The Drive: Being a city boy, one of my favorite parts of road tripping is driving though all of the small towns in the remote corners of Minnesota (and America in general). Some towns, like the previously mentioned St. Peter, are bustling, wealthy, and idyllic. They are everything a successful river town should be - a Sinclair Lewis main street, a respectable Lutheran college, a good balance of steeples and bars - they are full of life. This is not always the case. Between Lake Shetek and Camden lies Currie, MN, a town of just over 200 people on the banks of the Des Moines River. Currie is anything but alive. Boarded up storefronts, dilapidated houses, and (the saddest thing of all) a poor attempt at a railroad museum with plastic bison yard ornaments. There are many towns like Currie - once centers of commerce because of a flour mill on the river or an outlet to a railroad - but the businesses fail, the kids move away, and all that's left is a row of wooden structures just waiting to burn down.
(Disclaimer: I haven't seen Currie in high tourist season and it is in a region officially known at The Lakes, so maybe summer injects the town with new life, but it's hard to live a year on two and half months of business.)
The Park: As may be deduced from my arbitrary rating, I was impressed with this park. Camden is a destination park. Situated along the Redwood River, the park has native prairie at the top of the valley, descends through mature oak forests, and ends with cottonwood river bottoms. There are hidden hollows throughout the park sending me back to my time in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Maybe it was the mood I was in when coming to the park, maybe it was because this was the last park on my prairie trip, maybe it was just the contrast to the lackluster Lake Shetek State Park, but I knew I was going to love this park when I first drove into it. The road to the trailhead brings you on a nice tour - over the railroad, past the horse camps, down to a swimming beach. I am doing a bad job of explaining why I liked this park so much. There was nothing spectacular. No huge waterfalls, no mountains, no bluffs, no unique animals or history - but it had a wholesome beauty that just kind of filled me up. Pictures, fortunately, don't lie and this park provided some of my favorite pictures from the whole route.
The Hike: The 2.4 mile hike (the park has over 15 miles of hiking) follows the route of the Dakota Valley trail. Beginning at the swimming beach, located at the very bottom of the Redwood River Valley, the trail slowly climbs, winding its way through all of the different ecosystems the park has to offer. It summits at an overlook where you can see the river and much of the valley. I was a little early for fall colors, but at peak, this view must be unparalleled in the local region. The trail backtracks, cuts through the prairie at the top of the ridge, and then rapidly descends back to the hollow in which it began. A sign along the trail encourages you to stop, shut up, and just listen - I think you should also smell. You can be out of ear and eye shot from civilization, but the best way to determine if you are really in a natural place is to smell. The scent of wilderness is unmistakeable and Camden's got it.
Cumulative Miles Hiked: 40.4
Cumulative Miles Driven: 1230
Arbitrary Rating: 6/5