Illustration by Amelia LeBarron

A day in the sun

What it means to experience a Minnesota summer is this: It’s myriad events, trips, sublime vistas and homespun, simple moments, and almost certainly involves our great outdoors. From the joys of exposing children to fishing to finding new places to pitch a tent or paddle, to rolling by bike to a new local brewery or nailing down your cycling know-how for an epic trip, we’ve tried to capture some of that vibe. It’s The Big List: Summer Issue with ideas for the season.

The Big List:  Camping  |  Summer  |  Hunting  |  Final List

The State Water Trail on the Crow Wing River is among a dozen celebrating a 50th anniversary this year.
Minnesota DNR
Water sports

Take a state water trail

Minnesota adds a new route for paddlers this year with the 20-mile Shell Rock River State Water Trail, flowing from Freeborn County’s Fountain Lake, through Albert Lea, Myre-Big Island State Park, the city of Glenville and on to the Iowa border.

Shell Rock River brings the number of Minnesota’s Water Trails to 35. The water trail system — now collectively covering 4,500 miles — ranks as the oldest and largest in the country. Services along the routes include public accesses, rest areas and campsites for paddlers.

The DNR lists outfitters online, posts water conditions and offers “I Can Paddle!” classes that start in mid-June at locations throughout the state. “I Can!” guides help participants explore eight different rivers by kayak or canoe. Kayakers must be at least 12, while canoers can be 8 or older. These instructional trips typically run from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. They cost $35 per canoe (which can hold three members of one family), or $20 per child and $30 per adult per kayak.


Tandem cyclists Kate Bicek and her son James, 5, ride through East Lake Street.
Timothy Nwachukwu, Special to the Star Tribune

Open Streets to all

Open Streets Minneapolis, public events that shut down streets for several hours to vehicles to bring out people on foot and by wheels to come together as neighbors, has another busy summer in store.

Our Streets Minneapolis, formerly known as the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, organizes the events, with the support of the city among others. Seven Open Streets are planned through mid-September. The first gathering was on Lyndale Avenue S. on June 4. Lyndale was the site of the inaugural Open Streets in 2011. That one drew 5,000 people; last year, Lyndale swarmed with 23,000 people. Owing to its popularity, this year’s gathering extended several blocks to West 54th Street.

The next Open Streets is in downtown Sunday.

More important than people coming out, there are a lot of relationships that have been built among community organizations that come together to put on the events, said Alex Tsatsoulis, Our Streets communications and development director. “We provide the template, and they create their own experience and showcase their own neighborhood in unique ways.”

Tsatsoulis said the Franklin Avenue event (Aug. 27) is a great example of that synergy between neighborhood and business groups and local residents. “They have really owned that event,” he said.

Here is the rest of the lineup: Lake and Minnehaha, July 23; Northeast, Aug. 6; Franklin, Aug. 27; West Broadway, Sept. 9; and Nicollet, Sept. 24.


The action doesn't stop with spring
Provided photo

The action doesn't stop with spring

For many Minnesota birders, the excitement of so many species reappearing in the spring is followed by a bit of a letdown in the summer. But Adam Roesch, who lives and birds avidly near the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park, has no problem keeping busy this time of year. Here’s what he looks for in summer:

“On the river, I seek out spotted sandpipers and Caspian terns. I look for prothonotary warblers and blue-gray gnatcatchers, which breed below the dam. I also like to watch for which species are feeding baby cowbirds [usually cardinals and song sparrows].”

“Dickcissels came through in big numbers last June. While looking for them in northwestern Brooklyn Park, I found a lark sparrow singing by the Target headquarters. There are sometimes eastern meadowlarks and horned larks out that way.”


Best. Camping. Breakfast. Ever
Jeff Moravec

Best. Camping. Breakfast. Ever.

Oatmeal may be the go-to breakfast for campers who like simplicity. But c’mon … when was the last time your kids asked for more oatmeal? So indulge them. For example, my kids love McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches, so I learned to replicate the greasy experience right at the campsite — with the most popular choice being bacon, egg and cheese on a bagel, with a side of hash browns. It takes a little more time to prepare than oatmeal, and it might not be as nutritious, but if your goal is happy campers, it’s well worth the effort.


