Fall is one of our favorite seasons to camp.
The colors are changing, nights and days are cooler and the bugs have all but disappeared. One of our favorite places to go in the fall is to Ely. We like to coordinate our camping trips with events happening in and around the campground we choose. In July, Ely hosts the Blueberry Festival that offers 260 vendors, 30 food trucks, music and the best homemade blueberry pie (other than Karl's!)you can find. In September, Ely hosts the Harvest Moon Festival which is a three-day festival of artisans, crafters, food and fun. This year, unfortunately, they were both canceled because of COVID. We had already made reservations at the Fall Lake Campground for the Harvest Moon festival and even though the festival was canceled we went anyway because Ely has so much to offer.
We have discovered some very nice federal campgrounds that are managed by the USDA Forest Service or the US Army Corp of Engineers. Fall Lake Campground in Ely is one of our favorites. The Fall Lake Campground is located on the shore of Fall Lake and is nestled among pine, aspen and fir trees that provide privacy for most of the campsites. Part of the campground lies within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). Many campsites are occupied by canoeists either going into the BWCA or just coming out of the BWCA. There are 64 campsites with electric hookups on most sites. There is also a nice swimming beach. The shower houses are very clean and have heated floors (a plus when you wake up to 30 degrees). There is also a nice 1.5-mile hiking trail with a viewing platform. Many of the federal sites we have visited do not have extensive hiking trails. However in Ely, there are many options to hike—Kawishiwi Falls is a 1.5-mile trail to a beautiful waterfall; other options include the Bass Lake, Angleworm, Secret/Blackstone trails. And there are many more opportunities in the area.
If you haven’t been to Ely, we highly recommend a trip up there any time of the year. It is a little over three hours Northeast from Bemidji. There is so much to do and the scenery and nature are unlike anything you can find in other places.
We have stayed at two Army Corp of Engineer campgrounds during our camping times. One very close to Bemidji is the Federal Dam Leech Lake Recreational Area. That is very clean, offers spacious sites and has access to Leech Lake for boating or fishing. It also has a very nice playground area with basketball courts, volleyball courts and horseshoe pits. There is a boat access to a large chain of lakes. Another good one is the Chippewa National Forest Campground Stony Point just south of Walker, MN on Leech Lake.
Another reason we like the federal campgrounds is the cost. They are generally less expensive than most State Parks. If you have the Senior National Pass (for those 62 and older), site prices start at $17.00 a night with electric hook ups. That is a bargain!
Fall is a great time to cook foods that are hot and comforting. Homemade soups and grilled sandwiches are a nice option for lunch. For dinner consider a steak, baked potato and corn on the cob all cooked on the campfire.
One of our oldest tried and true recipes is baked potatoes with onion and butter. You start by selecting a nice size russet potato. Then make 5-6 slices in the potato, going three-quarters of the way through the potato. Take a slice of onion and a pat of butter and place it into each slice in the potato. Wrap the potato in aluminum foil and bake right in the campfire—make sure to turn them often. The skin of the potato gets a nice char on the outside and the onion and butter add flavor throughout the potato. We use fresh sliced onion but some recipes suggest using onion soup mix. https://foodmeanderings.com/baked-potatoes-in-foil-onion/
On our Ely camping trip, we also marinated pork loins in a soy sauce, orange juice, thyme and dry mustard mixture. Karl cooked the pork right on a medium hot campfire for about 15 minutes turning every 3-4 minutes. A rice blend was a nice compliment to the pork.
When camping on cooler days a hot breakfast will warm you up. We cooked our favorite fried eggs, bacon and potatoes with whole wheat toast and Harmony’s fresh ground honey roasted peanut butter. Yum!! Oatmeal and fresh blueberries was also a nice warm and quick breakfast on those cool mornings Another great breakfast option in cooler weather is omelets in a bag—which we've discussed in a previous blog. We are currently working on a cooking apparatus to make it easier to cook the omelets in the boiling water without melting the cooking bag. Hopefully, we can write more about that in a future blog.
In the fall, apples are often in abundance—we picked State Fair variety apples off one of our trees. We updated a previous adaptation of a recipe and made apple pie crepes. We used some premade crepes with chocolate from Harmony and filled them with an apple pie mixture (see recipe at the end of the blog), wrapped them in aluminum foil, and warmed them over the campfire. A little Alden's Organic All About That Carmel Macchiato ice cream on top was a delicious end to a great day of enjoying all that Ely has to offer.
Since this was a 5-day camping trip, we took a day to travel around 20 miles south of Ely to visit the newest State Park in Minnesota—Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park. On Jun 8, 2010, the State of Minnesota acquired from US Steel 3000 acres of land which together with the existing Soudan Underground Mine formed this new park. It is still a work in progress but the campground is open and when everything is completed the park will be bigger than Itasca State Park. We talked with some campers there who loved everything about the campgrounds. In fact, they wanted to keep the park a secret so that they wouldn't have competition for the campsites! After we explored the campground, we ventured to an area where they built several camper cabins. Unlike the camper cabins at most state parks, these looked more like a tiny home. It appeared they had two levels—we could see a ladder to a loft area. The exteriors were modern and it appeared they were using some solar energy. The cabins are not yet available. We noticed an outdoor cooking area with stainless steel counters and a deck at each unit.
After driving around looking at potential camping and hiking spots, we stopped at the picnic area. Karl had brought along his two-burner Coleman cookstove. He grilled hams and cheese sandwiches for us using the nitrite-free ham and some specialty cheese from Harmony.
Karl lost the picture of the sandwiches, but they= sandwiches were great!! Fun too, so got set up to cook and had no way to light the stove – we had to bum a “light” for the gas burner : ) found a guy with an emergency kit in his pickup and it worked…..
For more information on federal campsites visit www.recreation.gov. You can search by state or area for campgrounds. There are campgrounds near Cass Lake and Walker that you can reserve through this site.
For State Park or Recreation area campgrounds go to www.dnr.state.mn.us.
APPLE PIE FILLING FOR CREPES
4-5 small local apples cubed (we used State Fair variety)
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. butter
Combine the ingredients in a sauce pan, pre heat ( add the apples last ) and simmer until the apples just begin to soften, cool this mixture and it is ready to be used to fill the crepes.