the dyrt
Amy G.
Nevis, MN
Joined May 2017
I'm an outdoors junkie & a human pincushion...mosquitoes love me. So I get creative to stay comfy, but it doesn't stop me...we love hiking & camping!
Ranger Review of Mountain House Beef Stew at Shell City Equestrian Camp

I've never been to an equestrian camp before, and this was a surprise! I didn't know it was one until I arrived. But surprise or not…it was a happy accident to find the Shell City Equestrian Camp. What a beautiful little place to drop a tent, even if you didn't have a horse! And even though there was snow on the ground and a serious chill in the air, I still had the gitty up and go to make some Mountain House Beef Stew, but this time, with a twist!

Campground Review:

Shell City Equestrian Camp (and sister Shell City Camp) are run by Itasca State Park, so any info about this campground can be found under the State Park website. When I set out for the day, I anticipated finding a campground on the river, and I did find one there, but I didn't know they had a sister camp for horses. They are both located off the same road, but the equestrian campground had two ways to get in. Both are equally good, but come from different directions. The road is gravel/dirt and not a bad drive, but being unpaved, it's a bit bumpy. Be gentle when you drive. I visited in the winter, so I had snow on top of bumps and ruts and my all wheel drive was appreciated. I don't think I'd want to drive the 1/2 mile on this road in deeper snow.

Near the entrance, there are a few campsites with picnic tables and because the road into the campground is off the beaten path, I doubt there would be much traffic to bother anyone. Just past these sites are hitching posts and more campsites around a large, open area that I assume would be for horse trailers and campers (note there are no hookups here). Around the perimeter are more picnic tables, fire rings and a scattering of horse pens set in the woods. Very quaint! There was even a three stall covered horse stable (three sided). The campground also had a pit toilet and water pump for horses and people. Even if I didn't have a horse (and I don't), this would be a lovely place to drop a tent for the night. There were even horse trails to explore. Even though I didn't stay the night here, it was a great little find in the middle of the woods!

Cost for this spot was $16/night on the honor system at a drop box near the entrance.

Product Review:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I occasionally have the opportunity to test amazing products from incredible companies and this time, I had the pleasure of trying out Mountain House Beef Stew, but on top of the product testing, I had a culinary challenge! I was asked to create a new dish from this freeze dried meal, and my tastebuds were rewarded!

This beef stew is a medley of tummy pleasing comfort foods wrapped into a meal that's perfect for a blustery day. Beef, potatoes, carrots and peas with a gentle sprinkle of spices. Seriously yummy by itself as long as you have enough patience to give it the time it needs to absorb the hot water. These meals are fully cooked, but since they are freeze dried, they take time to re-hydrate, so add the water, zip up the special bag that allows you to "cook in the bag" and walk away. Set up your tent. Hang your hammock. Go to the bathroom. Just wait…and stir…and wait. And then YUM! Absolutely worth having a little patience.

But then there's more…

I turned mine into East Indian Couscous Stew.

I was asked to take this meal and turn it into something else to tempt the tastebuds, and I wanted to keep it simple so that it could be done on the trail. What better way to keep the body nourished than to keep the flavors interesting so you actually want to eat it? I found a simple recipe at home to make an East Indian Spice Blend and then added in some plain couscous. Here's how I modified the prepared meal.

Indian Spice Blend: (mix all together and put in a little shaker)

2T Curry powder

2T Cumin powder

2 t Turmeric powder

2 t Coriander

1 t Ginger powder

1/2 t Cardamom powder

1/2 t Cinnamon powder

Recipe: I opened the Beef Stew package and added 1/2 cup of plain couscous and 1 T of spice blend. Then I added about 4 oz of extra water (beyond what the package called for) to compensate for the re-hydration of the couscous. Then, follow the package directions and that's it. Voila! Tummy yummy goodness! I served it with tortillas to bulk up the meal a bit.

note I had a little trouble with the zipper on this bag. I don't know if it ripped, or if the cold outside made the zipper brittle, but I couldn't get it zipped back up for the required "sitting" time. So I kept spilling the water while trying to agitate the bag. No harm, just a little frustrating.

The package says it contains 2.5 servings, but I don't know any "half" people, so I'll say two servings, and I'll say that's probably two hungry women. Especially since the couscous adds more bulk to the meal. A very hungry man could probably eat this alone, but you'll need to make sure you can divide this up in one sitting, because extra leftovers won't keep well on the trail. But I've never been hiking or camping when I couldn't find a willing guinea pig needing free food!