Tourist bonfire at dusk in the forest framed by stones
Provided photo

Scoring a site regardless

It’s tough to score a campsite at the last minute in most Minnesota state parks for a summer weekend, but it’s easier than it used to be to get lucky. Since 2016, the parks no longer hold back a portion of their sites for walk-up traffic, and they also now allow same-day reservations. You can see what’s available and book at If you can’t find a spot in a state park, there are about 40 state forest campgrounds in Minnesota. These campgrounds don’t take reservations, renting on a first-come first-served basis, but many of them do not fill up, even in the summer. Private campgrounds are also an option. Each state park’s home page has a “places to stay” tab that shows private campgrounds nearby.


Lake Vermilion
Scott Pengelly

Vermilion park looks inviting

The wait is almost over. Minnesota state park fans who’ve eagerly awaited the addition of a campground at Lake Vermilion may have their first chance to spend the night — or more — toward the end of the summer. Crews are finishing up a 33-site campground and three group campsites. The Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park campground sits on a ridge overlooking the lake, which is known for its walleye and among the top 10 largest lakes in the state with 39,271 acres and 341 miles of shoreline. The park has 10 miles of that shoreline, two public access sites for boaters, two hiking loops and the Armstrong Bay day-use area where visitors can fish from the pier and get on the water to access a few boat-in campsites. Lake Vermilion includes 365 islands, some of which are part of the Superior National Forest.


Catch that walleye
Provided photo

Catch that walleye

With apologies to hockey, Minnesota really is the “State of Walleyes.” Minnesotans love their walleyes, and the tasty-but-elusive fish also draw anglers from well-beyond the state’s borders. Catching them isn’t always a simple matter, but anglers can increase their odds by using the right lures and baits in the right areas. There is nothing better than the classic Lindy rig, which includes, in order, a sinker (just heavy enough to stay on the bottom), a swivel, a 3- to 5-foot length of line called a leader, and a No. 6 hook baited with a leech, minnow or night-crawler. Second best is a jig — again, just heavy enough to stay in contact with the bottom, tipped with a piece of live bait. If possible, wait for an overcast or windy day, then troll a rig or jig slowly along a weed line or drop-off. Use your fishing rod to impart a little action, especially if you’re fishing with a jig. If you catch a walleye, mark the location. They’re schooling fish, so where there’s one, there’s usually more.


Paddlemania, St. Louis River, for Outdoors Weekend
Ryan Zimny

Swift water on the St. Louis

You may not be ready to grab a paddle and take on the swift water of the St. Louis River Up North, but how about watching others do it?

You may not be ready to grab a paddle and take on the swift water of the St. Louis River Up North, but how about watching others do it? Paddlemania, St. Louis River Rendezvous might be your speed, happening July 29-30 in the Carlton area. The annual gathering brings together white-water paddlers from around the state and nation. Blast to the Bridge is a kayak race along the lower St. Louis and dangerous rapids that can reach upward of Class IV. The race finishes at the Swinging Bridge in Jay Cooke State Park. “[The race] is like an extended white-water family as everyone is coming together to enjoy the dam releases on the lower St. Louis River,” said Cliff Langley in an e-mail. Langley is professional guide who runs Swiftwater Adventures in Esko, Minn.


Megan Smith and her yellow Lab, Macy, enjoy a spectacular sunset on a BWCA.
Star Tribune file

Expo highlights Up North

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness gets undivided attention at its namesake expo June 17-18 at the Seagull Lake public landing on the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota. In its third year, the expo comes at the BWCA from a variety of perspectives. There are presenters, such as Year in the Wilderness adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman. There will be opportunities to try different canoes. And there will be outfitters and guides ready to dispense knowledge on traveling in the wilderness, whether you’re a hard-core veteran or a first-timer.


