Summer is short in Minnesota. Blue skies and warm weather sometimes prevail April through October. But most years, June, July and August are your money months.
What follows is a guide to places I’ve fished and camped in our all-too-brief summers. In a way, each is my “favorite.’’
Other Minnesotans have their own preferred summer destinations. Recollections of six of these fellow outdoors enthusiasts are also included on this page.
Perhaps one or more of these reminiscences, will inspire you to pack up and head out this summer.
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River camping on the St. Croix by canoe or boat offers a wilderness experience close to home. Weekdays are better than weekends, especially from Taylors Falls to Stillwater, and the National Park Service (www.nps.gov/sacn) has rules governing camping (designated sites are available, with fire grates) and other uses of the St. Croix. But in combination with the Namekagon River, 255 miles of fantastic water lies ready to explore within an hour or two of the Twin Cities. The service’s website can aid trip planning. But bring your fishing rods, a variety of Mepp’s spinners, crankbaits and/or flies. Some of the state’s best smallmouth bass fishing is available on the St. Croix — and not just along the well-known stretch above Grantsburg, Wis., but also above St. Croix Falls, and between Taylors Falls and Stillwater.
DNR parks near the metro are also some of the state’s best. Afton State Park (state park info: www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks) is terrific for tent campers who want a faraway experience close to home. For those seeking more comfort, four camper cabins are available (though summer weekend reservations fill up early). Hiking and horse trails are here, too. William O’Brien, Interstate (with its fantastic companion Wisconsin state park directly across the St. Croix) and Wild River are also among my favorites, as is Frontenac near Red Wing. (Nearby, the Cannon Valley Trail connects Red Wing to Welch and Cannon Falls, and is stellar for bikers, in-line skaters and hikers.)
Another great metro camping getaway is Lake Auburn Campground at Carver Park Reserve. Fifty-seven rustic campsites are available, with a beach, amid a park-like setting. As a bonus, Lake Auburn has a great largemouth bass population. (For this and other metro-area parks, check out www.threeriversparks.org.)
In southeast Minnesota, Whitewater, Forestville/Mystery Cave and Beaver Creek Valley are favorite state parks. Trout fishing can be great at each. This summer, I hope to camp at Winona-area Great River Bluffs State Park, a river-top gem that has 31 RV sites, five bike-in camping sites and two group camps.
And don’t forget these southwest and western Minnesota state parks: Blue Mounds (73 sites, including 40 electric; bring your own water — phone 507-283-1307 for details), Lac qui Parle and Big Stone. Other favorites elsewhere in the state: Father Hennepin on Mille Lacs, Jay Cooke just south of Duluth, any of the parks along the North Shore, and Bear Head Lake near Ely.
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Fishingwise, here’s my dream summer:
Muskies: June through mid-July — the lower St. Croix, Minnetonka, Waconia. Mid-July through Sept. 1 — Vermilion, Lake of the Woods. Mid-July through freeze-up — Lake of the Woods, the Lower and Upper St. Croix, Chippewa and Namekagon (Wisconsin) rivers.
Trout: South Branch of the Root in Fillmore County in early June, Wisconsin Brule (for the Hex hatch) in late June, any of the trout lakes along the Gunflint Trail for the Hex hatch in late June and early July, Lake of the Woods, Lac la Croix and Saganaga for lake trout.
Smallmouth bass: Mille Lacs all summer, beginning now; the Upper and Lower St. Croix; the Mississippi River along Crow Wing State Park south of Brainerd; the Mississippi River near Royalton; the Mississippi between Monticello and Elk River. Rainy Lake beginning later in June. Ditto Lake of the Woods.
Largemouth bass: Minnetonka, the Mississippi River above Brainerd, the Whitefish Chain, Gull, Leech (especially).
Walleyes: Lower St. Croix (now), Upper Red, Winnie, Leech, Mille Lacs, Whitefish, Lac la Croix, Saganaga, Basswood.
BWCA lakes: Poohbah, Wink, Darky, Basswood, Sarah, Crooked, Lac la Croix, Trout, McCree, Northern Light, Saganaga.
Northern pike: Mille Lacs, Upper Red, Lake of the Woods, Lac la Croix, Basswood, Saganaga.
Distant recommendations: Reindeer Lake, Saskatchewan, for trophy northerns and lake trout; just about anywhere on the English River system, Ontario, for northerns and especially walleyes; the Bitterroot, Missouri and Yellowstone rivers in Montana for trout; the Snake River below Jackson Hole, Wyo., for cutthroat trout; the Elk River in British Columbia for bigger (and more) cutthroats; the Upper Kenai River (Alaska) for rainbows; the Lower Kenai for sockeye salmon; Cold Bay, Alaska (various streams and rivers), for silver salmon.
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Fishing and camping ideas on this page represent a fraction of available options in Minnesota. So, take your pick. But remember: Summer is short.