Lisa Meyers McClintick, travel writer & photographer

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Take the kids on a farm stay vacation

Mary Veraguth helps our girls collect fresh eggs for breakfast.
Story & Photos by Lisa Meyers McClintick

Join in with farm chores and fun at Wisconsin's Room to Roam
Want to hear your kids shriek with joy? Let them run loose at Room to Roam, a working farm perched along the picturesque Mississippi River bluffs near Fountain City, Wis. 

Katie and her favorite kitty.
You can wear them out the old-fashioned way: chasing chickens, scampering after farm cats and dogs, weeding and raiding the garden, picking berries and giving goats a fresh green stalk of corn.
We enjoyed their down-home hospitality on our son's 8th birthday a few years ago. It was one of our most memorable trips ever. In an era of waterparks and fancy resorts, it's easy to forget the freedom and magic of a simple place in the country.

Farm expands to haycation fun
Guests are free to do what they want, but some are up at 5 a.m. when farm kitchen’s bird clock chirps and announces the day’s first milking. They can head down the dirt road to owner Jess and Mary Veraguth’s farm, where they milk about 50 cows, four at a time for two to three hours. 
Jess shows us how to feed calves.
Veraguths have farmed on this land above the Mississippi River Valley for four generations. When they expanded to 300 acres about 15 years ago, they opened the adjacent farmhouse to guests. It became the Room to Roam experience, which bales together a field trip, farmer’s market and country vacation.
Step back in time
The guest house feels like a time warp with crocheted knick-knacks and bright flowered wallpaper in the kitchen. And it wasn't just the farm-inspired fun that made them shriek. The house's crickets did, too--the one part of country life that rattled our city kids. They wouldn't sleep on the floor, so they passed out in a pile of three on the bed.
Piled together, safe from crickets.
After morning chores and a break for breakfast, Jess Veraguth takes guests on a hayride, bumping through the fields past lush stalks of corn to the edge of the bluff and a breathtaking view of the river valley. It’s only a few minute’s drive to Winona, Minn., or the small town of Fountain City where you can grab an ice cream cone and enjoy meandering along the Mississippi.

Feed calves, collect freshly laid eggs
When evening rolls around, families hold on to two-quart bottles of milk that hungry calves greedily empty in minutes. Then it’s time to collect a bucket of eggs from Black Star hens. 
We loved the brilliant yellow eggs for breakfast.

Guests are welcome to raid the garden, too. Our girls would eat the sun-warmed tomatoes like apples while our son climbed the super-sized round bales of hay.

The peaceful country setting and heavy dose of nostalgia keeps several families coming back regularly. For others, the farm offers a rare chance for kids to roam free, feel connected to the land and to learn about farming in an era when the county’s number of dairy farms has dwindled from 50 to a handful.
“I do this for the kids,” says Jess Veraguth. “The things we’re doing now are almost part of the past. This is like a trip back in time.”

Room to Roam's guest house.
Read more about it
 For more information, you can call Jess and Mary at 608-687-8575. No e-mail. Remember, they do things the old-fashioned way.
You can also watch KARE-11's recent Gopher Getaway on the farm or go to for more information. If you want a farm experience for your family, read the entries at carefully. Many places run more like a B&B and do not allow kids under 12.

Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, SD, has onsite camping
More farm vacation experiences for families
South Dakota also has two excellent farm experiences for families. The bonus? They let kids follow in the footsteps of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
You'll need to be a camping family or game for sleeping in converted sheep wagons at the Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, S.D. Sleeping in the wagons are on my wish list, especially with the gorgeous wide-open prairie views. You could see a storm roll in for miles or watch a fabulous sunset. 

