Grand Portage State Forest
Guide

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Introduction

The Grand Portage State Forest in Cook and Hovland Counties, Minnesota, spans 99,200 acres in the northeast corner of the state. Whether you want to go swimming, fishing, boating, hiking, or camping, you can find it all in this lush forest. In fact, there are over 30 miles of hiking trails to explore and dozens of ponds, lakes, creeks, and rivers to enjoy. With nine boat ramps in the area, you can choose your spot to go boating in any one of these lakes.

Winter is fun in the forest as well because they boast 60 miles of cross-country ski trails and 40 miles of snowmobiling trails to enjoy. From easy to difficult, you can find the perfect trail for you and your family and friends. You will pass through woods filled with mature dogwood, maple, and ash trees as well as poplar, cedar, and pine trees.

Beginning with a 120-foot waterfall into the Pigeon River on the Canadian border, the American Indians chose a portage, which is Native American for carrying place. This trail that travels nine miles from Lake Superior past the falls was known as The Grand Portage, which is now referred to as Grand Portage State Forest. The Grand Portage Indian Reservation is still within the forest about one mile east of Lake Superior. So if you're taking an RV road trip through Minnesota, you must stop at Grand Portage State Forest to take in the scenic views and rich history of this land.

RV Rentals in Grand Portage State Forest

Transportation in Grand Portage State Forest

Driving

Grand Portage State Forest in northeastern Minnesota is bordered by Canada to the north, Lake Superior to the south, the Superior National Forest to the west, and the Grand Portage Indian Reservation to the east. In the extreme northeastern corner of Minnesota, the forest is accessible from Highway 61, Highway 12 from the west and south, or Highway 16 from the east.

At approximately three hours from Duluth and less than a mile from the Canadian border, this northern wonderland can be the perfect spot to spend the summer or winter, depending on your choice of activities. The roads heading into the forest are mostly rustic and some can be downright dangerous if you are driving one of the larger RVs. You should be especially careful during the winter and early spring because it snows heavily here and most of the forest roads do not usually get plowed.

Most of the campgrounds are heavily wooded and primitive so you will need to drive carefully no matter what time of the year you visit. There are low hanging branches and narrow roads in almost all of the parks and campgrounds so take it easy. Drive slowly so you can enjoy the scenery and watch out for any critters that may be crossing the roads.

Parking

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Grand Portage State Forest

Campsites in Grand Portage State Forest

Reservations camping

First-come first-served

McFarland Lake Campground

McFarland Lake Campground is a primitive campsite in the Grand Portage State Forest, off of Highway 74. This is a small campground that only has five primitive campsites, but they are open all year long. Each campsite has a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and an area large enough to fit a camper or RV up to about 50 feet in length. There is one vault toilet and a small picnic area but no trash cans, so you have to pack out all trash.

The campground is in between McFarland Lake and John Lake just a short drive from the Canadian border. They also provide a boat ramp so you can bring along your boat. You should also bring your swimming suit and fishing gear because there is plenty of lake access here for everyone. The campsites are first-come, first-served and with only five sites, you better get here early if you want a spot, especially on holidays and weekends. Pets are welcome as long as they are restrained during your stay.

Esther Lake Campground

Esther Lake Campground is just to the south of Devilfish Lake. This small campground only has three primitive campsites but they are open all year long. Each campsite has a cleared out area with enough room for a camper or RV up to 50 feet long. There is also a fire ring with a grill for cooking and a picnic table at each campsite. The campground has one ADA-accessible vault toilet, but there are no trash cans so make sure you pack out all your trash.

Bring along your boat to this campground because Esther Lake has a boat ramp for your convenience. There is also a swimming area and room for fishing all along the banks as well. If you want to go hiking, there are several trails that will let you explore the Grand Portage State Forest while you are here. The campsites are first-come, first-served and with only five sites, you better get here early if you want a spot, especially on holidays and weekends. Pets are welcome as long as they are restrained during your stay.

Devilfish Lake Campground

Devilfish Lake Campground only has five primitive campsites, but they are open all year long. Each campsite has a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and an area large enough to fit a camper or RV up to about 50 feet in length. The campground in Grand Portage State Forest provides one vault toilet and a small picnic area but no trash cans, so you have to pack out all trash.

