The temperature on Saturday was 92 degrees with 90 percent humidity. There were heat advisories. And we were going camping with a two and four-year-old. Camping. With a two and four-year-old. In 92-degree heat.
Yes, I know, we’re crazy. And even more crazy—it was really fun.
My brother, who lives in Montrose, was the one who told us about Baker Park Reserve on Lake Independence in Maple Plain, a short drive from his house. I couldn’t believe I had never heard of a 2,700-acre park so close to the Twin Cities. It never ceases to amaze me that I have lived in this state for so long and am continuously learning about new places to explore.
Apparently a lot of others had heard about it, though. When we called in June to make reservations for the weekend of July 13-15, we snagged the last site out of 205 campsites.
After camping there, I can see why so many people are fans. There’s a large sandy swimming beach, golf course, fishing pier, boat launch, “creative play area” (aka giant playground complete with slides, tunnels, a tire swing, and two ziplines), more than 8 miles of paved trails for biking or hiking—with 6.2 of those miles accessible from the campground, and kayak, canoe, paddleboat, and rowboat rentals available at the rental building, near the southern swimming beach. (You can also rent bikes, volleyballs, and horseshoes.)
I also liked the fact that there were showers, a little station for washing your dishes, and flush toilets. (I love camping, and I’m all for roughing it, but I don’t want to rough it with two little kids in tow.)
The campground was very clean—you can tell park staff take great pride in keeping this park pristine—and I was impressed with how the Three Rivers Park District provided each site with a large blue plastic bag in order to simplify the recycling process. I also noticed a number of recycling bins throughout the campground. (We later learned that waste reduction at the campground is down 25 percent since Three Rivers implemented this recycling program.)
The highlight for our family—other than the playground ziplines, games of tag, and campfire s’mores—was the naturalist program at 7 p.m. Saturday at the amphitheater. Quite a few families gathered on the benches to listen to Three Rivers Park naturalist Bree talk about the Ojibwe (Chippewa) and Dakota (Sioux) Indians. She showed us how to create smoke and fire with a bow, rope, and wood, and demonstrated some of the games the Ojibwe and Dakota children played in the 1800s—including a game called sticks and rocks. Once she was done explaining the games, we had a chance to play them.
My four-year-old Adam liked sticks and rocks so much he played it with both my parents once we returned to our campsite. (It’s a very simple concept: Each player has three sticks and sets them on the ground in front of their feet. The player across from them throws a rock in an attempt to hit one of the sticks. If a stick is hit, the other player seizes it.)
Even with the sticky heat, both boys were reluctant to leave on Sunday. I was secretly glad. This was their first camping experience and I want them to love camping more than they love playing computer games or video games or watching TV. I want them to look forward to camping trips as much as I did when I was a kid.
I can only hope these early camping trips will instill in them an appreciation of the great outdoors, quality family time, and the simple joys of life—like a perfectly roasted marshmallow … or a hard-fought game of sticks and rocks.
The park is open April to October. Families can camp in the campground (half the sites are equipped with electrical hookup) or in a log cabin. Pets are allowed within the campground. A site with electrical hookup is $22-$25/night; a non-electric site is $17/night. There is a non-refundable reservation fee of $7.50.
Special events this fall include the Festival of Lights on Saturday, Sept. 29, when campers will decorate their campsites with lights and luminaries; and Baker Boo on Saturday, Oct. 20, with Halloween-themed activities throughout the day, a costume parade, and ghoulishly decorated sites. For more information, visit threeriversparkdistrict.org or call 763-694-7662.
Side note: If you have time, explore the cute town of Maple Plain. I recommend eating at McGarry’s Pub before checking out Web of Charlotte, a charming little antique shop across the street.