Located along 18 miles of the St. Croix River, Wild River State Park is a 6,803-acre park near North Branch, Minnesota. The park sports a number of recreational opportunities that range from canoeing and horseback riding to hiking and cross-country skiing.
Founded in 1973 as part of the National Wild and Scenic River designation of the St. Croix River, Wild River State Park offers a wide variety of activities for camping enthusiasts. The park is unique in that it has an unusual sideways S-shape that follows the St. Croix River which separates Minnesota and Wisconsin. The park was once home to the Ojibwe Tribe until 1837 when the large eastern white pine trees were logged. Today, the park is home to a mixture of second-growth forests from pine to hardwood and oak savanna.
History buffs will enjoy visiting the Deer Creek section of the historical Superior Military Road coming from Point Douglas, which is also located within the park. The road was originally constructed in 1853 by builder John Rollins and engineer James Hervey Simpson. In 1991, this section of the road was registered nationally as a historical site. Although the road is significant in military history, it was also popular among civilians early in the state's history.
There is only one entry point at Wild River State Park via State Highway 12. The surrounding area offers flat roads which are easily navigated by large and small RVs as well as trailers. Once inside the park, navigation becomes more challenging along State Highway 12. There are numerous turnouts to hiking trails and additional parking lots as well as a boat ramp.
The terrain within the park is undulating prairie land with several curves but no hairpin turns. The number of side roads can be confusing when trying to find the main campground or the horse campground. To find the main campground, you will pass the boat ramp turnout as well as the parking area for the Mitigwaki Trail. Continue driving northeast past the Nevers Dam Trail and Lookout turnoff. Follow State Highway 12 until you reach the main campground, where the road ends.
The horse campground is reached via a service road on the north side of the road after you enter the park. When you enter the campground follow the posted speed limit of 15 miles per hour. While driving within the park, drivers need to be aware of children playing, bicyclists, horseback riders, and hikers.
The horse campground consists of 20 campsites, 15 of which offer electrical hookups. Campsites consist of a fire ring, BBQ, picnic table, and a hitching post for livestock. The campground offers a fresh drinking water station, primitive toilets, and manure bins. The dump station is open seasonally and is located near the main campground. RVs and trailers cannot exceed 60 feet in length. Generators are allowed from 8:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m.
The main campground is located in the southeast portion of the park. This pet-friendly campground consists of 94 campsites that are spread across five separate loops. There are 34 sites that have electrical hookups and there are four pull-through sites that do not offer electrical hookups. Each campsite is furnished with a fire ring, barbeque grill, and picnic table. RVs and trailers are restricted to 60 feet in length. Parking pads are gravel and some leveling may be needed depending on the campsite.
Drinking water stations are located throughout each loop as well as restrooms with seasonal showering facilities. Generators are allowed from 8:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. The park contains a seasonal dump station, which is situated at the entrance of the main campground. Pets are allowed on a six-foot leash. Campsites are available by reservations, which are strongly advised for RVs and trailers.
Some of the campsites may be available on a first-come, first-served basis, although reservations are highly recommended. The main pet-friendly campground consists of 94 camp sites that are spread across five separate loops, 34 of which have electrical hookups for RVs. Each camp site is furnished with a fire ring, BBQ grill, and picnic table. RVs and trailers cannot exceed 60 feet in length. Parking pads are not paved and may require leveling. The campground has adequate drinking water stations, as well as restrooms with seasonal showering facilities. The park contains a seasonal dump station as well.
Wild River State Park offers other camping options which include six cabins, seven backpack sites, and four canoe sites along the St. Croix River.
Whether you are tent camping or brought the big rig with your boat in tow, Wild River State Park is perfect for some quality float time. Kayaking along the St. Croix National Wild and Scenic River is guaranteed to be unforgettable. With calm stretches of serene wild-life viewing and moments of excitement on the stronger currents of the river, paddlers won't be disappointed in their time on the water.
