A Mille Lacs-Crow Wing History and Camping Weekend

Back when we were in Texas, Anna asked if we wanted to go to Paul Bunyan Land in August. We picked a weekend that worked for both of us and decided to stay a night at Crow Wing State Park. We were supposed to meet her and her friend Lauren at Paul Bunyan Land on Saturday morning. We figured it would be easier if we were already up that way. 

So we drove up on Friday.

We left early in the afternoon and headed towards Mille Lacs. On the way just so happened to be a historic site that we could visit. The Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post, which also just happened to be across from a casino buffet. After lunch we headed over. Meadow and I read about foods found in the woods that can be used for food and medicine. 

She really dug the dioramas.

This showed how wild rice is harvested. I never really knew all the steps so it was interesting. 

We also learned about different costumes and traditional dances. This weekend also happened to be the Mille Lacs Band Pow Pow.

She had lots of questions about the pow wow clothing.


After we saw the entire museum we got a tour of the four seasons room. I guess I never really realized that the natives would move their camp every season.

We learned a bit about the natives living quarters at the fur trading post, but this was much more in depth. For three seasons they have variations on a wigwam. In winter they used a birch branch version of a tipi.

The museum was also on the grounds of one of the original resorts on Mille Lacs.

The historical society has preserved it to show what tourism was like a 100 years ago.


We originally thought we would disperse camp at the Rum River State Forest, but we decided we didn't really want to backtrack. I looked at the nearby Mille Lacs Kathio State Park and there was only one campsite still available. It was a backpacking site, but only a 1 1/3 mile hike, except the ranger said it was 1 2/3 so I'm not really sure.

It was a reasonable distance.

It wasn't 5 miles so duable. 

We hadn't really planned on doing any serious hiking this weekend so we didn't really have our bags packed right and I didn't bring Meadow's hiking boots. I luckily grabbed mine last minute.

We thought a storm was coming, so we got going. We really should've left half of our stuff behind.

Meadow carried in her own pack this time. It was maybe just her toys, but my little girl is growing up.

The storm missed us and Meadow walked the whole way like a champ, even while carrying her own backpack and water. She complained a few times going up hills and I had to carry her over the big puddles.

If we ever do a big hike we'll have to get a lighter tent. Sorry Slumberjack, your trail tent is not light enough for backpacking any real distance.

Our site happened to be called Sunset Meadow.

Meadow saw the tent pad and thought it was a giant sandbox.

Unfortunately the trees have grown up, so our view of the meadow was blocked. But we love the seclusion of backpack sites. If you can get your kid to hike, it's totally worth the solitude. And you can be as loud as you'd like.

We rested in our tent for awhile. We debated on walking back to our car to go to the pow wow, but walking all that way back in the dark didn't sound that exciting.

Meadow insisted that she get some game time in. It wasn't like I had good cell service anyhow.

Eventually she ditched the games and brought out all the toys she packed in her backpack.


I did some exploring.

Meanwhile I cooked some boxed mac and cheese.

We had forgotten milk or yogurt, but it wasn't half bad with just water.

Meadow hooked her stuffed animals on bungie cords and carried them back to the tent. Who knows why...

She's a kid!

As the sun set a fog rolled in over the meadow.

You could access it from a trail by the open air toilet.

The next morning we packed up after waking.

I joked about carrying the tent in front, but chickened out. Dispersing the weight would've been nice.

With all of the rain we've had, the mushrooms were epic at Mille Lacs Kathio.

After trudging through the woods we ate granola at the empty horse camp. Actually, I've never seen these camps used very well. Seems like these areas could be put to better use.

Then it was Paul Bunyan Land time. None of us checked the price on this place and had we known we may have changed our minds. $19.99 a person...

You can also just see the Paul who says your name for $8. He says each and every boy or girls name who walks in. Some guy must sit somewhere the whole day.

Meadow was terrified of the animontronic Paul.

Of course the carousel ride was first.

The admission included unlimited rides, but of course there were only like 3 adult rides.

We were joined by Anna's friend Lauren and her boy, Simon. He wanted to go on the rocket, so the three of us did.

Why are all rides way more intense than I remembered?

Oh, yeah. Right before we got on this we saw a woman had gotten her leg stuck between a ramp on the tilt-a-whirl. They got her leg out, but it made me super nervous about the mechanical state of these rides.

Next we all took a ride on the train.


Meadow then refused to ride any of the kids rides with her friends.

We think she was afraid of Simon. She gets shy around new people.

Back to the carousel I guess.

She did however, agree to ride the ferris wheel.

We all liked the ferris wheel the best. Even Brooke wasn't as scared as the first time we were here.

Suddenly she was ready for the kids rides.
Ah, nowhere is ever the same as Bay Beach.

