“You made it! The camp is just around the corner,” read the sign — and the whole family cheered.
One of Tettegouche Camp’s four historic log cabins was ours for the weekend, but the only way to reach it was on foot or mountain bike. So we hiked 1.7 miles up and down a steep gravel road into the heart of northern Minnesota’s Tettegouche State Park, lugging food and supplies.
My husband and I started out from the park’s western Lax Lake entrance with giant packs on our back and our two girls, 4 and nearly 2, in a double jogging stroller.
By the time we reached that encouraging sign, the packs were riding in the stroller as my husband pushed it up punishing, rolling hills and chased after it on the way down. I was carrying the fussy little one in a baby carrier, and the 4-year-old was the only one who still had any pep left in her step.
The wild thimbleberries we found growing along the side of the road helped considerably, as did the promise of a swim in Mic Mac Lake.
Arriving on foot to Tettegouche Camp feels like walking back in time to crash an old boys’ club. It was built more than 100 years ago as a private summer retreat for the members of the “Tettegouche Club,” a group of Duluth businessmen who were conservationists and avid fishermen.
The men bought a vast 1,000-acre tract of cutover land in 1910 — after it was cleared of Norway and white pines by the Alger Smith Logging Co. — and built a rustic log lodge a year later on Mic Mac Lake’s shore.
They hung a sign inside the pine and cedar lodge that read, according to the camp’s National Register of Historic Places file: “It is the endeavor of this Club to propagate game birds to spread over the whole community. For this reason, hunting is not allowed on the premises by employees, members or officers of the Club, or anyone else.”
The lovely lodge, which has a beautiful screen porch facing the lake, is now open to day visitors and is a popular picnic spot.
Most of the camp’s other buildings were built in the 1920s in the same rustic, log-cabin style after the Tettegouche Club disbanded and one of its members took over the property. The Nature Conservancy acquired it in 1977. Two years later, it was sold to the state of Minnesota, which incorporated it into Tettegouche State Park. The park now comprises 9,346 acres, extends along the shore of Lake Superior and encompasses six interior lakes.
Tettegouche Camp, which landed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, was restored in the 1990s. The park opened its four cabins for rent in 1994, making them walk-in-only from the beginning. During warm weather, geraniums fill the window boxes.
The cabins are available year-round for $105 to $150 a night, and come with use of a canoe, paddles and life jackets. Many guests spend hours fishing on Mic Mac Lake, just as the original members of the Tettegouche Club once did.
A special feel
We stayed in Cabin C, near the lodge. The girls quickly made themselves at home, climbing in and out of the bunk beds and running around, slamming the porch screen doors despite our best efforts to stop them.
Each cabin has electricity and a propane furnace that keeps the temperature from dropping below 50 degrees, but no running water or bathrooms. There’s a wood stove and firewood for guests to use.
Our little galley kitchen was stocked with dishes, utensils and cookware, with a tiny fridge and an electric two-burner stovetop. We ended up cooking most meals outside on the fire ring by our cabin, grilling Zupancich Brothers brats from Ely, Minn., and eating at the nearby picnic table.
Our oldest delighted in “helping” fill water jugs and tubs for scrubbing dishes at the hand pump near the lodge. The camp’s bathroom is the one building that isn’t rustic — with flush toilets, hot water and private shower rooms. Signs warn overnight guests not to do their dishes in the bathroom sinks.
Going without vehicles and indoor plumbing gives a stay at the camp a special feel. So does spending time on Mic Mac Lake, ringed completely by nature except for the camp. We went for a paddle in the canoe, looking at the huge, dramatic boulders along the green shoreline. The only sounds besides loon calls and the splash of the paddles came from our youngest, who had just learned the word “paddling” and sang it quietly over and over.
Many who stay at Tettegouche Camp hike up nearby Mount Baldy, heading out from the trailhead near Cabin D and getting some of the park’s broadest views.
We thought about it, but after taking one look at the trail map and spotting a “most difficult” diamond symbol marking the hike, we asked the rangers at Tettegouche’s visitor center for some more toddler-friendly suggestions. They directed us instead to take a hike that looped from Cabin D along the unique Floating Bog Bay.
Our trip took an exciting turn on our last morning when my husband, swatting a fly, sent his eyeglasses flying onto the dock near Cabin B. They bounced once, sank into Mic Mac Lake and were lost — despite many attempts to dive and find them on the rocky bottom.
His hike back out to our car was blurry, but no less hilly.
After we turned in our key at the visitor center, we took a short walk to where the Baptism River meets Lake Superior, creating two beaches. We got our toes wet in the chilly Big Lake, then dove into the river’s warmer waters to swim before saying goodbye (for now) to Tettegouche State Park.
Tettegouche State Park is 59 miles northeast of Duluth on Hwy. 61, near Silver Bay. Cabin renters must first stop at the visitor center to pick up a key.
Tettegouche Camp is reachable on foot only, either by the steep 1.7-mile gravel road that sets out from the parking lot on Lax Lake Road or by a flatter 3 ½-mile hike from the park’s main trailhead. During winter, the camp is also reachable on cross-country skis or snowshoes.
Staying at Tettegouche Camp
Tettegouche Camp’s four cabins can be reserved online (dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/tettegouche_camp/cabin_a.html). Cabin A and Cabin C ($130 per night, $105 offseason) are located near the camp’s lodge and have one bedroom and sleep six. Cabin B ($150 per night, $125 offseason), which is just 10 feet from Mic Mac Lake, also sleeps six but has two bedrooms and a screen porch looking out over the water. Cabin D ($120 per night, $105 in offseason) is smaller than the others and sleeps two.
The park also has a cart-in campground on the North Shore of Lake Superior, a drive-in campground by the Baptism River’s Two Step Falls, several backpack and watercraft campsites and the less rustic, drive-in Illgen Falls Cabin on its eastern edge.