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The long, long RV trip, Week 17: Camping in Minnesota—Three great spots

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This week’s stops: 

  • Exploring Niagara Cave
  • Lots and Lots of Aronia Berries
  • Camping in St. Paul

Thanks for following along on my long, long RV trip. This week I go camping in Minnesota by putting my Harvest Hosts membership to good use with three great, yet very different, stops. I love the diversity of options available with Harvest Hosts.

In this week’s Minnesota camping adventures, I explored an amazing limestone cave, picked a whole lot of delicious and healthy Aronia berries (don’t worry, I didn’t know what they were either), and did some more urban RVing by camping in St. Paul.

Exploring Niagara Cave in Harmony, MN

niagara cave, Harmony, MN

One thing I always love exploring is caves. Likewise, whenever I see one on Harvest Hosts I try to schedule a stop.

Niagara Cave’s name comes from its star attraction, a 60-foot underground waterfall.  Much of the guided tour takes you along underground waterways, and the sounds of rushing water accompany a lot of the journey.

In fact, it was water seeping through cracks in the earth that formed the cave millions of years ago.

Stalactites and stalagmites galore decorate the limestone cave. And fossils. Tons and tons of visible fossils line the passageways. Embedded in cave walls you will find countless 450-million-year-old fossils of aquatic lifeforms that lived in the shallow seas that once blanketed this region.

Fossils in the walls at Niagara Cave, Harmony, MN
Fossils in the walls at Niagara Cave, Harmony, MN

It’s only fitting that a family of geologists owns Niagara Cave.

Be forewarned, the cave tour does involve some significant stair climbing and walking, so be prepared for a workout.

Beyond exploring the cave itself, Niagara Cave makes for an extra-terrific overnight stop if you have the kids or grandkids along.

After the cave tour, you can play a round or two of mini golf. The kids will be happy to spend time in the playground, set in a beautiful park-like picnic area. You can also opt to learn about prospecting and pan for minerals.

Minnesota camping on an Aronia berry farm in Waseca

Aronia Berries

I knew I wanted to go to St. Paul and on the way I found a you-pick organic Aronia berry farm that was part of Harvest Hosts. To make it even better, the early September berry picking season had just started while I was visiting.

I had never heard of Aronia berries (and I was a food writer), so I booked a night at the bucolic farm (picture at top of this post), and parked next to the Aronia berry patch.

I ended up staying two nights, thanks to the graciousness of host Beth Krause.

Also known as chokeberries for their ability to help with coughs, Aronia berries kind of resemble blueberries.

They are not as sweet as a blueberry, but not as tart as a cranberry. They have a strong tannic finish, so while you can eat them out of hand, they are better as an ingredient.

So far my favorite way to use the Aronia berries has been to add them to pancakes like you would blueberries.

As my RV freezer is currently full of Aronia berries, I intend to make some liqueurs as soon as I pass a Costco where I can get a large bottle of vodka.



People also make tinctures as Aronia berries are considered a nutrition-packed superfood with a ton of alleged health benefits beyond cough relief, including:

  • Heart and cardiovascular system health
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Aids digestion
  • Strengthens memory
  • Promotes a healthy urinary tract
  • Anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory
  • Rich in vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, and fiber

fresh picked aronia berries

The Aronia berry bushes are wildly prolific. Thankfully, the berries are quick and easy to pick as you can gather a cluster and remove them all at once. I had my 10-pound bucket filled in no time. (That’s a lot of berries! As I said, my freezer is filled.)

I asked farm owner Beth Krause, a nutritionist who was a wealth of information about the berries, about all the birds I saw around the bushes. With so many birds I was surprised there were still so many berries on the bushes.

She explained that the birds don’t eat the berries but they do eat the bugs who eat the berries. So it is a symbiotic relationship that helps her keep the garden organic.

If you visit at other times of the year when you can’t pick the berries yourself, Beth has frozen berries available along with jellies, syrups, and other Aronia berry products.

And if anyone reading has any good Aronia berry recipes, please drop them in the comments!

Minnesota camping - Aronia berry farm at sunset
My Aronia berry farm campsite view at sunset

Urban RVing in St. Paul

My nephew Chipper Lowell, who you will remember from my Atlantic City visit when he was performing at Harrah’s Casino, had closed that show and coincidentally was performing at the Minnesota State Fair while I happened to be exploring camping in Minnesota.

The fair happens to be in St. Paul and it also happened to be Chipper’s birthday.

I consulted Harvest Hosts and booked a night at the White Bear Meadery in the St. Paul suburbs.

Perfect. I had a place to park where I could easily meet Chipper and I got to learn about mead, something I had tried in the past but did not know a lot about.

White Bear MeadsSo camping in St. Paul was how I ended up day drinking mead in Minnesota. And after all, what better place to be day drinking mead? Especially since Chipper was picking me up that evening and I was parked for the day and no further driving in the plans.

This mead bar has a large variety to choose from. I opted for a tasting flight.

The mead was interesting. I liked the cherry and the root beer varieties. Overall though, I prefer wines.

I did think the meads might be better served chilled. When I asked about this, the owner insisted that they were chilled as they came out of the keg in the cooler. I informed him that the cooler must not be working as every one of my samples was quite warm. Something he ignored. I brought this up again when I ordered another variety. He ignored it again.

He also wasn’t that interested in talking about mead, despite the fact I was interested in learning. So, turns out I did not end up learning all that much about it after all.

OK, so customer service and social interaction are definitely lacking at White Bear Meadery. Even early in the day when they are not busy and not doing anything except gossiping with the help about the local competition (judging from the conversation I heard, mead is apparently a big deal in these parts).

But it was a safe, convenient place to park with easy access to downtown St. Paul.

And if you like mead, you are going to find some interesting ones at White Bear. You can always chill them on your own.

MORE CAMPING IN MINNESOTA NEXT WEEK:
RVing with the Army Corps of Engineers at three different Minnesota campgrounds

Previously in Cheri’s long, long RV trip:

##RVT1072

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Drew
1 month ago

Great info here. The farm site looks inviting.

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