Dean Ototo a third grader at School of Engineering Arts got help from Suzanne Thomson removing a sunfish from a hook at Wolfe Lake.
Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

Take a kid, wet a line

If a lack of a license has been an impediment to get a fishing with a kid, here’s your chance: Take-A-Kid Fishing Weekend, which runs Friday through Sunday. People 16 years or older (who normally need a license) only can fish without one provided they’re with someone 15 or younger. The weekend is part of the DNR’s effort to recruit new anglers. But it’s far from the only opportunity for newbies. The agency throughout the summer holds a wide variety of fishing events — Intro to Trout Fishing events at Whitewater State Park, Kids’ Fishing Frenzy Fridays at Lake Carlos State Park, and Fishing 101 at Father Hennepin State Park, among others — aimed at youth and families. Find more details at



Where fishing meets tech

Anglers never before have had such easy access to information for nearly any body of water. A particularly handy tool is the DNR’s LakeFinder, which is deep in details about individual lakes, from maps and access sites to stocking levels and results of fish population surveys. There also are a number of smartphone apps. Navionics Boating offers super-detailed maps of lakes across the state and beyond; GoFree HOOKED for Android makes it easy for anglers to log their fishing trips and share information; and Fishidy includes interactive maps, as well as local fishing reports and tips. To find one of the apps listed here, search by name in the app store.


Kekekabic Trail.
Matthew Davis

Take on Minnesota's toughest

So you’re a hiker who has knocked off the Superior Hiking Trail and you’re looking for something a bit more challenging. Here are three trails considered among the toughest in the state. Perhaps not coincidentally, all are at least partly in the BWCA.

Kekekabic Trail. This 40-plus-mile trail, which starts east of Ely before heading into the boundaries, is considered by many hikers to be the toughest and most-remote in Minnesota. The trail is difficult to start with, and can be hard to follow. Blown-down trees, and the difficulty in removing them, sometimes can make it impassable.

Powwow Trail. The 27-mile Powwow rivals the Kek in terms of remoteness and difficulty. And that was before a 2011 fire (which also impacted the Kek) made it virtually impossible to navigate. A decision last year by the U.S. Forest Service to stop trying to keep the trail clear means it won’t get easier any time soon.

Border Route Trail. The 65-mile Border Route Trail crosses the BWCA in the far northeast corner of Minnesota and follows the border between Minnesota and Ontario, Canada. The trail was planned and built in the 1970s by the Minnesota Rovers outdoors club. It’s another rugged, remote trail that also is subject to clearing difficulties.


Zebra mussels continue to spread to Minnesota lakes. This clam encrusted with zebra mussels was found on the bottom of Lake Mille Lacs.

Help the invasives fight

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s enforcement division earlier this year added two more zebra mussel-detecting dogs, bringing to four the number of K-9s in the state trained to locate zebra mussels on boats, trailers and water-related equipment. They join a host of other people, including conservation officers and watercraft inspectors, charged with trying to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species such as Eurasian watermilfoil, starry stonewort and zebra mussels. At the end of the day, though, it’s up to boaters, anglers and everyone else who recreates on the water to do their part to prevent new infestations. The process isn’t especially complex, said the DNR. Boaters should clean their boats and trailers; drain all water-related equipment, including live wells, and remove the drain plug before transporting a boat; and dispose of unused bait in the trash. Minnesota’s invasive species laws are online at


Alex Hohertz waits his turn during the 2009 Minneapolis State High School Trap Shooting Championship.
Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune Special to the Star

Hunters, stay sharp for fall

Many people look forward to summer all year, but it’s a bit of a downtime for hunters, given their seasons don’t begin until around Labor Day or later. No hunter wants to be rusty when hunting season rolls around. One of the easiest ways to maintain shooting form is to spend some time at one of the state’s shooting ranges (a comprehensive list is at, shooting skeet or trap, or firing away at targets. Later in the summer, game farms open their doors to people who want to target pheasants in a relatively controlled setting. In addition to helping hunters work off the rust, game farms are good for getting hunting dogs back into field shape.