Great little campground, hot, filling meal on a chilly, snowy day. Perfection!

Sits right on the river with a gorgeous view and wind in the trees

Shell City Campground is in the Huntersville State Forest. If you want to camp in the woods, you want to be in the woods. Even if you are in a city. This camp is off the beaten path, without being "out of the way". Making your way there in any season without snow is certainly going to be easier, but even if there is a little snow, you'll be fine as long as you have all wheel drive. And it was really quiet! Such a pretty view!n I didn't get a chance to stay here (it's winter right now), but with only a small amount of snow on the ground, it made it easy to get a really good feel for how it might be.

Only a short distance off the main road, this isn't hard to find as long as you follow the signs. And don't get distracted by the "horse camp" sign like I did. Yes, there is a horse camp there, but if you drive just past the horse camp, you'll find a very clearly marked path to the regular tent camping sites. They are only a hop, skip and a jump apart, though, so they are easy to get to one from another.

This campground is accessible from the road if you are driving and the river if you are canoeing (and I suppose if you happen to be hiking in the area, it's easy to get to as well). If you came off the river, it's a very easy "in" from the water. Two entrances are available. One is a dirt landing that you ease into (boat landing style with a little, tiny lot for a car to pull into) and…you're there! The other comes up to about 6 wooden stairs, but nothing hard about it at all. If by car, the road winds down a tiny path and into the campsites. Easy breezy.

There is room for RVs, the sign says, and they are the same price as tents.

Tents are $14 (or you can put a camper on the site for the same price, but no hookups), or you can rent it as a "group site" for $28 (20 people max). Now I'm not sure what that means, but $28 seems awfully cheap to rent the entire place. It's not a giant campground, but there's plenty of room. All pads are within view of the river and there are plenty of trees (mainly pine) for hammocks. And the wind in the trees is divine! Ever so often you can hear a bit of road noise, but it's incredibly minimal. Especially if the wind is blowing.

There were several pit toilets. Very unusual to have more than one in a camp of this size, but nice, nonetheless! There was also a water pump for drinking water that was very easy to pump. The sites have picnic tables and fire pits too. The view of the river was my absolute favorite because it's at a bend in the river, so you can see both ways. This time of year, the ice was forming, but the water was still moving. It made for very pretty photos!

I can't wait to pitch a tent here in the spring!

RV camping is only so so, but tent camping area is pretty neat!

If you like boats and boating and the water, this would be a good place to be, but if you are looking for peace and quiet, I doubt it'll be all that. This is mainly an RV camping park for those that have boats. It has a waterway in the campground with slips that you can rent for your boats. There are, however, a few tent sites that are kinda cool!

Most of the RV camping is pretty cramped. But I suppose if you have a boat, you'll probably be on it most of the time. That said, it would do the job. Maybe most people stay on their boats at night? There is also firewood for sale, which is convenient, but I don't know how much it cost. They seemed to be pretty well closed for the season. They did have electric hookup and sewage drains too. And for those that were feeling a little less outdoors-y, they had a few cabins for rent on the water.

There are only a few tent sites, and they are in an obscure spot, but it'd actually be a pretty cool place to drop a tent if you wanted something unique. The tent site(s) are on a little point near the water. It's actually on the opposite side from the RV camping, and they are separated by a little waterway that is the inlet/outlet for the area where the boat slips are. So boats would be passing in and out all the time. If you are the private type, this might not be ideal. But if you were looking for something different, it might be fun. However, there is no bathroom nearby that I could find. There is a fire ring and picnic table. And the coolest part…there is a small lighthouse type structure that is simply a screened in building with a table and chairs. It's screened in and the windows can be closed. So, essentially a bug free zone in the summer. Love it! Right next to the tent area. Although it's not clear if these sites are for rent for the general public, or just for friends and family of the boat/RV people. I see conflicting information about this.

It would be sufficient, but it's crowded and where's the campground?

Their brochure mentions that they have a modern campground, but I can't find it.

This area has a lot of resorts, and they mainly cater to RV campers and cabin campers. This one, however, also mentions a campground, but it isn't clear where it is. This time of year, this one might be closed, but you can still drive around and look. Good reference points for next season. All the cabins were incredibly close together, not terribly well maintained (at least from the outside), and I have no idea where I would pitch a tent. I tried to call the number on the website, but it kicked to voicemail. It appears that the owners live on site.

