If you grew up in the Northland there’s a good chance your family camped, paddled and hiked — and that outdoor recreation is a big reason you’re still here.
But while outdoor activities are as much a part of Northland life as mosquitos, road construction and cold winters, not everyone has had the chance to learn basic outdoor skills.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a program for those who didn’t grow up in outdoor families or didn’t make those outdoor connections.
I Can! programs are designed for true beginners and are offered all summer in canoeing, kayaking, camping, hiking and mountain biking. The costs are minimal, all the gear is provided and expert instructors are on hand for hands-on help in how to do it right.
After being canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the I Can! programs, except for I Can Fish!, are off and running this summer. Since 2010, nearly 100,000 people have participated in I Can! programs with funding from the state Parks and Trails Fund that gets part of Minnesota’s outdoors sales tax revenue.
New this year, I Can Hike! two-hour programs introduce families to hiking, with a focus on how to safely and comfortably enjoy the outdoors. After the program you’ll have the skills to plan your own future outdoor adventures. I Can Hike! is new in 2021 and offers two-hour hiking sessions that teach people how to safely and comfortably enjoy the outdoors.
I Can Camp! provides hands-on instruction on setting up camp, starting a campfire, camp cooking and fun activities to do at Minnesota state parks. Tents, air mattresses, cooking gear and other basic camping equipment are provided. One-night, two-night and backpacking programs are available, as well as mini two-hour sessions.
I Can Paddle! teaches the basics of canoeing or kayaking, including launching, paddling efficiently and planning a safe outing. Designed for first-time paddlers, all equipment is provided, and both two-hour canoe and kayak programs and an overnight canoe camping option are offered.
I Can Mountain Bike! teaches mountain bike riding techniques at Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. Mountain bikes and helmets are provided.
“We provide all the gear for our I Can! programs, along with friendly instructors who can show you how to use it,” said Erika Rivers, director of Minnesota State Parks and Trails. “Our goal is to make it easy for all Minnesotans to get outdoors, have fun and enjoy the health and wellness benefits of nature.”
So pick an activity you want to try. Grab your family or a friend. Then pick a date and a state park that works for you.
More about I Can! programs
Pre-registration is required for all I Can! programs, and some fill up quickly. Participants under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
Some events are free, some have a small cost. A vehicle permit is required to enter all Minnesota state parks. Annual permits are $35; daily permits are $7.
For more information about any of the programs go to mndnr.gov/ican, email email@example.com or call the DNR Information Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-646-6367. To register for any of the I Can! programs, go to mndnr.gov/reservations or call 866-857-2757.
I Can Hike!
Each program has an option for more or less hiking, to match your comfort level. No experience or specialized gear necessary — just a pair of comfortable walking shoes. All programs run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Participants must be at least 5 years old. Programs are free but capacity is limited.
Programs include July 17 and July 31 in Jay Cooke State Park; July 24 and Aug. 1 in Moose Lake State Park; Aug. 14 in Fort Snelling State Park; Aug. 15 in William O’Brien State Park; June 19 and 27 in Rice Lake State Park; June 20 and 26 in Sakatah State Park; July 10 and 24 in Sibley State Park; July 11 and July 25 in Lake Maria State Park; Aug. 7 in Maplewood State Park; Aug. 14 in Fort Snelling State Park.
I Can Camp!
I Can Camp! overnight programs will walk you through setting up a campsite, starting a campfire and preparing meals as well as activities that will entertain your entire group. Tent, air mattress, cook stove and other gear are provided. Cost is $60 per family/group (two adults and up to three small children can fit comfortably in one tent.
Programs include Aug. 21-22 at Jay Cooke State Park; June 19-20 and Aug. 7-8 at Afton State Park; June 26-27 at Flandrau State Park; June 26-27 at Wild River State Park; July 10-11 and July 31-Aug. 1 at William O’Brien State Park; July 17-18 at Whitewater State Park; July 24-25 at Sibley State Park; July 31-Aug. 1 at Lake Carlos State Park; Aug. 28-29 at St. Croix State Park.
I Can Camp! Two-night programs
Extend your camping experience with two-night camping trips. All gear and instruction is provided Cost is $85 per family/group.
Programs include June 18-20 and Aug. 13-15 at Gooseberry Falls State Park; July 9-11 at Jay Cooke State Park; July 16-18 and Aug. 27-29 at Itasca State Park; July 23-25 at Lake Bemidji State Park; Aug. 6-8 at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park.
I Can Paddle! Canoeing
Perfect for people that want to paddle together in the same boat. These programs teach the basics of canoeing on lakes, from launching a canoe to paddling efficiently and planning a safe canoe outing. Programs last approximately two hours; $25 per canoe, with up to two people per canoe. A third person may be permitted to sit in the middle of the canoe with two other paddlers at no extra cost. This would be ideal for two parents with a younger child. Note that there is no seat in the middle of the canoe and participants must be at least 5 years old.
Programs include June 17 at William O’Brien State Park; July 17 at Jay Cooke State Park; July 18 at Moose Lake State Park.
I Can Paddle! Kayaking
These programs teach the basics of kayaking on lakes, from launching a kayak to paddling efficiently and planning a safe kayak outing. Programs last approximately two hours. Participants must be at least 8 years old. Cost is $20 per adult, $10 per child, one person per kayak.
Programs include July 31 in Jay Cooke State Park; Aug. 1 in Moose Lake State Park; June 10 and 24 and July 15 and Aug. 12 in William O’Brien State Park; June 12 and 17 and July 8 and 22 and Aug. 5, 14 and 19 in Fort Snelling State Park; July 11 and 25 in Lake Maria State Park; July 10 and 24 in Sibley State Park; July 29 in Lake Maria State Park; Aug. 8 in Maplewood State Park.
I Can Paddle! Canoe Camping
Overnight canoe camping programs will help prepare you for future paddling trips to lakes and riverside campsites. We'll help you plan for your trip and make sure that you learn all of the necessary canoeing and camping skills as we paddle and camp along the Savanna Lake located in Savanna Portage State Park.
Cost is $85 per canoe, with up to two people per canoe. Reservation includes meals and all canoeing and camping equipment. (Sleeping bag not included.) Participants must be at least 10 years old.
Programs are all at Savanna Portage State Park including July 10, 31 and Aug. 14.
I Can Mountain Bike!
Learn shifting, braking, body position, basic safety and trail etiquette on a closed skills course, and then hit the trails for a group ride. Small group sizes and experienced instructors will ensure you leave the program with the skills you need to ride the trails on your own.
All programs are held at Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. Prior mountain biking experience isn't necessary, as long as you know how to ride a bike on pavement. Cost is $30 adult, $15 youth (ages 10-18). For ages 10 and older.
Programs will be held three times each day on June 26, July 17 and Aug. 7.