Costume contests, pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating through the woods of William O’Brien State Park is the perfect family outing for the Stepans. 

Maurie and Cindy Stepan, and their four grown children – Becky, Patrick, Katy Hausmann and Emily Fabel – and eight grandchildren rounded out their year of camping adventures Oct. 16-20 at William O’Brien State Park in Washington County’s Marine on St. Croix during the park’s annual Falloween festival. 

“This weekend is as good as it gets; it’s off the charts,” Maurie said.

The family of 17 came from all parts of the state to partake in the event. Maurie, Cindy and Patrick and his family drove from Sauk Centre. Emily traveled from Eden Prairie and Katy, Becker. Becky lives in Forest Lake, and was able to commute back and forth to the campground. 

“I first heard of the Falloween event five years ago from my neighbor,” Becky said. “The St. Croix River Valley is so beautiful that time of year. The leaves are at their peak, and we thought it would be a good place to see the fall colors.”

Every year, both Patrick and Maurie bring their RVs for the families to camp in. Five years ago, when the Stepans decided to do a fall camping trip, Maurie had just finished remodeling his rig. 

“The timing for a family camp outing was perfect,” Becky said. “Dad remodeled his Airstream with bunks for all the grandkids.”

This year’s weekend began with the family arriving the Wednesday of MEA weekend. They set up their two RVs and began decorating the campsite with Halloween décor. 

“My two boys (Joseph and Nolan) really like decorating,” Patrick said. “Some people go all out with motion sensor lights, skeletons, the whole thing. The boys like going by those places and setting off the decorations.”

Throughout the weekend, the family made meals, explored the state park and then participated in the park’s fall festival on Saturday. 

One of Maurie’s favorite activities is taking his grandchildren for hikes throughout the park. On the trails, the group revels in the scenery and explores the woods by climbing trees and overlooking cliffs. 

“There’s one spring that comes out of the ground, and it’s the cleanest most perfect tasting water,” Maurie said. “We drink it all the time.”

Becky agreed. 

“The kids would say that’s their favorite activity,” she said. “They go up the mountain with Grandpa to the fountain of youth.”

When the day came to celebrate Falloween, the family took in the arts and crafts stations at the state park and also carved pumpkins. 

Becky’s son, Alex, has taken top honors in the jack-o-lantern contest in years past and gets more creative with his designs every season.

In the evening, the campsite was judged for its holiday decorations. The setups were judged based on electric or non-electric, and the top three in each category placed. 

“Some people take it very seriously and will spend hundreds of dollars on decorations,” Patrick said. “We just like to have fun with it.”

Following the campsite contest, family members made their way to the campground pavilion for the annual costume contest. Each adult and child dressed in an outfit of their choosing. 

In previous years, Patrick’s sons have won in their age categories. Likewise, Becky’s daughter, Sofia, has won with her witch costume. This year, Katy’s daughter, Rowan, won in her age group as a police officer with her canine, Lucy.

“We all dress up, even Grandpa and Grandma,” Becky said. “Sometimes, we dress up to match our pets, like last year when my sister-in-law, Becky, was Wonder Woman and our dog, Chester, was Super Dog. They took home a trophy for best costume.”

This year, Maurie found a turkey costume at Goodwill.

“The whole weekend is so fun,” he said. “It’s a chance for us to let our hair down and show our grandkids it’s OK to be silly.”

The Halloween activities came to an end Saturday evening when Becky’s neighbor told scary stories around the bonfire in the park’s amphitheater. 

During the trip, the Stepan family also visited area pumpkin patches, apple orchards, corn mazes and other fall activities offered near the state park.

“When we get together throughout the year, the kids love reminiscing about the fun events from Falloween and making plans for next year,” Becky said. 

While camping is a family tradition for the Stepans, this particular weekend is unlike any other. 

“We grew up camping, and now it’s so fun to see the kids spend time with the cousins, aunts and uncles, and making friends with other kids at the campground,” Patrick said. “There’s not one part of this that’s not enjoyable.”

Maurie agreed. 

“I consider myself one of the luckiest people on earth,” he said. “When we’re all sitting around the campfire as a family, that brings me a great deal of joy and I’m thankful.”

Mark Klaphake contributed to this article.