Favorite Things : Lake Carlos State Park

Photo is of light brown grass laying in a pattern as if water is flowing over it. Interspersed in the grass are dark sycamore bush stems providing a contrast to the sycamore trees.

#11 of my 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: Lower Campground, Red Oak and Hidden Lake Trails, Lake Carlos State Park

I want to acknowledge this hike took place on the traditional territory of Mdewakanton and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ. To learn more about the tribes and these lands, please follow the links provided.

Trash Collected: .5 pounds


I’ve been enjoying two of my favorite things more lately – hiking and spending time outside with the man I love. In my quest to visit the last of the Minnesota State Parks on my list, we had booked one of Lake Carlos State Park’s camper cabins for an overnight. It’s a selfish ploy on my part to get John to come with me on my hiking adventures. He’s come to appreciate the cabins after a couple visits at other parks. Our cabin, Raccoon Hollow, was one of four cabins at the park. We appreciated it’s location near the hiking trails and set apart from the rest of the cabins and campground.

After getting settled in, I decided to enjoy the Hiking Club trail with an afternoon adventure. I bundled up for the damp, cool weather and headed out solo. My plan was to hike the trail and get an idea of what options of hiking John might be willing to do with me the following day. Just steps away from the cabin I was on the trail. To my left I noticed the beautiful pattern in the grasses matted from the winter’s snow with the dark sycamore trunks stark against it. The whole area seemed to be moving despite the fact it was still.

Following the road, the trail crosses into the lower campground on the shore of Lake Carlos. Between both campgrounds in the park there are over 120 sites. The lower campground looks like it would be an extremely popular place in the summer. Hiking across it’s expanse left me with the knowledge it wouldn’t be my choice for camping. I’d prefer the smaller campground or cabins near where we’d booked.

On the west end of the campground the trail is paved to the picnic area and swimming beach. The trail is lakeside and offered expansive views. The grey, cloudy sky created a stunning color on the lake of pale blues and greens. I noted pussy willow just beginning to bud, their white fuzzy blooms tucked into the stems. It was quiet and I was alone with my thoughts, able to take in each new discovery at my own pace.

I meandered through the group camping area and Hidden Lake Group Center where I learned many of these buildings are part of the state’s expansive collection of WPA-era constructions on the National Registry of Historic Places. One building’s construction was sponsored by the Boy Scouts in 1941. I could easily picture a Scout Troop using the group campground and Group Center in the summer for a long camping weekend.

As moved on the now unpaved trail into the woods on the Red Oak Trail, I continually looked for the “steep hill” noted on the park map, coming to the conclusion it was one of the hills I’d already traversed. My assumption being the trail was marked as steep for those who have mobility challenges.

I had the trails completely to myself for nearly two hours. There wasn’t as much mud as I’d expected with the recent rain. The muddy places I did find were more like cookie dough. Along the trail I discovered bright orange mushrooms, a section of unmelted snow on the Hidden Lake trail. The southwestern corner of the Hidden Lake trail rises to a high point in the park before taking a hard corner and sloping back to the lake.

As the daylight was shifting to late afternoon the brilliance of the green and blues hues of the lake was even more striking. I stopped again near the group center to take it in. Then, as I turned toward the group center I noted a fire pit with trash in and around it. Grabbing my trusty trash bag, I gathered it up. Back at the campground I disposed of a half pound of cans, plastic and such.

Back at the cabin, I shared my adventure with John, noting a walk the next morning before we departed would be nice. He agreed, knowing I’d pick a portion of trail to suit his style of hiking. We started a fire, made dinner and then enjoyed the warmth of the cabin as we settled in for the night.

Taking these trips with John remind me there are lots of ways to enjoy hiking. Sometimes that’s a backcountry adventure, other times a group hike and sometimes solo. How knowing the interests and limits of groups adventuring together is important so all participants can get something positive from the experience. Remembering to slow down and enjoy what’s around you.

Next Post Preview: I’ll be pausing the hiking focus to highlight my work with the National Park Service via Mississippi Park connection. This work offered me a unique view into an important part of wildlife area restoration. Check back soon for that post!


GEAR: Merrell Women’s Siren 3 Mid Waterproof, Columbia® Women’s Arcadia II Rain Jacket, Marmot Kompressor Pack, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Women’s Micro Vario Cor-Tec TA trekking poles, Gideon Waterproof Double Sleeping Bag, MSR Pocket Rocket Stove, GSI Pinnacle Dualist Cookset, MSR® IsoPro™ Fuel. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets or check out my posts titled “Gear in Review”.

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Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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