Crookston man visits every state park in two years.

    He visited 68 state parks, seven State Recreation Areas, took almost 1,000 pictures, put 13,500 miles on his pickup and filled up almost 650 gallons of fuel to complete Minnesota’s Passport and Hiking Clubs. Crookston resident Lars Johnson laughed when asked if he’d ever do it again and said, “Absolutely.”

    In the spring of 2015, Johnson was at Itasca State Park, which happens to be Minnesota’s first established state park, and in the gift shop they had packets for both the Hiking Club and Passport Club. He decided it was something he wanted to do since he loves the outdoors and filled out the card to send into the state to let them know he was going to participate. There began his two-year adventure.

    Johnson traveled to different areas of the state on the weekends and over holidays sometimes flipping a coin to see which direction he’d go. During his travels, he picked up a book by Ann Arthur called “Minnesota State Parks” which describes each park, gives nearby attractions and historical facts that someone like Johnson might thoroughly enjoy. He also picked up “Mammals of Minnesota” by Stan Tekiela that shows what kind of animals he might run into in certain areas and what their tracks and “scat” looks like. Lars, very seriously, said that there was one instance on his trip where he overheard grunting noises near the trail he was on and found a fresh pile of scat that he recognized from the book as possibly belonging to a bear. Luckily, that time, the bear didn’t make an appearance. Another time, he wasn’t so lucky.

    “I was at a campsite near Split Rock’s hiking site and I had just done a panoramic photo with my phone when I noticed a bear right behind me,” Johnson recalled. “I had to think quick on my feet so I quietly moved over by a picnic table and some brush, and then made as much noise as possible to try to scare it away.”

    “I didn’t have anything with me to defend myself, so that was the first thing I thought of,” he added. “Luckily, it worked.”

    “It moved down by another campsite and the people’s dogs there barked like crazy,” Johnson continued. “I knew it wouldn’t be coming back after that.”

    Other close encounters with Minnesota wildlife involved a bull moose and then a deer that had jumped right across the trail in Old Mill State Park near Warren.

    The weather was also a factor when it came to visiting the state parks. He did a handful of winter hikes including a “really nice one” along the St. Croix River and Itasca although he didn’t get to snowshoe because of the lack of snow. During Johnson’s three trips to the southeast corner of the state, he ran into storms every time. Heavy lightning, thunder, rain and wind seemed to follow him, he thought. One night at a campsite, he had to seek shelter in the bathroom after the winds picked up to 75 mph. Johnson said he had one or two bars on his cell phone so he could follow the radar and he knew then it would be a long night.

    “That campsite had a lot of dead trees and that got me thinking about those campers near the Boundary Waters that had died when a tree fell on their tent,” Johnson explained. “So I waited it out in the structure.”

    “The same thing happened the next night,” he added. “The third night I was down there I drove into another storm.”

    There was even a trip to the southeast corner in 2016 where the water was contaminated by E. coli, but that didn’t deter him from going back. “Things will happen,” he said casually.

    While hiking all over the state, Johnson said he experienced plenty of rocky terrain and steep inclines but some of the parks included an alternative walking trail. He said that Beaver Creek Valley was over six miles with half of it steep terrain and deer trails that became slippery after the previous night’s heavy rain. George H. Crosby Manitou was also a tougher hike with rustic and low trail markings and rocky areas, he recalled. Johnson said the hikes near the shore were “more aggressive” especially during inclement weather, but he was happy to wrap up in Duluth at Gooseberry Falls on September 30, 2017.

    The most parks he visited in one trip was 12 parks in six days.

    Johnson said he only broke down once about 15 miles west of Pipestone. He spent almost five hours sitting along a county road waiting for the Pipestone Chevy dealership’s on-call guy to pick him up. This was over the Labor Day weekend and the serviceman was two hours in the opposite direction and had to turn around. While waiting the extra day or two in Pipestone, Johnson got to check out the national monument there which he describes as “walking through a dream” with everything blooming, the creek, waterfall, rocky cliff and quarry. He said it turned into a nice day even though he didn’t get to go to any parks.

    When asked what Johnson’s favorite state park was, he said it was tough to choose because each park offered something for every season.

    “I’d like to visit Bear Head Lake State Park by Ely again to see what it looks like in the fall,” Johnson admitted. “Other areas by the Mississippi River bluffs, the north shore, southwest old prairies and plains, central Minnesota and really everywhere offers something unique.”

    “Maplewood is highly visible in the fall with lots of color, so that one’s nice too,” he added. “Each season has something to offer and each park has the season they’re nicest to visit.”

    Johnson said he likes Minnesota’s parks website with the color finder to show peak fall colors and the information you can find out about each area. He also said he’d like to go back to each park and spend more time there especially because he likes to photograph nature.

    “If you want to get away and you only have a weekend, the parks are a perfect place to go,” Johnson boasted. “Everyone I’ve been around at the campgrounds over the past two years have been having a good time with kids running around and riding bikes, and everyone’s enjoying themselves.”

    “When you’re out there, you don’t think about work and other stresses,” he added. “You can just kick back.”


    After the Minnesota State Parks and Trails commended Johnson on their Facebook page on his Passport Club and Hiking Club completions and a hundred comments from well-wishers chimed in, other club finishers shared their stories. One person said they’ve been at it for 20 years and have yet to finish and another person their group of friends started and finished in 27 days. Another woman said she visited the state parks in alphabetical order, from A-Z. Johnson thought that was impressive.

    “The Hiking Club combines the best elements of an expedition, a classroom, and a treasure hunt,” says the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. To get started with the Hiking Club, get the club book and enter the park password into its designated spot. Club members earn a reward for reaching different mileage milestones such as a patch for hiking 25, 50, 75, 100, 125, 150, 175 and all miles. Complete all Hiking Club miles and your rewards even include a free night of camping plus an engraved plaque. To get the Hiking Club kit ($14.95), purchase it at a Minnesota State Park or call 651-259-5600.

    “As a Passport Club member, your goal is to visit Minnesota’s magnificent state parks from Afton State Park to Zippel Bay State Park,” adds the MN DNR. “During your travels, you’ll see amazing scenery and discover something wonderful and new.”

    When you visit 25 parks, you’ll receive a certificate for a free night of camping and a pin. Complete your visits to all state parks and you’ll be awarded a free night of camping plus a customized Passport Club plaque. A Passport Club kit can be purchased for $14.95 at most state parks, over the phone by calling 651-259-5600 or at the DNR License Center in St. Paul. You can get your passports stamped at the park office or use the stamp at the entrance station or kiosk. In certain cases, the stamp is available at a neighboring park.