They did have picnic tables, firewood, a playground for the kiddos and lake views. Easy access to the lake. It's down a long, gravel type road so there isn't much traffic.

Ranger Review: Sign by the road says "campground", but I don't think so

This was a very strange campground. The sign by the road looks well maintained. And at the bottom it says "camping, cabins, rv sites", but they have been painted over, and perhaps that was on purpose. When I drove to the location, there wasn't anyone there. Lots of RV's parked and many covered (this is a seasonal spot). They were very squished together and the property wasn't very pretty because of the congestion. The spaces didn't seem to be marked, and while there were open field type areas where tents could have gone, I didn't see any picnic tables or fire rings. And no signs anywhere.

I can't find a website to verify anything. I wouldn't take any chances trying to stay here.

Well groomed, off the road, quiet and near the lake

While this seems to be mainly an "RV" campground, but there were a few cabins on the lake and two gorgeous tent sites that would be the envy of many other camps. They were ideal, especially for the family that wanted the "tent" experience without having to huff it through the woods with toddlers in tow.

Sleeping Fawn is very clearly marked from the road, and although they don't say "campground" on the sign, there are a few tent sites available. It's about a 3/4 mile drive off the main road, but signage is apparent the entire way, and it's super easy to find once you get there. There is an office for check in, cabins to rent and lots of RV sites available too. Even though RV's seem to dominate here, the roadway through the woods and past them is peaceful and serene. Pine needles cover the ground and create a softness to the scenery. The posts that mark each site are wooden, tall, and are clearly numbered. Close to the entrance is a "tent parking" area, a cart for hauling your things, and 2 tent pads, just across the drive and down a little path about 20 yards. Perfect!

The tent sites are far enough apart to be "separate", but close enough that if you had family or friends, they are close by. Garbage cans are at the split in the path between #1 and #2 and each site has a fire ring, picnic table, gorgeous, flat tent pad and a view of the lake. And again, if you needed something from the car, it's a 50 yard walk. Not a 3 mile trudge through the woods.

Camping in tents May 18 - Oct 1

Camping rates were a bit steep for my liking, but I like primitive sites in the woods. So if you were a family trying to introduce wee ones to camping, it would still be worth it. $28 for a site as of 2018. Or a weekly rate of $170. Showers and laundry available, as well as free coffee in the morning. They also have a beach, nature trail, small store and other amenities.

NOTE: Pets are not allowed at this resort

Very pretty...very quiet...very clean...incredibly nice campground

We got there late in the evening, but the check in/self pay process was very simple and straight forward. Fees were incredibly reasonable for such a nice campground, and it was very quiet, even though there were lots of people enjoying this campground. Lovely atmosphere!

We arrived late, so we had to self pay. But all that paperwork and payment took place inside a little heated shelter house of sorts. Bonus! Most of the time, the pay envelopes are outside and you have to duck into your car, fill it out, and dart back into the dark to the drop box. There was even a campground map showing which spaces were taken and available (at the time the attendant went home for the day). This was nice, but the space we thought was open had been taken by someone moments before. So not fool proof, but a decent guide for those arriving after dark. We still found another space and made it our home for the night. Not to mention, they had one of the best maps I've ever seen!

Fees:

$5 per adult

$5 per car or vehicle

$5 if you didn't have a park sticker

$5 if you made the reservation online or by phone.

$5 for electric

Soooo…if you had 2 adults, one car and needed electric, then it would be $20. And so forth…

This place is so quiet! The campground was very full that night, but we heard almost nothing from people at all. Just a little chatter from a couple guys nearby, but at a very respectful level. We actually got to enjoy the night sounds of pitter patter rain and the occasional owl in the distance. No road noise.

The sites are spread out enough to make this peaceful and private, but close enough to make the campground functional and cozy. Electric sites (designated with an "E" beside the number) were scattered with non electric sites. Electrics were more plentiful, though. Tent sites were also available, if you like. They were grouped together in a different area. Our closest neighbors site was within view of the fire ring, but no one was there this night. The sites were deep, so you could pull in and nestle in the trees, even if you had a neighbor, and it was more private. There was a nice picnic table near the fire ring, which was quite nice for a fire, but no grate for cooking on. The pad we pulled into was fairly level and covered in pea gravel. We were using our teardrop trailer this night instead of a tent.

