Governor Knowles State Forest is located along the scenic banks of the St. Croix River. It features multiple recreational opportunities and RV-friendly camping amenities, and it is a must-see for Wisconsin travelers. The forest was established in 1970, and the Northern States Power Company donated the 4,000 acres main parcel of land. The forest was previously known as the St. Croix River State Forest, but in 1981 it was renamed to Governor Knowles State Forest to recognize former Governor Warren P. Knowles for his administration’s progress in conservation.
The forest is huge at 55 miles long and up to two miles wide, with a total area encompassing 32,500 acres. Conservation is prominent throughout the park. It includes an extended resource protection zone for the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and a designated wilderness zone that buffers the Riverway throughout the length of the state forest. Six designated state natural areas within the forest are in place to preserve the unique biotic communities
Due to the large size of the forest, there is a host of things to do at Governor Knowles State Forest. There are 40 miles of hiking trails, 32 miles of winter ATV and snowmobile trails, and eight miles of skate and cross-country ski trails. Guests also have access to canoeing and kayaking on St. Croix River, hunting and fishing. Camping at Governor Knowles State Forest is available in three different sections, and the park is open year-round.
Governor Knowles State Forest is located right on the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota with only the St. Croix River separating the two states. The forest is in an easy to access location that is close to the towns of Grantsburg (around five miles away), Trade Lake (around 14 miles away) and Siren (around 20 miles away). The closest major city to Governor Knowles State Forest is Minneapolis and is around 73 miles to the south.
Since the forest is so large there are many different access points. Where you should access the forest depends on where you want to go. The main campground (St. Croix Campground) has one entry and exit that is found to the south of WI-70. If you want to head north, you can take Gravel Pit Road that is the main road that runs through the forest.
Accessing the forest should be no issue as the roads are well-maintained, and there are no obstacles that would hinder your travel. During the wintertime, however, the park does get a lot of snow. Check weather conditions and road closures before traveling to the park in the winter.
St. Croix Family Campground is the smaller of the two RV-friendly campgrounds that are available for visitors to Governor Knowles State Forest. There are 30 sites for you to choose from that are well spaced out from one another and quite large. All sites come with a 30 amp electrical connection option, and there are three different water collection points for you to use. Other amenities in St. Croix Family Campground include vault toilets, a dump station, parking overflow areas and access to hiking trails.
St. Croix Family Campground is recommended to those who want to be close to the main facilities in the park. It is located right near the St. Croix River and the office for the forest is also found at the entrance to the campground. The campground is open year-round, however, due to heavy snowfall, some amenities may not be open during the wintertime. Reservations for St. Croix Family Campground can be made online or by calling the office.
Trade River Equestrian Campground is the largest of the two RV-friendly campgrounds that are available for visitors to Governor Knowles State Forest. There are 40 sites for you to choose from that are well spaced out from one another and quite large. All sites come with a 30-amp electrical connection option and there are seven different water collection points for you to use. Other amenities in Trade River Equestrian Campground include vault toilets, a dump station, and surrounding equestrian trails.
Since this is an equestrian campground, you will have campers around you with horses. If you don't like this idea then you can stay at the St. Croix Family Campground. The campground is open year-round, however, due to heavy snowfall, some amenities may not be open during the wintertime. Reservations for Trade River Equestrian Campground can be made online or by calling the office.
Sioux Portage Group Campground is situated in the north of the forest and is ideal for those looking to enjoy a more primitive camping experience. Hidden away from the larger camping areas, Sioux Portage is primarily a tent-only area and can hold up to 60 campers. If you are looking for added adventure, you can canoe to the campground from the St Croix River. However, it is also accessible by vehicle.
With picnic tables and a fire ring, Sioux Portage is perfect for group gathering and is a short distance from some of the best trails in the State Forest. Fishing and kayaking are also readily available at the St Croix River which is just a short walk from the secluded camping area. There is also drinking water and vault toilets available, although there are no shower facilities. Similar to the other campgrounds at Governor Knowles State Forest, it is crucial to reserve your spot before arriving at Sioux Portage.
When the snow starts to fall in Governor Knowles State Forest the area turns into a real-life winter wonderland. There are many different winter recreational activities that you can partake in during your stay, including cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. You should try the rolling hills and river valleys of the Brandt Pines Recreational Trail System that offer nine miles of groomed and tracked trails for both traditional and skate skiing.
Governor Knowles State Forest is an amazing hiking destination for people of all skill levels. The forest has a total of 40 miles of hiking trails that stretch through the wild and scenic St. Croix River Valley. The trail system is split into two segments: the north segment (which is 23 miles long) and the south segment (17 miles long). Each trail will take you along the bluffs overlooking the St. Croix River and will occasionally swing down onto the scenic wilderness area along banks of the river. Try the Brandt Pines Trail System if you only have a few hours to go hiking.
During specific seasons, hunting is allowed in the forest in some areas. The deer seasons in Governor Knowles State Forest include archery and crossbow, youth deer hunt, gun, statewide antlerless hunt, and antlers-only holiday hunt. Some of the popular species that can be found throughout the forest include whitetail deer, turkey, black bear, squirrel, ruffed grouse, elk, and woodcock. Protected species include badger, jackrabbit, moose and flying squirrel.
If you love Snowmobiling, the off-season is the best time to visit Governor Knowles State Forest. In the southern part of the State Forest, you will find 32.5 miles of trails that are perfect for winter cruising. The trails are split Burnett and Polk Counties, offering riders the opportunity to explore the serenity of the forest in the peacefulness of winter. Typically trails will be opened and closed on a countywide basis.
One of the great things about Governor Knowles State Forest is that the trails in the forest are multi-purpose. This means that the trails are a very popular destination for bike riders of all ages. Bicycles are allowed on all trails, except those that are signed closed. The trails are non-paved, off road and vary in difficulty. If you are looking for even more riding opportunities the northern hiking trails are open for bicycle use as well.
Love to fish? The St. Croix River is a premier fishing destination that offers a variety of fishing experiences due to the different locations and underwater terrain that is found along the western side of Governor Knowles State Forest. The water quality is excellent and there is a very diverse number of species, making fishing at Governor Knowles State Forest incredibly popular. Some of the fish caught include walleye, muskie, sauger and smallmouth bass. Wisconsin state fishing regulations apply, so make sure you have the relevant license to fish with at the park.
Thousands of water enthusiasts flock to the St. Croix River each and every year to take advantage of the beauty and resources of the river. Kayaking and Canoeing is a very popular activity with the river system varying from swift and rocky whitewater to placid flowages. A typical day of canoeing can take you around 20 miles. If you plan on going for a long paddle make sure to take plenty of water with you and let the office know of your plans.
For equestrian fans, there are over 40 miles of well-maintained trails for riders to enjoy within the park. The winding trails give riders a glimpse of the diverse nature of the forest, and there are a fantastic variety of routes with differing levels of challenge. The Barrens Loop is the best trail at Governor Knowles State Forest for those looking for a long but easy 21-mile route with minimal uphill segments. If you're looking for something shorter, the Riverview Trail is a difficult three-mile section that is extremely popular among experienced riders. Be aware that riders 16 years and older must have a Wisconsin State Trail Pass.