Mountain bike riding at Elm Creek Park Reserve, for Outdoors Weekend.
Derek J. Dickinson, Three Rivers
Mountain biking

Opportunities to roll and roll

You don’t need us to tell you Minnesota is a state that cycles. When it comes to rolling the chunky, mountain bike variety, there are plenty of competitive and more laid-back opportunities:

• Among other places, there are weeknight races at Afton Alps and Buck Hill (in Burnsville).

• There also are programs to get newbies rolling confidently. Three Rivers Parks has introductory sessions July 25 at Elm Creek Park Reserve. The DNR also has I Can Mountain Bike! on Aug. 12 on the popular trails at Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.

• Get the full glory of the Minnesota mountain bike racing scene — the kits, the bikes, the music, the beer — without, well, riding. Lutsen Mountains is the epicenter for the Lutsen 99er, a rugged and popular race. Even better, it’s on the North Shore. The Lutsen 99er is in its seventh year, and more than 1,800 riders will roll in the main race and the sister races (69, 39 and 16 miles). The races are full, but there will be cycling vendors, live music and more June 23, before cyclists roll into the wilderness June 24. Then, of course, there is the after-party. “The race isn’t exclusive to racers. Just be part of that energy that we’re trying to create,” said race director Peter Spencer. More details on the races and volunteer opportunities at Registration for 2018 opens in the fall.

Blogger Chris Chavie has must-reading on the Minnesota cycling scene at Find a comprehensive list of races and events, too.


Social Media

Beauty through Instagram

Summer in Minnesota is synonymous with water, but you’re missing out if you don’t explore the state’s forests, prairies and other unique landscapes, too. It would be great to spend the next few months tooling around and checking everything out, but limitless wandering probably isn’t in the cards. Luckily, there is social media. And while each channel has its strengths, don’t miss Instagram if cool photography is your thing. For a little summertime inspiration, or just a way to pass time appreciating everything that makes Minnesota the state it is, take a look at these five Minnesota-based accounts: @exploreminnesota, @bryanhansel, @captureminnesota, @northcountryco and @minnesotaphotographers.


Paddleboards' popularity surges on
Paddle North
Water sports

Paddleboards' popularity surges on

Standup paddleboarding , aka SUP, was the sport of the moment several summers ago for a variety of reasons. Some of them: (A) It’s fun to be on the water; (B) a paddle and a board keep things simple; and (C) paddling upright adds a fitness component. Judging from the competitive races and requirements on the World Paddling Association website (yes, there are elite pro SUPers), the young sport hasn’t hit the ceiling. From a consumer standpoint, inflatables continue to sell well, and their makers continue to refine boards that are lighter but are more stable, like their harder brethren. Some makers, too, are looking for ways to add fishing gear and mount photography gear.

“It’s definitely been interesting to see it evolve,” said Peter Mogck, whose Minnesota company Paddle North (co-owned with Matt Frakes) is known for its signature boards wrapped in sturdy but lightweight bamboo. “It is a young sport, but it not just young people doing it. It’s a pretty broad range that is getting out on boards.”

Consumers also want to do the sport together. It is not as solo as it appears. Paddle North has come up with the Paul Bunyan, a 12-foot, 35-inch wide behemoth that can support 400 pounds for tandem rides.

Paddle North began business in 2014. It sold five times the boards in 2016 compared with 2015. And this year’s sales already have exceeded 2016. Mogck said part of the company’s sales growth has been in inflatable boards (it has the Portager that it calls the “utility truck of paddleboards”). Still, the best seller is the Loon XL, Mogck said, a do-it-all 11.6-foot board that can handle most any size (up to 250 pounds) but light enough for a young person to carry to the water.



Carry the correct lens

It’s easy to see how outdoor photographers get those great wildlife pictures — that huge lens hanging off the end of the camera is a sure giveaway. But in the summer, when brightly colored flowers beg to be photographed, the key to a getting a good shot is a little less obvious. You need a macro lens to get those photos, and while it may look like many other kinds of lenses on the outside, a macro lens is significantly different.

