For a Minnesota State Forest, Huntersville is a change of scenery. Unlike so many of its brethren, Huntersville State Forest offers nearly 34,000 acres of coniferous uplands with only a small scattering of lakes. Instead, the beautiful forests of mixed pines interspersed with quaking aspen and paper birch boast long trails that weave through the terrain of hills and drumlins.
Two winding rivers thread through the State Forest and offer the excitement, or the sheer lazy delight, of a paddle or float. If you don’t have your own equipment to drop in the water, local outfitters will set you up and drop you off. Water routes can begin or end at one of the two campgrounds, meaning your day on the water can begin or end an easy step from your camper.
With a history that goes back to the Dakota and Ojibwe people and up through fur traders and loggers, this quiet corner offers over 150 miles of logging trails open to hikers and drivers as well as designated hiking, off-highway motorcycling, and ATV routes. So bring something to paddle or ride and expect to leave your RV behind for some exciting days while enjoying the quiet of the forested campgrounds at night.
Located 100 miles east of Fargo, and 170 miles west from Duluth, this secluded state forest sits nearly in the middle of Minnesota. Most of the roadways traversing the forested hills and lowlands of Huntersville State Forest are gravel. Though the main, numbered access roads are well maintained, expect some bumps and muddy areas, especially after wet weather, and take the driving slow in your rig.
State Route 18, which runs within three miles of Shell City Campground, and State Route 15, which is four miles from Huntersville Forest Landing Campground, are both paved and easily navigable. From this route, spur routes access most destinations, so as long as you take the drive slow there is no reason not to venture out.
If you head off the fairly straight roads that bisect the state forest, you’ll find narrower roadways with overhanging branches as they travel the glacial moraines and drumlins. Be cautious, especially in a tall or long RV, as the chances for scratches from close trees will be high and the spots wide enough to turn around are scarce.
It is best to park at the campgrounds, where there is extra parking near the launch sites or at trailheads. With over 150 miles of logging roads plus trail routes, this is a scenic State Forest best explored in something with four-wheel drive or that floats.
Located on the Crow Wing River, Huntersville Forest Landing Campground makes a perfect place to tuck in your camper before heading out to explore. A carry-in site adjacent to the campground allows water access for you and your trailered watercraft or for a swim.
There are 24 first-come, first-served sites for this rustic style campground with naturally surfaced sites that offer a fire ring and picnic table. The sites are well cleared and fairly flat, so you should have no problem fitting in your rig and a trailer. There are two wells, trash cans, and latrine style toilets but no sewage, electric, or water hookups. Come with your water topped off and holding tanks empty to avoid a long drive of over 15 miles to a campground with facilities.
Best accessed from paved Route 15 to the south, three miles of gravel road will lead you north to the campground. There is a registration kiosk at the entrance to the campground. Pick up a fee envelop before checking out the open sites.
Tucked on the shores of Shell River, Shell City Campground and the Horse Campground offer two types of camping. Without your horse, pull into the Shell City Campground and check out the 19 first-come, first-served sites. A nearby boat launch allows water access to the river for a paddle or float to the nearby Crow Wing River and its well-known wilderness water route.
If you are traveling with your horse to enjoy the miles of equestrian trails in the forest, head into the Shell City Horse Campground. Eight first-come, first-served campsites are available with room for 27 horse companions. The horseback riding trails leave from the campground for a fun and easy trip.
All campsites have access to water spigots, trash cans, latrine-style toilets, as well as naturally surfaced sites with fire rings and picnic tables. This is a rustic style campground, meaning there are no water, electric, or sewage hookups available. It is best to come with your holding tanks empty and water topped off to avoid a long drive of over 15 miles out of the forest to a dump facility.
Shell City Campground is located on gravel roads just under four miles from paved Route 18. The main section is on a road with a registration kiosk at the entrance. The horse camp has a large center clearing to make turning with your trailer easy and has a registration kiosk of its own.
Huntersville State Forest offers several spots to drop in a boat and enjoy a paddle on the Crow Wing and Shell Rivers. There are two drive-in boat launches for vehicle access and several carry-in locations for each river. The Crow Wing River is known as one of the state’s best “wilderness” canoe routes and is listed as a State Water Trail for its 90 miles, of which a small section are located in the State Forest.
If you are looking for a new place to ride your off-highway motorcycle, check out Huntersville State Forest. With 58 miles of designated motorcycling trail through the forest’s rolling, forested terrain on a variety of loops, you can spend days exploring the forest while testing your skills on the single track routes. All OHVs must be registered before heading out. Plus, all licensed OHVs can enjoy the 150 miles of logging roads as well, though keep an eye out for multi-use traffic on these.
Huntersville State Forest offers over 24 miles of designated horse trails trotting along rolling terrain through the forest on quiet loops and away from the designated OHV and ATV trails. For a bit of adventure, head out with your horse for a water crossing before enjoying a quiet and stress-free ride, knowing you are on a horse-only trail. Access is easy as is camping, as there is a dedicated section of the Shell City Campground for equestrians and their mounts.
Access to the 150 miles of logging trails, many of which are historic, is open to those wishing to head out into the forest for a hike. If you prefer to venture off trail, take a map and compass and strike out to the isolated lakes scattered across this pine and birch forest to explore. Keep an eye out for vehicles if on the logging roads if your route happens across any of the designated ATV, OHV, or equestrian trails that wind through the forest.
Licensed hunters during the applicable season can hunt within Huntserville State Forest and the nearby wildlife management areas. Deer, grouse, and other game thrive in the coniferous forest with its pockets of quiet waterways. Within 200 feet of forest recreation areas such as parking areas and campgrounds, bows must not be knocked and guns must be unloaded and cased. Check for closed areas, especially near ATV, OHV, and equestrian designated areas.
When the cold weather hits, Huntersville State Forest offers miles of snow shrouded pines to explore. Both campgrounds are accessible via snowmobile and are open to travelers. A shelter is located west of the Huntersville Campground as well. Snowmobile trails marked with orange signs traverse the hills of the forest over logging roads and some sections may be plowed due to logging activities. If you come to a plowed section, slow down and look for machinery. Make sure your snowmobile is registered before heading out.