Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, Nerstrand, MN

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, Nerstrand, MN

There is a hidden falls.  That is really about all there is to say about Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.  The loops are fairly small near the center.  It is easy to get to the hidden falls.  It is a good starter park.

Hidden falls at Nerstrand

There is a large area for kids to play while you prepare a picnic for the family.  You can then quickly run down and stand in the falls.

If you take some of the other trails you will see a lot of trees and some beautiful flowers.  Lots and lots of pretty flowers.

white and purple flowers

If you want to ease you family into going to a park and you live near this one check it out.  You can work your way up to the longer trails.

Lake Maria State Park, Silver Creek Township, MN

Lake Maria State Park, Silver Creek Township, MN

We booked a cabin at Lake Maria State Park near Monticello, MN.  It is a short drive northwest of the cities.

We parked near the lake and started, what we thought would be, a short walk to our cabin.  Needless to say I miscalculated where we were on the map.  We walked along the lake and directly towards a marsh.  We finally stopped when it looked like the marsh might take us if we went any further.

View of the pond outside of our cabin

Eventually we wound around until we ended up at our cabin.  It was a great spot next to a little pond of it’s own.  There was a light inside that ran on a solar panel just outside of the cabin.  It would run for about half an hour before it turned off on its own.  It was really nice at night.

Outside of the cabin there was a privy off to the side, almost behind the cabin, but close.  It came with a fire pit, a couple of logs to sit on, and a picnic table.  It was perfect.

It turns out our parking space was hundreds of yards instead of over a mile.  We found it when we took a short walk around our pond.  My only other complaint was the wood heat was too much for that little cabin.  That was of course our fault.  We didn’t really need a fire inside at all.  I really liked this cabin setup.

The park was nice.  It is a great place to do some bird watching.  At least one person was there just to catch a glimpse of the larger birds in the area.  I didn’t get a clean shot, but there were some nice looking birds in the area.

This is what I would call a relaxing cabin location and park.

Bemidji Lake State Park, Bemidji, MN

Bemidji Lake State Park, Bemidji, MN

We decided to stay a night at a cabin in Bemidji Lake State Park.  As a child my parents would occasionally take the long drive up to Lake Bemidji for our family vacation and the chance to fish.

The park is on the northeast side of the lake.  The WiFi was surprisingly strong in the park.  It is always so hard to find good WiFi inside a park.

Inside of the Bemidji State Park cabin

The cabin was very cute.  It held four beds, a table, and bench seats.  It was warm enough that we didn’t need to use the heater which looks like it was baseboard.  The bunk bed were low enough that we ended up sleeping on the top bunks in order to avoid hitting our heads.

The trail was mere steps from our cabin.  The crown jewel of this particular park is the bog walk.  It is definitely worth checking out all of the plants.  We found a carnivorous plant on our walk.

There are a lot of pretty flowers in this park.  Try to spot all of them.  If you get tired of this park you are just a short drive over to Lake Itasca State Park.  You could even go fishing.  I hear it is kind of fun.

Banning State Park, Sandstone, MN

Banning State Park, Sandstone, MN

On our way back to the cities from the Soudan Mine we decided to stop at Banning State Park and it was not a disappointment.  This park used to be a quarry along the Kettle River.

The high path is the nature path

There is a high trail and a lower trail.  The lower one is where all of the action is along the river.  If you don’t think you will walk all the way to the waterfall than take the lower path.  If you want to see as much of the park and as many of the paths as possible, take the higher path.  We of course, to the higher path down to the waterfall and the lower path on the way back.

Waterfall at the end of the path

This waterfall is interesting as it isn’t very tall.  The water behind it is very shallow.  When we arrived there was a family playing in the stream that leads to the fall.

Kettle River

It took me a while to figure this out, but this river runs brown, and reminds me of root beer.  The reason for this is the iron that is coloring the water.

I didn’t capture the cutting in the rock walls that surround the lake, but if you go you can see where they placed the explosives.  The quarry sliced away at the rock and left it scared, but beautiful at the same time.

Take the journey along the river and read the historical information along the way.  I liked this park with its waterfall and the nice stroll along the river.  The high path is a take it or leave it path.