Many lenses are advertised as macro because they are designed to focus at a very short distance, but a true macro lens will be labeled with a ratio — look for a 1:2 ratio (shooting objects half real-life size) or, better yet, a 1:1 ratio (life-size). A 1:1 ratio will allow you to capture fine detail in those flowers and produce stunning prints.


Mankato Brewery Farmhouse Ale.
Courtney Perry, Special to the Star Tribune

Bikes – with suds

Some people pedal purely for passion. Others need incentive. Like beer. Here are just a few of Minnesota’s many choices for bike trails with easy side treks to local breweries. It’s a cool, frothy way to chill out after a hot summer ride:

• Take the 5.9-mile Brown’s Creek State Trail into downtown Stillwater where two breweries (Joseph Wolf and Maple Island) and views of the St. Croix River await. Joseph Wolf and Maple Island Brewing sit within a block of each other on Water and Commercial streets.

• Rent a bike near Bemidji’s visitor center and take a 17-mile loop around Lake Bemidji with a short detour to downtown’s Bemidji Brewing. Brews range from traditional to sour ales

• Take a 14-mile ride on the Lake Wobegon Trail between Avon, Minn., and St. Joseph with a detour into St. Joseph for some suds at Bad Habit Brewing.

• In Mankato, Kiwanis Mountain Bike Trail and Skills Park sits just more than two miles from Mankato Brewery on Center Street (reachable via Rex MacBeth River Trail and city streets). Other biking loops, from easy and paved to gravel distance routes winding by the Kasota Prairie, can be substituted.

Duluth Experience Tour offers a guided bike ride that covers 28 miles from the city’s Canal Park Brewing to Two Harbors with Castle Danger Brewery.


ONE TIME USE. Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, sandhill crane, for Outdoors Weekend
Jeff Moravec

Drive through the wild

The Prairie’s Edge Wildlife Drive, part of the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Zimmerman, Minn., is a pristine slice of nature less than an hour northwest of downtown Minneapolis that deserves a spot on any nature lover’s list of summer destinations. The seven-mile vehicle tour is a microcosm of the 30,000 acres of wetlands, prairies and oak savanna found in the refuge, home to more than 230 species of birds, as well as such mammals as river otters, beaver, whitetail deer, black bears and coyotes. You’ll see beautiful wildflowers along the drive, and can spot bald eagles, trumpeter swans and sandhill cranes. “My favorite way to experience the refuge is to drive in with my windows open, find a spot to pull over, and just watch and listen,” said Jill Beim, a longtime volunteer at the refuge. “As the sun sets, the deer come out to graze, the sandhill cranes fly over, the coyotes howl and the soras whinny. In that moment, all is right with the world.”


The Perseid meteor shower
Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

Amazing sights in the night

This summer’s solar eclipse Aug. 21 is stirring up excitement, but just about any clear sky offers a nightly show if you appreciate the stars and planets. “Saturn is going to be at its best, particularly this summer,” said George Moromisato, author of the new guidebook, “101 Amazing Sights of the Night Sky” (Adventure Publications). Showing up as a bright yellowish star by mid-June, it should be visible to all, but a pair of binoculars or a telescope will reveal its rings. For fans of moonlit hikes and paddles, full moons will be July 9, Aug. 7, and Sept. 6. (See Three Rivers Parks District for paddle programs.) The summer’s darkest skies will be June 24, July 23, Aug. 21 and Sept. 20, making those dates the best for stargazing and seeing the Milky Way stretch like a river of light through Cynus, a cluster of four stars named for a swan. Another good reason to pull over on a dark country road or find a spot on a remote dock: watching for the Perseids meteor shower, which will peak the night of Aug. 12. “Just lie back, look at the sky and wait,” Moromisato said.

