The Time We Forgot Our Tent…

View of Manitou River in Manitou State Park, MN

It was Mother’s Day weekend and we were heading up to George H Crosby Manitou State Park on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior. You can check out our guest post on exactly what to do at the park on North Shore Explorer’s wonderful blog!

We have been backcountry camping as a family for as long as I can remember. That experience can be a blessing and a curse. While years of practice develops skills and experience, it also can lead to a sense of complacency. I am notorious for forgetting little things on our trips. Fishing tackle, coffee, toothbrushes, and lighters are some of the usual suspects.

At about the midway point on our 4 and a half hour drive, I looked over at my wife and said I had a sinking feeling I forgot something. She calmly said, “You probably did, but it likely is something small and we’ll survive.” We both shrugged it off.

Arrival at George Crosby Manitou State Park

Walking to the park entrance at Manitou State Park in Minnesota with snow on the ground

We arrived at George H Crosby Manitou State Park at about 7:30PM to find that the gate to the parking lot was closed. We had planned our arrival to give us just enough ambient light to set up camp before darkness consumed the day. Well… the closed gate added an extra half hour to our hike in to our campsite and all but guaranteed we’d be setting up camp in the dark. 

We were surprised to find significant amounts of snow and standing water covering the trail on our hour long hike to our campsite. Spring had arrived in southern Minnesota weeks prior but was still in its infancy up north.

Setting up camp on the Manitou River and the “Uh Oh” moment

Family making camp at Manitou State Park when they forgot to bring their tent

We arrived with slightly wet feet, pulled out our headlamps, and got to work. Kristen’s job was to set up the tent and lay out sleeping bags and pads. Mine was to collect dry firewood and start a campfire. 

I had been collecting wood for about 10 minutes when Betty ran up to me. She said, “Dad, mom would like to talk to you.” I told her I understood and would come down in a minute. She followed up by saying that, “No, Mom REALLY wants to talk to you. Like right now.”

Uh oh! I thought. This was not going to be good. Betty’s face was dead serious and I could see a glimpse of fear and uncertainty in her eyes. As I approached camp I could see all of our packs’ contents were emptied on the ground. Kristen looked at me and very sternly asked, “Where’s the tent?”

Where is the tent?

I knew in that second exactly where it was. In the blue Rubbermaid Tote labeled Tents on the top shelf in our garage. I calmly replied, “At home…”. She was not impressed.

After a brief but stressful interaction, we realized we had a choice. We could hike in the dark through the snow, ice, and water back to our truck. Then we could drive down dirt roads for a half hour back to civilization and hope that someone had a vacant hotel room. We both agreed that this was a bad idea and would teach our kids to do exactly what we always tell them not to: Give Up.

Emergency shelter

Quick emergency shelter made form a tarp set up on the river at George H. Crosby Manitou State Park

Or, we could make due with what we had. We decided on the latter. It took about five minutes from when we realized we had an issue until we solved it. We always bring a large blue tarp on our trips as an extra rain shelter. Thankfully I didn’t for get that! I quickly set up a lean to with the tarp and rope. Kristen cleared the ground of sharp sticks and other objects. 

We were very fortunate that Henrik and Betty took a survival course at last year’s Winter Camping Symposium. Their survival packs included the normal backcountry tools like knives, ferro rods, etc. They also had smaller tarps!

We had a cozy little setup with the large tarp overhead and smaller tarps below us. Up went our mini lantern and down went our sleeping pads and bags. We just had to pray it did rain heavily! While we were partially protected, our campsite was on low ground next to a river. Heavy rain would surely lead to us sleeping in a puddle. With an expected nighttime low of around 40 degrees F, that would not be fun!

Fear of the unknown

Kids getting cozy in their sleeping bags at George Crosby Manitou State Park in Minnesota

The kids were a little apprehensive at first. It is surprising how exposed one feels in a makeshift shelter when compared to a tent, even though the tents was are paper thin! We could feel the breeze move through the tarp and it took a bit longer for everyone to fall asleep. Luckily we had the gentle lull of the river to help put everyone to bed. 

We woke up the next morning rested and pretty excited! We had camped for decades and never slept under the stars. The late start to spring kept the bugs at bay and the cool weather was perfect sleeping weather. The kids were proud of themselves for doing something that would be unheard of in their groups of friends. We were proud as parents for not quitting and powering ahead. 

A successful trip to George H Crosby Manitou State Park with Kids

Hiking in the snow and over fallen trees on our way to camp at Manitou State Park in MN

We have always viewed one of our parental responsibilities to push our kids’ boundaries and show them that they are more capable than they give themselves credit for. This surely pushed all of our boundaries and we were all the better because of it.

The trip ended up being a success and we added in some great hiking adventures in the days that followed. As we drove home, both kids were shaking with excitement as they thought about telling their friends about their epic camping story. We were excited for them as well.

That is until we received an email on Monday morning from Betty’s kindergarten teacher letting us know Betty told the class a pretty interesting story…

Don’t forget to check out our Guest post on North Shore Explorer’s blog for details on how to plan your trip to George H Crosby Manitou State Park!


The Quill Family

We are the Quills! An ordinary family sharing our extraordinary travel experiences. 


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