Duluth.com the magazine: LET’S GO SCAMPING – A Madeline Island Ferry Tale

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The last time we went camping, my husband Mike and I enjoyed a beautiful summer day at Amnicon State Park, complete with hiking, perfect weather, a cooler full of icy cold beer, and a bonfire. The day was full of laughter and the feeling of peace that comes from being immersed in nature. That night, however, was a different story.

Huddled closely together in our flimsy two-man nylon tent which, I might add, was perfectly safe and cozy by day, Mother Nature unleashed her fury in the form of a multi-day deluge of rain, thunder, and lightning. Lightning bolts flashed white-hot while thunder boomed dangerously close to our tent. Sleep, as well as escaping the tent to relieve ourselves, were out of the question.

“Holy s***! If I survive this night, I am never going camping again!” I mumbled to my husband as I quivered in genuine fear.

A SLIGHT CHANGE OF HEART

OK, since this story is obviously about camping, you know by now that I didn’t hold myself 100 percent accountable to my middle-of-the-night promises. But I am reasonably certain I’ll never camp in a tent again.

With that out of the way, let me introduce you to my new favorite way to camp: in an adorable, loaded with heat/AC/running water/protection from the elements Scamp camper. From here on out, I will refer to the act of Scamp camping in my own cutesy vernacular – Scamping! We made arrangements to rent a Scamp from Superior Campers. We chose the Scamp, as opposed to the many different camper options, simply because I think they’re darling. Another cool fact is that they are made right here in Minnesota! Our choices were the 13′ Scamp, or the 16′ version, which included a toilet and shower. We opted for the 16′.

MADELINE ISLAND

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Since Superior Campers requires a three-day minimum camper rental, we decided to broaden our horizons a bit and make the 90 mile/1.5 hour trek from Duluth to Madeline Island. I had been there once for a 4th grade field trip, and I have fond memories of a quaint, magical island in the middle of the Big Lake.
Discovered in 1659 by explorers and fur traders, Madeline Island has been home to the Ojibwe for hundreds of years. One of 22 of the Apostle Islands, Madeline’s population ranges from just 220 in the winter to 2,500 in the summer.

Today, Madeline Island offers the combination of secluded campgrounds situated upon miles of rough, rugged Lake Superior shoreline as well as a cute little town for shopping and dining.

The ferries run from March or April until freeze-up. The “mainland” of Madeline Island is Bayfield, home to the well-known Apple Festival.

SCAMPING

With a hint of trepidation (our previous excursions had been limited to one night, after all), we loaded up our food, gear, and other miscellany and headed to pick up our Scamp. Superior Campers gave us the full run-down of everything our Scamp had to offer, which was a lot.

When you’re accustomed to tent camping, venturing out in a camper is an absolute luxury. We watched in awe as our guide explained how to operate the indoor toilet, stove, fridge, heater, and air conditioning unit.
After hooking the camper up to our truck, we hit the road. It was a Thursday afternoon, and we were Madeline Island-bound!
A few helpful tips: if you are using a GPS, just type in “Madeline Island Ferry,” and your system will auto-magically get you right where you need to go! And, the name of the little town on the island is La Pointe.
The Madeline Island Ferry offers multiple convenient time slots for heading to and from the island, especially in the summertime. You can view their full schedule by visiting madferry.com.

WE’RE ON A BOAT!

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Transportation on the Madeline Island Ferry cost $76, and
reservations were not required. The fee paid for our truck, Scamper, and the two of us to cross on the ferry, round-trip. Plenty of helpful ferry employees gave us clear instructions as to where we should park once on the boat.

Once aboard, you can get out of your vehicle and walk around the boat. It was super exciting, yet a little surreal, to be on a boat surrounded by cars, trucks, people, dogs, and several RVs, crossing Lake Superior, en route to a fun camping adventure.
For you Andy Samberg/T-Pain fans, you will appreciate the fact that once we were safely loaded onto the enormous ferry, my husband and I spontaneously broke into the song “I’m on a Boat.”

WE’RE DISEMBARKED; NOW WHAT?

