Minnesota River Canoe/Camping Trip

It’s been twenty two years (give or take) since I last spent time in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and it has been eight years since my last camping trip (taken with Best Bud Ed) to the Voyagers National Park (adjacent to the BWCA).  For many years prior to that, my annual trip to the BWCA for was the highlight of my year, and something I looked forward to on the bus ride home from the current year’s trip.

Needless to say, I was LONG overdue for a canoe trip! 

Lucky for me, this year the boys’ Scout Troop decided to make a three day canoe trip along the Minnesota River!  This was PERFECT in many ways.  First, I have wanted to canoe the Minnesota River for a long time, and last year’s accusation has had a Minnesota River trip on the forefront of my mind.  Secondly, I have not had a real “outing” with the Troop (other than summer camp) since the campout to Ft. Ridgley in 2010 (which was “cabin camping”) or the College of Wilderness Knowledge in 2008 (which was rustic tent camping).  Third, I had all the days off from work!! 

Unfortunately, it was also less than perfect in another way.  I had some pre-existing plans for that weekend.  A long time friend was getting married.  Towards the tail end of the planning for the canoe trip, it became apparent that an added chaperone would be beneficial – and after speaking to the VERY UNDERSTANDING couple two days before their wedding, I was assured that they understood my desire to adjust my weekend plans and to help chaperone the canoe trip instead!  Joe & Laura, you guys are the BEST!  Thanks a ton!        

Like I said, I was LONG overdue for this trip!

After two days of planning, preparing, and packing – #3 of 5 and I headed out to meet the rest of the Troop!  Once the troop was gathered we headed out to our first destination – The Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area.  There we set up camp for the night.   

Basecamp Basecamp

Once we finished setting up camp it was time to break out “Cracker Barrel” (Cracker Barrel is an after dinner snack – usually cheese, meats and crackers, but “Cracker Barrel” can mean all kinds of things).  On tonight’s Cracker Barrel Menu was dutch oven Angel Food Cake with fresh strawberries!! 

Well, as luck would have it, we forgot the dutch oven and instead tried to improvise (as any good Scout would do) and we tried to fry up some Angel Food patties in our mess kits.  The results were mixed.  There was some that got a little burned, and a few that were a little under done, but by in large – almost everyone had some amount of angel food cake that turned out great! 

Angel Food patties cooked over a campfire Angel Food with strawberries cooked over a campfire

After “Cracker Barrel” the scouts cracked up a deck of cards and begged the Scoutmaster to play “Up and Down the River”.  We played a series of 8 up and 8 down (sixteen hands).  By the end of this long game our fire had gone out and it was time to hit the sack for some shuteye!

I was first up at 6:00am.  I had my tent cleaned and was ready to start breakfast before the next person was up.  On the menu this morning – Omelet in a bag.  Only we forgot the bags, so they became “western scrambled eggs” fried up with green peppers and onions (we forgot about the mushrooms we had packed along with us). 

After breakfast, motivating the scouts to get moving was a little challenging, but with the reminder that the sooner they finished cleaning the sooner we would be on the water – they eventually had everything cleaned and packed – and we headed out

Soon, we arrived at our entry point – Blakely, Minnesota.  While the other leaders arranged the vehicles at our destination point, I helped the scouts get their gear down from the parking area to the river’s edge, then load up their gear in the canoes. 

Ready to roll! Ready to roll!

Once the work was done, it was time for a little R and R.  Some of the boys went exploring, some of the boys hung around and visited, others found rocks and mud clumps to toss in the river. 

One “boy” even found a few moments to put his feet up and really start to appreciate what was about to begin!

Off tio do some exploring Visiting Appreciating what was about to begin The view from my seat

Entry point, in the water!


Before long, the other chaperones arrived and we slipped the canoes into the river and began our 19 mile journey home!

The weather forecast for the next two days – VERY hot and VERY humid. 

We would have to keep a close eye on the boys and make sure they stay HYDRATED*

(* A little foreshadowing)



The Scoutmaster and I cast lines out and “troll fished” the river as we canoed.  I caught NOTHING the whole weekend, but the Scoutmaster caught something that was a first for him (and the first time I saw one “in the wild”).

He had a strike on his line and as he reeled in his catch he announced he had a northern pike on the line – that was until he got it close enough to the canoe to realize that it was not a northern, it was a river Gar.

He pulled his canoe to shore and as I approached (camera in hand) the gar gave a big shake, unhooked himself, and splashed right back into the water.  Apparently he was a little camera shy and did not want to make his debut here on the The Life of a Father of Five!  

Before we knew it we had traveled roughly four miles and the boys were beginning to “share” the fact that they were hungry again.   Lunch time had arrived.  We watched for a good sand bar to pull off onto then started lunch.

Canoes parked on the sand bar digging a fire pit gathering wood cooking our lunch

Hot dogs, chili (chili dogs if you so desired), baked beans and potato chips.  I took this opportunity to show off my super special “Spiral Cut Hot Dog” technique

spiral cut hot dog spiral cut hot dog with chili on it 

Once lunch was complete, and clean up was finished it was time to let the boys blow off some steam.  A quick dip in the shallows of the sand bar proved to be just the prescription. 

swimming in the river on the sand bar The Father of Five

It was time to head back on to the water.  As we traveled the next eleven miles, we came upon several strange, but oddly beautiful (in their own way) sites. 

Wrecked Pontoon boat tangled in the deadfall old bridge abutment A colony of swallow nests



Just some of the things we came across was a battered and smashed pontoon boat, an old bridge abutment, and a colony of swallow nests.






