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!
Cute campground with very pretty trails

Although we didn't actually stay at this campground, we drove through and I thought I'd give it a review based on my impressions. Had we known it was here, we might have actually booked a night.

It's not a giant campground, but there was enough space this time of year to accommodate any passerby. each campsite appeared to have a fire ring with a great for grilling, a picnic table, and space for a camper or a tent. There was no electric, but it looked like you could park a small RV or pop-up camper without a problem. There are no showers, but they do have vault toilets. And very close by, there's some beautiful hiking trails! One of them you cross has a very old bridge that is just gorgeous! It's a wooden bridge with a very unique suspension that crosses over the water that creates Amnicon Falls. This time of year, after all the rain, it was flowing like mad and beautiful!

Since I didn't stay, I can't speak for the noise level in the campground. But since we were traveling in October, there wasn't a campground we stayed in that seem to be full of people. Most everything was quiet this time of year.

side note, you do need a park pass in order to stay at the campground. So in addition to the camping fee, you need a park sticker that's available at a self-serve machine when you come in. Out of state residents paid $11 for the park sticker, and $20 for a campsite. In-state residents paid $15 for the campground and I'm not certain how much for a sticker. it did not, however, seem that camping fees went up much past $25, even in the peak of the summer. They are open all year round, but it's still $15 to $20 in the winter time.

Small and quiet without frills

It just so happened we were there on the very last night they were open for the season. And yet they still had over half the sure booked! It's a small campground, but very near the lake, and the coolest part is the old blast furnace (hence the name of the camp on the bay) on display. Mother Nature took it over, but you can feel the history!

A few spaces are actually on the water front with beach access, but one is taken by the camp host, the other two are reservable…. And they were reserved. But there were others, all within an easy walk of the sand. Ours was tucked in the woods, others more exposed, all with fire pits and grills and picnic tables. Even a hanging post of some sort. Drinking water was also a perk.

There is no electric and there are no showers, but vault toilets are centrally located. There is an adjacent park with more tables and grills. Even though there were a lot of RVs, we heard no generators the night we were there.

This is a forest service campground in the Hiawatha Forest. Sites are $20 each as of 2019.

Nothing wrong, but nothing fancy

Most sites have a view of the water, but this campground has a very specific purpose to this area, and it's not for long term camping. I mean, you can, but there isn't much glamour here.

The good part… They have electric, the bathroom is close, you can take a shower and even do laundry! In the summer, my husband says it's fun to people watch here (he's stayed before), but this time of year, it's quieter. The slips and dock are right in front as well as the camp office. The casino is an easy walk, and since you are so close to the border, you can exchange your money as well (Canadian to USD and vice versa).

We didn't know in advance, but paying for the campground allows you free use of the pool inside the casino!

Now, the ugly party.. The price. It was about $45 for an electric site. I think tents were about $20. While it did come with the amenities mentioned above, there is no privacy at any of the sites. The back row sits against the trees, but that's as good as it gets.

Bottom line, it's a good stopping spot near the border where you can plug in and swim, but not great if you want privacy or upscale.

I'd stay here again, but probably opt for a tent site to save some money if I could make do off the grid.

Quiet and quaint and provided what we needed

The campsite wasn't huge, but it did what we needed it to do…it allowed us to set up a tent, have a campfire and sleep!  That's all you need, right?

The tent pads were very level and without any lumps or holes.  The were, however, gravel type sand pads that made it very hard to pound in stakes, but fortunately, it wasn't windy so we didn't have an issue.  The fire grate was clean and provided a nice campfire in the evening.  Each site had a picnic table that was nice and solid.  Our site, number 21, had a small path that led down to the lake.  You couldn't see the lake from where we were, but it was only about 20 yards and BAM…BINGO!  The lake! The bathroom (pit style enclosure with a door) was just down the path from us and we were on a loop, so it was easy for the kids to walk around a bit and stretch their legs after the long car ride. Everyone was quite and respectful after dark and remarkably, we didn't have any critters that night!  Not even a mouse :)

Easy to get to from Grand Marais, and the sites were fairly private from one another.  A good choice, even when it's busy season.  But make sure to bring bug spray…the mosquitoes were brutal!

