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  • A swinging little bridge from the CCC
  • Easy BBQ ribs to grill at camp
  • Socks that might make me break up with Smartwool.

Getting to most of my favorite camping spots on MN’s North Shore requires an ass-numbing drive and a chunk of the day.    Jay Cooke State Park seems almost too easy, just 2.5 hours north of the Twin Cities.  But here’s the thing: it feels a lot further UP NORTH.  It checks a lot of boxes: rugged hikes, dramatic views, easy connection to the Willard Munger State Trail.  A swinging CCC bridge over the St. Louis River.


The swinging bridge over the St. Louis River, built by CCC at Jay Cooke State Park

No wonder this is one of Minnesota’s most popular state parks–but–don’t let that stop you.  I booked a campsite midweek in late summer and found plenty of solitude.  My boys Enzo and Franz (euphemism alert!) are not *the friendliest* campers, so we need a site with a little buffer space.  Site 19 turned into a glorious little dachshund ranch.  And apparently a watering hole for bluejays.



“Dirty Sandstone” if you prefer, but slate and graywacke are fun words to roll around on the tongue.  They are the rocks that give Jay Cooke park its distinctive look.


The St. Louis River gallops through the park on its way to Lake Superior.   Hike both sides of the river gorge on the Silver Creek and Carlton trails for views of the jagged rock formations and waterfalls.  You’ll find swimmable shallow pools upstream.


Wear sturdy shoes or that slate and graywacke will eat your feet.  Find easier hiking on the grassy flats and in the forest.  In the woods, I chanced upon a mysterious “Jasari & Cara” mushroom, unrecorded in the mycology literature.  Seriously though, who writes on mushrooms?

So Much CCC

Seems the bulk of state park structures are bricky and utilitarian, if not just outright outhouses.  Well, Jay Cooke has the handsomest outhouse ever and I don’t bestow the title lightly.

About six park buildings here are on the National Register of Historic Places.  Six!  They were built during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps out of local rock and timber.  They look completely at home in this dramatic landscape.  Here’s a link to a MN History Center article about CCC structures at Jay Cooke: Rustic Style Resources in MN State Parks.

Some examples of these “Rustic Style” buildings include:
– Oldenburg Point structures.  Go here for a view of the St. Louis River Valley and to pee in an architecturally significant building.
– The River Inn near the Visitor Center.
– The iconic swinging bridge, natch.  It is neither too high nor too swinging to deter two intrepid dachshunds.  

Enzo and Franz, caught mid flap, on Swinging Bridge


Doing some cooking ahead of time makes tons of sense; the more clean up you can avoid, the better.  TBH, I’m better at this in theory than in practice.  So when Bob volunteers to make his Lambeau Field-tested BBQ ribs, the answer is always “yes, please.”  They are delicious and mostly done at home.  Recipe here: Super Simple Ribs
Marinate them the day before in olive oil, garlic, brown sugar, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Baked at home low and slow, in a 250 degree oven for 3 hours.
Bring ’em with, and all you have to do at camp is finish them on a charcoal grill. Easy to make AND clean up.  More time for camp fires!
To cover the picnic table, pack a rectangle of waterproof vinyl for a tablecloth.
This stuff came by the yard from a fabric store.  It’s a cleaner surface (not for long, with ribs) and cuter.  Note Franz in the upper left, no doubt catching wafts of BBQ sauce on the pine-scented air.
PRODUCT REVIEW: The socks that might make me break up with Smartwool?
  I’ve had surgery on one of my toes, not to mention a few on my knee, so I’m pretty serious about my search for comfy footwear and socks.  I usually wear Smartwool, but before this trip, I got some “DARN TOUGH” socks at REI.  They’re made of wicking merino wool, like Smartwool.  This $16 pair was super comfy over days of steep hikes.
If the heel fabric doesn’t wear out after 20 wearings, I’ll be sold.  I’ll keep you posted.
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