There were bathrooms scattered around with very clean pit-type toilets, and there were multiple toilets in "mens" and "women's" rooms. There was also a shower house with pay showers, but prices were very reasonable. I think it was 25 cents for 5 minutes, and the more quarters you put in, the more time you got. There was also a row of sinks and mirrors under a sheltered roof as well as a pay washer and dryer, something I've never seen before at a campground.

Beyond the other lovely amenities, they had picnic tables everywhere, drinking water spigots, fire pits at every site and a playground for the kids.

Overall, definitely one of the more perfect places to camp. And if you had extra time, there was a lake at the other end of the park. And equestrian trails and an equestrian camp, but it was closed because of mud.

Located in gorgeous Amish country, the drive back to the interstate to head north again was incredibly enjoyable and a great way to end a great camping adventure.

The sites are secluded, quiet and easy to access - And you might see elk!

Some of our favorite camps are State Forest campgrounds. The fees are reasonable, they are generally quiet, and are very well kept. This was no exception, and in fact, was one of the best we've seen.

It's about a mile drive off the main road/interstate, and the road is a bit bumpy (older pavement), but very accessible and very well marked with park signs. Once you get there, it appears there is a booth to pay, but it wasn't manned This time of year, although "honesty is the best policy" applies and there is a place to drop money. Also, if manned, you can purchase what they call a "rack" of firewood for $3. Seems very reasonable, but not sure what the bundle looks like. Immediately, there is a picnic area and playground with BBQ pits and a sandy beach. Lovely! Also seems to be some sort of scenic trail around the lake.

There were quite a few sites…maybe 40. But each is private. Each one is nestled in the trees (with very few exceptions). Each has a fire pit, picnic table, very easy access for a car or trailer to pull in, and they all seemed fairly flat. Pit type bathrooms were scattered around, and were very clean. About 2 toilets per little structure, and they all had hand sanitizer at the door. Water pumps were also scattered…a nice addition to the area.

A very nice place to jump off the highway and put up camp for the night.

as a fun little addition to the state forest campground, they had a few signs at the beach where you could set up a camera and take a selfie. Then, they had instructions to tag the photo in a particular way and post it on Instagram at the @TravelWisconsin page. Kinda fun!

As another side note…Elk were re-introduced to this area a few years back and you may get to see some while you are here! But please keep your distance, they are delicate as they establish and grow the herd

Camping was in the woods, but highway noise was loud

This campground seemed ideal when we pulled off the road. A long drive through the woods, into the forest. Seemed like it would be quiet and peaceful, but when we got out of the car, it was very clear we were not far from the highway.

First, the campground was very pretty. Very wooded and the sites were relatively large. There were trashcans all over the place near the bathrooms/pit toilets. So that was something you don't find many places. The densely wooded area gave lots of shade and cover if the sun were out. The ground was fairly sandy, so it made a lovely landing spot for our tent. Each site had a picnic table and fire pit, although the pits were a bit unusual. They appeared to be some type of pipe filled with cement (with a hollow center for the fire) to make it sturdy. I kind of liked them, but no fire grate for cooking.

Now, there were a few things that made me rate this as a "3 star". First was how the sites were set up. Although each one as fairly large, they set them up "two together", at least in the part we were in. One site beside another without any buffer of bushes or trees, so potentially, you could be sharing an area with perfect strangers. That's not all bad, not at all, just something I noticed if you were looking for seclusion in the woods. Secondly, the proximity to the highway is deceiving. It feels like you are off the beaten path, but looking at a map, you see how close you are to the interstate. That makes for a lot of noise, all night long. Hard to listen to the night sounds.

A good place to crash, but not as quiet as we hoped.

Seems nice, off the road, but not sure where camping is

In the off season, it's kind of hard to get a feel for a campground in Minnesota. They aren't terribly well used. But this one had some occupants. However, the office was closed, so I couldn't ask any questions.

The sign by the main road says "resort and campground", but the sign closer to the location only says "resort", however, their website has camping prices as well as cabin prices. But I couldn't seem to find the campground. Maybe it was one in the same for campers and RV's?

The cabins looked lovely from the outside, although there were interspersed with some old, bedraggled sheds. Some of the cabins were right on the lake and had what appeared to be really nice decks. All seemed to have BBQ grills provided as well. The office (lodge?) was a large building with an attached in ground pool. Lots of RV campers were there. So I'm assuming that this is mainly an RV park.