Bear Head Lake State Park, Ely, MN

Bear Head Lake State Park, Ely, MN

I am glad I didn’t see any bears while visiting Bear Head Lake State Park.  Of course, it would be a black bear, which are small and easily scared off.  Just don’t come between them and their cubs.

We ate lunch at Bear Head Lake State Park.  There was this building which had a fireplace inside and a fire pit outside.  There was running water and a microwave.  It was all very nice.  Once we heated our food we sat out on the picnic tables next to the swimming beach.

Picnic table and swimming area at Bear Head Lake State Park

There were two paths around the lake and let me tell you there was one path less traveled.  On that path we came across this little guy.  This turtle was scary.  He watched us intensely as we kindly made our way around him.

Scary Turtle

The lake was really pretty, and look, stairs!  I love stairs.  No, really, they mean you can climb or descend a path without the Earth crumbling beneath you.

Stairs down to the lake

Just look at that still water.  The next day was a little windier and sunnier.  I loved looking at the reflections on the still day and the brilliance of the lake on the sunny day.

Trees reflecting on the lake
Look at those trees trying to hide that beautiful lake

Overall I would call this a great nature park.  You have the swimming area if you enjoy that.  The building with the fireplace and microwave was very convenient.  The hiking was beautiful and allowed us to see that prehistoric turtle.  That guy looked like he was straight out of history.  If you are looking for hiking or swimming I would say this is a good park for you.  It also made a nice place to eat a meal.

Lake Vermilion State Park, Soudan, MN

Lake Vermilion State Park

We sneaked onto Lake Vermilion State Park while it was still under construction.  We were greeted by the most interesting turtle, not cute, but interesting.  I tried to get a selfie with it and then we moved it off the road so that no one would hit it.

I have to say that the lake itself is beautiful.  There are a few docks and you can fish from them.  We stayed at the Vermilion Park Inn and one of the other temporary residents said that he caught a fish there.

View from on of the many docks on Lake Vermilion State Park

Like I said, the park wasn’t open when we started walking the trails.  The unfinished trail was still fairly nice.  We walked until we reached a point that we clearly couldn’t pass, or shouldn’t pass.

I think this park could be pretty much whatever you want it to be.  It is just a really pretty place to visit.

If you plan on visiting this park than you also need to make sure you stop in and see the Soudan Mine.  It really is a must see.

Soudan Underground Mine State Park, Soudan, MN

Soudan Underground Mine State Park, Soudan, MN

A miner for a day!  Ok, about an hour, maybe less, but they gave me a hard hat, and that is what I appreciate about the Soudan Mine.  I am not sure anyone over eighteen has ever been so excited about riding down an elevator shaft, deep into the ground, to take a cart further into the Earth, and walk around a hollowed out piece of rock.

Somehow it isn’t that scary.  Even though you are deep in the Earth, it’s probably one of the safest mines that you could go into.  They call it the Cadillac of mines.  The ore is high quality and there aren’t those dangerous patches of gases and such that you have to watch out for in other mines.

A look inside the Soudan Mine, it’s a dark one

The underground tour is a must see.  It is super informative.  If you have kids you should definitely take them for this educational tour.  They have small hats for the little ones.  You do have to give the hats back at the end of the tour.  You can reserve your spot so that you don’t have to wait, or at least know that you will get onto the tour.  We reserved a spot and then ended up swapping it for an earlier tour.

Once you finish the tour, or before you go, you need to explore the above ground operation at the mine.  You can observe the cable operator at work.  He is the guy that will raise or lower you into the mine.  They use a system of clicking to know how far down to send you.  The machine is amazing to watch.

Going Down?

Once you see the cable at work you can follow it outside and view the large cable that heads up over your head.  There are a few other buildings around the property that you will want to see.  You can see where they break up the ore and pile it below.

Chew them up and spit them out, Soudan Mine Grinder building

I like the machine shop sign.  It seems very appropriate.  It reads, If you are injured, no matter how little, tell your foreman, right away.  There is a little sign under it that reads, Save your eyes, wear goggles.

If you are injured sign at the Soudan Mine

There are some beautiful flowers around the property as well.  Really, head up the Soudan, MN and visit the mine.  Take the tour and enjoy.


