Amateur and veteran hikers alike clamor to the trails the moment the last snow piles in the north melt into the ground. Hiking is a hobby, a form of exercise, and a fun family outing. There’s nothing quite like following the trail, peering over every corner to see what’s just around the bend. The excitement of not knowing what animals and insects you’ll bump into keeps the smallest child moving ever forward, ready for the next encounter.
A few decades ago, hikers had to map out their trails and lug around a few extra gadgets to ensure their safety. But now, thanks to modern tech like smart phones and GPS devices, we can wander and know just where we are at almost any given moment. There’s something freeing about getting lost only to locate yourself as a small dot on a big map full of mystery. Just the same, there are extra steps you can take to ensure you remain safe, have fun, and create a memorable experience on the trail.
Start with Gadgets
Though reception can limit cell phone data in certain areas, bringing your smart phone is always a good idea. Trying to get away from the constant chatter of your everyday life? Turn it on airplane mode when you’re not using it. But just by having this device on hand, you have a powerful tool that can send calls or texts for help and pin point your exact location, or at least while in range of cell service. So what do you do if you don’t have cell service? GPS phone or tracker.
GPS phones ensure you can locate yourself when cell service is unavailable. But it also protects you if you find yourself set off from the trail. Maybe you followed that adorable beaver into the woods to get a better picture from a safe distance and found your feet far from the trail when you looked up. GPS phones and trackers will give you and your loved ones peace of mind before you hit the trail.
If nothing else, and just in case your electronic gadgets’ batteries die, packing a compass is a tried and true method for navigating hiking trails. Being able to tell directions can be the difference between life and death, especially during cold nights in spring or fall.
Trails and Apps
Voyageurs National Park has trails that range from easy to difficult. Rocks, narrow pathways, bogs, and more can pose challenges to hikers as they make their way further into the trail. The National Park Service created a list of trails, breaking them down by location, level of difficulty, time it will take to complete, and notes that better describe what you can expect.
But remember that smart phone we mentioned earlier? Before you set out on a hike, you can download numerous apps that detail the route, level of difficulty, and even help you make challenges to outdo yourself or your friends. Some apps allow users to review trails, providing their personal insight and experience for various trails so other users can better prepare. Here are a few of REI, the well-known outfitter’s, favorite apps for hikers.
Now that you’ve prepared for a safe hike and you’ve got your route picked out, all that’s left to pack is a filling snack, your favorite hiking boots, and a camera (or your smartphone that doubles as a camera). Happy trails!
Birding is a hobby you can take with you anywhere. Even some of the coldest, most remote places in the world have various types of birds that live or migrate there seasonally. It’s a hobby you can bundle into two: hiking and birding, boating and birding, four-wheeling and birding, to name a few. If you’re outside, look to the sky and listen carefully. This hobby changes with the seasons, bringing new species of birds to new locations for an array of colors, sizes, and sounds.
At Rainy Lake, it’s easy to slow down and notice the sounds and sights you might otherwise miss. The warmer temperatures in the spring mean birds that migrate south return to mate, nest, and settle in for a beautiful summer. With more bird activity and a greater chance to see rare birds that are out to socialize, April is a great time to hone your birding technique. Grab a pair of binoculars, get outside, and look or listen for a few of our favorites.
We’ve named just a few common spring-time birds here at Rainy Lake, but consider taking our birding challenge and download a printable list of birds you can scout for next time you’re outside. Want to encourage birds to visit your yard? Check out these tips from Minnesota DNR for bird feeding in the spring!
The Minnesotan accent is well-known and easily mocked. Yah, sure we use phrases like “you betcha” and could easily trademark “ope, sorry,” but no place is more proud of the unique blend of German and Scandinavian heritage that contributed to the long vowels used so frequently in this northern dialect. The accent isn’t the only thing we held onto, though. Traditions keep us going through the long, slow end to winter. As we usher in spring, we’re one of the last places up north to see the ice disappear on the lake and the snow mounds melt for good. By gathering to celebrate spring holidays, we take time to reflect on a few traditions and soak up the last days of winter and the first days of spring.
Starting with a night-time hike on Friday, March 6, grab your snowshoes and hit the Oberholtzer Trail to explore the woods and wildlife that come out at night with the “Night Eyes Snowshoe Hike” from 7 to 8:30 PM. It’s a method of travel used for centuries and it’s a heck of a lot quieter than the engine of a snowmobile or the roar of an ATV. Get ready for some serious quiet time to connect with nature in a whole new way. This is a self-guided hike, so you’ll be free to go at your own pace and stop to see the owl or fox that share the trail. Start at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center and let your curiosity guide you deeper and deeper into the dim-lit woods that are humming with nocturnal creatures.
In mid-March, celebrate the Finnish or Irish Saint (or both) that are traditionally synonymous with the start of spring. St. Urho’s Day is quirky and just what we need to break our late-winter cabin fever. This holiday that takes place on March 16 celebrates a make-believe saint who is said to have driven away the grasshoppers from Finland in order to save their grape crop. Originating in Virginia, MN, Northern Minnesotans take this holiday pretty seriously and welcome anyone to celebrate this bizarre and fun holiday.
St. Patrick’s Day, on March 17, celebrates a saint who is said to have chased unwelcome snakes out of Ireland. This impressive feat was given an entire holiday celebrating Irish culture and history. Pack something green or risk being pinched, or so says tradition.
All of this foreshadows the first official day of spring in the northern hemisphere, March 19. It might not feel like spring up here, but this sweet spot between winter and spring means wildlife galore. Between the heavy walleye activity on Rainy River and wildlife that is just starting to come out of hibernation, there’s plenty to see and do. Whether you choose to celebrate a saint or discover one of the most beautiful landscapes in Minnesota by snowshoe, there’s an activity for you up here. It’s all waiting to be explored, don’t cha know?