Their website mentions camping rates around $40/night. One of those places I think I'd bypass if I had a tent, but for an RV, it might be a good deal.

There is also a sand beach with canoes that I assume are free to use if you stay there. A nice little perk.

Nice RV camp, but doesn't appear to be for tent camping

It's a little deceptive, because this is called a "campground", but upon closer inspection, it appears to only be fore RV's and campers (as in trailers). I suppose you could drop a tent if you wanted to, but you'd be amongst lots of RV's. I can't find anything online about cost. They don't seem to have a website.

It's on a lake, there was a bathroom (although I didn't go inside) and the did have water and there were electrical hookups. They also had a dump station.

This is an RV park

This is a lovely little RV park, but all the sites are close together and it doesn't appear that it's for tent campers at all. It looks like you can rent RV spaces for the season or by the night ($40/night). But they are only open May 1 to the end of September.

If you are an RV camper, they do have sewage hook up (not sure about a dump station), water and electric hookups. It's very close to town where you can get anything you need. There are gas stations, little town shopping, Walmart, etc. Just off of Highway 34, it is very easy to find.

Does not exist

There is a resort here, but no campground.

Resort is called Northern Starr

I don't think it exists

I could not find a resort or Campground by the name listed here. But I did find a resort by a different name at the location listed on the map. The name is Straight Pines Resort

I'm not sure if there is actually a campground here or not. The sign by the road says that there is, but the sign by the resort doesn't mention that. And this time of year, they are closed, so I couldn't even get in to look.

They is no campground that I could find

I would love to tell you that this was a beautiful campground and a must-visit site! But it just doesn't seem to exist. I can't find it.

Small and quaint, but does the job - on the NCT in MN

Super easy to find, right off the North Country Trail!

This is a long campsite. I mean, it's off the trail and kind of long and skinny from the trail down to the water. Water seems to be fairly easy access off the site itself. There is a log bench situated right next to the fire ring. Most sites in this area seem to be set up that way. The view was great…how pretty to wake up to the lake! The tent pad seemed fairly level too.

Didn't appear to be a whole lot of room for extra tents, meaning, I don't think this would be a great spot for more than a few campers that were staying in the same tent (or didn't mind getting creative with tent set up), and I don't think the tent pad would accommodate a large tent (read: larger family), but it would be perfect for a solo hiker or a couple. A few trees, but nothing that seemed terribly easy for hammock camping.

Large, peaceful and lots of hammock trees!

It's not often you find a camp along the trail that's large, but this one is just that! About 50 yards off of the North Country Trail, it's well worth the hike to get into. It could easily accommodate a small group of people that had a few tents and hammocks.

Note: it was a bit hard to find (if you were coming from the west, traveling east), because it appears that the entrance to the campsite has been re-routed. I suspect to give the campsite a bit more privacy. But if you continue to follow the trail around the lake (lake would be on your right), it's just a few hundred yards past where it's located on the map. Conversely, it would be a few hundred yards before where it's supposed to be if you were approaching from the east.*

We were super glad to find this site after about 12 miles on the trail. And even happier to see lots of tent trees! We had hammocks, and there were wonderful, huge pines without lower branches that made it super easy to hang from. No underbrush made it lovely! There were a few tent pads on nice, level ground too, if you had a tent to pop up.

We had a fire ring, there was a bench, a few logs to dry my shoes on, scenery of the lake and a bathroom very nearby. Plenty of dry, downed wood for the fire too. It was just a short hike to the lake for water.

Quiet, serene, beautiful view, cleanly kept and plenty of trees (yes…even a few bear bag trees that were easy to find). Definitely worth a hike to crash at this lovely little gem.

Ranger Review - Matador Droplet XL Dry Bag at Charles Lindbergh State Park

At the end of a long day, even if it was full of fun, but especially if it wasn't, all you want to do if find a campsite, set it up and chill out. That would have been kind of hard to do at Lindbergh State Park, at least coming to the canoe sites off the river. But once we were there, it was very quiet and easy to get to. But at least I had my Matador Droplet XL Dry Bag, just in case we tipped over in our quest to find it.

CAMPSITE REVIEW:

We decided that this campsite was going to be our last stop on our river trip. Charles Lindbergh State Park has many campsites, but there are a few they call "cart in". They are also referred to as "canoe in", depending on which way you approach and arrive. It's a good thing we had a map, because we wouldn't have found it off the Mississippi by ourselves. In fact, even with the map, it wasn't the easiest to find. The last thing you want to do at the end of a long day is wonder if you took a wrong turn.