Ranger Review of Red Ledge Storm Backpacker Poncho @ BWCA South Lake Camp 8

In the middle of the wilderness, on a lake near Canada, is one of those campsites that you almost don't get to because of it's location, but curiosity gets the best of you and you try…and you succeed!  To get there isn't necessarily a challenge, but it's in one of those campsites that's a bit off the beaten path.  And so close to the Canadian Border that you aren't sure it's in the USA.  But BWCA South Lake Camp 8  is on US Land, and well worth the trek.  Especially since there's a portage to the next lake inside your campsite!  And as luck would have it, the weather co-operated and it rained so I got the chance to test my new Red Ledge Storm Backpacker Poncho on my birthday!

CAMPSITE REVIEW:

**note: you will need to stay to the SOUTH shoreline in order to be in the BWCA (The United States).  The north shoreline is in CANADA and to find a site there, you will need Canadian permits and Canadian fishing licenses as well as your passport**

The campsites in the Boundary Waters have strange names and numbers.  They can either be located by the BWCA campsite number (in this case, this campsite is #2064) or by lake name and then campsite number on that particular lake (in this case, South Lake camp 8). Both are correct. We paddled in and portaged a few times to get to South Lake, and originally settled on another campsite because of location and other factors (to be read "kids didn't want to paddle any more"), but it wasn't a great site, and we wanted something better for our last 2 nights on the lake.  So we went exploring and voila! Camp 8! In the BWCA, as long as you have a permit to enter (and you DO need a permit to enter), any campsite you find is yours for the length of your stay.  No assigned sites.

If you've already made it to South Lake via either portage on the Western end, you might have already stopped at any other campsite, especially if it's peak season and you are afraid the others are already taken, but if you are a little more adventurous, and have a little more energy left (did you have your espresso on lunch break?), it's only a few more miles to the other end of the lake! Camp 8 is quite literally on the portage to Rat Lake. The portage doesn't go through the center of the campsite, but the campsite connects to the portage via a side trail that's about 20 feet long. You can hear the occasional noises of other canoe enthusiasts taking the portage, but if anyone has the energy and know-how to get there to begin with, then most likely they are kind and courteous and only want to get to point B and are simply passing through. The campsite isn't giant (you won't be putting up anything larger than a 6 person tent without a struggle), but we had a 6 person and a 4 person, and found space for both. The ground had a few lumps and bumps, but this is why we all have sleeping pads, yes?) There were some great hammock trees, but we had to get creative with placement since there were 7 of us. That said, the view was fantastic! Although it's not super easy to get up and down to the water, it's not hard.  It's just a little steep.  And yes, unless you decide to test the theory that you have "intestines of steel", you definitely want to filter ALL your water before you drink it or cook with it. The canoe landing wasn't great, but do-able.  Even the kids weren't phased.  You just need to have water shoes…you will be getting your feet wet.  And as far as the bathroom is concerned…it does the job. I mean, you can do the job there, I mean…well…it works!  All the toilets in the BWCA are pit style, but are away from the campsite (sometimes you have to do a bit of exploring down side paths to find them) but easily accessible.  No doors or walls, just a view of the woods.  Almost good enough to enjoy the view with your coffee in hand…almost. 

Because you are so close to the Canadian border on this lake, and others in the area, there are international boundary markers on land.  The ones on the US side were short metal stakes, cemented into rock.  They were located along the shoreline, periodically, and not invasive at all.  Just a side note to remind you where you were.  I assume there was something similar on the Canadian side. There was a gorgeous silver cone on one of the portages that was, literally, ON THE LINE. It looked like a silver traffic cone cemented in the rock. It noted the US side as well as the CANADIAN side.  Some portages had smaller markers with more details too. 

PRODUCT REVIEW:

Occasionally, as a Ranger, I get the incredibly awesome task of reviewing kickin' gear in exchange for an honest review. That said, normally, there isn't a soul in the camping world that would wish for rain while enjoying the great outdoors in a house made of nylon, but on this trip, I needed rain.  Why?  Because I wanted to test out my [Adult Storm Backpacking Poncho by Red Ledge

Now, I own a backpacking poncho by another company already, but this one by Red Ledge had a few features that mine didn't, and I was intrigued. I love the idea of a "backpacking poncho" for a few reasons.  Mostly because it covers me and the pack, so I don't have to worry about a separate pack cover and…bonus!…ventilation is better than a rain jacket and pants.  The Adult Storm Backpacking Poncho comes in 2 colors: Classic Blue and Emerald.  