Being right on Devilfish Lake, you can enjoy all the water sports you want including swimming and kayaking or boating with a small boat. No gas motors are allowed. If you want to catch some fish, there is a dock you can use, or you can fish from the shore or your boat. The campsites are first-come, first-served and with only five sites, you better get here early if you want a spot, especially on holidays and weekends. Pets are welcome as long as they are restrained during your stay.

Judge C.R. Magney State Park Campground

Judge C.R. Magney State Park Campground is right on the Brule River and Lake Superior off Highway 61 in Grand Marais, Minnesota. It is open from April until October and has 27 campsites that can fit up to a 50-foot RV or trailer. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, and a cleared-out area for parking your rig. You can find drinking water near campsites 15 and 19 and near the picnic area. There are several toilets around the park as well as one modern restroom and shower house with hot water by campsite 15.

Both the Brule River and Gauthier Creek are trout streams and have some awesome places to catch trophy-sized rainbow, brown, and steelhead trout. There are several picnic areas and a great playground for the kids to enjoy. If you want to get out and explore the Grand Portage State Forest, there are four hiking trails. No matter what you want to do, you can probably find it at this park. The campsites are first-come, first-served so you better get here early if you want a spot, especially on holidays and weekends. Bring your pets along as well because they are allowed as long as they are leashed or caged during your stay.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Grand Portage State Forest

In-Season

Fishing

Be sure to pack your fishing gear in the camper before heading to the forest because there are a plethora of hungry fish just waiting for you. Both the Brule River and Gauthier Creek are trout streams and have some awesome places to catch trophy-sized rainbow, brown, and steelhead trout. Several of the lakes have been known to have huge bass and catfish. And the massive Lake Superior has just about any kind of freshwater critters you can imagine. You will have your choice of topwater or bottom fishing, depending on what kind of fish you are looking for.

Boating

The Grand Portage State Forest has quite a few major water access spots, which include McFarland Lake, John Lake, Devilfish Lake, Esther Lake, Chester Lake, Tom Lake, Moosehorn Lake, and several rivers, creeks, and ponds. And these are just the ones that allow boats. Several of these have boat ramps while others only allow boats without motors such as canoes and kayaks. Judge C.R. Magney State Park offers the Brule River, Gauthier Creek, and the huge Lake Superior, which is the world’s largest freshwater lake. It boasts 31,700 square feet, 1,729 miles of shoreline, and a maximum depth of 1,333 feet.

Swimming

With hundreds of miles of shoreline on over two dozen lakes and rivers, you can find some awesome swimming beaches, so make sure you pack your beach toys and floaties in the RV. Judge C.R. Magney State Park has miles of shoreline on the Brule River for swimming. Devilfish and Esther Lake offer some fantastic places to take a dip. At the northern tip of the Grand Portage State Forest, McFarland Lake Campground is in between two lakes, which are both great swimming locations.

Off-Season

Hunting

Make sure you pack your hunting gear in the camping trailer before leaving for the Grand Portage State Forest because there are many hunting opportunities here. Whether you are hunting large game like bear, deer, and elk or would rather aim for something smaller such as squirrels, rabbits, or waterfowl, there is a spot in this forest where you can find them all. Make sure you follow all of the Minnesota rules and regulations and have your license and tags available at all times.

Hiking

Get out of the RV and into the woods to explore. Judge C.R. Magney State Park has some of the best trails in the forest. The Timberdoodle Trail is an easy one-mile loop interpretive trail and Gauthier Creek Trail is a one-mile out and back trail along the creek. The Devil’s Kettle Trail is short but difficult with steep terrain and 175 stairs. Then there is the Superior Hiking Trail that is also difficult with steep terrain and it runs 310 miles from Duluth to Canada so you can make it as long or as short as you like.

Skiing and Snowmobiling

The Grand Portage State Forest has a total of more than 60 miles of cross-country skiing and 40 miles of snowmobiling trails. If you are bringing your snowmobiles, you can hit the Skyline Trail by Grand Portage Bay, which takes you to the trail center that branches off into six different trails leading all over the forest. Judge C.R. Magney State Park also has a seven-mile cross-country ski trail, which is for experienced skiers as it takes you along the bluffs by the Brule River. For beginners, try the Upper or Lower Gunflint Ski Trails by Gunflint Lodge.

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