The trout fishing in spring is legendary. That’s what fisherfolk tell me about Whitewater State Park, in Altura, MN but that’s not what lured me. In late October, fall colors were fading fast and they needed peepin’ pronto. This is, after all, why I quit my job, to do spur-of-the-moment getaways. So I Scamped on down to Whitewater’s new Minneiska campground for a night.
The park reveals itself as a surprise every time; you drop down out of flat farmland, and—boom, this gorgeous section of the Whitewater River Valley. To get an eagle’s eye view, and maybe view an actual eagle, hike the rugged .7 mile Chimney Rock Trail. It’s steep and hilly, as is the Dakota Trail. The Dakota trail is a bit more of a monster though, a 4.2 mile loop with more than 200 stairs, some so steep they are a “ladder.” You can also skip those “Stairmaster” workouts and hike river-level on the Meadow Trail.
In warmer months, take a dip at the beach. The bath house there was constructed by the CCC. The Civilian Conservation Corps built 29 buildings and structures in the park, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The CCC built the dam over the Whitewater River, but it couldn’t hold back the water in 2007.
When the park flooded in 2007, lots of campsites and park structures were damaged. While they get rehabbed, the new Minneiska campground opened in August 2017 with 40 sites on higher ground just across Highway 74. The name “Minneiska” literally means “water white” in Sioux. It’s not in the protective, leafy curve of the Whitewater’s arm, against the bluffs like Cedar Hill campground. If I’m perfectly honest, part of the charm of Minneiska is that it’s so freaking easy to park the Scamp–no backing up! The immature trees make for less shade, but an open sky and a planetarium’s worth of stars at night. And the brand new bathroom facilities don’t suck.
It’s hard to overstate what catnip these words are to a Minnesotan: “Noticeable lack of mosquitoes.” But that’s the promise on the Whitewater’s webpage, and let’s be clear, it outranks “spectacular spring wildflowers.” On this October morning, I got neither bugs nor buds, but brrrr. I woke up in a scrim of ice, Scamp delicately frosted both inside and out. It warmed up quickly enough, and if you need a heart quickener, there’s always those trails.
PRODUCT REVIEW: MIGHTY TIGHTS
Not just on these hikes, but all fall I’ve been wearing these REI Screeline Hike Tights. I cannot, will not do yoga pants. That’s not my best look and besides, they don’t have these practical side pockets for phones, snacks, keys. For me, this breathable jersey is the appropriate level of fabric between the outside world and my bum. They’re probably best for cool, not cold weather, but you could layer over them. I really like the scuff guards on the instep; they protect where hiking boots and rocky terrain do the most damage. And while I don’t encounter tons of actual “scree,” or mounds of loose rocks on my hikes, I do two sets of dog toenails ready to shred most clothing. These don’t catch or snag. REI also makes them in a regular pant cut, check those out if you don’t want a tight, even a relaxed one. $74.95 at REI.