There are a few features that are different than the one I already own that made it stand out:

- it has snaps on the sides to hold it together instead of seams

- the longer part of the back (made this way to cover your pack) can "snap up" to a length that mimics the hemline of the front so if you aren't wearing the pack, the back doesn't drag (I'm short…mine would drag)

- the snaps, rather than seams, allow it to be opened up into a rather large ground cloth that has straps at all four corners so you can pin it down

While I didn't actually use it as a tarp, I did open it up and lay it out to see what it would look like.  Now, there will be a hole in the center because you have to have a head hole for, well, your head, if you are wearing it as a poncho.  But if you were to use it as a ground cloth, you'd just fold the hood to cover the hole and you'd be fine. I did, however, get to use it in…drumroll…the rain! We had one heck of a downpour type of monsoon while we were there, and it was perfect timing to try it out!  At first I thought I wasn't going to like the armholes being so large (simply snapped together instead of sewn), but it proved to be okay.  I was able to pull my arms inside, if I wanted, rather easily to stay warm. I do think that you might end up a bit wetter because of the lack of seams on the sides if you were wearing it all day in blowing rain, but the payoff might be that you still have adequate coverage for your pack and you, as well as breathability and you can turn it into a tarp later, if you needed it.  I'm short, so it was longer on me than most people, but I think that even on taller people, there would be ample coverage and the bonus is that there is tons more airflow than with rain pants and a jacket. The hood has an adjustable velcro tab on the back to shorten or lengthen it, but I just wore my ballcap underneath and it fit fine. There were also elastic bands on the hood to cinch it down with cord locks. Overall, a nice bang for the buck.

From the packaging: 

Fully taped seams 

Nylon taffeta 

Waterproof poly coated with water repellant finish

If you happen to be on South Lake in the BWCA, check out Camp 8 with a view of Canadian islands from an American shoreline.  But don't forget that Red Ledge Adult Storm Poncho, just in case Mother Nature decides that you need a shower…you know…because you probably do.

Bliss in the middle of the country

In the middle of the country, in a tiny town called Brownsville, you'll find a little slice of awesome in the form of a hobby farm with campsites, a cabin, and oh ya…the remnants of an old brewery! Patty and Michelle are nothing less than hospitable, knowledgable and gracious.

Shady Rest Acres is owned and run by two women who are nothing less than the the perfect example of what property owners/business owners should be. Beyond being kind, their property is clean, tidy, beautiful yet rustic and home to so many animals that are all exceptionally well cared for. They have donkeys, Scottish Highland cows (a family of them), sheep, goats, chickens (and they'll even pick the bugs off your car), bees, horses, ducks, cats and dogs (I hope I didn't miss anything!). You have to be "pet friendly" if you stay here, because the the chickens roam, the dogs make friends and the cats meander, just as cats tend to do. If you want to meet the barnyard critters, please only look at them from the outside of the fence unless guided and escorted by the owners.  They are happy to let you meet them with their presence. 

There are 2 campsites, if you wish.  One is in the middle of the pasture (that's right…near the goats) They will pen up the larger animals if you stay at that site, but it's perfect for stargazing!  The other is nestled in the woods.  Both have fire pits and access to wood. There is an outdoor shower, if you wish, and also a composting toilet.  But there is also access to an indoor bathroom and shower inside the main house.  The cabin is delightfully lovely with beautiful decor, two full sized beds, space for a few kids to crash, small kitchen items (microwave, mini fridge, coffeemaker) as well as a wood stove for cool nights and some A/C for warm days.  The cabin is attached to the main house by way of a small deck (although the cabin is free standing, but sitting above the garage). And some local beverages in the fridge! You will have access to the deck chairs and gas grill, if you want to cook some dinner. For potty stops, you'll have to use the bathroom inside their home, but it's very close and private, as they have another one that they use when guests are staying the night. 

At no time did we feel like we were invading Patty and Michelle's space, nor did they invade ours.  It was extremely comfortable, and I thought that we could have asked any question without silly looks and even participated in chores, and we would have been welcome to do so. Even though it rained while we were there, it seemed to be just perfect. Beyond the obvious, they are earth conscious, eco friendly in many ways and fully aware of their food sources, which is one reason why they raise their own food.  So they know where it comes from and how it was treated.  I love it. 

This is rustic slice of hospitality is not only peaceful, but friendly, warm and comforting as well as therapeutic.  Just what the soul ordered.