Canoeists and kayakers will find numerous launch points along the river, including a boat ramp in the southern portion of the park near the Sunrise River. There is an on-site marina offering canoe and kayak rentals on both an hourly and daily basis, and a shuttle service is available to help with transportation from various points within the park. There are also four canoe campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis. Please be aware that jet skis are prohibited on the river.
Fishing on the St. Croix National Wild and Scenic River within the park is perfect from the shore or off a boat. You can enjoy a relaxing time sinking your line while anticipating a catch that could range from northern pike and walleye to catfish and smallmouth and largemouth bass. Check regulations for appropriate bait use and bag limits, and don't forget to buy a Minnesota fishing license. The water level for fishing is best after the spring melt. Bring your catch back to Airstream to cook up for an old-fashioned camp dinner.
Hiking at Wild River State Park is highlighted by 35 miles of unique trails. Trails range from traveling through oak savanna areas to wetlands to prairies, as well as following the St. Croix River. Some of the more popular trails within the park include the three-mile Deer Creek Loop, which traverses the historic Superior Military Road, the one-mile Amik’s Pond Loop Trail, and the one-mile River Terrace Loop Trail, which offers great views of the old Nevers Dam site.
With an equestrian campground and 20 miles of horse-friendly trails open from May to October, horse lovers will want to hitch up the trailer and head to Wild River State Park for some awesome trail riding. Spend the day riding through prairie grasslands or head for the trees and ride under the shade of huge oaks. Ride up the River Trail and look out over Nevers Dam and see the historical display. With easy trails to complicated and challenging trails for the experienced rider, there's something for every level of equestrian at Wild River State Park. Stay in the equestrian campground and stretch out your riding legs in the RV after a day of riding.
Wild River State Park is an excellent RV destination all year round. During the winter months, the park turns into a winter wonderland with 35 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing as well as snowshoeing. Skis and snowshoes are available for rent on-site through the Trail Center. The park features specific trails for classic skiing, skate skiing, and combined skiing. Snowshoeing is restricted on groomed skiing trails, but adventurous visitors can snowshoe anywhere else within the park boundaries. Be aware that dehydration can be a problem with physical exertion even in the cold weather, so make sure to pack plenty of drinking water along with your trail map. Popular trails include the Old Logging Trail, the Trillium Trail, and snowshoeing is ideal along the Mitigwaki Loop Trail.
Bird and wildlife watching are ideal in the off-season at Wild River State Park. Because the conditions along the river attract a wide variety of wildlife even in the winter months, you may want to print out a checklist of species you can expect to spot on your camping adventure. Whether you are on the water or hiking, you are likely to check off several on your list.
There are more than 200 species of birds that reside or migrate through the park which include numerous species of ducks, the Tennessee warbler, autumn grouse, song sparrows, scarlet tanager, and the Baltimore oriole. Numerous mammals live within the park such as white-tailed deer, river otter, mink, and beaver. If you go in late winter, you may even see a few sleepy bears coming out of hibernation. Grab your binoculars out of the campervan and see how many animals you can spot.
Autumn in Minnesota is rife with the blazing colors of fall, and Wild River State Park is no exception. Plan your RV vacation in mid to late October to see the changing of the trees that Minnesota is famous for. You'll love hiking in the crisp fall air with leaves crunching under foot before heading back to the campsite for a some hot chocolate around the campfire. Chilly evenings will be no problem in the RV, and the days are the perfect temperature for strolling with camera in hand. Photo opportunities abound as the various species of oak, maple, and basswood trees turn into a canvas of amazing colors.
Wild River State Park's Visitor Center is unique in that it is open all year round. Besides being heated and a great place to take a break from snowshoeing to warm up, the Visitor Center is a fun activity in itself. Exhibits in the center teach visitors about the local ecosystem and how to be environmentally responsible. But it's not just educational. The Visitor Center has interactive displays and fun activities for kids and adults, including scavenger hunts. Staff-led educational programs are also offered throughout the year.