Stony Ridge Cafe, Ely MN

Stony Ridge Cafe, 60 W Lakeview Pl, Ely, MN 55731

It was totally worth it.

I think we went the wrong way.  We headed down a road that seemed residential.  I half expected the Stony Ridge Cafe to just be someone’s personal kitchen.  The sight of a real restaurant at the end of journey allowed us to breath a sigh of relief and filled us with a tinge of excitement.

The view is pretty nice as well.  You will have to see it for yourself.

The menu is simple.  You have your choice of burgers and fries.  One of the burgers is a ridiculous size.   The regular ones are kind of ridiculous as well.  It tastes amazing and I highly recommend it to anyone.

Vermilion Park Inn, Soudan, MN

Vermilion Park Inn, Soudan, MN

The Vermilion Park Inn located in Soudan, MN was not quite what I expected, both in a good and a bad way.  This house is located in the very small town of Soudan, MN in northern MN, near the Soudan Mine.  It was an ideal place to stay while we explored the Soudan Mine, Vermilion State Park, and Bear Head Lake State Park.  The town of Ely isn’t too far if you want a bite to eat.

We stayed at the Vermilion Park Inn in 2017.  I believe that it may have been a slightly off time and that they are in the process of improving.  It was nice and I imagine it would be better if we were to stay again.

We booked the Vermilion Park Inn under the impression that it was a bed and breakfast.  Technically there was a bed and there was breakfast, but I wouldn’t tout it as the breakfast you would expect  at a bed and breakfast.  I imagine an amazing home cooked breakfast when I think of a bed and breakfast.  It was more like a good to okay continental breakfast.  It did the trick and there was no pressure to get up at a specific time so I was fine with it.  If you set your expectation on the breakfast down to cereal, yogurt, cheese, a store bought danish, and things in that realm you won’t be as disappointed in the breakfast as we were.

On the flip side the rooms were very nice.  The Bed was nice.  The sheets were clean.  There is a theme to every room.  We were in the Fisherman’s room which has its own bathroom.  That is always nice.  One odd thing about the bathroom is that it is a sliding door so you can hear pretty much everything that is going on in there.

The Fisherman’s Room at the Vermilion Park Inn near the Soudan Mine

The staff is really nice and friendly.  It seems to be run by a couple of couples and possibly some friends or family.

We didn’t use it, but there is a fire pit in the back yard.  I believe I saw one of the guests using a grill as well.

View of fire pit and small deck off of the Fisherman’s room at Vermilion Park Inn

The staff will help you pre-book your tickets for the mine.  Not sure if you actually need them, but it is nice to know you will get in.

Overall the Vermilion Park Inn is a great launching point for the Soudan Mine, the Vermilion State Park, and Bear Head Lake State Park.  The town is small and you will need to head north to get a good meal.  You should definitively check out Stony Ridge Cafe if you can find it.  They have great burgers, great big burgers that is.

Oto Days 2016

Oto Days 2016

Oto Days 2016 is when the tiny town of Oto, IA turns into a big town.  The farmers come off the fields to stop in for a few events.  The kids that left for the big cities, around the U.S., come home to reconnect.

So many people sign up to be in the parade that you might think no one will be standing along the side to watch, but that isn’t so.  People line a good part of both sides of main street.  You get to see tractors, classic cars, funny cars, and even a clown.


There are multiple meals during Oto Days.  The firehouse puts on a dinner.  The ambulance serves a breakfast.  The Catholic church serves a broasted chicken dinner, Sneaky’s.


They crown a king and queen, which I believe are the oldest two individuals in town.

A bounce house goes on main street.


They setup the rides on the old grain bin slabs.  


The adults play in a human foosball tournament.  Not an event for the faint of heart.


A man carves wood into art and a woman can make you into a beautiful funny drawing.



Overall there is a lot to see and do at the Oto Days celebration.  There is bingo, a bubble machine, various musical acts, and of course Lefty Leigh’s.

The theme of this year’s Oto Days was Make Oto Great Again.  I have always heard that Oto is a town to tough to die and when you see an event like this one you know exactly why.