Visiting Fall Lake Campground (Ely, Minnesota) in early May
At the beginning of May 2017 I visited Fall Lake Campground near Ely, Minnesota with my 3.5 year old son Jackson.
Day 1 (Thursday)
We left Hopkins, Minnesota around 930am with the intent of visiting the K&B drive in near Eveleth, Minnesota for lunch; Unfortunately we found the drive in totally leveled when we got to Eveleth, later I learned that the Drive In burnt down late in 2016 (pic below).
My son enjoyed the drive through Eveleth, Virginia and the various other mining towns on the way to Ely, Minnesota; as they are full of heavy machinery (excavators, heavy trucks, back hoe diggers, et al).
Once we arrived in Ely, Minnesota we ate at the Boathouse Brew Pub, we were the only people in there other than the staff. It was a great meal.
We then proceeded to Fall Lake campground, we found the front office building locked and looking through the window I saw that there was –nothing– was in the building. I then noticed on the cork board near the entrance to the front office building had my last name “Merrill” written on a piece of paper (pic below).
I grabbed the piece of paper and proceeded to our campsite (#21).
The campsite is at the end of the loop in an loop that seems to be mostly dedicated to tent camping (small parking pads, steps down to the tent pad). Because the campsite was on a spur off of the loop, this campsite might even be great when camping in the summer with kids as there is no traffic that drives in front of the campsite. Also, it turns out that this campsite is near the play structure that is on the shore of Fall Lake.
My son and I hung out during our down time in the evening and explored the campground, the gentleman that was maintaining the campground stopped by and said hi later in the evening.
We setup our tent and cooked dinner, we were in bed as the sun set. I did not setup my Seek Outside titanium stove on this trip as I was worried about my son burning himself on the stove (he is not very steady on his feet at times, and he is 3.5 years old). I instead used a Mr Heater Big Buddy propane heater in the morning to heat up the tent before we got out of our sleeping bags and to begin the drying out of the tent in an effort to reduce the cumulative amount of condensation on the tent.
To keep warm my son slept in the Military’s 3 piece BDU sleep system, I slept in a 20 degree Thermarest bag with a the gortex bivvy bag from the BDU sleep system, we used ground cloths under our Thermarest pads (we each used a foam pad coupled with a Thermarest base camp sleeping pad).
We read a handful of books and my son fell asleep, I listened to a couple of chapters of “Ready Player One” before I fell asleep.
Day 2 (Friday)
On Friday we awoke to quite a bit of condensation covering most of the interior of the tent, our bivvy bags (all of our sleep system was totally dry). We made a simple breakfast, and given it was still pretty cold outside we went into Ely and visited the North American Bear Center.
I recommend visiting the NA Bear Center if you have a chance, the staff at the bear center was very friendly and took the time to show my son various things at the center. We even got to go “behind the scenes” and see Ted the bear get fed by the staff (pic below)
My son and I went back into town after eating lunch and playing at the playground for a while to visit the International Wolf Center, this was an interesting place to visit and there was quite a bit of nostalgia associated with visiting this for me as all I wanted to do when I was in 3rd(ish) grade was to visit the wolf center; what I also remember about visiting the wolf center as a kid was that it was pretty disappointing (I don’t think we saw the wolves inside the enclosure and there is a single large exhibit room with 1 or 2 other exhibit rooms). I still found it fun to visit and my son enjoyed the kids room at the building, he played there for quite a while.
We visited a couple of stores while we were in town, got a gift for my daughter and wife and then had dinner back at our campsite.
We went to bed before the sun started to set, and read books again. Once my son was asleep, I listened to a couple more chapters of “Ready Player One”.
Day 3 (Saturday)
Saturday morning we were pretty lazy about getting going, my son played next to the campsite while I made breakfast. We played at the playground at Fall Lake campground and worked on drying out the inside of our tent as there was quite a bit of condensation (there was a brief thunderstorm on Friday that caused extra moisture to condensate on the inside of the tent.
Jack pretended to be a plane with the drying ground cloths.
We visited Kawishiwi Falls, the hike is easy for an adult — not so easy for a toddler on foot. After visiting the falls my son was pretty tired, he fell asleep in the truck and I ventured up Echo Trail to scope out properties up there.
After grabbing lunch in town, we came back to the campsite and hung out for a while, my son fell back asleep in the truck. After taking a look at the forecasted temps for the following morning I made the call to start packing up — we got back home at about 9pm.
Day 4 (Sunday)
As we bailed on Saturday, we did not stay on Sunday. Our original plan was to stay through Saturday night and then pack up Sunday morning and head home. With the Sunday morning temps being foretasted at 28ºF the condensation in our tent would have been significant, my son seemed exceptionally tired at the end of Day 3 leading me to feel like he would not really enjoy packing up Sunday morning — with the bailing on Saturday when he was tired he was able to sleep most of the way home back to Hopkins (4.5 hour drive).
I would make a trip again at this time of year. Spending uninterrupted time with my kind was exceptionally fun and I believe is some of the most valuable time that I can spend with my kids. My wife and I learned a bit more about both of our kids (how they act when they are not around each other). Traveling to northern Minnesota before the fishing opener meant that we had the campground nearly all to ourselves; and Fall Lake was exceptionally quiet (motorboats are allowed on Fall Lake).
Quite a few people lie to themselves saying that the quality of the time that they spend with their kids is more important than the quantity of time. I believe that both quality (e.g. fancy trips to Disney Land, special dinners, special activities) and quantity of time both matter, and uninterrupted time at length with your kid is the best kind of quality time you can have with your kids.
Camping in early May \ late April brings the risk of campsites being muddy, snow still on the ground, and guaranteed chilly weather; balanced against zero noise, nearly empty campground, and no bugs I feel like it is worth making the bet to visit northern Minnesota during this time of year.
The Fall Lake campground is well maintained, and the bathrooms are always clean.
10 out of 10, would do it again.