Trip Report: Bottomland Paddling and Sanborn Canoe

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After my incredible deer hunt in the Mississippi bottomlands of southeast Minnesota last season, I’ve been hot to find similar territory for future excursions. And since the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge contains almost limitless opportunities for somebody with more ambition than sense, it was an obvious place to start.

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Minnesota Camping Online Resources

Camping on our public lands is not limited to state park campgrounds. Far from it. And that’s a good thing, because those campgrounds can get a lot of traffic. Trying to find information on camping opportunities across all the state and federal lands can be real work. Below are links to online resources I’ve found…so far. The more I look, the more I find. This is good news to those who wish to utilize our public lands to the fullest. But as always, wise and ethical use is crucial for ensuring these opportunities exist for years to come. Now get outside! 

State Agency Resources

Minnesota State Parks offer an incredible diversity of camping experiences, including drive-in sites, backpacking sites, cabins, lodges, yurts, tipis, and more. 

State Parks

MN state statute 6100.1250, Subparts 1 and 3

State Forests have developed campgrounds, and also allow dispersed camping for those who know the rules. 

State Forests

MN state statute 6100.1250, Subparts 2 and 3

Wildlife Management Area camping is not allowed in most cases, but some primitive sites are available on large, more remote WMA lands. Call area wildlife management offices to determine availability and location. 

Wildlife Management Areas   

-MN state statute 6230.0250, Subpart 7: “A person may not camp on or remain in a vehicle overnight in any wildlife management area, except by permit or where posted for this use…”

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is under federal supervision within the Superior National Forest, but the State of Minnesota has, interestingly, passed laws pertaining thereto. 

MN state statute, Chapter 6140 

Federal Agency Resources

Chippewa National Forest has developed campgrounds, backcountry sites, and dispersed camping

Chippewa National Forest camping page

Superior National Forest has cabins, campgrounds (developed and rustic), backcountry, wilderness, and dispersed camping

Superior National Forest camping page

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a unique wilderness experience, open mostly to canoeing and backpacking. Permits are required, and necessary to maintain the wilderness for all visitors. 

BWCA page 

National Wildlife Refuges don’t generally allow camping.  

Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge allows what is essentially dispersed camping, with some restrictions.  

 

 

 

Snake River Campground

Chengwatana State Forest is one of the closest sizeable state forest parcels to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. As a result, it gets its share of traffic, especially considering the fact that much of the forest is swamp land and difficult to access. To its east lies the St. Croix River. At its northeast is St. Croix State Park and the confluence of the Kettle and St. Croix rivers. At the south end of the main part of the forest is the confluence of the Snake and St. Croix rivers. Few roads offer access to its 29,000 acres, so there is potential for getting far from human presence, if desired. 

Snake River Campground, Chengwatana State ForestThe Snake River Campground lies 9 miles or so east of Pine City, on the south bank of the Snake River. When I visited there in the spring, the sound of the rushing river was a pleasant backdrop as I wandered through the campground loops, and a few of the campsites are a healthy stone’s throw from it. The campground is on the edge of a small pine grove, and most of the sites get good shade from the pines, oaks, and aspens. There are two vault toilets- two aging vault toilets in the first loop, and a new one in the second loop. Water is available by hand pump. There is also a picnic area next to the river. The first time I visited this campground was in midsummer, and the daytime mosquitoes were fairly aggressive; due to topography and dense forest, there is little hope that the wind will keep them at bay. I also noticed a bit of poison ivy along the camp road and bordering some sites, FYI. 

The Campsites

Site 1 is a gorgeous campsite, set back from the road with a great tent pad area suitable for a large tent, and well shaded by white pines. Angle of approach may prohibit long trailers, although there is enough room to accommodate one. 

Site 2, while small and difficult to back trailers into, is shady and close to the loop’s vault toilet. 

Site 3 also benefits from the shade of the pine plantation and seems very desirable overall. 

Site 4 is shaded by the campground’s oaks and pines. There is plenty of room for tents, if set up on the driving surface; this site lacks good tent areas otherwise. It is flush with grass and pine needles. 

Site 5 is the first site that is good for backing trailers into. Spacious and shaded by pines, it is fairly level as well, and easily one of the better overall campsites. 

Snake River Campground, Chengwatana State ForestSite 6 is a little more open and sunny, with plenty of room to park a trailer or set up tents on its grassy areas. It is also close to the river and the water pump. 

Site 7 is shady and level, with lots of good choices for tent placement. 

Site 8 is a bit more open and sunny than most sites here, would be good to back a trailer into, and has lots of area for parking. 

Grassy site 9 gets some midday sun, is long, and sits at a good angle for backing in a trailer. It seems well-screened from other sites. 

Site 10 would be a bit sunny, with little overhead tree cover. It has a good approach angle for trailers, good tent areas, and is close to the latrine. 

Site 11 is right next to the toilets, but does not have much room for parking. There is space at the back of the site which is nice and grassy, but appears lumpy. 

Site 12 does not have much grass. It would probably be best to use with a camping trailer as a result. 

Site 13 would perhaps be difficult to back long trailers into, but is shady, and fairly level and grassy. 

Site 14 is probably the most open and sunny campsite in the campground. Since it is fairly level with good grass, it would probably be good for a couple of tents, if desired. Otherwise, it has room for a vehicle and maybe a shorter trailer. 

Site 15 enjoys good shade among the pines, and is level with lots of room for tents. 

Site 16 is fairly shady and grassy, and is right next to the water pump. 

Site 17 also has good shade courtesy of the pines, and is nicely level and secluded. 

