About Laketrails

About Laketrails Wilderness Camping

A camping program for high school students has to be BIG

The Laketrails Program

Laketrails program is designed with the teenage camper in mind. While there is plenty of adventure as well as physical challenge, there is also a more relaxed atmosphere than you will find at many camps. We feel it is important for young people to have time to build relationships with other youth and to grow in understanding of their own giftedness. Because of this, we don’t adhere to rigid schedules, but try to live life to the fullest as our Creator presents it to us each day.

The heart of our program is a five to six day wilderness canoe trip geared to the experience level of the individual group. Campers have the opportunity to choose what type of trip they wish to take, and they become instrumental in planning and carrying out the trip. In the process they grow in understanding and appreciation of their own abilities, and learn how to work well with others to accomplish a common goal.

While the Laketrails program is physically rigorous, no prior experience or training is needed. All that is necessary is that the participant be in general good health. If you have any questions about specific health related issues, feel free to call us.

Read About the Laketrails Philosophy

Can Anyone Come to Laketrails?

In general, Laketrails campers must be at least age 13 or out of the sixth grade to attend Camp. We offer a session specific to middle school (grades 6 – 8) kids and also offer an Adult Trip. If questions arise as to the suitability of Laketrails for you or your child, please call our toll-free number.

What Will We Do?

Canoeing, kayaking, sailing, fishing, swimming, water carnivals, and hikes to abandoned mines or logging camps are all part of the Laketrails experience. Come ready to take part in a very active schedule, but don’t be afraid to enjoy a sensational sunset, dangle your feet in a crystal clear lake or join in stories around the campfire.

What Should I Bring?

After registration, you will receive a list of suggested clothing and other personal items you may wish to bring to Laketrails. Camp provides all food and all camping gear except a sleeping bag.
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Adult Camping

Occasionally, Laketrails offers a canoe trip just for adults. After all, why should the kids have all the fun?! Our most popular trip in recent years has been our Women’s Trip, led by former Laketrails Guides. But, co-ed  trips are sometimes an option. Adult trips are planned with the capabilities of the group in mind and are not meant to be endurance tests, but rather a pleasant time cruising the islands and perhaps an inland lake or two. (Some portaging might happen!) Those who enjoy fishing can also be accommodated.

Adult participants are expected to be in good health and must have a doctor’s signed statement attesting to the general fitness of the individual. This information is found on our Adult Health History form. Both experienced and inexperienced campers are welcome, but be prepared to follow the Laketrails philosophy of joining in the community.

To learn more about our Adult Camping program, please call the Laketrails office at 800-450-6460. We’re happy to answer your questions!

Middle School Session

In the interest in better meeting the needs of the younger camper, Laketrails is offers a session for youth currently in the sixth, seventh or eighth grades. The program format is the same as for our other sessions, but enrollment is limited to youth in these grades.

How Can I Contact Laketrails?

For your convenience we have established a toll-free number, 800 450-6460. You can reach us at this number through June 1 with any questions you may have. After that date, please call us at 218 223-8281. Correspondence after June 1 should be addressed to Laketrails, P. O. Box 25, Oak Island, MN 56741. You may reach us at any time at info@laketrails.org

The Laketrails Philosophy

The Laketrails Idea represents the philosophy that has guided the Laketrails program throughout its 60+ year history. It was originally authored by Fr. Bill Mehrkens and has been updated by Laketrails Staff and Board Members over the years.

A Life

Living is an art. At Laketrails we believe we’re teaching a way of life–living and learning together. So, does this life–this program–do anything for young people? We feel strongly that it does. It is difficult to verbally communicate the value of the arts. Is it possible to explain the beauty of a picture, a piece of music, or a sunset? These things have to be experienced to be appreciated. In the same way, a way of life has to be lived to be understood. Closeness to natural beauty and the basic elements of biological life, the achievement of skills learned, companionship–laughing, singing, playing, working, and praying together–these are some of the things that make up our way of life. We know this way of life carries an educational impact that is hard to surpass.


Community means fellowship and a sharing of life. It is part of the Laketrails Idea that personality develops in community rather than in institutions. The quantity of material resources is relatively insignificant in comparison with the quality of human relations. Laketrails is a community of human spirit rather than a collection of fancy buildings. The buildings and equipment on the base camp island are merely adequate tools for the development of human personalities.

Find Out More About How Laketrails Began


The Person

At its core, the Laketrails Idea is a very conscious reaction to the modern impersonal treatment of human beings. In many cases in business, in education, and even in religion, people are used as though they were nothing more than objects to be manipulated, indoctrinated, analyzed, bought, and sold. Beneath the outer layers of Laketrails life–administration, program activities, staff education–lie these fundamental themes: the person is most important; personal integrity and dignity must not be violated; and honest human relations are indispensable for the development of a sound personality. Personality has a spiritual quality that lies outside the reach of scientific instruments and investigation. In all the universe of nature, personality lies nearest in kinship to God.


