Jeanette Lake Campground: Mini-Minnesota Vacation #4

Our water toys await launch into Jeanette Lake in the Superior National Forest.

If someone ever wanted to successfully torture me for information, all they would need to do is stick me in a dark room full of mosquitoes. Between the incessant buzzing and the blood-sucking, I would divulge anything anyone wanted to know. I’d even make up stuff if it would get me out of that hellhole faster.

I was reminded of effective torture methods during our inaugural night at Jeanette Lake Campground in northern Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. Russ and I arrive late on a Friday night with our Scamp trailer. The site we had reserved months before was the only one available in the government system for the dates we desired. It was situated in dense woods near a wetland along the lake. Mosquitoes love wetlands. They also love the dark. And, they apparently love my ankles.

We set up camp between mosquito slaps, amazed that so many bugs were still alive when our summer has been so dry. I’d expect swarms like this earlier in the season, not in mid-July, but I guess this year has been a good one for them.

Somebody (and I’m not naming names) left our camper door open too long. By the time we were ready to sleep, our trailer was filled with mosquitoes. We spent a good forty-five minutes trying to kill every last one before we went to bed.

But you know that ONE mosquito always survives. They will hunt you down during the night, buzzing insistently around your pillow as you try to sleep.

After a few belated kills, we were serenaded by the mosquitoes that had collected outside on our window screens. Such a lovely way to drift off into dream land!

In the morning, I was loath to leave the trailer. Still demoralized from the night, I envisioned cutting our weekend camping trip short due to the bugs. Russ was awake and out before me. I noticed he stayed outside for a long time. Wasn’t he getting eaten alive?

Thankfully, it turned out he wasn’t. As I took my first cautious steps outdoors, he sat, smiling, at the picnic table, coffee in hand. The mosquitoes were nowhere near as numerous as the night before. Maybe our camping trip wouldn’t be a bust, after all.

I first learned of Jeanette Lake over thirty years ago when I spent a summer as a photojournalist volunteer for the LaCroix Ranger District in the Superior National Forest. I’d driven past and through the campground a few times on my way to other places. With its islands and white pines, the glacier-carved lake looked like one that should be in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The thought of being able to drive to it and camp appealed to me, but I never had the chance until now.

We ate our breakfasts and took a walking tour of the campground, which offers about a dozen sites. Two are walk-in. Backcountry sites are scattered around the lake and on the islands for those who want to work harder (by paddling or boating) for their camping experience.

A few of the non-reservable sites were empty, including a picturesque one right on the lakeshore. I noticed it had perfect access to the water for kayaks or paddleboards, both of which we brought with us. A nice breeze off the lake would keep mosquitoes at bay.

After we returned to our site and got talking, Russ said he had paid for our site at the pay station that morning while I was sleeping. My brain was beginning to work by that time, and I remembered that I had paid for our site when I made our reservation.

So, we had paid for two sites. Why not move to the better one? The Forest Service might frown upon such practices, but it seemed like a good idea to us, so we packed up and moved out of the wetlands and to the lakeshore. Later, we told several people who were looking for campsites about the free one they could have that was under our name, but nobody took us up on it. Gee, do you think that might have had something to do with MOSQUITOES?

Our non-mosquitoey campsite.

We spent our Saturday paddling the lake, resting on a tiny island covered in jack pines and blueberry bushes (the berries were ripe). We also hiked on the Astrid Lake Trail, which can be accessed from the campground near the walk-in sites. After the trail crosses the road (the Echo Trail), it wanders through a black spruce bog. If you look closely, you’ll see rare pitcher plants. Farther on, glacial erratic rocks — huge boulders dropped by glaciers as they retreated and melted 10,000 years ago — dot the sides of the trail in the forest.

We spent the evening around a campfire, admiring the red orb that served as a sunset in skies hazy from northern wildfires. As the sun disappeared, the mosquitoes reappeared, but in more manageable numbers.

Ferns growing on an ancient glacial erratic boulder along the Astrid Lake Trail.

Sunday morning, we mountain-biked on the Echo Trail, which is the gravel road that provides access to this part of the land. After a quick dip in the lake, it was time to pack up and head home. Along the way, we made a lunch stop at the Montana Café in Cook, Minnesota, the town where I was stationed during my volunteer stint. The café was another one of my old haunts and I was glad to see it was still in business. They have great malts and burgers.

Despite the best efforts of the mosquitoes, we were able to salvage this trip down memory lane. If you’re interested in a touch of wilderness with easy access, don’t be put off by all my whining about mosquitoes; put gorgeous Jeanette Lake on your list.

Two shed skins from a garter snake that lived near our site. We also had a camp chipmunk and cottontail rabbit.

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