Have you always wanted to know what it feels like to be in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, but don’t know if you’re ready to brave the wilderness just yet? Retreat to the wilderness of Savanna Portage State Park in McGregor, Minnesota—just 60 miles west from Duluth and 150 north of the Twin Cities. This isolated paradise is nearly 16000 acres of scenic hills, serene lakes, and so-quiet-you-can-hear-your-heartbeat bogs.
There you can hike historic passageways like the Savanna Portage Trail. As is its namesake, this trail was used as a 6 mile portage by Dakota, Ojibwe, and fur traders for over 200 years. It took an average of 5 days to reach the West Savanna River using this path.
The Continental Divide also cuts through the park, marking a split in the flow of water into two: western water flows into the mighty Mississippi River, while eastern flows migrate towards Lake Superior.
During the summer, you can swim at Loon Lake, paddle or fish for panfish and bass at Lake Shumway across from the main campground, or camp in isolation at your very own paddle-in camp site on the far side of Wolf Lake.
This park boasts 10 miles of mountain biking trails and 27 miles of hiking opportunities.
During winter, snowmobile on 32 miles of trail or snowshoe your way through the quiet wilderness.
The landscape of Savanna Portage, like much of Minnesota, was shaped by miles thick sheets of glacial ice which carved through the landscape for thousands of years. The tamarack bogs, which are my personal ecosystem in the park, were once glacial lakes, since filled with sediment and sphagnum moss in a stunning example of ecological succession. These bogs will, over time, continue to fill in, eventually allowing the forest to overcome its surface. These bogs are filled with Labrador tea and carnivorous plants such as the pitcher plant and Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia).
Is wildlife-watching your thing? Living within Savanna Portage are deer, bear, skunk, beaver, wolf, moose, and coyote. The park also has excellent birding opportunities!
In terms of camping and lodging, Savanna Portage has camper cabins, the Garni Guesthouse, a canoe in camp site, a 30 person group camp, 6 backpacking sites, and 61 drive-in sites (18 electric).
Our personal testimony
Chelsea (@teacherwhohikes): Okay, so like I am a people person, but I am also not. I like being alone in nature. This park was exactly what I needed. It is super North Shore without the people. There is even some unique campsites there that I excited to try soon. In this park, we canoed a lot. We also saw wildlife. I am not super obsessed with predators (outside of owls) like most Minnesotans, for I appreciate birds, rodents, deer, etc almost more. This is the place to see these animals! We saw beavers every single time we hiked. The bog was also breathtaking in that it is scientifically the most interesting type of ecosystem. Like bro, carnivorous plants everywhere! The water had bryozoans, which again, bro, yes. And again, there weren’t annoying touristy campers with loud music and dogs there. It is not like “the park” to go to, so it is often overlooked.
Devon (@devonthenatureguy): Everything Chelsea said. Plus, we were there at a time when a lot of wildfires were going on elsewhere, so that made for some breathtaking sunsets and sunrises. We watched a beaver devour, like, 40 lily pads before it smacked its tail at us, saw a bunch of carnivorous plants in the bog which is my all time favorite habitat type, and overall had an experience I wouldn’t change or alter for the world. This park is legit the closest state park to the BWCA that I have ever been to and I am stoked to get out there again, probably summer after next, to try out one of their canoe in camp sites!