Ask some of Minnesota’s outdoorsy types where they like to spend their weekends and many will send you “up north” to find serenity amongst the lakes and pine trees. While I can’t deny the beauty of the north woods and shore, I have a personal bias against conifers that endears me to the southeastern corner of the state instead. The soaring bluffs lining the banks of the Mississippi and the thick, hardwood forests feel so exotic, I tend to forget I’m in Minnesota altogether.
This past weekend, Luke and I discovered a new state park that is a strong contender to become our favorite state park. Tucked discreetly between farm fields is a deep, leafy valley that conceals a natural spring-fed trout stream, miles of technical hiking trails and pristine campsites.
Beaver Creek Valley State Park is located in the “Driftless” area of southeastern Minnesota, which more closely resembles Tennessee than Tettegouche. This region was skipped by the last batch of glaciers to pass through parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. The landscape is characterized by river valleys carved deep into the Earth by glacial melt and soaring bluffs topped by lush forests.
Big Springs is the freshwater creek that runs through Beaver Creek Valley. The crystal clear water pools deeply in spots that are popular with fly fishers and overheated hikers alike. At 50 degrees, the water is on the chilly side for people, but perfect for their pups.
Hiking in the park ranges from the seriously sweaty Hole in Rock Trail where I found my first geocaching box, to the poison ivy and stinging nettle-packed Mossy Seep Trail. Let’s just say, it was not a good day for the people vs. native plants.
Beaver Creek Valley Trail is the best in the park. It’s wide and groomed and jogs alongside the stream. It’s also a great place to watch the fireflies come out of the trees at night and settle into the grasses near the water.
Interestingly, the campground seemed to attract an a-typical crowd. Rather than a sea of standard RV’s, there was a Scamp, a couple of teardrop trailers and a vintage VW bus. We tent camped in non-electric site #37, which was tucked into one of the deepest and narrowest parts of the valley. It was secluded and involved a shallow water crossing to reach the pit toilet. Best/worst of all, we found ourselves shacked up with an alarmingly brazen raccoon family that was clearly used to relieving campers of their Oreos.
Unlike other state park campgrounds, this one was actually quiet. There was no rowdiness from barking dogs or drunken neighbors. The prevailing sounds were water tumbling gently over rocks and the crunching of leaves underfoot those sneaky, sneaky raccoons. So we were surprised to hear fireworks and music coming from the other end of the park on Saturday night.
The music continued well into the night. There was no cell phone reception in the park, so calling in a noise complaint would involve hiking to the top of the ridge or driving a few miles out. The noise wasn’t bothering us, but we couldn’t imagine campers closer to its source appreciated it.
“Every campground has an asshole,” I murmured as I tucked myself into my bag for the night.
The next morning, we toured a 140-year-old flour mill located just outside the park. Our guide was a gentleman named Ed and his family has owned the operation for over 100 years. Before we got started, he told us about the party they had on their property the night before. It’s an annual tradition for members of the community to come together the weekend after the Fourth of July for a potluck dinner, fireworks display and live music.
Which explained the noise we heard in the campground.
Knowing this led me to the following conclusion: since every campground has an asshole, I suppose it was me, screeching about raccoons, crunching-up beer cans and running my electric toothbrush well after most people’s bonfires had burned down for the evening.