First to Review
Ranger Review of Eclipse Sun Sleeves at Camp 1 BWCA in Minnesota

There really are no names for the campsites in the Boundary Waters, so I just named this Camp 1 because it's the first camp you come to on the right, just past the portage, but this does not mean it's something you just "settle for" because you are tired.  It's because it's truly one of the nicest on this lake.  We've taken a peek at most all of them on Lake Kekekabic (sometimes it's just fun when you are tired of taking naps and reading) and this has a great view, a little cliff for fishing (I use the word "cliff" loosely) and a great tent pad.  The latrine isn't far, either, making it ideal for nightly visits!  And while we were fishing (and didn't catch a darn thing!), I tried out my Eclipse Sun Sleeves in the canoe!

CAMPGROUND REVIEW:

In the BWCA (Boundary Waters Canoe Area), you don't lay claim to a campsite until you are in front of it. No reservations needed, just a permit that you obtain, in advance, from the forest service.  You have to plan as far in advance as you can, too, because they only allow so many permits/day. 

May 1 - Sept 30 is quota season.  That means you have to apply for, and get, a permit with the office. You pick them up upon arrival to the area, and you pick which office you want to claim in from depending on your entry point. 

October 1 - April 30 is non quota, so you still need a permit, but they are self issued at kiosks. 

At ANY TIME, you are only allowed 9 people and 4 canoes on your permit, and no where in the BWCA are you allowed to exceed this.  Not in the waterways, not at the campsites, etc.  They are trying to keep the wilderness peaceful and this rule helps to eliminate large numbers of people in small spaces.  It keeps the noise pollution down too. So keep this in mind when you reserve. 

You have to portage from lake to lake, and most lakes have campsites.  They are first come first serve, and that's another reason that permits are limited.  Because there are only so many campsites, and no dispersed camping.  This keeps the wilderness as pristine as possible!

Once we portaged into Lake Kekekabic, we knew where we were going.  The first campsite on the right shore is about 1/2 mile from the portage.  We'd been here before and love this site!  All sites have some sort of area to pull the canoe in, and so we did.  Up the little hill, and you have a great flat area for a tent, some rocks that are great for putting up your camp stove, a fire pit that looks out over the lake (although, this time, the wind didn't cooperate and was constantly blowing the smoke back in our faces), a few logs to use as make-shift benches (picnic tables aren't terribly feasible out here) and a latrine just far enough away that you you can't smell it from camp.  Bonus!  

There were a few trails that led around the campsite to some very peaceful overlooks and water spots.  If you are a nature lover and enjoy a good swing in a hammock, you are in luck!  The BWCA is full of this kind of luxury, and this campsite was no exception. 

PRODUCT REVIEW:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I have the insanely awesome opportunity to review amazing gear in exchange for honest reviews.  This time, I had the chance to test out Eclipse Sun Sleeves! 

We went to the BWCA to fish.  And fishing means bare skin, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to test out this UPF gear from Eclipse.  I love the fact that when I have them on with a short sleeved shirt, it looks like I'm wearing a long sleeved shirt underneath.  It looks "normal" and not strange.  They don't look like tattoo sleeves, is what I'm saying. They have the option for using the thumb hole, or tucking it under to look like a normal shirt. 

The fabric is really unique too…so soft! Here is a quote directly from their website:

The activated particles in Cocona™/37.5™ fabric increase the surface area by up to 800%.  The greater surface area results in outstanding evaporative cooling and UV protection. The protection never washes out.

They claim the sleeves provide UPF 50+, and for the weight (which is almost nothing and they fold up to something the size of almost nothing), it's a no brainer to toss them in your pack or bag. Super easy to slide on and off your arms and they are moisture wicking, so they dry really fast if they get wet! Way easier than carrying sunscreen tubes that leak and besides, it's messy and most have icky chemicals in them. The sleeves provide a zippy and "clean" way to go about sun protection. 

They come in a myriad of colors that suit any style. From light colors to bright to dark shades. Completely machine washable too, and the UPF doesn't wash out. Also in three sizes, and while they aren't very specific as to how to "size" yourself when choosing, I used common sense (use your t-shirt size to help you decide).  If they are too big, they will slide off your bicep. I love the "ruffled" edges that don't cut into your skin!

I have to admit, there wasn't much sun on my trip, and I'm not sure that I would have wanted to "try" and get a sun burn, but these sleeves do completely cover the arm and the weave of the fabric speaks volumes about how it filters out the sun.  I can't wait to try them out on a sunny day!