Although education is self-improvement, the aid of others is usually a necessary condition for such improvement. Genuine acceptance on the part of the educator is the most fundamental condition for aiding the education of another person. A guide, whether parent, teacher, or counselor cannot aid in the improvement of a person whom he cannot accept. In other words, the first personal aim of the educator is the unconditional acceptance of each person he or she meets–acceptance of the person as an individual human being in spite of the weaknesses or faults that might be foreseen or detected.

Program Activities

A camping program for high school students has to be big. It has to offer challenges and real adventure. Pretending adventure is not enough. For a teenager, a patch of woods will not substitute for wilderness. For this person, the presence of an occasional squirrel or rabbit does not mean the same thing as wildlife. Laketrails is situated in a wilderness area because a successful camping program for teens has to really have the setting. The camp was named Laketrails Base Camp because that name is descriptive of the program–trips on the water trails of Lake of the Woods. Laketrails offers the beauty of God’s wilderness. Another Laketrails goal is to help young people to appreciate this creation, to live in harmony with it, and to work to save these wonders for future generations. “The Creator has made the world. Come and see it!”

Laketrails Beginnings

The following story was written by Fr. Jerry Noesen in 1984 and appears in the Laketrails History Book

The Laketrails story began on a hot summer stretch of prairie highway in South Dakota in the summer of 1951. Fr. Bill Mehrkens, then an assistant pastor of the Cathedral parish in Crookston, and Jerry Noesen, then a seminarian from the same parish, were returning from Camp Columbus in the Black Hills.

They had both worked at that camp in different years and were discussing camps and camping programs. Fr. Bill mentioned a dream camp that had been kicking around in his mind for some time. It would be a program in real wilderness country for older campers–high school age and beyond–and would feature an extensive canoe and boating program.

Fr. Bill mentioned a dream camp that had been kicking around in his mind for some time. It would be a program in real wilderness country for older campers–high school age and beyond–and would feature an extensive canoe and boating program.

The more Fr. Bill talked, the more excited Jerry got and by the time they reached Crookston the two had put together a fairly complete picture of a camping program they were both itching to put into operation. They had even decided to call it Laketrails, but so far, it was just an exciting dream.

Then, in August of that year Fr. Bill was asked by Warroad pastor, Fr. Emmett Shanahan, to take his place in offering Mass on Oak Island in the Northwest Angle on the weekend. Fr. Bill suggested to Jerry that this would be a good opportunity to look over some big wilderness country for a possible campsite. Jerry agreed and they headed for Warroad with growing expectations.

On the four-hour boat trip from Warroad to Oak Island they got acquainted with boat Captain Eric Starren, who knew the lake country and its people. The pair pumped Eric for information and discussed some of their plans with him. He listened carefully and offered some of his impressions, but remained a little skeptical. On landing at the Bay Store on Oak Island, they encountered more old timers like Al Hanson, store operator, and Jim Gaffaney, a summer resident who owned a 52-foot cabin boat on the lake. They were also skeptical.

Their reservations were about adequate safety measures for a canoeing operation on such a large lake, and sufficient experience in a staff that would supervise such a program. They had had some previous experience with camping programs in the area that had become a burden to the people there and they wondered–out loud–if this was another unrealistic plan by overly enthusiastic and inexperienced people.

As the conversations went on and the plan unfolded, Al Hanson became interested enough to loan them a boat and motor and Fr. Bill and Jerry set out to explore Little Oak Island and other places that were for sale. They combed the entire shoreline of Oak Island checking out leads from Al and Jim.

The choice site turned out to be the raspberry-covered southwest tip of Oak Island, a 17-acre peninsula connected to the island by a magnificent sandbar, a perfect two-sided swimming beach the length of two football fields! The area had been a fishing camp, abandoned some years earlier by Booth Fisheries of Chicago. The buildings were in sad shape and the obsolete remains of net-tarring cauldrons and heavy engine blocks were scattered all over the waterfront. An old icing shack and one dock section lay collapsed offshore.

One useable building was the old cook shack which, at this writing, is the present mess hall. (This was replaced by a new dining hall in 1996.) It was a mess! Behind the main door lay a dead skunk. Behind another door, a porcupine had breathed his last. In a lean-to addition on the west end, dead ducks lay on a dirt floor in what appeared to be some kind of stable. Live wood ducks were nesting in the chimneys and were quite perturbed by the intrusion. The windows were gaping holes without sills so the birds flew in and out freely. In fact, the sky could be seen through the roof in several places. And mice played gleefully in the walls and ceiling. Still, the layout of the area looked promising as Fr. Bill and Jerry envisioned what it could be.

On returning to Crookston, Fr. Bill began negotiations with Booth Fisheries, having discussed his dream with Bishop Schenk and Fr. Leonard Weber, C.Y.O. director, who were enthusiastic about the project. Dr. Hecklin, a veterinarian from Crookston, loaned the $3,000 to obtain the property, a total of 139 acres, 122 of which were on Oak Island proper. So, in October, Fr. Bill contacted Jerry at St. John’s Seminary and told him, “We got the green light! Start planning!”

Read About the Laketrails Philosophy