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The disembarkation process was also incredibly easy; ferry employees simply point to the next vehicle in line to drive off the boat, and you comply. Once ashore, we decided: our trusty GPS has gotten us this far; let’s jam out to some KUMD, and wing it from here.
The town of La Pointe is pretty tiny, yet we still had no idea where to go. We opted to “turn left,” and just cruise. We ended up travelling about seven miles to the opposite side of the island, and found the campground fairly easily.

BIG BAY STATE PARK

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Out of two campground options, we selected Big Bay State Park. Mike and I have camped at several state parks, and have always been very happy with the cleanliness, beauty, and amenities offered.
Big Bay is simply gorgeous. The campsites are relatively private, and they offer restroom and shower facilities, as well as a central water hook-up. But keep in mind: the campground is full of mosquitoes, and the beach is home to plenty of biting black flies, so be sure to remember your bug dope!

Over the next three days and nights, Mike and I enjoyed hiking, biking, indulging in the all-natural “sand + Lake Superior pedi” you get from walking on the beach, a couple of excursions to town, and sleeping without fear of death by lightning. Our campground’s “Trail to Barrier Beach” takes you directly to the beautiful shores of Lake Superior, where you can walk (or swim) for miles. The beach consists mostly of fine sand, but the more rugged end has large, smooth rocks; a beautiful place to catch the sunset or have a picnic. There are also miles of
well-maintained boardwalk in the forest, perpendicular to the beach.

NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION

Our Scamping adventure went very smoothly for the most part, but we had to “make do” a few times, as fellow campers will understand. I realized I had forgotten a washcloth, so I had to shower with my vintage, floral-print hankie. And, although I had remembered both the Keurig and our K-cups, I forgot a coffee mug. We improvised with a beer can that Mike cut in half with his knife. I was notably impressed by our ability to pony up the creativity required for solving these problems, which are admittedly silly and first-world … but, still.

WILDLIFE, NATURE AND TOURISTY STUFF

We were delighted by all the wildlife we encountered on Madeline Island. On our way to the campground, we saw a mama Black Bear crossing the road with her three cubs. We saw plenty of white-tailed deer (including two tiny fawns), as well as ducks, loon, a hummingbird, a garter snake, and even a rooster!

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Once “in town,” where we decided to spend our daylight hours on Friday, we browsed the cute shops like tourists do. We stopped for lunch at a place called Grampa Tony’s, which offers a rooftop deck where you can eat your meal. Tip: Do this! You won’t regret it.
We checked out Madeline Island Candles, the infamous Tom’s Burned Down Café (it has a tarp instead of a roof because the place literally burned down!), and I had a latte at Mission Hill Coffee. As we browsed, we were greeted warmly by tourists and locals alike. The island is populated by seniors and young adults; hippies and conservatives. And, it is very dog-friendly. There were dogs accompanying their owners just about everywhere.

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We had dinner at the Beach Club, where we enjoyed a delicious fish fry on their back patio, directly on the lake. The fish fry consisted of your choice between fresh trout or whitefish; we ordered one of each and shared, along with a few icy cold Honey Weiss. And, we encountered some pleasant dining companions: the Beach Club’s three resident mallard ducks were happy to visit in exchange for a few crumbs.

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VERDICT

When Sunday came and it was time to leave, we awoke feeling melancholy. Back to the real world. After packing up, we used the dumping station, located at the Madeline Island Airport. Then it was off to catch the ferry. We recommend getting to the ferry landing well in advance, since many people will be trying to head home at the same time. The Scamp was a comfy and delightful “home” for our three day adventure. The weather was almost perfect the entire time we camped. It was sunny and in the ‘70s for the entire trip, other than one 45-minute rain storm, when we just retreated to the Scamp and took a nap! And, we greatly enjoyed the combination of “roughing it” in the woods, with a bit of time spent in town.

Our entire Scamping trip remains bathed in a golden light in the recesses of my memory. In fact, it almost (but not quite!) negates the “Busche camping disaster of ’15.” Simply put, we loved Madeline Island, and can’t wait to return.

Written by Andrea Busche for Duluth.com the Magazine.

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