Mille Lacs Kathio State Park-Thanksgiving Getaway

In November, over Thanksgiving, we traveled up to the Minneapolis area to celebrate the holiday with my family.  After filling our tummies with turkey on Thursday, and waking up early to do a little black friday shopping (I tried my best to abstain this year), we headed an hour north towards Mille Lacs Lake.

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6AM shopping with my mama. It just reminded me why I try to avoid this. My mom wanted a few things and my sister had asked us to get somethings since she had to work. I hashtagged this #onlyformymama.

I knew, with it being a long weekend, I wanted to get away and go camping somewhere.  With already traveling north, it would only make sense to find a new state park to visit and try to log some hiking club trail miles.  I chose Mille Lacs Kathio State Park because they allow camping year round in the Petaga Campground and because Father Hennepin State Park is pretty close to it and I thought maybe we could get in two hiking club trails in one weekend.  Other considerations I took was that it was only about an hour north of my parents house and also, close to a hotel so my parents could come spend the days with us and spend the nights in a warm, hotel room.  Occasionally, they will come and tent camp with us but it was definitely too cold for them to do that this trip.

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On that Friday, we arrived at the park and I checked in at the park office.  I was told we were the only ones in the campground for the weekend and then chatted with the park ranger about some of the trails that they had in the park.  One thing I noticed while in the park office, was that there was a big back room filled with cross-country ski equipment and snowshoes, which are available to rent during the day.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough snow on the trails to ski but I can see us visiting another time and utilizing these rentals.

We did in fact, have the campground to ourselves for the weekend.  There were a few groups that had the cabins rented out but we didn’t really see anyone in the park all weekend, besides a few of the park staff.  It was so quiet and so peaceful.  At night, it seemed a little eerie since it was so dark and quiet. There were no lights in the campground at all.   I would definitely do it again, it was almost like we had the whole 10,000 acres to ourselves.

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Mille Lacs Kathio State Park

In the summer, the park has so much to offer.  There are  35 miles of hiking trails, and 27 miles of horseback riding trails, a swimming beach, canoe access on the Rum River and a large picnic area, which includes a playground.  In the winter, there are 19 miles of cross-country ski trails, 6.5 miles of marked snowshoe trails and 19 miles of snowmobiling trails.  Also, if you visit in the winter there are opportunities to rent snowshoes and cross-country skis.  We would have done this for sure if there had been enough snow.  Another winter activity is the sliding hill-I know my girls would have loved to have been able to do this.  Also in the park is a 100 FT observation tower that you can climb to the top and get a stunning view of the area.  This was closed due to ice on the steps during our visit.

Right next to the sliding hill is a trail center which is heated by a wood stove all winter long.  I was told by the park staff that this trail center is open 24 hours a day with a wood stove and plenty of firewoods to stay toasty warm. This would also be where you can get running water if you are camping in the winter when water is shut off in the campground.  Outside the trail center is a ski rack to place your cross-country skis when you come in to warm up.

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Trail Center
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Inside the trail center

While we were there, our main goal was to hike.  The first day we hikes the Touch the Earth Trail loop.  It connects right to the campground so it was convenient.  Also near the trial is the main picnic area and the interpretive center-which wasn’t open while we were there.  This is also where you would find a decent size playground and the swimming beach.  The Touch the Earth Trail was an interpretive trail and there were maps at the beginning that you could use to guide you through the interpretive signs along the way.  Our route we took for the hike is highlighted in blue in the map below.

We knew that over the weekend, we wanted to complete the hiking club trail which was only 3.2 miles but we decided to split it up into two different hikes.  It was one of our first chilly hikes of the season and Evie gets pretty cold sitting in her carrier so we thought we would be more successful if we did two different loops.

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The first day (highlighted in red below), we walked around the Landmark Trail-which is a National Historic Landmark due to the Native American Significance.  The trail is actually what used to be the campground road until the campground was moved because they discovered 30 different archiological of significance in this area.  This area used to be American Indian Villages.   We then looped around and came out on the road and walked back to the parking area.  This was a tough hike-it was physically difficult but Evie cried a good portion of the time.  My parents also joined us for this hike and was helpful because they went ahead with Elsie while we stopped to try to warm up Evie’s hands.

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The road to the parking area

On the second day of the hiking club trail, we left the parking area and walked down the road to where we came out of the woods the day before.  It is a good thing we retraced our steps a little because I discovered I had dropped one of my gloves the day before! Win!  This time we looped the other direction to finish the trail (highlighted in purple).  Overall, this was a pretty easy hike.  There were some rolling hills that I think would be challenging on skis but wasn’t bad at all hiking.

One thing I need to mention is that the trails here are really well marked.  Each intersection is designated a number and then there is a corresponding map the interesections marked so that you always know you are on the rought you are supposed to be.  Below, Evie is stading at intersection 16. And along the hiking club trail you will find blue directional signs that let you know you are on the right path.

Here is the summer trail map. The intersections are also marked on this map as well.  It is the number with a circle around it.  It would be difficult to get lost on these trails.  There is also a winter trails map but that map does not show the hiking club trail.

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Over the course of the weekend we completed hike #44, #45, and #46 of our 52-Hike Challenge.  Because of backtracking and retracing some of the trails with breaking up the hiking club.  We completed a total of 7.75 miles over the weekend.

Campground Information

There are two campgrounds at this state park.  The Petaga campground, which is a mix of electric and non-electric sites.  This campground is open year round.  The other is the Ogechie Campground, which is a primitive campground without any electric hookups.  Both are wooded campgrounds and have great sites.  Cost to reserve a site is $31/night for an electric site in the Petaga Campground during the regular season (when water is turned on in the campground) and $25/night during the off season.  We stayed in what is considered the off-season.  For a non-electric site it is $23/night for the regular season and $17/night in the off season.  in the Ogechie campground rates are $19/night in the regular season and $15/night in the off season.  The road to the Ogechie campground does not get plowed in the winter time so keep that in mind if you plan to travel during snowy weather.

Minnesota State Parks require a reservation for their campsites.  You can reserve sites up to a year in advance beginning at 8AM.  There is a $7 non-refundable reservation fee for advanced reservations.  This fee is waived if you make a same-day reservation.  So when you arrive, if you don’t have a reservation for a site yet, you will need to do so online or use the phone that the state park makes available for reservations only.

Things to Do in the Area

Fishing is a very popular activity to do in this area and the state park in on the southeast shore of Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota’s third largest lake covering over 207 square miles.  In the summer the lake is full of fishing boats and in the winter, full of ice houses.

Also nearby is Grand Casino Mille Lacs.  This is where my parents chose to stay while we camped.  There are a few different restaraunt options in the casino as well as others in Onamia, the closest town to the state park.  Also in Onamia is the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post, which is a museum about the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.  And if golf is your thing, there are numerous courses in the area to choose from.

DATES OF TRAVEL:  November 24th-26th. 

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