Temps are starting to drop in the Midwest, but it's not too late for a quick camping trip to enjoy the crisp fall air around a warm campfire. And if you live in the Twin Cities metro, you don't have to travel far for the experience. Willow River State Park is a mere hop, skip and a jump away that feels like it's much farther.
Here are a few tips and tricks for those of you who plan to squeeze in a visit.
Book a Campsite in the 300s
We booked last minute and ended up with a more sparse location that had a lot of other people playing saxophones and chanting "TEQUILA!" No joke. It was not exactly the serene setting we were hoping for. Later, a long walk lead us to discover the truly enviable sites, the 300s. If no 300 spots are open, don't worry. Stay a night in the 100s (or wherever you land) and check with the office the next morning for reservation no-shows. You'll likely be able to switch to a quieter spot and have the camping experience you were looking for.
Skip the Beach Beach
I am aware that it is technically fall, but in case you have a warm sunny day at Willow River, go swimming! By that I do not mean go to the designated Beach Area. It's nice and all, but why choose hamburger when you could have steak? (Yes, I realize I am vegetarian paraphrasing a meat reference, but I love Paul Newman.) Go swim in the gorgeous falls. This is your shot to know what it's like to live an Evian ad, so don't miss it.
Eat Food You Enjoy
Or rather, if you're not a beef jerky gal, don't try to be a beef jerky gal. (There I go again with those meat references.) You'll be low energy after all of the hiking and swimming, so you might as well have a meal to look forward to. We made tomato-arugula pizzas because we had a cooler along for the cheese, but we should have wrapped them in tin foil prior to cooking. They looked great, but they tasted more like tomato-arugual-smoke pizzas. YUM.
Bottom line: Think of the simplest things you enjoy eating, and try the campfire version. We absolutely loved how our roasted corn on the cob turned out.
Wait Out the Weather in Hudson
Bad weather on the way? Fortunately, you have Hudson for refuge. Downtown Hudson is quaint, charming and has a breezy walking path along the river. There are a couple of restaurants with menus meant to please all, a coffee shop with employees that call you "Sweetheart," until they know your name and a delightful Antique Mall that Martha Stewart recently stopped at. How do I know this? I overheard the shopgal say,"When Martha Stewart asks me for a discount. She GETS one." Spending a little time downtown is also a great way to appease your less than enthusiastic campers. It's a win for all.
And if camping really isn't your thing, this makes for a lovely day trip, too.