Willow River Campground

Willow River Campground

The Willow River Campground in General C.C. Andrews State Forest is a well-maintained state forest campground, typified by gently used campsites in a wooded setting set well apart from each other. From fully shaded campsites in the woods to fairly open sites overlooking the reservoir (river bottom) area, to a couple of carry-in sites and a nicely-kept group camp, there is probably something here to suits anybody‚Äôs needs. At 38 individual campsites, this campground is on the larger side for state forest campgrounds. 

Parking for all sites is back-in; none are pull-through. Sites 1-9 and 33-38 have shorter driveways and steep angles, which might not be good for backing trailers- especially large ones- but most of the rest have longer driveways and gentler angles of approach for parking tow-behind rigs or boats. There are also several auxiliary parking areas scattered throughout the campground, perhaps to allow campers with a trailer in the short sites to park their vehicles elsewhere. 

The self-registration station is in the middle of the large camp loop on the left side, near site 20. Water is available by hand pump. There are ample vault toilets and water pumps available: between sites 5 and 34 (also close to 6 and 33) and near site 20 (also close to 21 and 30). There is also another pair of vault toilets tucked out of sight near site 38 (also close to 12 and 13). 

To get to the campground, you have to find your way through Willow River to the frontage road along the west side of Interstate 35 going north. There is one sign pointing the way from Highway 61, but it was not very reflective in the dark and I almost missed it. At any rate, if you get to Doe Street heading east, you will find the way. 

At less than 8,000 acres, General C.C. Andrews State Forest is certainly not one of the larger state forests in Minnesota. Hunters looking to roam will not find much contiguous forest land there that has not been fragmented by roadways or OHV trails. If, however, you are looking for a recreation area friendly to ATVs and off-highway motorcycles with easy access to an interstate highway, this is an obvious destination. Additionally, I know CC Andrews to be a first-rate destination for summer berry picking and camping, and a convenient distance from the Twin Cities area. 

A note about the river (former lake): Willow River Campground is surrounded on three sides, more or less, by the former Stanton Lake. The nearby Willow River dam washed out in the summer of 2016, leaving behind just the river and old river channels. There is a boat ramp in the campground, but it currently just goes down into a large dense area of cattails.

The Campsites

Sites 1, 2, 3, and 4 are situated in a white pine plantation. Well-shaded and fairly flat, they are shorter sites (more typical of state forest campgrounds) that will probably present difficulty when it comes to backing in long trailers. 

Sites 5, 6, 9, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37 are set in an aging spruce plantation, which appears to have been selectively logged in recent years. As such, they will receive a fair amount of sun through the course of the day; some will be shaded only at the very beginning and end of the day. As small-to-average sites, they are probably best suited to hosting a single tent. 

Willow River Campground

Sites 7 and 8 are the carry-in sites, just a short walk from the parking area along the camp road. Both are considerably more secluded than the rest of the campsites, with a nice view of the river bottom, and plenty of room. To access site 8, you have to basically walk through site 7, which does not lend itself well to privacy. Getting both these sites would be ideal for a group too large for one campsite alone. 

Sites 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, and 19 border the Willow River and lowlands, with good views. These sites would receive good breezes, especially when the wind is out of the West or North. This could be an advantage in hot weather or when the mosquitoes are especially fierce. 

Sites 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 30 also border the river, but differ in configuration and generally have much less overhead tree cover. Instead of narrow and set off the road, these sites tend to sprawl right alongside the road, and do not offer much privacy from either the road or each other. Encircling the south end of the loop, they would be best cooled by southeast, south, or southwest winds. 

Site 22 is the accessible campsite in this campground. It is fairly spacious, and the parking surface and areas around the picnic table and fire ring appear very level. Tree cover over this site indicates it would receive a few hours of midday sun. 

Sites 31 and 32 are gorgeous level sites in the heart of the red pine plantation. There is not much undergrowth among the shady pines, which gives the appearance of lots of room in these deep-set campsites; unfortunately, this also means they are not the most private. With plentiful pine needles on the forest floor, they would probably not be very muddy in rainy weather. 

11, 14, 16, 29, and 38 are the left-hand sites as you drive through the campground loop. They tend to be smaller campsites with good tree cover. They also tend to be closer to the camp toilets, which may in itself be appealing for some campers.