Wildlife and wildflowers await in Bowstring State Forest in Minnesota. Located in the middle of Chippewa National Forest, this lake-filled woodland boasts two rustic campgrounds that will get you off the beaten path and into natural splendor. With easily accessed trails and boat launches, you can walk or paddle into the serenity of this quiet State Forest.
With over 500,000 acres of woodlands and over 60,000 acres of lake water to explore, you’ll run out of time before you find an end to undiscovered areas. Three large lakes, including all of Lake Winnibigoshish, sit within the forest boundary. Numerous small lakes and ponds dot the forested hills of the State Forest and provide a variety of on-the-water experiences. The Mississipi Water Trail traverses a section of the State Forest, and its conifer-lined waterway is a popular destination for paddlers.
There are boat launches and numerous carry-in spots throughout the forest to launch a canoe or paddleboard. If you’d rather see the numerous lakes from shore, check out the multi-use trails that weave through tall mixed pine and hardwood forests, marshes abundant with wildlife and birds, and along secluded lakes where you might be the day’s sole visitor. Whether you hike, mountain bike, horseback ride, or bring along an ATV, you can explore these scenic woodlands in the warmer months. Or visit on a snowmobile or by cross-country skis in the winter to enjoy the cold air and snow-filled forest. No matter what brings you to Minnesota, Bowstring State Forest is a beautiful and serene spot for an RV camping trip.
Located in the heart of Chippewa National Forest, Bowstring State Forest offers a deep woods experience that feels remote, despite being located only 100 miles northwest of Duluth. Numerous paved roads bisect the State Forest, and gravel forest roads offer a chance to explore the State Forest’s many lakes and forest trails.
The gravel roads are well-maintained, but expect potholes and muddy spots during wet times of the year. The roads traverse small hills as they wander along numerous lakes and forested uplands. If you have a tall rig, keep your eyes out for low, overhanging branches. Access to the forest is open during the winter, so if you plan a cold-weather outing be sure to bring not only adequate clothing but good snow treads and chains for your campervan.
Cottonwood Lake Campground is accessed via gravel roadways, over 15 miles from rural paved roads. However, this campground has an easy loop and deep spots with naturally surfaced pads and can probably accommodate a larger camper. Moose Lake Campground is only a few hundred feet from pavement, but tight turns and shallow camp spots limit the RV length.
Both campgrounds offer a boat launch with very limited parking, so it will be best to keep your boat trailer at your campsite. Throughout the state forest, there are numerous trailheads and small launches that offer other limited parking opportunities.
Located amid dense pines, Cottonwood Lake Campground offers ten primitive campsites located on a looped gravel road just off of Cottonwood Lake State Forest road. These first-come, first-served sites are naturally surfaced, most with a gravel pad, and offer a fire ring as well as picnic tables. A few campsites are deep enough for larger RVs. Registration is through a kiosk with fee envelopes located at the campground entrance.
While getting there will feel like an odyssey due to the drive along rural paved and gravel roads, the natural setting and solitude will leave you in awe. Cottonwood Lake offers a public boat landing where you can launch your craft to enjoy the water. The nearby Backwoods Campground has a dump station and water fill-up area if you need those services.
Though officially open all year, this campground does contain a lockable gate. It is best to check online or with local rangers to see if access has been closed due to weather or other issues, especially during the winter months.
Just a few hundred feet from paved Route 238, Moose Lake Campground is tucked in a mixed-hardwood forest on the shores Moose Lake. A short trail runs from the campground to the lake for fishing, swimming, or just gazing out at the water. If you want to launch your boat, a public landing is located just past the campground, all within a mile of your campsite.
Eleven first-come, first-served sites are off of a single, tight loop so this campground is best visited in something short, like a small RV or trailer. Pick up a fee envelope from the kiosk at the entrance before selecting a naturally surfaced campsite complete with a fire ring and picnic table.
The campground is primitive, offering latrine style toilets without showers. There are no hookups for electricity, water or sewer, though a spigot for drinking water is available. Trash cans are available as well. Less than ten miles away, Blackwood Campground offers a dump station and water fill up if you need to take care of your tanks.
Over a dozen boat launches and carry-in sites are sprinkled across Bowstring State Forest, providing access to its numerous lakes. Whether you want to explore the two large waterbodies of Leech and Winnibigoshish Lakes in your motorboat, head out on the smaller Moose and Cottonwood Lakes accessed from the two campgrounds, or haul a lighter craft down a carry-in access point for a paddle, you’ll run out of time before you run out of unexplored waterways.
If fishing is your passion, you will fall in love with Bowstring State Forest. Its innumerable lakes are teeming with a variety of fish including largemouth and smallmouth bass, muskie, walleye, northern pike, bluegills, jumbo perch, and crappies. Roadways and small parking spots allow access to many lakes, but if you want seclusion, head out along the hiking trails to discover quiet lakes where you can throw in your line and enjoy the natural wilderness.
Bowstring State Forest allows limited use off-highway vehicles including OHVs, ATVs, and off-highway motorcycles. There are several routes, and the flat and easily navigated. The Soo Line North ATV Trail meanders through a portion of the forest and provides a scenic ride through woodlands and along numerous ponds and lakes. All trail vehicles must be registered either online or through a local ranger station. Follow all posted rules and do not ride off-trail unless accessing big game during the appropriate hunting season.
Bowstring State Forest offers fantastic hunting opportunities from small species like ducks to big game such as deer. During the appropriate season, licensed hunters can head out from parking areas to scout for big and small game. If enjoying the campground facilities while hunting, firearms must be unloaded within the campground boundaries. Bows can be strung but arrows cannot be nocked.
Numerous multi-use trails wander along the plentiful lakes and tall mixed-hardwood and pine forests of Bowstring State Forest. During the warmer months, hike, horseback ride, or mountain bike while keeping an eye out for late or early season flowers and visiting wildlife. Once the snow falls, groomed trails allow cross-country skiing. Or if you don’t mind breaking your own path, take a map and compass and explore new territory.
Between December and March hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails offer a way to explore the deep forest and frozen lakes of Bowstring State Forest. Interactive maps are available online to help you plan your route. Some sections of trails may be plowed to allow access for logging equipment. If you run into an area of plowed trail, go slowly and watch out for large machinery. All snowmobiles need to be registered before use in the State Forest.