A couple weekends ago, Andi and I had a hairbrained idea to take the kids camping. For reference, we've done this only once before when Tory was about 18 months old (spoiler alert: we didn't love our experience) but the timing seemed right to give camping another chance.
Back in 2013, we rented a camper van which proved to be a huge hassle. Remember, we're camping novices so the whole sewage dumping + cleaning and check-out seemed more work than it was worth. Now, we own an ice house trailer that easily doubles for a camper. It has heating and air-conditioning, a small kitchenette and enough beds to accommodate our family of four.
Andi selected a campground in Wisconsin about 1 1/2 hours away from our lake cabin. The four of us left the Twin Cities on Friday around Noon and drove to the lake, loaded the ice house with food and cooking supplies, then headed North to Amnicon Falls State Park. We didn't make a reservation and wondered for a minute if we'd be out of luck considering it was peak leaf peeping weekend in northwestern Wisconsin, but fortunately there were only a few people checked into the state park for the evening. The friendly campground hosts recommended a spot perfect for kids and our trailer, so we heeded their advice and set up camp just before sunset.
Our camping spot led directly to a picturesque wooded trail, so the kids and I set off to collect sticks for the campfire while Andi prepared dinner. He had recently purchased a Can Cooker to take on a boys' hunting trip, so we tested it out for the first time with a recipe for beef stew. Easy enough!
It was one of the first cool fall nights of the year with air temperatures quickly falling into the 40's, so we decided to eat dinner inside the ice house and warm up before s'mores over the campfire.
Sometime during the commotion of cleaning up dinner and picking up our campsite for the evening, Aden mistakenly locked himself inside the ice house. Alone. I laughed at first and looked for Andi to open the door with the key, but unfortunately the key was locked inside the ice house with Aden. EEK! Andi (who usually remains calm in most situations) began to freak out and pound on the windows, shouting for Aden to press the door handle open. Apparently, a selling feature of this particular ice house is its inability to be broken into -- meaning our two-year-old was locked inside by himself in the middle of the woods! Eventually, Aden opened the door with a smirk and thought the whole episode was the funniest thing ever. Andi, Tory and I ... did not. From that moment on, we knew the whereabouts of the ice house key at all times that weekend.
Once we were all settled into the ice house for the night, Andi turned on a movie and we all snuggled into our respective sleeping bags. It was cozy as cozy could be in our little shack in the woods.
That night wasn't the best sleep for any of us, but really -- had Andi and I expected anything else? Nope.
There are four beds in our ice ice house -- a double that folds out over the dining table, two twin top bunk beds and one lower bunk bed. In an ideal world, the kids would have each slept in twin-size beds and Andi and I would have shared the double fold-out ... but in reality, Tory was too scared to sleep on the top bunk and we were worried Aden would roll out of a twin-sized bed all together. So, Aden and I slept in the double bed together and Tory slept in the lower twin. That left Andi to sleep in one of the top bunks. Way to take one for the team, Dad!
The four of us might've slept alright had it not been for Tory rolling out of bed repeatedly. More than once, I heard a PLOP on the floor and a sleepy Tory whisper, "Mom, can you help me?" as she stumbled to untangle herself from her sleeping bag.
The next morning, the four of us were up before the sun. Andi made us a delicious breakfast of coffee, eggs, sauteed kale and maple sausage links before we set out to hike around Amnicon Falls State Park. Tory was disappointed in our lack of breakfast condiments, but hey - that's the camping life, we told her.
By 8:00am, we were fed, dressed and ready to explore. Andi, Tory and Aden plotted our course for hiking on the trail map and together we set out into the park. Brrr, was it ever chilly that morning! Luckily, I'd thrown in gloves and hats for the kids but I hadn't yet unpacked the rest of our winter gear. I tried to be brave and force away the shivers in the name of family fun, but man - I hate being cold!
Good thing our surroundings were a beautiful distraction!
It's hard to believe this magical place is only an hour or so away from our lake cabin. Wow!
Then again - it's not so hard to believe because our lake cabin is pretty magical, too.
I could've stayed all day and hiked around the state park, but the kids were growing tired. I developed a love for hiking during our recent trip to Alaska and someday, I hope we'll be able to do more of it as a family. Until then, I'll take it in bits and pieces as we can.
When the kids started to cry and complain their legs were growing tired, Andi and I decided to conclude our adventure, pack up camp and head back to the lake cabin. What a fun camping adventure we'd had! Now seeing the possibilities, I know we'll have many more "camping" weekends on the ice this winter as we take the ice house to various frozen lakes in the area.
As we left Amnicon Falls State Park, Andi and I realized we were only about 15 miles from Duluth, Minnesota. We decided to make a detour through there on our way back to the cabin; it'd been forever since we'd been there.
Pulling our large ice house through downtown Duluth was not easy feat, but Andi safely found a parking spot for our rig, and the four of us walked along the edge of Lake Superior.
Eventually, we made our way back to the car and on our way to the cabin. Our 24-hour adventure was the perfect thrill, concluded at our favorite home-away-from-home.