Camping in Jay Cooke State Park

Continuing with our party-crashing trend, we decided to join our friends’ camping trip in Jay Cooke State Park. Although we hiked and snowshoed in this state park several times, this was our first camping trip since the iconic swinging bridge was destroyed by the raging floodwaters in 2012. This time, many friends joined this camping trip — 32 people from 8 families with an equal number of adults and kids — and we knew less than half of them. Before the trip, we monitored the weather forecast like a hawk. It went from perfect weekend weather to a 99% chance of rain on Saturday, down to 85% and 76% over time. It was going to be a wet morning. Knowing that we were responsible for handling the first group breakfast, we brought along the new screen house, purchased during the last Thanksgiving Day sale.

On the first day, we drove 3.5 hours straight to Duluth for an early lunch at Duluth Grill. This restaurant has grown so popular in recent years that we stopped coming back due to a long queue of customers waiting just to be seated. Fortunately, there was no queue this time, and we took the opportunity to dine outside. Outdoor dining is one of a few good things coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic (another is working from home). It was never really a thing, especially in Minnesota, due to the short warm season. Now, this trend is here to stay, hopefully. After lunch, we cut through the long queue of customers to pick up some take-out sandwiches — our dinner meal — at Northern Waters Smokehaus before strolling to Canal Park. It was worth noting that we nearly turned a pedestrian into roadkill for dashing across the busy road without looking at both sides. As we hiked the 3.5 miles of Silver Creek Trail in the state park, we forgot to apply any bug spray and left it in the car. The mosquitoes ate us alive, and we didn’t take too many pictures as we hurried to get off the trail. As more friends arrived past 6 PM, we were already done with our dinner, took our bath, and hid in the screen house from the relentless mosquitoes in the windless evening. We chatted with friends and went into our tent at midnight.

As expected, it rained the following early morning. We lazily got out of the tent at 6 AM even though we had been up an hour before because the birds couldn’t stop chirping loudly in the campground. Thankfully, our screen house allowed us to prepare the group breakfast in the rain: porridge and sodium-rich SPAM — to be exact, 12 insane cans of Hawaii’s most beloved food. Given our super spacious campsite, other friends set up 2 more rain shelters so that all of us could gather and make meals together. Our camp ended up with 2 screen houses, 1 canopy, 2 tents, 2 vehicles, and 14 adult chairs. So grandiose that a friendly park ranger stopped by to remind us to limit up to 3 items — a combination of cars and tents — in any campsite in the future to reduce footprint damage outside the designated area. The weather was a tale of 2 stories: wet in the morning and beautiful breezy sunny in the afternoon. We went for a 4-mile hike to Forbay Lake and back — mostly on a bike trail, and this time, we remembered to apply the bug spray. Our friends made delicious hot pot meals for dinner, and we chatted by the fire at night until midnight. The temperature plummeted at night, and we braced for the mid 40Fs the following day. One of our friends reported a leaking problem with their new air mattress, and they had to sleep in their vehicle that night. We discussed whether they should crack their vehicle windows and the likelihood of them ending up on the front page news the next day for passing out in the vehicle in the state park.

The following day was cold as expected, but it was bearable, unlike the camping trip 2 weeks ago. Our friends also didn’t pass out in the vehicle. After helping others pack after breakfast, we left at 10:30 AM. The unexpected big lunch in the Twin Cities made the last stretch of driving difficult. Still, we battled our sleepiness and drowsiness and made it home safely.

3 beautiful lighthouses at Canal Park.
The raging water on St Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park.
The unique tilted rocks known as Thomson Formation.
A porcupine on the Willard Munger State Trail.
The breakfast club with 10 additional friends missing from this picture.
The brown lines represent our hiking paths.

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