Yes, it's at the park. So we eventually would have found the campsite, but coming at it off the river, it seemed to be hidden. Until we saw a tiny sign, over a bridge, off to the right that said the name of the park (and no STATE PARK signs anywhere like you usually see along the river). So we took a right turn, and it led us to a swampy bog. And the bog kinda took a right turn through a weird little twist and turn of weeds and trees and abandoned buildings. I swear I heard banjos. And just when we thought we might be in the wrong spot, bingo! A campsite.

As hard as it was to find, it was incredibly easy to get into. A few little steps out of the water and that was it. We were there! This little offshoot of the Mississippi was called Pike Creek, and apparently was the place where Lindbergh used to come and play and swim. So, although difficult to find via watercraft, a little piece of history to enjoy.

The campsite was fairly small, but served it's purpose. We were at site C1 (Cart in #1? Canoe in #1? Can't find it #1?) A very flat tent pad was a great find. Fire ring, picnic table, plenty of trees and shade. Bathroom was a bit of a haul, up a hill and to the left about 1/4 mile. There was a shower house, but due to the confusing nature of the park/trail sign nearby, we ended up walking the wrong direction and spent about 20 min walking about a 1/2 mile. If we'd walked the other direction, it would have taken half the time. And the showers were so-so. They worked, they were hot, and they were private, but I'd advise to take your water shoes with you before you step into the stall.

There was a second site as well, right next to the first. And in fact, the second is right on the trail to the bathroom, so if you were staying in that site, anyone at campsite #1 would have to walk through campsite #2 to hit the trail to the toilet. Hmmm…. At least that site was empty for the night.

I rated this as three stars for the lack of signage, the close proximity of the 2 sights that are supposed to be more secluded, the confusing trail signs and the fire pit that was so deep that unless you had a raging blaze, you couldn't see the flames once the initial logs burned down if you were sitting in camp chairs. But it was pretty, it was quiet, and there wasn't anything wrong with the campsite itself. It served it's purpose well and gave us a a place to crash for the night.

Note: As usual, because it's a state park, there is a reservation fee, even though you can canoe in. Most canoe sites on the river are free, unless they are in a state park. We reserved this "the day of" and paid $15. If you reserve in advance, there is an additional reservation fee.

Oh, and one last thing…beware of the deadly falling acorns if you go in late summer. Almost all the trees are oak, and the lightest bit of breeze (or the shimmy of a playful squirrel collecting his winter stash) sends them showering down. Onto your head. Or hitting your extremities. Or plinking into your coffee.

GEAR REVIEW:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I have the awesome opportunity to get incredible gear in exchange for an honest review of it. This time, I had the pleasure of trying out the Matador Droplet XL Dry Bag Wow…love this thing!.

Now, I'll first admit that I didn't have my bag bobbing in the Mississippi River. I didn't take it that far, but I know what a dry bag is supposed to do, and how it needs to be constructed to do that. This thing packs a huge punch for it's size! Here's the specs:

  • It's 20L
  • Made of 15D waterproof ripstop nylon
  • Seam sealed
  • Has a beautiful little roll down type of latch that doubles as a handle for carrying it if you roll it a few times like you are supposed to. It's huge!
  • And it weighs almost nothing. Seriously…almost nothing. They claim the entire thing is about 5oz, but I weighed it and both together weigh less than 4 oz, and the bag alone is only about 1.5 oz.

It comes stuffed in this little silicone "droplet" (hence the name). The droplet has a clip on it for your backpack or whatever. Honestly, if I need the dry bag, I'm probably not taking the silicone droplet with me since it's got some weight on it, and if I'm using the bag, I don't need the storage pod, but it's a great way to package it and keep it stored when not in use. The fabric is pretty slick and slippery, so it's kind of hard to fold and keep folded without the pod to do so. So the droplet serves it's purpose well when you need it.

The real reason I wanted to try this thing out was for my backpack, because I absolutely hate pack liners and I wanted a dry bag large enough for my sleeping bag and pad. This fits them perfectly, with a little room to spare. So even though I didn't have my pack with me, this held those items and went in our canoe bag (which isn't waterproof) and kept my things nice and dry every day I packed them.