Sisters get in the spirit of DeSmet's Wilder Pageant.
Little House on the Prairie
Of course, you don't have to spend the night to enjoy this magical place. It's open all day to visitors who come to see the horses and colts, ride in a horse-drawn buggy, see a sod house, play with kittens and visit a one-room schoolhouse. There are more Laura Ingalls Wilder sites in town, along with two B&Bs. Prairie House Manor B&B does a delightful job with children, even making special pancakes from "Little House in the Big Woods."

Camp in a wagon at the Homestead.
For a non-camping farm experience, it's about 25 miles to Possibility Farm B&B in Carpenter, South Dakota. It has many of the same experiences as Room to Roam, but it's more of a ranch atmosphere. 

If you're looking for more inspiration for hands-on, unique "Trips You'll Talk About," check out the feature in Midwest Living.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Where to see a moose? Drive until you lose your cell signal.

If you want to spot a moose, drive north until your phone signal stops working. Seriously. That seems to be the trick. You have to get out there on the edge of wilderness. A bit of luck helps, too.

We've now had two moose sightings this year. The first one was in January on Minnesota's Gunflint Trail. They like to escape the deep snow and lick salt along the sides of this scenic highway. The second was in June on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. This moose wasn't far off the road. We were able to pull over and watch her as she watched us.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Find alternative vacation plans with Minnesota shutdowns

Families love Clear Lake Campground at Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest in Wisconsin.

State park closed? Try national forests or county campgrounds

Photos & feature by Lisa Meyers McClintick
There are surely moans (or shrieks) of frustration today as weekend and summer plans are foiled by the Minnesota government shutdown. It has closed all Minnesota state parks, rest areas and travel information centers and even the ability to get a fishing license. The impact can be devastating on vacations, especially if you're camping and on a budget.

Campsite at Nine-Mile Lake.
Don't fret. Sometimes needing a Plan B can lead to great new discoveries. That happened to us last year when we got shut out of state park camping on the North Shore. Every single site was booked, much to our disbelief. So we went inland and found a beautiful site on the shore of Nine-Mile Lake. It was gorgeous.

1. Look for private or city campgrounds.
A few can be loud and crowded if you're a tent camper (some cater to RV owners who stay for the summer), but others such as Lamb's Resort in Shroeder on the North Shore have some of the best tent sites on Lake Superior. You'll need to plan ahead. These do book early.

Get advice on private or municipal campgrounds from city or regional visitors bureaus. While Explore Minnesota is affected by the shutdown, smaller tourism offices such as Explore Brainerd Lakes or Visit Duluth are not. The Brainerd Lakes Welcome Center along Highway 10 also will remain open and has a wealth of brochures on area attractions.

Another campground possibility: Army Corps of Engineer campgrounds at Crosslake and Gull Lake Dam near Brainerd.

Another good search tool: Hospitality Minnesota.

2. Go a little rustic with national forests.
Near Stony Point Campground,  part of Chippewa National Forest.

A few facilities may be more rustic (pit toilets and no running water), but you can find dozens of beautiful campgrounds in the Chippewa and Superior National Forests. Try Stony Point Campground near Walker, Norway Lake near Cass Lake or Nine-Mile Lake near Tofte. Some do have showers and flush toilets if that's a deal-breaker.

3. Check out county and city parks. 
Some of these rival state parks in size and natural features. Two that come to mind are Alexander Ramsey Park in Redwood Falls (which also has camping) and Quarry Park in St. Cloud (day use only). Quarry Park has cliff jumping, quarry swimming, scuba diving, trout fishing, hiking and technical mountain biking, making it a favorite with the 20-something adrenaline crowd.

3. Cross the border. 
Try a Wisconsin, Iowa or Dakota State Park. One of our favorites is the stunning Devil's Lake State Park near Wisconsin Dells. Wisconsin's Chequamegon National Forest and Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest also are good outdoorsy destinations. For the latter, Clear Lake or Trout Lake campgrounds are both great choices and near the resort hub of Minocqua with plenty of family attractions. Read more about the area.

Need more Wisconsin advice? Check out Mary Bergin's Roads Traveled.