Summer weekends are something to be seized and taken advantage of – especially in places like Minnesota, where the summer is always too short. For an early August weekend, some friends and I packed up the car and drove an hour and a half south to Albert Lea. Here we’d be camping for a few nights at the Myre Big Island State Park – an expanse of
Three Oaks Winery
This was our first stop before setting up camp for the night! We don’t have an winery and vineyard culture in Minnesota, so when you find a winery near your campgrounds – stopping is a must! Three Oaks Winery in Albert Lea is super cute with both indoor and outdoor seating and an impressive selection of wines to choose from. A lot of their grape varietals were developed at the University of Minnesota, and are different from grapes of more famous wine regions due to their ability to resist cold and grow in a shorter season. I tried a 6-pour tasting menu, and the pours were very generous, and at $8, I’d say it was a steal!
Myre Big Island State Park Campgrounds
This place was great for car camping. With nearby hiking trails and a fully-equipped bathroom and showers, it was perfect for a quick getaway weekend. Before our adventure, I wanted to get a new tent so we could all be in one together. I also want to start building up my personal assortment of camping gear for future trips. I bought this Coleman 7-person tent from Target. It definitely slept the 5 of us comfortably, but I think 7 people would be a bit cramped. Plus, it was easy to set up, AND it’s my favorite color!
Canoe Rentals on Albert Lea Lake
So… Albert Lea Lake is not the prettiest lake in Minnesota. It is shallow all the way across and very, very murky. According to water testing, it is clean and free of biological contamination that plagues other Minnesota lakes (read – E.Coli 4th of July fiasco on Lake Minnetonka). That being said, swimming was not on the itinerary, but our canoe adventures of paddling around for an hour was relaxing. I am glad we didn’t tip over though. It’s a cheap way to soak up the sun and get in an upper-body workout – if you’re the one paddling. I wasn’t, I sat and enjoyed the hard work of my friends.
On Saturday after breakfast, we went hiking on various trails around Big Myre State Park. It was a beautiful hike with trails branching off in different directions. There are maps along the way so you can check in with your location, but be warned – very few bathrooms/drop toilets on the trail! I almost had to deal with a messy emergency, but fortunately, we found an outhouse just in time. I won’t go beyond that with this blurb of TMI, but I’d highly recommend taking care of that business before you set off for the day.
We also had to be on the lookout for where we stepped – there were tons of frogs on the trail. It made me super happy to see them hopping around, as frogs have been a threatened animal in the ecosystem. Seeing the froggies thriving here was a huge relief.
The trail was manicured, and wildflowers were growing in every direction. The views over the lake were stunning, even though the lake itself wasn’t very inviting for a swim. I think we walked about 6 miles in total and ended the hike with a rewarding trail beer – some PBR for the win!
One of the most essential things to pack for camping trips (besides a tent, chairs, and all those essentials) is an excellent selection of BREAKFAST FOODS in my humble opinion. No one wants to go hiking or exploring on an empty stomach. There’s something so relaxing about sipping some camp coffee while cooking pancakes, eggs, and bacon over a camp stove in a forest.
Another thing we brought (thanks to an investment by my friends Grace and Matt) was a mosquito tent/gazebo thing. It was awesome – it fitted over the entire picnic table and was perfect for keeping the bugs away. Thankfully, the mosquitos weren’t too bad, but it was still lovely to have a retreat around our table and food.
No matter where I am in the world, I love escaping the city from time-to-time and getting out in nature. It’s a cliche that we all need to enjoy in our lives to refresh and relax, away from the schedule and routines and distractions. I hope to get out camping a lot more in the coming years, not only in Minnesota but hopefully in destinations around the globe.