It's durable construction and lightweight fabric make it ideal for adventures on the water, near the water, or simply when water falls from the sky and all you want it to do is go away. No worries…your gear will be nice and dry!

Wake up to babbling water with a view of the Mississippi River

Hands down, one of the all time best campsites I've ever been to. Not many places you can camp and wake up to the sound of water babbling on the Mississippi River. This site was not only easy to get in and out of, but had more amenities that most campgrounds I've paid to stay in.

Baxter Canoe Camp is certainly accessible by canoe, and possibly by foot/car, but I'm not certain about the latter. There is a trail for maintenance workers to drive in (they come by regularly to empty the trash cans!), but I don't know if it's for drive in traffic as well. We were on a canoe trip down the Mississippi, which led us to this gem on the water.

note: this camp is not located exactly where it shows on the map. I'm not certain if the camp was moved after the map was printed, or if it was just printed in the wrong spot on the map, but it was about a 1/2 mile to a mile farther south of Brainerd than we were expecting

There are two spots off the water where you can get out of a canoe and hit dry land. The first has some stairs, but they are VERY steep. Not easy to ascend when you have heavy bags and sea legs (hey…that rhymed!). After trying that once or twice, I discovered a landing (better for canoes anyhow) about 20 yards farther down shore that was a better spot for docking as well as entering the campsite we chose. Although it was a steep step up a nook in the hillside, it was still easier that teetering on the wooden steps previously mentioned.

Immediately, we were stunned at the size, cleanliness and location of everything this site had to offer. There were trashcans. There was an outhouse style building with a pit toilet and…guys are going to love this…a urinal! (my husband said he has NEVER seen this before in any pit toilet style set up). And…drumroll…there was a giant, huge, monstrous sized pile of firewood. The DNR had left it there. All you had to do was chop it and you were toasty for the night! We had a huge picnic table, and the tent pad was level! No joke…flat as a pancake and right on the river. There was another official site with a fire ring and picnic table, and there were also plenty of unofficial spaces (open area) to drop a tent or hang a hammock. There were tons of hammock trees! Not to mention that some larger rocks just off shore made the water sing a bit when the water sloshed over them, so we had some lovely nighttime tunes.

We did have a nighttime visitor in the form of something big and black and furry. We didn't see him (her?), but heard the sounds of a bear. There was a trail behind the tent that led into the woods, and I think it belonged to this creature of habit. It never approached the tent, we never had to yell, and it never threatened. Simply grunted and "barked" a few times, and then wandered away. Fortunately, we had properly hung our food in a tree and left all the Snickers in the bear bag.

Bottom line, if you have a canoe and don't mind paddling a few miles, this is absolutely worth a day trip. Quiet, peaceful and serene. Except for the bear. But that's just part of the fun, right?

Ranger Review of Matador Nano Towel at Bearpaw Camp - Itasca State Park

Cleanliness is a virtue, they say, and this campground was a direct reflection of that! One of the cleanest ones I've visited, however, because of the popularity of the area (it's a wonderful state park), the campsites are rather close together. But despite all the family chatter and children's giggles, everyone was very respectful and quiet time was just that….quiet. And even at the beach, where I tested my Matador Nano Towel, there was plenty of space for all to enjoy!

Campground Review:

We live near Itasca State Park, so are very familiar with the trails and campgrounds, but I've never stayed at Bearpaw, so we decided to make a quick overnight trip, just for fun! Great time to enjoy the beach, the sunshine and a little campground fun.

This campground has mostly drive-in sites (which are RV friendly), but there are a few walk-in sites too (there are other campsites/campgrounds at Itasca, but this one is the only one with walk in vs drive in or hike in). Walk-in sites are those where you can park your car, grab a cart, load your gear, and walk to your campsite with all your thing. Usually less than a hundred yards…touchdown!

Although the sites are close together, there was a decent amount of room at most of them, although ours seemed remarkably small, but we still had space to do what we needed. Most of the walk-ins had much more space to set up camp. We were at site #74. All have a picnic table, bear box for your food fire ring and the tent sites seemed fairly level. It's nice that there is paved roadway through this campground, even near the walk-in sites, so it's a great place to let kids bring bicycles, non-motorized scooters, etc. They can loop around and around while you enjoy the fire. Not to mention, the main paved trail that runs the length of the park (about 5 miles of it), is just down the hill, so it's very easy to access from the campground. You can ride to the beach, other sites and even the Headwaters of the mighty Mississippi in less than 15 minutes! So make sure to bring your bikes, or simply your hiking shoes.

