Julie Mishefske is used to skeptical responses when she talks about visiting national parks and going on backwoods backpacking trips with her 6-year-old daughter.
“Any time I meet someone new and tell them about backpacking with Hannah or taking her to the parks, they often tell me that I am crazy, especially as a solo mom,” Julie says. “However, I really do not think it’s as scary or difficult as people think, so I wanted to share our experiences as a way to encourage parents to get outside with their kids and explore.”
This adventurous attitude and a desire to inspire others led the Eau Claire woman to create a blog, Always Say Yes to Adventures (alwayssayyestoadventures.com), last fall. The blog – which takes its title from a motto shared by Julie and her late husband, Jim – recounts details of her journeys with her daughter to numerous national parks, national monuments, and other sites around the nation, from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. (A Thanksgiving trip to California included visits to three more national parks, the details of which should appear on the blog in the coming weeks.)
Julie’s writing combines a spirit of adventure with practical tips about what sights to see and how to travel with young children. In fact, part of her motivation for creating the blog was because traveling companions who weren’t accustomed to hitting the woods with their kids kept asking her the same questions. Now she can simply direct then to specific blog posts.
Whether it’s a national park or just their own backyards, Julie hopes parents and their kids simply get outside, whatever their ages. “Hannah and I spent many evenings when she was 1 year old walking trails in Eau Claire with her in a child carrier backpack,” Julie says. “This set her up for eventually hiking 4-5 miles on her own later on.”
Julie has set an ambitious goal for her family: Bringing Hannah to all 61 U.S. national parks by the time she turns 18. Julie had shared the same goal with Jim, a fellow adventurer who died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 36 in 2014. “Some of the parks we’ve visited are ones that I visited with Jim previously,” Julie says. “It’s really fun to tell Hannah stories about her Dad while we are there, doing the same hike he and I did years ago. I try to share some of that on the blog, as a way to connect the past to the present.”
To get a taste of Julie and Hannah’s adventures, here’s an excerpt from a blog post Julie wrote about a winter backpacking trip to the Porcupine Mountains two years ago.
Winter Backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – January 2018
Christmas in the Porkies
Jim’s family would often celebrate Christmas the weekend before actual Christmas, and my family would tend to celebrate the weekend after Christmas, which left us alone on the actual holiday. We decided to book a winter trip to the Porkies (Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park) over the Christmas holiday. We booked three different yurts that we cross-country skied into. One night while we were there, it snowed 14 inches. It was magical. We decided this was the type of Christmas we wanted every year, even when we had kids. And we did just that every year following.
After Jim died I desperately wanted to continue that tradition, but knew it wasn’t possible for me to do alone.
A New Winter Porkies Experience
When Hannah was 4 years old, I was able to convince some friends to go on this winter adventure with me. Though not over Christmas, we went during a long weekend in January. I booked a yurt for one night and then a cabin (which stays warmer than a yurt) for the following two nights. My friends were only able to join for the cabin nights. At the fear of me staying at the yurt alone with Hannah, my dad offered to join us for the night in the yurt. Although I was confident I could make it a night alone, I was pretty quick to accept his offer.
In the winter, only the eastern part of the park is open. There are several cabins and yurts to rent with various hiking distances in to them. We rented the Little Union River Yurt for night one with Dad, and the Union River Cabin for the next two nights with my friend Kara; her boyfriend, Zac; and Kara’s two teenage daughters.
The Hike, Ski, Sled In
We met my dad in the parking lot near the trailhead and got our packs ready. The route in was about 3½ miles. I was not sure how the snow conditions would be and how Hannah would handle that distance in the snow, so I cross-country skied while towing her in a sled. She was elated with this mode of transportation. I did a test run earlier that month on a particularly snowy day by skiing to her day care and sledding her home. It worked great!
Little Union Yurt
We built a fire in the stove inside the yurt, which quickly heated up the yurt to a balmy 85 degrees – it’s a little challenging to regulate the temperature in there, but we finally figured it out. After dinner, we got ready for bed, and Hannah suggested a late night moonlight walk. We got dressed and hiked about a half mile before stopping, turning off our headlamps and staring up at the gorgeous sky, lit up by moonlight and stars.
Union River Cabin
The next morning we packed up the yurt and hiked about 1½ miles to the Union River Cabin. We got there just in time to get a fire going in the stove before my friends arrived on their snowshoes. My dad said his good-byes and hiked out on his own. That afternoon we explored the area around the cabin, hiked down along the river, and found a very fun sledding hill that everyone enjoyed. I was very glad to have brought the sled for the added entertainment.
The East Vista
The next morning we decided to all hike (and Hannah sled) to the East Vista overlook – which is about a 7-mile round trip. The first 2½ miles was relatively flat while the last mile was basically straight uphill. The East Vista overlook was well worth it, overlooking Lake Superior and much of the park. On the way back down, one of the older girls suggested that she and Hannah SLED down the 1-mile trail. We sent them on their way, the rest of us all jealous we hadn’t thought of that and didn’t bring additional sleds. They had a blast and surprising did not hit any trees on their way down. And I was glad Hannah had a teenager with her as it took the rest of us awhile to catch up to them.
Read more about this and other adventures at Julie Mishefske’s blog, alwayssayyestoadventures.com.