The rides are kept up really well and the atmosphere is so friendly at Bay Beach.

Then we checked out the other half of the park. There were animals.

Besides random things like this nothing else was very Paul Bunyany.

The rest was random collections.

She didn't want to leave the toy horses.

The owner had created dozens of "buildings" that had era appropriate furnishings.


She happily went in this, but didn't like the actual airplane ride.


We were getting hangry and settled on the cafe pizza. While we were waiting for our food I got a text from Anna saying they were heading to the campsite. I guess we could have gotten something else in Brainerd.

We learned from a newspaper clipping that the amusement park was once back in Brainerd proper. The new owner already had the antique land and bought the amusement park. Then he moved everything down the road.

We decided to go on a few more rides before meeting up with them. I of course ended up being on a malfunctioning horse. After a couple of spins my horse started shaking like crazy. I thought it was the whole ride, but the operator stopped the ride and told me to go on another horse. 


Meadow insisted on getting a photo op before leaving. 

She used to hate these when she was little. It's funny how her personality has changed.

Like Oz somewhere there was a man behind the curtain talking for Paul. We thought it was just a recording at first, but he would actually have conversations with people.

While at Paul Bunyanland Meadow wouldn't talk to any of the kids. As soon as we arrived at the campground she ran right over to play with them.

She even wrestled with Simon.

Then the other mom's started putting the kids to bed.

Their kiddos get up and go to bed much earlier than Meadow. 

 We decided we would go back over to Mille Lacs to see the pow wow. Apparently you can camp anywhere there's space.

We might just have to do that next year.


We arrived just in time for the dancing to start. On the way here Meadow said, "I only want to see one dance and then go home." Of course once we got here she was so interested in the dresses and dancing. Having been to the museum the day before helped understand the outfits and dances.

We hadn't ate so we got some of the pow wow-style fair food.

The frybread hamburger seemed like a good idea, but it was too greasy for me to finish.

These were so good. Ha.


We stayed until the fireworks. During the fireworks the arena lights were turned off and EDM native music was blasted. All of the younger dancers took over the pow wow and danced as hard as they could. It was kind of awesome. Then we headed back to Crow Wing State Park.

By the time we woke up which was only nine, half the campground had already left.  My family always left the cottage after dinner. My mom never wanted to waste a weekend day driving home. I guess that's where I get it from.

While we made ourselves breakfast Anna, Lauren and the kids were already eating lunch.

Meanwhile our day was just starting.

After breakfast we took the kids for a hike.


Crow Wing State Park is right where the Crow Wing River meets the Mississippi. The MRT also runs by the park. One of my bucket list goals is to bike along the entire Mississippi. Maybe someday we will do a family adventure and just do the Minnesota portion.

Ah, come on, we can do the whole thing.

Along the way we saw some wicked mushrooms.

Simon is good at reading maps and knowing where we are.



We took a break to let the kids play in the river.

We wanted to check out Old Crow Wing and get back to the tent. We had one more place to go on our weekend trip.

Crow Wing State Park was home to an old settlement town. The town was abandoned when the railroad went through Brainerd instead. The park had recreated the original boardwalk and signs pointed out buildings that are now depressions.

There is still this old house.

It makes me want to go back to the Fayette Historic Township in Upper Michigan again.

After our walk we packed up our things, said goodbye to our friends and headed down to Little Falls. I was starting to feel a cold coming on and soup was the only thing that sounded good for my sore throat. We picked up some cans of soup in town and had a picnic at Charles Lindbergh State Park.

Brooke had fancy chicken and wild rice soup. Meadow had Frozen Chicken Noodle Soup. 

It wasn't actually frozen, but the noodles were Frozen characters.

I opted for SpaghettiOs. Once and while you have to go for your cravings.

The picnic area was once a part of the Lindbergh family's farm. When the family donated the land to
the state parks the WPA built this cool water tower for the bathrooms and bubblers.

Across the street was the Charles Lindbergh boyhood home. Outside the museum was a blow up History Hound. Meadow was excited to see it and even posed by him.

We learned a bunch about Lindbergh before our tour started.

The only thing I really knew about him was he flew over the Atlantic and had his baby kidnapped.

We then got a tour of the home. Apparently their first home here was a 3 story mansion with live in servants. A fire burned the home after only 4 years.

A bungalow was built in its place as a summer home. Charles dad was in the US Congress.

His parents had actually separated. While his dad lived in town him and his mom lived in this house. With it being just the two of them, the upstairs was never finished.


Looks like Charles forgot to do dishes.



The screen porch over looking the river became Charles' bedroom. He even slept in here in the winter.

And that ends another fun weekend for the books.

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