Book illustration for Outdoors Weekend
Lisa Meyers McClintick

Several good reads for the cabin

If you’re craving fresh knowledge of the outdoors, stories about nature or inspiration for the summer menu, look for these books from regional authors and publishers:

“The Campfire Foodie Cookbook” by Julie Rutland (Adventure Publications) offers tips for making fires, packing a cooler and using a Dutch oven, and breaks a variety of recipes into at-home prep and campsite cooking. Some recipes, such as sweet-and-spicy beef jerky and granola, can be made head and packed up for backpacking, but most recipes, such as skillet flatbread, espresso-cocoa flank steak, campfire meatloaf, creamy corn-bacon dip, require a cooler for fresh ingredients.

“Lake Fish: Modern Cooking with Freshwater Fish” by Keane Amdahl (Minnesota Historical Society Press) inspires anglers to go beyond the usual pan-fried fresh catch and shore lunch and branch into global flavors. Examples include bass spring rolls, crispy bass and basil stir fry, catfish and bacon Benedict, and crappie Rachel sandwiches.

“Thousand-Miler: Adventures Hiking the Ice Age Trail” by Melanie Radzicki McManus weaves together practical advice, hiker profiles and cultural tales the author collected while setting a record for completing the more than 1,000-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail across Wisconsin in 36 days. The most touching chapter features veterans and the emotional need to “walk off the war” before transitioning back into home life (Wisconsin Historical Society Press).

“Creekfinding,” an illustrated children’s book by Jacqueline Briggs Martin uses Claudia McGehee’s woodcut art to tell a true story of a creek reclaimed from drained farmland near Decorah, Iowa (University of Minnesota Press). “The Big Marsh: The Story of a Lost Landscape,” by Cheri Register, hits a similar topic, but is a nonfiction book that recalls an 18,000-acre wetland that once teamed with life between Albert Lea and Austin in southern Minnesota’s Freeborn County until it was drained for farming (Minnesota Historical Society Press).

“Border Country: The Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene” (University of Minnesota Press) gives wilderness fans an intimate glimpse into life along the St. Croix, Wisconsin, Presque Isle and Chippewa lakes and rivers through first-person stories and photographs from 1906-1916.

“Our Love of Moose” and “Our Love of Hummingbirds” (Adventure Publications) package photos and stories from Minnesota naturalist and photographer Stan Tekiela in a compact hardcover just right for cabin coffee tables or sunporch reading.

“Minnesota Book of Skills” by the DNR’s Chris Niskanen serves a potluck of handy things to know: backing up a trailer at a boat launch, harvesting wild rice, layering outerwear for warmth, carving a duck decoy, maple syruping and chain-saw safety (Minnesota Historical Society Press).

“Sadie Braves the Wilderness,” a children’s book by Yvonne Pearson and illustrator Karen Ritz follows a family on a trip inspired by the BWCA, while “Storm’s Coming” by Margi Preus and illustrator David Geister follows Sophie, a girl who pays attention to nature’s cues to warn her family a storm is coming and helps prepare Split Rock Lighthouse (both books from Minnesota Historical Society Press).

“Backyard Bugs: An Identification Guide to Common Insects, Spiders, and More” from Jaret C. Daniels offers curious observers photos and information on creatures found on flowers, the ground and leaves. Covered are everything from sow bugs, stink bugs, swallowtail butterflies and hummingbird moths to wolf spiders and walking sticks (Adventures Publications).


Know before you roll long

Know before you roll long

In retirement, Richard and Molly Hoeg of Duluth finally found the time to take long bicycle trips. Not everyone will be drawn to the lengthy tours the Hoegs occasionally do — they’ve had expeditions of 3,000 miles more than two months — but if you’re considering graduating from rides around town to something that involves multiple days on the road, here are some things the Hoegs have learned:

• Avoid the tendency to carry too much. Determine what you think you need and then find a way to eliminate a quarter of it. You’ll be happy you did.

• Consider getting a touring bike. “A lighter road bike can break down more over the course of a long-distance tour,” Richard Hoeg said. “Light is good, but strong is better.”

• Check out Warm Showers, a hospitality exchange for touring cyclists. The Hoegs have used it for lodging and often find their hosts can offer good route recommendations.