*Note: The RV sites were very close by, and you could hear the hum of the generators, but it didn't seem bothersome to me.

The campground bathrooms and shower houses look fairly normal from the outside, but the insides are beautiful!! Seriously…raving about a bathroom is something you just don't normally do when you go camping, unless you've been backpacking, and then flush toilets are like heaven! But seriously, the walls and ceiling were varnished wood, the floors were tile and everything looked new. It was lovely.

There is drinking water at spigots, but there isn't very much of it. What I mean is that there aren't many places to collect this water. So, yes, you can find it, but don't expect to find it easily late at night. But you don't have to filter lake water, unless you want to.

They do have firewood available for purchase, but it's very expensive. Unfortunately, you can't collect dead wood at this park, and can't bring your own, so you have to purchase it if you want a fire. We did run into the campground hosts, as they were cleaning up bits of garbage, and they told us that someone had left wood at the next site, and asked us if we wanted it. Very kind!

After setting up camp, we headed to the beach to test out my Matador Nano Towel! The beach was very nice with clean sand, although very rocky (watch your feet!) and the water had been cleaned up as well. What I mean is that they clean an area off the lake at the beach for the sake of swimming, and then set up buoys to mark off the area. It was very well done. And even at the outside edge of the buoys it wasn't much deeper than 6 feet. Perfect for families and kids! A very slight, gradual deepening from the beach to the edge of the swim area. There as also a picnic shelter, grassy area to set up blankets under the trees, changing house and bathrooms and only about 20 yards from one of the nicest playgrounds I've seen. Lots of unusual play equipment that entertained for a long time!

Gear Review:

As a Ranger for They Dyrt, I have the awesome pleasure of reviewing gear from amazing companies in exchange for honest reviews. This time, Matador allowed me to test a Nano Towel, which absolutely rocked!

The Nano towel comes in two sizes with two different price points. I chose the large which is two foot by four foot and is perfectly sized to serve as a shower/beach towel. Now, that doesn't sound huge, but let me tell you, it won't let you down.

It comes in a sort of silicone bubble-type pod that can fit in the palm of your hand. Open on one side to allow it to be stuffed in and pulled out, with holes on the other to aid in air flow and drying. On the top, is a pretty hefty caribeener so you can clip it anywhere (and for me, it's mainly my backpack). Two different colors are offered: a muted, earthy green and a charcoal grey. The silicone matches the towel. Perfect for his and hers on a trip. At about $35, they seem a bit pricey, but I promise, they are worth every, single, hard-earned cent.

I took this gem to the beach, and broke it out when I was ready to dry off. The fabric seems as if it wouldn't hold more than a misting of water, it's really thin, but that's it's strong suit. That's what makes it magic! This fabric is unlike anything I've seen before. Very light, very thin, but very durable and holds water like a sponge! They say it holds 2.3x it's weight in water, and I believe it. I dried my entire body and wrapped my hair (and I have medium length hair). It sucked so much water from my hair that my locks dried in no time, and then…as and added bonus…the fabric is thin enough that you can wrap and knot it at your waist like a wrap skirt! No joke, I could wear it as a skirt at the beach (I don't think it would fit every body type and size, but I'm a size 6 and have hips and had plenty of fabric to tie a knot). Absolutely not why I got this towel, but what a great bonus!

Now, I mention the fabric as thin, but that's not a hit against the product. That's a brilliant thing! They've managed to create a fabric that is not only functional and purposeful, but durable and thin so that it packs small and you actually want to take it with you as a luxury item!

And as an added bonus, there is a great little loopy tab on the long side, that fastens with a snap (whoever thought to add the snap was a genius) so that you can pop it open and fasten it over a clothesline or a branch. And as if it didn't dry fast enough anyhow, if there happens to be a breeze or sunshine, the process is even quicker. And if you get both elements involved, it's almost instant. Okay, maybe not instant, but you won't wait long for a dry towel to take skinny dipping again.

Bottom line, despite the crowded campground and kiddos galore, everyone was very respectful of sundown and noise levels, so I'd camp there again with the family for certain. Especially since it's so convenient to the trails and kid friendly activities. And as for the Matador Nano Towel, take that $35 you've been saving for a new Iphone case and buy the towel instead. I guarantee, it'll last longer and be more useful in many more ways than that new pink silicone cover with rhinestones.