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I Can Camp



I can camp. Well, sort of.

Most of my experiences are actually childhood memories, where the tent assembly took seven times longer than it should, "meals" were granola bars and skittles, and the overnight setting was my own backyard. I also may have woken up once with the tent on the ground all around me (and my tent-mate safe and dry indoors!) after a mild storm.

As a young adult, I "tried" again. "Tried" being the imperative word, considering our entire group's lack of consideration that our Yosemite campground was at a much higher altitude than the sunny, Midwestern college campus we just left. COLDEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE.

Too bad we didn't know about The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources's I Can Camp program. (In fact, they have all sorts of "I Can" programs, but I'll stick with this one for now.)

It's a great way to learn the basics of camping among experts, especially if you don't already own all the gear, but are considering. The program provides the tents, air mattresses, cooking gear, and more, and leaders will show you how to assemble, cook tasty meals, start a fire, and of course, camp safely. Ask any of your "how do I..." or "what should I..." questions and they'll happily answer.

This "overnight workshop" (one or two nights) isn't all learning though; it's still a fun trip. You get to explore and experience nature like any other camping experience, with hiking, fishing, biking, canoeing, or geocaching often available.

The one-night program costs $40 for a group of up to six, and two nights for $60. That includes a vehicle pass, the use of camping equipment, plus all instruction and activities. The annual Minnesota State Parks permit may be purchased for an additional $20.

The complete schedule of various locations and available dates can be found online; register fast, they're filling up. Groups will be given a six-person tent. Animals not allowed; and infants and toddlers not recommended. Check the website for a handy packing list and answers to other commonly asked questions.

73 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas are waiting; with one little step you can gain the confidence to camp on your own next time—and not wake up to a collapsed tent.

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