Ranger Review of OOFOS shoes at Father Hennepin State Park in MN

While I have seen parks and campsites with more privacy, there are so many trees (and many sites with a lake view) that it's worth a stay at Father Hennepin State Park in MN. Especially if you are rocking out with a pair of OOFOS flipflops!

CAMPGROUND REVIEW:

We've stayed at this campground a few times before, and it should seem obvious that since we keep coming back, it's not too shabby. Yes, I've seen campgrounds that have more privacy between spaces, but I don't think this place is every terribly crowded (at least not when we visit, in May). The leaves are just beginning to bud on the trees, so there is less coverage from your neighbors than in the heat of the summer, but since there are less campers, you can spread out a little bit. My only complaint, and this is the same of previous years here, is that the electric sites are so close to the tent sites that you can generally hear the generators and/or those that think that the wilderness is for loud music dance parties. Fortunately, this time, we were in our new teardrop camper and could shut out the tunes!

We were at site 7, which was the last one in this campground that sits and faces the lake. And while we've been to this site before, it's the first time we've been in our Teardrop Trailer at this park. Lucky for us, the ice was gone and the wind was pretty calm, so the icy chill wasn't too bad. Each site has a fire ring with a grate that swings back and forth, depending on if you want to chill by the flames, or grill off some burgers. The site we had was fairly level. and provided ample space to park our teardrop and our car without hanging out into the road. A picnic table rounded out the scene to provide a full on camping experience. And lovely night sounds of frogs that sang us to sleep!

There are well over a hundred sites, about 100 of them tent pads (no electric), and about 50 with electric. A few group campsites as well as 4 handicapped sites.There are 2 shower houses, 2 flush toilet buildings, vault toilets scattered around and water (in season, when it's turned on).

In Minnesota, reservations are required. We've found that if you make them in advance, and then decide to cancel the day of the reservation, there are cancellation fees and first night fees and blah blah blah. If, however, you decide to take your chances and book it the "day of", there are no online reservation fees and you can cancel without penalty if you decide to go elsewhere.

Drive in sites are approximately $23/night. Electric are about $34/night.

PRODUCT REVIEW:

Now, I have to admit, I'm an OOFOS junkie. Ever since I won a pair in my very firsts campground contest. That said, I'll never pass up the chance to review another pair! This time, I had the OOFOS Women's OOriginal Sandal. The last pair I had was a light color, and I loved the shoes, but they got dirty so quickly. Since these shoes are a type of foam, they scuff and dirty a little easier than other shoes, but the comfiness of them is off the chart, so they are totally worth having in other colors! This time, I chose black, to combat and dirt issues I might have while camping. If you can't see the dirt, it's not there, right?

OOFOS are recovery shoes, and I didn't know what that meant at first, but just wait until you put them on at the end of a hard day on your feet (long work day, long hike, etc). They literally massage the sole of your foot. I'm not joking. I can't believe how my feet feel when I change shoes. If I listen veeeeeery carefully, I can hear my feet smiling! They are sort of spongy and squishy, but not in a strange way. Like walking on marshmallows! (but not sticky). Seriously, they cushioning, higher arch and wide fashion of the shoe (yes, it's a little chunkier, not a huge fashion statement) make it stable and comfy. They hug your feet and don't slip off the way some other "slippy" flipflops can. And so lightweight! The price is a little more than I normally pay for shoes, but I'd absolutely invest in another pair if this one wears out. The bottom has some fun grippy texture that looks as if it might channel away water if you stepped in a puddle.

Quite frankly, as long as I have my OOFOS, I don't care what campground I'm staying at, but this one is good enough that I enjoy staying a little while, to look at the lake and enjoy the singing frogs!

Ranger Review of Aftershokz headphones at Lockett Meadow Dispersed in AZ

Lockett Meadow is supposed to be gorgeous, and that's why I picked this location for camping, but when I got there, the main campground was closed (which is why I gave it 4 stars). But interestingly, there was a ton of dispersed camping, for free, between the main highway and the campground itself. So I found a spot, and stayed a while. Unexpected bliss!

