourselves for three of our four nights. It was thankfully larger than most of the sites right on the lake. Leveling took quite awhile and a lot of boards under the front wheels and jacks. There was a peek-a-boo view of the lake through trailers on the other side of the road in lakefront sites, but only weedy grass, dirt, and very little patio area to the door side of Pearl. There were water and electric hookups at each site and a campground dump station.
Akeley is a tiny town, population 438. But they make the most of it with a HUGE statue of Paul Bunyan, a big draw for tourists seeking photos. No grocery store, but they did have a coin laundromat, always a plus for us, and a grassy area by the city park entrance where we could play ball with Paisley. Here are some photos we took around town.
The Woodtick Theater, right on the main street through town, offers musical shows combining country, bluegrass, folk, gospel and comedy. It is a bit pricey at $18.50 a head (adults) and not really our thing, but I am sure it brings people into this small town.
I don't think the Blue Ox was open, but I liked the painting!
I particularly loved this admonition:
One thing we did like about the Akeley Campground was the sunsets over the lake. On our last night there, we had the most spectacular one! Sitting on a dock and watching the colors change and the calm lake shimmer was one of the highlights of our entire time in Minnesota for me.
The proximity to the Heartland State Trail was excellent, just under 1/2 mile from our campsite. We stayed four nights and rode the trail every day. But more on that in our next post!
Mabel Lake Campground is in the middle of nowhere, but we still managed to find some fun. There are excellent unpaved, but well-maintained, forest service roads in the Chippewa National Forest easily accessible from the campground. So of course we had to take the mountain bikes out for a ride on a beautiful day.
Along the way we encountered lots of downed and damaged trees from the heavy storms with straight line winds that had passed through many parts of Minnesota in the previous two weeks. The Forest Service had done a great job at clearing what must have been impassable roads quickly, but the evidence remained. It was so sad to see so many of these beautiful birches down.
There was no traffic whatsoever to contend with, and no dogs. But an even greater nemesis would plague us for much of the ride: deer flies! These evil pests are incredibly persistent and would follow us for a long way, mostly swarming around our helmets --another good reason to wear a helmet even on unpaved roads!
We could occasionally outrun them if we hit a fast descent, but they'd catch back up (or a new group would find us) on the flats and climbs. These annoying flies pack a painful bite, so we were kept busy trying to stay ahead of them. Both of us did get bitten several times, though, especially on our butts, right through our bike shorts. They are attracted to dark colors (especially blue, apparently, with black a close second). These bites would turn into huge welts and itch for days on me, as I seem to be more allergic than Barry.
As an aside, I found the MOST HILARIOUS EVER diatribe against deer flies online that you might want to check out, but be forewarned: it is not safe for the kiddos (lots of bad language but so so funny). Check it out at My Nemesis: The Deer Fly. I am thinking that his blue solo cup head apparatus might be a worth addition to our bike helmets during deer fly season. It would certainly keep people guessing!
Much to our surprise, we crossed the Soo Line Trail, an unpaved rail trail running through the state, popular with the ATV folks. We had no idea it crossed here. So, we rode that for a short distance just to check it out. But it proved to be impassable with huge puddles all the way across from the rains. And the deer flies were even more numerous than on the FS roads, so we quickly backtracked. It sure was pretty, though, and would be a fun time at a different time of year, sans flies.
We did stop to apply Deep Woods Off towelettes. Unfortunately, they were ineffective against the aggressive deer flies.
Once we got closer to the campground and Mabel Lake on the return trip, the flies thinned out, and we could better enjoy our ride. The countryside of Minnesota is gorgeous, and even with the annoying flies and itchy bites afterwards, this was still a great day and a fun ride.
Moving north in Minnesota, our next spot for three nights was Mabel Lake Campground in the Chippewa National Forest. This campground has no hookups, but at a cost of only $7 per night (half price) with Barry’s Senior Park pass, it was a nice change from expensive and mosquito-ridden Crow Wing State Park.
We hadn't boondocked (i..e., dry camped, which means camping without any hookups, electrical, water, or sewer) much, so this would be a good time to try out our systems and make sure we could get by without hookups for several days.
The campground consists of one loop with 22 sites, and the exterior sites are nice and large. Some sites face the lake, but these were all taken when we arrived on a Thursday afternoon. We chose site 3 away from the lake but on the exterior. We were happy with this site as it provided plenty of privacy, with plenty of woods and understory all around.
We got to set up our new screen room for the first time at this campground. What a wonderful addition to our camping gear this was! We should have gotten one long ago.
Since our site was not right on the lake, we had a nice walk to the public access and day use area to get there. We walked down every night and let Paisley take a short dip, which she loved. It wasn't busy there at this time of day.
We really enjoyed our stay at Mabel Lake, and there were many fewer mosquitoes than at Crow Wing. The only negative about this campground is that there is no dump station or trash facilities at all; you have to pack out all your trash (including doggie poop bags!)
Because of the trash issue, we wouldn’t want to stay much longer than the three nights we stayed. But for this length of time, it helped us gain confidence in our boondocking abilities. Sure, there are some inconveniences: making drip coffee with water heated on our propane camp stove instead of our electric coffeemaker, only charging my laptop once a day with our inverter on, not watching much if any TV, not using the microwave, and so forth. But our 12-volt power system running off the house batteries means that we have lights and running water inside the rig, and the fridge runs just fine on propane. And we can always run the generator occasionally if we really need some of the other AC appliances -- or to charge the house batteries during a longer stay.
I think we see more boondocking in our future!
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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