Site 18 has little overhead tree cover and is close to the site behind it (6). It is, however, one of the better sites to back a trailer into, with plenty of length. 

Site 19 is a basic site near the river. It does not have much level ground and would probably be difficult to level a large trailer in. It is, however, fairly close to the river and therefore has no campsites behind it. 

Site 20 is shady and secluded, and near the toilet in this loop. It is fairly large with lots of room for tents. 

Site 21 has an uphill approach with limited room at the back of the site to set up tents. It would not be good for a larger tent, and maybe hard to level a long trailer, but it has a good angle for backing one in. This moderately shaded site is also one of those closest to the river. It may be one of the most desirable campsites in the whole campground.

Site 22 is near the vault toilet, and is a fairly secluded site. It has plenty of room and a good angle for backing into. 

Snake River Campground, Chengwatana State ForestSite 23 is fairly well shaded by pines and aspen, with some midday sun. It does not have a kind angle for backing long trailers in, but it does have a fairly long driving/parking surface. It may be good for multiple tents, but really does not have grassy surfaces to use. Also sits along the river. 

Site 24 is best suited for trailer camping, with lots of room for parking but not much grass. There is some room at the back for tents, but not much level ground. It is one of the more private campsites. 

Site 25 is the last of the campsites along the river. Well shaded and spacious at the back, it could host multiple tents. It is, however, mostly dirt/mud and other sites offer much better tenting surfaces (especially true for the first loop). There is a trail that leads from the back of the site down toward the river and the walking trail through the woods. 

Site 26 has a longer parking surface, and is one of the better sites to back into. This shady site is fairly level with limited grass, but could fit multiple tents. 

~Click on or hover over slideshow photos to see campsite numbers~

 

Boulder Campground

Read More Boulder Campground, St. Croix State Forest

Boulder Campground, St. Croix State Forest

Boulder Campground, although in a fairly hilly location, finds itself surrounded by low ground and saturated soils. That was the case in April when I visited, anyway. At any rate, there is a lake on one side, a permanent swamp on another, and the remainder of the border abuts a blowdown area from a windstorm in July of 2011. Few campsites here are very large, and fewer still offer genuine privacy. Like many state forest campgrounds, it is probably best suited to fall camping for hunters who want to take advantage of the thousands of acres of the surrounding St. Croix State Forest.

It’s quite a long way to drive through the state forest to get to this campground, but getting one of the lakeside campsites would probably make it worth it. Sites that qualify even remotely as “lakeside” are limited to sites 7 and 17. The access to Rock Lake is right in the campground, and there is a short dock which would seem to offer a little bit of fishing opportunity.

Rock LakeWhile there are lots of ATV and OHV trails in the state forest, they are not allowed in this campground. They will need to be trailered and left at the trailhead parking lot which is at the far end of the campground loop (still basically in the campground); this is indicated by a sign at the campground entrance. 

The Campsites

Site 1 is nicely laid out, with plenty of room to the side of the driving surface for tents. It is near the swamp, with some grassy surfaces, and lots of shade. 

Site 2, like site 1, is down by the swamp with good tree cover. There is lots of room, but no grass to put a tent on. In fact, it could be downright muddy on a wet weekend. 

Site 3 is also well shaded, but not very roomy. It is, however, very grassy. 

Site 4 is surrounded by low wet areas, but remains high and dry. This site is fairly spacious, but has no grassy surfaces to speak of. Expect some midday sun in this campsite that would be easy to back a trailer into. 

Site 5 is a fairly level site at the back, with a long driving surface. However, it would be difficult to impossible to back a trailer into. This is another shady site. 

Site 6 is nice and open at the back, with some grass to put a tent on- or maybe two. This site lacks overhead tree cover, allowing the sun in for most of the day. In the spring, the ground seemed rather lumpy, which may resolve itself before summer; tenters beware. 

Site 7 is right across the camp road from the boat landing, water pump, and picnic area. Along with site 6, it would benefit from the wind blowing across the lake (or suffer, in the case of a storm). It is also close to the latrine, which is in the middle of the loop behind the campsite. Easily one of the most desirable sites in the campground. 

Site 8 is another fairly long campsite with some grass in the back, although it may be a struggle to find a good spot to put a tent down. It would likely receive a bit of wind off the lake in a West or even North wind. 

Site 10 is a fairly short site with the road wrapping around it. It appears the trees offer little shade throughout the day, but it seems to have absorbed the table from site 9, which appears no longer in use. 

Site 11 is also fairly close to the road, and is basically an all-gravel site. 

If you like the sun, site 12 is your pick. This site is on the edge of the swamp and blowdown area. The sun seems to have fostered some ground-level vegetation, which sets it apart from site 11. 

Site 13 sits well off the road in the middle of the campground loop. It is very open and spacious, and a rather sunny campsite. The camp’s vault toilet is practically inside this campsite, which may be desirable for some, but obviously detracts from its privacy. 

Site 14, like 12, is very much in the sun on the edge of the blowdown area. On my spring visit, there was some standing water on the driving surface. There is, however, a lot of grass on the site and is one of the more secluded sites in the campground. 

Site 15 is another short site on the inside of the loop, but has good tree cover. It is a fairly level campsite on the whole. 

Site 16 is a fairly short and sunny site, but is fairly well screened from the road and other sites. It is fairly average in most other respects. 

Site 17 is a carry-in lakeside campsite, which is easily the closest to the lake. It is well shaded, with a gravel tent area. Along with site 7, it is easily one of the premier sites in this campground. 

~Click on or hover over slideshow photos to see campsite numbers~