Chengwatana State Forest
Guide

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Introduction

Chengwatana State Forest is a natural reserve located right on Minnesota’s border with Wisconsin. Three rivers cross through the forest, dividing it into a number of small islands packed with pine trees. The forest has a wide range of animal life, including dozens of species of birds and mammals. There are 15 miles of trails that take you through the forest, and you can connect to the extensive St. Croix State Park trail system. Most of the trails are open to mountain biking and horseback riding, as well as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling during the winter.

With three rivers, you’ll also find plenty to do on the water. The St. Croix River has excellent fishing, with walleye, northern pike, and smallmouth bass frequently biting. You can also raft along the Kettle River, as there are a number of class I and II rapids. There are calm sections of the river that are perfect for relaxed canoeing and kayaking, with plenty of shade along the shoreline.

The main RV camping area in the park, Snake River Campground, has 26 sites to choose from for your campervan or trailer. All of the sites have excellent privacy, so you’ll be able to enjoy the quiet forest without worrying about your neighbors.

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Transportation in Chengwatana State Forest

Driving

Located along Minnesota’s eastern border with Wisconsin, Chengwatana State Forest is just a quick drive from Minneapolis, as well as other cities in the region. Snake River Campground, the park’s main camping area, is located on the edge of the forest, and is easy to access directly from St. Croix Road.

If you are driving from Minneapolis, take I-35 north out of the city and get off at exit 169, which will connect you to County Highway 10. Stay on this for another ten miles and you’ll reach the forest. In total, the drive usually takes around an hour and a half. If you are coming from Duluth, you’ll take I-35 south instead, otherwise following the same directions.

The forest does not have many roads, but those that are there will comfortably accommodate large rigs. The main campground is located right off a main road, and you won’t have to worry about any narrow roads or tight corners. Do take caution in the winter, however, as ice on the roads is common.

Parking

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Chengwatana State Forest

Campsites in Chengwatana State Forest

Reservations camping

First-come first-served

Snake River Campground

This campground has 26 sites, all of them primitive with no hookups. The sites are all private, with the large pine trees giving you plenty of space and seclusion. All of the sites have a picnic table and a fire pit, as well as a garbage can. You’ll have access to two restrooms and a well with drinking water.

The campground is located along the shore of Snake River, which is about a half-mile away from St. Croix River, where you’ll find even more fishing opportunities. You’ll also be close to a number of hiking, snowmobiling, and mountain biking trails.

All of the sites at the campground are first-come, first-served, and you pay upon entering. It’s a fairly small campground, so try to get there as early as possible when visiting in the summer. You can also call ahead to see about any open spots, as well as individual site details.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Chengwatana State Forest

In-Season

Fishing

RV campers will also find a number of angling opportunities in the forest, with three rivers that are packed with a variety of fish species. You’ll find excellent fishing along the St. Croix River, with large number of walleye, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and northern pike. The Kettle River also has great fishing from the shore, and is known for its redhorse. If you plan on fishing in the forest, you’ll need all of the standard Minnesota state fishing licenses.

Mountain Biking and Horseback Riding

In addition to hiking, most of the trails in the forest allow for mountain biking and horseback riding. The 15 miles of trails in the forest offer a wide variety of terrain types, suiting bikers of all experience levels. There are a number of trails with fallen logs, narrow stream crossings, and tight turns that will challenge experienced riders. Most trails are wide enough to accommodate horses. Although most of the trails in the forest are multi-use, check with park officials to see which trails are open to mountain biking and horseback riding.

Hiking

RV visitors to Chengwatana State Forest can enjoy 15 miles of trails leading through the thick pine groves and across the area’s three rivers. You can use the Matthew Lourey State Trail network, which connects you to St. Croix State Park. The hiking in the park is excellent year round, although visitors in the spring and fall will see the most color. Most of the trails stay open during the winter for snowshoeing, although you should check with the park office about conditions.

Off-Season

Snowmobiling

Wintertime visitors can use a snowmobile on most of the forest’s main hiking trails. Chengwatana State Forest has a 15-mile long network of trails with a wide variety of terrain types. There are wide trails for new riders, as well as more challenging sections with tight turns and narrow passes.

If you want to extend your ride, you can connect to a number of trails that lead throughout the area surrounding the forest. Matthew Lourey State Trail takes you to St. Croix State Park, where you’ll find miles of natural surface trails. The network of trails within the forest are maintained by the Pine Riders Club, ensuring that conditions are safe.

Hunting

Chengwatana State Forest provides RV and trailer campers with plenty of opportunities for hunting throughout the year. You’ll find a wide variety of game in the forest, including deer, grouse, rabbits, and wild turkeys. During open hunting seasons, you are allowed to carry a loaded firearm or bow in most areas of the park. However, there are a few restricted areas, and you’re not allowed to hunt within 200 feet of any of the recreation sites or hiking trails. Check with the park office for information on hunting seasons and restricted areas.

Birdwatching

With a number of streams and rivers as well as thick pine groves, Chengwatana State Forest attracts over 100 species of birds throughout the year. Great gray owls, black backed woodpeckers, warblers, and winter finches are all commonly seen in the area, and you can see waterfowl migrating if you visit during the fall. Minnesota is known for its birdwatching, and has some of the best birdwatching groups in the country. Check their websites for field guides and bird checklists.

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