Sometimes Luck (And Some Calculated Planning) is All You Need

View of the prairie and wetland at William O'Brien State Park

#49hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: Woodland Edge and Wetland Trails, William O’Brien State Park, MN

This last weekend John and I had planned to spend two nights camping at Frontenac State Park. I’d extolled the merits of the park – within an hour drive of Minneapolis, the river views and paved trails, the potential for beautiful fall colors, a new double camping pad and sleeping bag to try out.

To add back ground, last fall we’d camped in chilly, rainy weather with a collection of old gear that was in sketchy repair at best. I’d offered to add additional inflation to his old air mattress before we crashed our second night, forgetting to close the valve and leaving him sleeping on the cold hard ground. All this and he’s agreed to try again with the newly acquired gear.

John watching the St. Croix River on our 2018 fall hike.

Then came the weather forecast. Rainy and cold. Again. This for a guy who works outside every day in the elements along with the memory of last year’s camp out had him asking to put our adventure off for better weather. So I looked ahead and saw the four letter word in the forecast that would surely end any hope of a weekend with some hiking…snow.

Next I headed to the Minnesota State Parks website to see if there was any hope for a camper cabin that met our distance requirements. While I had really been looking forward to spending the weekend in a tent, this seemed like a reasonable compromise and would still allow me to get in a hike. Picking a park was pretty easy since I’ve hiked the parks in the radius multiple times.

I got lucky, really lucky we found out later from the ranger. William O’Brien State Park had just one cabin open. According to the ranger the park’s camper cabins are booked on weekends a full year out. I’d likely snagged a last minute cancellation, booking it just two days out.

Having stayed at one of the camper cabins at Maplewood State Park last winter, I knew it would be warm and dry while putting access to the park’s hiking trails right out our door. After reassuring John that the cabin has heat and I would bring the crockpot to make dinner, he agreed to the change in plans. I started gathering our gear.

These days doing that is more streamlined because I’ve pretty much got a specific pack or bin with all the things I need packed and ready to go. So it’s easy to grab the appropriate things quickly and know I’ve got what I need. Look for a future post on that.

Because we’d stayed close to home we were able to stop for dinner at Nacho Mama’s in Stillwater before driving just a bit further north to the park to celebrate National Taco Day. Because one should never pass up tacos. The restaurant has a fun, quirky vibe and the tacos are solid fare.

The cabins were easy to find and the heat was on when we arrived. While I busied myself getting thing settled, John checked every inch of the cabin, which was much nicer than his expectations.

As we listened to the rain falling outside, I pulled out the park map to decide on which route is take for my next day’s hike. The last time I’d been to the park, I’d hiked part, but not all of the Hiking Club trail that passes the cabins and campground before it circles west. I decided I’d hike the combination of the Woodland Edge and Wetland trails, leaving the decision to add the Prairie Overlook Trail for a hike day call. After all it was supposed to rain all day.

The next morning we slept in, lounging around until just after lunch. The rain had been soft but steady the whole time. I layered up and headed toward the muddy section just past the cabin. I realized that I haven’t hike anywhere in Minnesota this summer without some mud on my route. It’s been really wet.

The Wetland Trail offers a beautiful hike surrounded by water, cattails and an abundance of fall color. As I left the wetland areas stands of oak and eventually white pine in the hilly woods offer contrasts to the wetland and prairie. All the way the sound of the Canadian Northern rail trains echoing from where the line crosses the park.

Railroad bridge at William O'Brien State Park

The rail line runs north/south through the park. On the northern side, the trail crosses under a bridge into the white pine forest. The change had a Narnia-esque feel with the rain falling. A creek runs under the bridge, swollen with the rain. Everything was verdant green with shocks of red sumac and even bright fall flowers. With all the moisture it’s not difficult to find mushrooms either.

The trail makes a large arch before it heads back toward the St. Croix River. On the way, I passed two hike-in campsites. One of the shelters appears to be on the verge of collapse until you get closer and realize how solidly it’s built. I marveled at the brilliance of the sumac as well. It’s red leaves and seedbeds providing a bright contrast to the slowly fading green leaves. Water was clinging to the Indian grass and made for some fun photography opportunities. I even caught a frog on film as it tried to hide among the fallen leaves.

On the south side of the loop the trail crosses the train tracks at ground level. While part of me had hoped to see a train at the crossing, I was also grateful to be able to take pictures as I crossed. As I neared the crossing I also remembered that the view ahead was one of my park favorites. It’s a sweeping view of the oak savannah and prairie of the park along with the woods where the camper cabins and group camp sit. With the weather the colors were rich though it feels like my pictures didn’t begin to capture the intensity.

The final stretch, where I opted to not follow the Prairie Overlook Trail, was misty and serene. The trail passes through the Wetlands, past the Beaver Dam and then offers options to head to the interpretive center or group camp ground. I opted to head toward the group campground. It was full despite the weather and offered me opportunity to add to my 11th Essential (Deuter Dirtbag), picking up a variety of garbage. There was even a full can of beans that had been opened and was sitting trailside (can you say wildlife bait?).

As I headed back to the cabin, I reflected again on the old hiker/backpacker/camper adage: There is no bad weather, only bad gear. I was grateful for my gear that had kept me dry and warm (too warm in fact) because it allowed me opportunity to explore what can be a busy park as if I had it all to myself.

GEAR: Columbia Women’s Arcadia Rain Jacket, Columbia Women’s Storm Surge Rain Pants, Vasque Talus Mid UltraDry Hiking Boots, Marmot Kompressor Pack, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Lhasa Lite AS trekking poles. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets.

Next Post Preview: I’ll be taking a knot tying class this next weekend so I’m pretty sure you’ll see a post on it!

Copyright Ruth Wikoff-Jones, | No Use Permitted Without Prior Permission

Leave a Reply