CAMPGROUND REVIEW:

I had wanted to experience the ambiance I'd read about Lockett Meadow online. The photos of the meadow and the space between the mountains looked incredible! Not to mention the idea that I could hike some trails and maybe catch a glimpse of some elk, and who wouldn't love that?? But alas, that was to be for another day. Just at the entrance to the road that led to the camp, there was a CLOSED sign. sigh Disappointment. But it wasn't terrible, because there was a ton of dispersed camping in the 1/2 mile that led into the area. It was kind of strange, though. Not advertised. Not clear what is going on. Just a bunch of apparent campsites with established campfire rings that look like they are ready for tenants. I guess this is more common in AZ than where I'm from in MN. Lots of places offer this type of camping. Just like they say…when in Rome, I mean when in Flagstaff.

It was kind of odd, at first, until I saw that other people were taking advantage of this situation too. Then I felt better about "popping a squat" and using the resources around me. It was primitive camping, but there were plenty of spaces for everyone (and tons of hammock trees!). I was still careful of my surroundings, since I was alone, but that's just common sense anywhere you go. I chose a spot that already had some fire wood and I made myself at home. The spaces were decently spaced, and with only a handful of occupants that night, everyone chose space away from each other. I could see my neighbor, but it wasn't intrusive. And it was very quiet. Something that's rare at campgrounds! And super pretty. With plenty of space for my tent, ability to pull my car to the campsite (it was windy and I wanted a little wind break) and lovely night sounds that weren't "human" related. Delightfully perfect!

GEAR REVIEW:

As Ranger for The Dyrt, I have the incredibly awesome chance to review amazing gear in exchange for an honest review. This time, I had the pleasure of trying out a pair of unique headphones called Aftershokz Trekz Air.

The product, right out of the package, is gorgeous, sleek and almost sexy. It's and earthy, rich color (I chose the blue), comes with a sleek carry case, and the cords to plug it in. It even had a charge that allowed you to try it out, right from the get-go, out of the box. So of course, I got down to business and hooked them up!

These things are totally different than anything you've experienced before. They don't go in your ear, but beside your ear. Weird, right? They wrap around the back of your head, and are super light. Mostly because they've used Titanium anywhere they can to make these things something you want to put on, want to keep, want to use. Now, that said, I think they take getting used to. I need to mess with them more to get comfortable with them because I'm not sure I had them positioned quite right. I had to have the volume cranked to get it sounding nice (no, I don't listen to loud music), but then the vibration on my jaw is almost ticklish! But that said, they work, and that was a very interesting experience! To hear something through my headphones, but without anything in my ear. They rest on your jawbone and the sound vibration is conducted into your inner ear through your jawbone. They say this makes them great for people with hearing issues because it bypasses the ear canal. Such an interesting and fantastic experience. However, I'm not sure they are for me. I'm confused about why there is still sound coming out of the headphones if they are supposed to let me "listen" through vibration. If I pull them away from my ear (no contact at all) I still hear sound. And the wrap around is too large for my head (do I have a tiny head??). They float above my ears and behind my head. Makes them uncomfortable for me to wear. Maybe if I had a ponytail (my hair is short) I could rest them there and make them more comfortable.

They come with earplugs, too, in case you want a more "traditional" experience, but if you have earphones like this, doesn't that blow the concept right out the window anyhow? Experience the technology! And they are IP55, so they are sweat, moisture and dust resistant. Perfect for that workout, or when you nap, in your hammock, in the rain! They weren't quite my style, but they might be perfect for you!

Take the time to appreciate the things in life that don't go as planned, and you might find the "road less traveled" is worth it's weight in gold! And while you're at it, try at pair of Aftershokz Trekz Air to sooth you while you find your camping bilss! They have a great warranty and might be just what you need to complete your adventure.

No easy feat to get a reservation, but persistence pays off!

If you win the lottery, this is the place to stay!

Let me clarify. This place is amazing, but the only way to get here it by winning a random lottery for a room (link is HERE). It's such a popular location (for incredibly good reason), that you have to enter a lottery, pick some dates, and cross your fingers. All 3 adults in our group entered, and one of us was picked. Hip hip hooray!

It's located on Bright Angel Creek, just a little bit from the Colorado River. In order to get to Phantom Ranch, you have to be insane enough to want to travel down inside the earth about a mile (most people call this the Grand Canyon), in the sun, covered in red dirt, with your backpack, and enough salty snacks and water to feed an elephant (or you can rent a ride on the mules) That said, if you have the drive and insanity and muscles to get you there, the reward is awesome lemonade, night time ranger talks, conversations with mules (because you might just be that tired at the end of the night), unbelievable experiences meeting other fellow hikers, and delicious comfort food.