Time for another water break.  By this time many of the boys water containers were empty and needing to be refilled from our potable water supply.  This was a heavy five gallon container and to do so while in a canoe on the river would not have been safe.  We pulled over and refilled everyone’s containers. 

water break water break

At mile 15 we floated up upon the perfect camping site.  It was a GIANT sand bar created by the convergence of a small creek and the Minnesota River.  The sand was clean, soft, and sturdy enough for camping on, and the creek proved to be a great place for the boys to play!  

the last canoe to arrive setting up campsetting up camp setting up campcooling off in the creek cooling off in the creek  

After setting up camp, and while the boys were cooling off by playing in the creek, the two Scoutmasters and myself prepared the special culinary surprise that the scoutmaster wanted to try.

Rouladen (link) - Rouladen is bacon, onions, mustard and pickles wrapped in thinly sliced beef  (or a variant is onions, pickles, and mustard wrapped in thinly sliced beef which is then wrapped in bacon (as seen below)). 

With no picnic table, seating or benches to work with, we improvised and created a camp kitchen out of our food bin, cooler, and an old tire that one of the scouts found on the sand bar. 

 camp kitchen (well, sort of) rouladen

The rouladen was very tasty, but unfortunately by the time I finished one of my two rouladen rolls the Scoutmaster (and several of the scouts) noticed that I was starting to look ill.  In all honesty I was feeling horrible.  I was beginning to succumb to the effects of some self inflected (yet accidental) dehydration.  I was trying to conserve the potable water we brought with us and so throughout the day I had gone a little too sparingly with the water. 

By dinnertime I was really starting to feel ill, and I knew what the problem was.  I refilled my water bottle, took it and my bedroll into a shady area.  There I began to slowly rehydrate myself and then laid down.  A little over an hour (one quart of water and a short nap) later I was starting to feel a little better.  At least well enough to get up and join the rest of the troop again.

#3 of 5 cooling off, floating down the creek a scout buried up to his neck in the sand evening approaching the sand bar campsite    

Some were swimming, some were playing in the sand, and others were building a fire.    

#3 of 5 floating down the creek on his back.

Another scout (face shrouded) was buried up to his neck in a hole that another scout dug after finding an old tire buried in the sand. 

The tire was an Atlas Plycron Cushionaire tubeless Large White Wall Tire 7.10x15 – it looked pretty old and after checking on-line it appears that was a common tire in the 1940’s.  I wonder how long it had been buried in this sandbar?    


Despite my nap, once 9pm rolled by, the day had gotten the best of me.  I said my goodnights and headed off to my tent where I fell asleep to the sounds of another rip-roaring game of “up and down the river”. 

I awoke the next morning at 5:45 am.  I quickly broke my tent, packed my gear, and packed my canoe while the rest of the troop still slept. 

There, I noticed a little something that got forgotten that night.  Cleaning up the camp kitchen!  Nope, not this time!  These boys needed to see this / and learn from this.  I left this mess for them to clean up.

How NOT to leave a camp kitchen overnight. How NOT to leave a camp kitchen overnight.

The boys (and the adults) were hot, tired, exhausted (and even one still feeling the effects of dehydration) so motivating them to clean up their tents, the camp kitchen mess from the night before, and breaking camp was not an easy thing to do.

Sand bar camp breakfast



Eventually, it was breakfast (which consisted of donuts and cantaloupe) that did the trick. 

Once camp was broken breakfast was eaten and cleaned up – it was time to slip the canoes back into the river and finish the remainder of the journey.





Almost before we knew it, we came upon the landmark that signified the end of our canoe trip.  We canoed up to, then under the Scott County Highway 9 / Carver County Highway 11 river bridge where, just on the other side, the boat landing was located.

Wait, is that it? THE BRIDGE!  Under the bridge (camera took photo a little too slow causing the wavy appearance in this photo) Unloading

I had a GREAT time (despite my bout with dehydration). 

It was great to get back into a canoe and head out camping again!  I remembered a number lessons I learned from my youth, and learned a few new lessons.  I feel I will be better prepared for the next canoe / camping trip! 

There was even talk of a future Isle Royale Hiking / Backpacking trip!!  That would be a first for me (hiking/backpacking camping trip), and something I’d be really interested in!!  

BSA Canoe Trip 2012

EveryTrail - Find the best hikes in California and beyond BSA Canoe Trip 2012 at EveryTrail


  1. I was really looking forward to reading this post. I've never taken an overnight canoe trip... looks like fun. Makes me want to keep my canoe! Aluminum beats fiberglass for these types of activities... it didn't look like your canoe was in the mix... didn't see any that were pristine enough to be yours! Looks like it was a nice river... didn't look very populated. Many of our waterways in Ohio are largely populated, so you're looking at backyards rather than wilderness. The approximate mile stretch of our local river through town is about half residential, then you get to a stretch that is wooded. I have considered attempting to clear some of the log jambs upstream to explore further.

    As a backpacker, I say you must chaperone the Isle Royale trip if the opportunity presents itself (and you can economically round up decent equipment). There is a sense of accomplishment derived from backpacking that is unlike other camping experiences... physically carrying what you need. Go for it! Wish you lived closer... I'd take you along in the next trip with the boys (they are looking forward to another fall trip).

  2. What an awesome trip! I am so envious - I REALLY love CO, but I REALLY miss water :-) So glad you got to have this awesome trip - my boy is currently up in the mountains in a tent for a week at Boy Scout summer camp. I know they're having a blast! One of his merit badges is Wilderness Survival - tonight he'll be building his own shelter and sleeping in the woods. Hope the bears don't get him! :-)

  3. Hey Man, great pictures! I am putting together a camping/fishing trip in Korea, can't wait! Just wish we could get chili dogs here!!!

    Mark L.


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