On this first #TWLHikingClub Tuesday of 2019, Devon and Chelsea Bowker look back on their top hikes of 2018, from the best overall hike, to the most conflicting, and most Instagram worthy.
Best Hike: Devil’s Lake State Park
Chelsea (@teacherwhohikes): I actually wrote an in depth review and rationale of why this park was a strong contender for my all-time favorite after a trip there in July (which you can read here). There are only 77 so called “Last Great Places” in the world, according to the Nature Conservancy. One of them is Devils Lake State Park in the land of cheese and Packers fans. All of the enjoyment would not have been possible without the invitation from my family who lives in Wisconsin. Their presence made it all that much better. In the words of Chris McCandless, “Happiness is only real when shared.”
Devon (@devonthenatureguy): This was easily my favorite hike of the year. Better yet, we were there to spend time with family of ours from Wisconsin who we don’t get to see all that often. Over the weekend, we hiked 13 miles and climbed the equivalent of 283 flights of stairs. I wore our toddler on my back a majority of that time, which meant for an added 40 lbs and more strenuous experience. Nevertheless, I loved every moment. The views were spectacular, the variety of trail difficulty is greatly accommodating, the beach was fantastic, and the nature and wildlife were absolutely mesmerizing.
Devils Lake State Park has over 29 miles of hiking trails, portions of which are positioned on the scenic National Ice Age Trail.
Most Interesting: Turner Falls
Chelsea (@teacherwhohikes): I saw this place like a year ago in a magazine I subscribe to, and I knew I really wanted to go. On our way down to Texas, on the actual route, it came up! Naturally we had to go. The first thing I will say is that this place is kind of a commitment because it costs a lot. It isn’t like go look and then drive, no. It is also incredibly touristy. If you can get past that, like we did, you can walk along the river/creek that runs down a sandy in appearance and swimmable incline to the falls- which yes, you can swim in. I thought it was really pretty, and I have never seen a place like this. Tourism is combined with nature. I just kind of was quiet as I took this place in.
Devon (@devonthenatureguy): Okay, this place was so, so strange. Imagine a combination of the small town on Big Fish, castles, a water park, Gatlinburg, and the place they dug for fossils on that one episode of Arthur. It felt like we had entered some sort of alternate reality, but a really cool one. Evidently, Turner Falls is the largest in Oklahoma, and the oldest park. There is basically a natural lazy river and several spots like the one directly above which allows cars to drive over—or rather, through—the river without interrupting the flow. There is a castle on the grounds which was built in the 1930’s that you can explore freely, 3 caves, and loads of people swimming and floating anywhere there is water. Hands down one of the most bizarre, interesting parks I have ever been to.
Most Isolated: Savanna Portage State Park
Chelsea (@teacherwhohikes): Okay, so like I am a people person, but I am also not. I like being alone in nature. This park was exactly what I needed. It is super North Shore without the people. There is even some unique campsites there that I excited to try soon. In this park, we canoed a lot. We also saw wildlife. I am not super obsessed with predators (outside of owls) like most Minnesotans, for I appreciate birds, rodents, deer, etc almost more. This is the place to see these animals! We saw beavers every single time we hiked. The bog was also breathtaking in that it is scientifically the most interesting type of ecosystem. Like bro, carnivorous plants everywhere! The water had bryozones, which again, bro, yes. And again, there weren’t annoying touristy campers with loud music and dogs there. It is not like “the park” to go to, so it is often overlooked.
Devon (@devonthenatureguy): Everything Chelsea said. Plus, we were there at a time when a lot of wildfires were going on elsewhere, so that made for some breathtaking sunsets and sunrises. We watched a beaver devour, like, 40 lily pads before it smacked its tail at us, saw a bunch of carnivorous plants in the bog which is my all time favorite habitat type, and overall had an experience I wouldn’t change or alter for the world. This park is legit the closest state park to the BWCA that I have ever been to and I am stoked to get out there again, probably summer after next, to try out one of their canoe in camp sites!
Savanna Portage has over 30 miles of hiking trails situated on the Continental Divide and the historic Savanna Portage in McGregor, Minnesota.
Most Conflicting: Blue Mounds State Park
Chelsea (@teacherwhohikes): I booked this camping trip with excitement because I was going to camp in a tipi! I have always wanted to do this since I was a kid, and I found the opportunity, so I went for it! As the time came closer, I was excited, and being a little bit more woke than some, I looked forward to the education that the DNR would probably have provided on signage and more around the area. I personally know they have been working on actually educating the public about the land they acquired and the land the Native Americans occupied before any of my relatives came here. There was nothing. At least, there was not anything that I saw outside of a couple signs. I hiked the hike, and I read the signs, but I slept in a tee pee that appropriated another culture, and every second I spent in there felt completely wrong. I didn’t even sleep. I legit felt that white guilt and thought about how wrong what I was doing was. Did anyone even see one picture of my campsite? Nope. I still feel like I shouldn’t have slept in that Tipi. The park is beautiful. The hike is as well. I feel like the parks that I love so dearly have made great strides, but there a million more that need to be made.
Devon (@devonthenatureguy): Honestly, I second Chelsea said about our experience there and the discomfort, both physical and mental, I experienced during our brief nights stay. I say brief because we gave up on sleeping around 3 am, packed up, and continued on our way to our final destination—Texas. On top of all of that, the heat index was over 110. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily complaining about the heat. It made for an incredibly memorable hike where every cloud felt like a blessing and every breeze a welcomed friend. We got to see bison far closer than I expected, see some fascinating geology, prickly pear cacti, and got to observe turkey vultures from a unique perspective—from above, looking down on their backs as they soared near the edges of the Blue Mounds. The place has some fascinating history, myth, and is some of the best quality remnant prairie I have seen in a long time. One neat thing that is easy to miss if you’re not looking is the 1,250 foot line of rocks believed to have been placed their by Native Americans which apparently is lined up with the sunrises and sunsets of the spring and fall equinoxes. Also, there is a nice boulder (It’s not just a boulder, though. It’s a rock.–Spongebob Squarepants) that if stood upon allows you to gain the highest elevation in the county with a view of Iowa to the south and South Dakota to the west.
Blue Mounds State Park has 13 miles of hiking trails and is located in town of Luverne in southwest Minnesota.
Most Instagram Worthy Views: Cascade River State Park
Chelsea (@teacherwhohikes): I’m just going to talk about the hill. THE HILL. I hated going up it. It was raining. I was tired. And then we reached an overlook at the top. I sat back as I watched a dad and his two teenage sons sit at the overlook and eat their donuts and sandwiches. It will be that moment that the three of them remember forever, and I think it is so important for our kids that they experience nature like this with the people they love. After they left, I watched over the same look, and I was swarmed by bees, but they never got me. It was too pretty to explain. Go there yourself. And, make sure you take someone you love with you. 🙂
Devon (@devonthenatureguy): We did this hike on Labor Day weekend where we hit up 4 or 5 state parks and hiked their Hiking Club trails in less than 48 hours. This one had us walking almost entirely up hill or the first half. It was sort of between cold and warm, raining, and absolutely draining. But the views were stunning, especially the overlook you are blessed with midway through the hike where you could see an ocean of fog moving like waves over and through the trees below.
Cascade River has over 18 miles of hiking trails and is situated on the Superior Hiking Trail just outside Grand Marais, Minnesota.
If you have a story about or from hiking please do not hesitate to share. We will totally feature your story and pictures. To contact us with your story, message us on Instagram, @teacherwhohikes. You can also message The Wild Life on Facebook.