Okay, now you can't possibly expect the Ritz when you get here. It's not about that. It's not even close, but it's 5 star in a totally different way. Keep in mind, that this Ranch has been here since the early 1920's. And supplies were either local to the area at the bottom, or brought by mule. So it's not fancy.

What to expect: There are a few ways to stay at Phantom Ranch. First are dorms. There are about 10 bunks per dorm, and it's women and men. Women in one, men in the other. Each dorm has a toilet with a door (modern plumbing) and a shower with hot water. There is also a sink. Each person claims a bunk and that's theirs for their stay. The other way is to rent a cabin. More expensive, but more private. If you rent the cabin, you and yours are the only ones sharing it. Because it's "out of the way", not all the modern conveniences work all the time. So expect it to be a little rustic, but it's all part of the experience. The cabins and dorms have air and heat, so it's a more comfortable experience than camping in a tent.

There is potable water scattered around, a few composting toilets if you are away from your cabin, picnic tables, two outdoor amphitheaters (normally a daytime ranger program at one, and a night program at the other). Inside the canteen you can purchase drinks (alcoholic and non), hiking essentials (toothbrush, sunscreen, salve, etc) and a selection of souvenirs. They even have a little library of books to read, and games that you can borrow and play.

There are some meals available, but you need to order them in advance (or check with them each day to see if they have enough for you to order it). The two evening meals are beef stew and steak. Not cheap, but so worth it! They come with fixings like cornbread, veggies and such, and always dessert. You can also order a veggie option. Breakfast is family style (as is dinner) and was pancakes, bacon, eggs etc when we were there. Coffee and juice too. There aren't many options, but think about it…all the groceries have to be delivered by mule. Make sense? Breakfast is offered at 2 different times (your choice) so you can get hiking early, if you want. Dinner is at different times, too, depending on what you order.

While you are there, you can buy a postcard and have it mailed from the Ranch, by mule! Cool little way to tell your loved ones "look what I did!".

So much to say about this "little piece of wonderful"! You really just have to see it for yourself!

NOTE: please read up on traveling to the bottom of the canyon before you go. Make wise choices about what time of year you want to travel. It was April when we went, and although it was about 50 degrees at the South Rim, it was close to 90 degrees at the bottom. In the summer, they said it can get to about 120 degrees in the shade. So please plan accordingly for snacks, water, travel, clothing choices and temperature

Hard to reach, and you have to have a permit, but amazing!

We didn't have the pleasure of staying at Bright Angel Campground, because we had bunks a Phantom Ranch, but what an amazing place to stay! At the bottom of the canyon, how many people get to say they've been there?

It's hard to get there, since you have to hike over a mile down into the earth to find it, but if you've reserved your spot in advance, it's an amazing opportunity! You MUST have a permit to stay at this campground, and it takes months to get one, so please plan in advance.

You can not hike down and get a spot at the campground. You have to have a permit.

Cost: $10 for the permit and $8 per person with 30 sites for small groups (1 to 2 tents) and 2 spots for larger groups (up to 7 tents, I think)

Once you have a permit, and arrive at the campground, it is first come first serve to pick a spot.

The sites aren't terribly private, but they are incredibly unique. Each features a spot on the water, or just across the trail from the water, and it's on the Bright Angel Creek, just a half mile from the Little Colorado River. Each site also had a lock box (like a cooler with latches) for food to keep it from the ravenous, and none to shy, squirrels, as well as a metal "T" post for hanging your packs and shoes. NOTE: Keep your packs UNZIPPED so that the squirrels don't chew holes into them, if they manage to pull circus stunts and find them on the poles. The cool part? Those poles are part of the old telephone line/system in the canyon! Great little piece of history being repurposed!

I assume that everyone at the bottom has the stamina and gumption to get there, so they respect everyone else that did too. And those that were crazy enough to try, without athletic ability, have a newfound insane appreciation for what it takes to do it at all, and respects everyone even more, so privacy at the campsites isn't an issue. It's a privilege to be there at all.

There are bathrooms, potable water, emergency phone, boat beach for soaking tired feet in icy water, ranger station and lots of good company. I highly recommend it, if you are just crazy enough to try. You won't regret the memories!

Ranger Review of Primus Micron Trail Stove at Apache Lake in AZ

When traveling to new places, I want new things to look at and unique experiences when I camp. I couldn't have asked for a more unique first day in AZ when I made my way to Apache Lake Campground (at the Marina) in AZ. It was late when I arrived, and I was starved, so it was the perfect time to try my new Micron Trail Stove with Piezo by Primus!

