I love to camp in the fall. I have been camping in the fall for the last 30+ years. And it’s really not camping unless it’s in a tent. Just kidding, but I LOVE tent camping. (I should write a blog about that sometime.)
What I love about fall camping is getting out in the woods with the amazing colors, of course. Besides the color, I really love the crisp air. And, it was VERY crisp as we camped at Jay Cooke State Park the first weekend of October – well below normal temperatures. The low one night dipped down to 28 degrees. You sure feel that on your nose when you are in a tent. Most of the time, it isn’t that cold. Fall temperatures in northern Minnesota seem to range from about 40 degrees to mid 60 over the years. And if there is sunshine during the day, the temperature isn’t really a problem.
The other thing I like about fall camping is — camping. Duh! I just love to tent camp. It really puts you out in nature. In a tent at night, you can hear nature. (I know that may be a problem for some people.?) The wind through the trees, a critter scurrying along the ground, the water over the rocks. Sometimes you hear nothing. It can be so deathly quiet you wonder if you are the only one on the planet. It is amazing!
So, this year was the first year that my wife, LaDonna, has camped with me in the fall! Can you believe it?! She has either been managing kids and the start of school or working, so she hasn’t been able to come along. When my oldest was in first grade, I took her camping with me. It was a great experience. So, I did the same with our second and third when they each reached first grade too. I also have a good friend and camping buddy, who has joined me on nearly every year after that. So, this was the first time my wife was able to come along. Of course, it had to be possibly my coldest camping trip ever, getting down to 28 degrees! Although when I went with my second daughter, I think it got into the low 30s.
Anyway, besides the cold and ice on the surface of the water in my coffee pot in the morning, we had some great weather. The highs were only about 50 degrees, and for the first evening and all the second day, it was cloudy and calm. Sunday and Monday had beautiful sunshine and crisp air. Just as I like it. We had a cart-in campsite. I like those because they are usually a bit farther away from others, another good reason to tent camp. You can’t drive an RV into a walk-in site. 🙂
I usually like to camp Friday through Monday. On Sunday, people clear out, which provides more time in the less populated park. Although in the fall, and during COVID, our state parks seem to be overrun. So, we arrived Friday afternoon about 4, set up camp and took a drive to look around. The sky was totally overcast and it was calm. We found a place to stop and captured a few images. Calm is great because I can shoot at long exposures if necessary and hold everything sharp.
We did some pictures by the river, capturing some color along the shoreline. When it is calm, I like to try some still life-type shots of leaves, branches and tree trunks. I did some of those, but it was getting dark so we headed back to camp.
For our meal, we had fajitas! They were awesome. LaDonna came up with awesome meals that don’t take too long at the camp site and don’t create a lot of dishes. The veggies and chicken are put on wooden skewers and cooked over the fire. When ready, you pull the pieces off the stick and onto a tortilla with sour cream and salsa and they are excellent! We had a nice hot fire to sit by (it was about 40 degrees), and then we made apple pies in pie makers — those with a cup of coffee, and we were ready for bed.
Saturday was cloudy all day. I always get up before sunrise when camping, but when it is cloudy, it is harder to get out of bed, especially when the temperature is only about 36 degrees. We filled our thermal mugs with coffee and headed east on Highway 210, which cuts right through the park. About one-quarter mile down the road, we stopped at the bridge that was completed in 2017 after the massive washout that Jay Cooke experienced during the heavy rains five years earlier. We climbed way down the embankment to the edge of the river. I spent a lot of time capturing images along the shore. Since the sky was cloudy, I tried to keep it out of the pictures as much as I could. The light was nice and soft, but the clouds were so thick, the light didn’t have a lot of direction that you can get sometimes on cloudy days.
After we spent time there, we wanted to view the swinging bridge and see what kind of photos we could capture there. Even though it was about 9 a.m., we could tell this was a popular spot as visitors were already increasing. We crossed over the river on the bridge and wandered around a bit. Our tummies told us it was time for breakfast, and we knew we could come back later.
Saturday afternoon we explored a bit in the nearby village of Fond du Lac and even drove into nearby Duluth on Highway 23. In Fond du Lac, there is a nice park by the river, and we hiked along a historic interpretive trail in Chambers Grove. After experiencing a flat tire and making lots of calls to get it repaired, the tow truck driver was able to repair it on the spot, sparing us from having it ruin the rest of the weekend. That night we visited friends at their house, so we didn’t get out to do photos. We were ok with that since the temperature was dropping fast.
On Sunday morning, we went once again to the massive bridge on Highway 210, but we stayed up on top to have a wide view of the river valley (see first image). There was a lot of fog coming off the river, and with the sun starting to come up; the scene was ever changing. The fog came off the river like smoke in different places. Eventually, the sun burst through the thick fog in the east as it peeked over the pine trees.
Possibly my favorite shot of the weekend and one that would make an awesome large wall decoration is of geese flying over the river with the fog rising. Landscape photography is a blend of photographic/compositional skill and serendipity. I had been photographing for probably 40 minutes when I heard the geese take off from the water. When they were flying low, below the horizon, they were hard to see. But once they rose up higher and were viewable above the horizon, I knew there was an opportunity for an amazing shot. I fired off a bunch of shots, while I adjusted my shutter speed so that I was sure to freeze any motion. I am very pleased with the final result.
By the time the sun too high for good photography, I had captured a lot of images. We then went for a short hike on the Ogantz Trail, which has some good overlooks on it. After that, we went to hike the Silver Creek Trail, which is on the other side of the swinging bridge by the main park building. That provided a wonderful hike through the colorful woods.
We had to stop every so often to take pictures, which is a regular occurrence that I’m sure any photographer’s spouse is used to.
At one point, while the air was warming up and bright sun was shining everywhere, we came across a low point in trail, still in shade. Everything was covered in a beautiful frost. Of course, we had to take some pictures. That was a great hike, and I’d recommend it to everyone. I’m sure it is pretty in all seasons, and it looks like this would be a great cross-country ski trail in the winter.
Sunday night we went to a location by the river that was calm and captured trees and their reflections in the water.
On Monday morning, we went one last time to the river valley and hiked down to the edge once again. The spot we went to is beautiful; it is just a bit limiting because you can’t walk around much. I could shoot in the area we came down or climb over some rocks and go up river a short distance, but I only had a range of about 30 yards to change my location. This is due to the unique rock formations in the park. I was still able to get some nice images of the water and the changing trees in the background.
After that, we headed back to camp to cook up “gunk,” a mixture of fried potatoes, onions, mushrooms, eggs, kielbasa and cheese. Mmm, mm. Then we packed up camp and headed home. We did take the long way though, so we could see more colors on the way.
It was a great weekend, and not only captured great images that would look great on any wall, but had a good time enjoying God’s handiwork.