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The one thing that I always seem to take comfort in whenever I’m shoveling snow in March is that it will only last for a little while. I guess that is like when I was a kid and would injure myself and my mother, in an attempt to comfort me, would say “it will only hurt for a little while.” Sometimes that little while seemed like an eternity, but I guess that after a long and harsh winter anything that is piled on us now only seems like a temporary setback.

There are many ways to anticipate the arrival of spring, but one sure way to get the fire started is planning a summer vacation. I know that I’ve mentioned it many times before, but I feel that camping is one of the best ways to enjoy a family vacation. The cost of renting a cabin for a week has skyrocketed, which is probably why a lot of the smaller resorts have gone away and many people have found different ways to spend their vacation. I know the operating costs of a resort have risen and of course when that happens, the cost ends up getting passed on to the customer.

If you’ve never tried camping but are interested in giving it a try you can outfit yourself with a pretty minimal investment. A family vacation spent camping can be pretty inexpensive if you tent or even have a camper and know where to go. I have mentioned in past columns about the numerous National Forest Campgrounds available. We also have a great State Park system that offers camping for a minimal fee. Go to a nearby state park and spend the day. Take a walk on the trails available to visitors and check out the campground to see if it is something you’d like. You can have access to any State Park in Minnesota by purchasing a vehicle permit for $25 for a 1-year period and $18 for an additional vehicle. The sticker is good for one year from time of purchase. A state park sticker is a great way to test the waters if you are just curious about camping and want to see what it is all about.

For many years, our family vacations were spent camping and fishing. We started out with a tent, but eventually purchased a pick-up camper that we enjoyed for many years. For some reason, the idea of camping made me feel like I was one with nature and of course, I could never go anywhere without my fishing equipment. It was sort of a “guy thing” with the fishing and being skipper of the fishing vessel. Maybe I was actually more like the outdoors version of Tim the Tool Man.

Once the fishing was over and we were sitting around the campfire, the rest of the family took charge. The boys would beg to start the campfire and, after running the ship all day and cleaning the day’s catch, the skipper was too tired to care much about a fire. Their mother was the master of the campfire and she could and still can have a nice campfire blazing in no time flat.

I really have to say that a hot dog never tastes as good as when it’s roasted over a campfire. We’d roast marshmallows and hotdogs over the fire, have chips and Van camp’s beans for at least a couple of evening meals and top that off with s’mores - it just doesn’t get any better than that. Even though we now have a cabin, there are still times when we do the hot dogs on the campfire thing for supper just because it’s easy and everyone looks forward to it.

So, keeping the simple life in mind, give some thought to trying camping as a fun way to spend time with family. It can be pretty rewarding. Following is some information about camping and lodging at Minnesota State Parks.

Camping / Lodging

• Whether you're roughing it in a tent, or taking it easy in a cabin, you can find the perfect spot for a vacation in a Minnesota state forest or state park.

• State forests provide more than 2,000 miles of forest roads and thousands of logging trails, including 46 campgrounds with 1,000 campsites. State parks offer more than 5,000 campsites or a variety of cabins, guesthouses and other lodging. Plus, there are thousands of miles of rugged or paved state trails and water trails that can lead you there.

• How do you begin? Just use the following information to find places to go, and then check the maps for campgrounds and campsites.

• Reminder: Protect our trees from bad bugs - www.dnr.state.mn.us. Don't move firewood!

Plan Ahead Perfection: Camping reservations may be made up to one year in advance of your first night’s stay.  Whether it is the night before, or the year before, we will have a spot waiting for you. Now you can search by date to find the perfect time for your overnight stay.

Spur of the Moment: up to 30% of the campsites in our parks and state recreation areas are non-reservable. These sites are rented on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Make a Reservation

On line reservations can be made 24 hours a day, except for the first day a reservation becomes available. On that first day, reservations cannot be made online before 8 a.m. go to the website: wwwstayatmnparks.com.

Phone reservations can be made by phone, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. Phone: 1-866-85PARKS (1-866-857-2757)

Until next time; think spring, camping and fishing and enjoy the great Minnesota outdoors!

Remember our brothers and sisters who are proudly serving our country so that we can keep enjoying the freedoms that we have today.

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