CAMPGROUND REVIEW:

It says that it takes over an hour to go less than 30 miles to the campground, and I assumed this was one of those GPS errors…until I saw the road to get there. Mostly washboard dirt, a little asphalt and a lot of twists and turns. Upper speed limits of 20 mph made it very clear that the GPS knew what it was yapping about. At one point, I thought I was on a movie set and seriously didn't know how any car coming the opposite direction would pass, if it came to that. But all that aside, it was a beautiful, peaceful drive! Just don't do it in the dark. It's called the Apache Trail and it's Arizona's oldest highway, originally built in 1905. Serious history here! Absolutely worth the drive, if you don't have a fear of heights and have extra time to kill. It passes through a little town called Tortilla Flat and there is apparently an ice cream shop there with prickly pear gelato!

About the campground. It's deep in a valley, on Apache Lake. What a view!! Down a steep road that's about a mile off the main highway (Route 88), you can see the camp before you even get there. Once there, it's a little confusing to find what you need because signage isn't terribly apparent and it's a kind of "lazy-kicked-back" sort of atmosphere. Nothing up scale about it, at all. But that's part of it's charm. I guess I was there at the tail end of the "off" season, so it wasn't terribly busy. It's not fancy, by a long shot, but what you need is at your fingertips. You have to check in at the main building, which isn't very clear, especially upon arrival in the dark, but in the office, they will take your money, show you a map, and point you in the right direction.

There's a section for RVs with hookups (and they do have a dump station). There are restrooms in a few spots, and while not fancy, they let you "do the job" you came to do. Also some showers, and again, not the Ritz, but there is water to rinse with. I'd suggest shower shoes. The camping is kind of cool, though. It's dispersed. I mean, there are many little spots nested in the trees, around the lake, on the sand, where you can just pick a spot and stay. It was only $10 to pop a squat (I think it says $5 online, but that is incorrect). Some are far better than others (on little jetties or in the trees) but they all have sweet lake views and fire rings! You are allowed to collect dead wood to use, so that makes it easier to fire up at evenings end, but they sell firewood bundles too.

I had a little spot right off the lake, and it was quiet. A few night sounds, but nothing more than fish and birds. The only thing that bothered me were some bright lights, almost like on a jet plane, that were at the other end of the marina. I just positioned my tent so that I didn't get the runway lights right through my screen. In the morning, I took advantage of the big huge bathtub outside my tent (most people call that a lake) and took a very quick dip, since it was like ice water. Boy was it refreshing!!! Perfect little site for my first night in the desert. Not dessert. Big difference.

GEAR REVIEW:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I occasionally get the awesome opportunity to review incredibly gear in exchange for an honest review. This time, I was able to have a hot meal on Apache Lake thanks to the rockin' Micron Trail Stove with piezo by Primus.

This little think only weights about 3.2 oz, and folds up like a little contortionist to fit in a stuff sack that's actually got room enough to throw in a lighter. Some stoves have skin tight bags for storage, but this one is great! It has a built in piezo lighter and is easy to screw on a canister for use.

First impression: I love the size, the weight, it's solid construction, the stuff sack is the perfect size.

What I don't like: The piezo fizzled the third time I used it. Ugh.

It's super easy to use, even without reading directions. Just make sure it's screwed on the canister tightly. You don't want to strip the threads and have it launching into space, but if you don't twist it on hard enough, your flame will fail you and you'll sit there thinking you're going to have to eat your oatmeal cold. If that latter happens, try twisting just a little harder, and you'll get a better gas flow that'll give you the flame you need! We don't want hangry campers at bedtime.

While the piezo on mine didn't actually work by the time I got it to my camping trip, I found that I much preferred lighting it with a lighter, anyhow. I thought that the location and way that the piezo worked was a little delicate. Like I might break the whole stove by flicking it. Turns out that they make the same stove without the igniter for about $5 cheaper, and it saves you 14g of weight by not having it. So you have a choice!

Bottom line, I still love the stove. I'm normally an alcohol stove gal, so this was a great chance to explore the idea of a canister version to cook with. I can absolutely see this little Primus Micron making it's way into my cooler weather arsenal so that I can get more hot water, faster, for things like coffee, water bottles for my sleeping bag, and cocoa!

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