It is hard to believe a campground this nice and near so many natural resources is so little used. Set in Governor Knowles State Forest adjacent to the St. Croix Wild and Scenic River, this campground offers first rate canoeing and hiking from a campground that most would love to be their backyard. I stayed here on a weekday after an overnight canoe trip on the St. Croix River and had the whole campground to myselfin July! St. Croix Campground could also serve as pre-trip stopover spot, or as a base camp for day trips on the St. Croix. However, Governor Knowles State Forest stands tall as a destination in its own right, with over 50 miles of hiking trails, wildlife viewing, and fishing opportunities. This forest parallels the St. Croix River for 55 miles, yet never exceeds two miles in width. It has an important role in protecting the St. Croix watershed.
St. Croix Campground at Governor Knowles State Forest was developed in 2000. Forest service personnel did a fine job in laying it out. The park road climbs onto an escarpment above the confluence of the Wood River and the St. Croix River. This high-ground location cuts down on insects more prevalent along the banks of the St. Croix. The campground's beautiful forest setting is immediately evident. Overhead are tall oaks and white pines, complemented by ash, maple, jack pine, and a few aspen. A thick understory of ferns and smaller trees enhances the scene.
The paved campground road leads past widely dispersed campsites that are quite large. Eleven of the 30 sites are on the inside of the loop. Campsite #1 exemplifies the average campground site here: a wide grassy area around a gravel auto pad encircled by tall trees, yet open to noon sun overhead due to its large size. It is surprisingly far to the next campsite.
Drop down a bit of a hill and come to more lush sites with ramparts of ferns bordering the sites. Some of these campsites have wooden benches in front of fire rings cut into the hillside. Climb a bit and come to drier sites. Jack pines and white pines become more prevalent. Just after campsite #14, the Wood River Interpretive Trail leaves right and returns after site #20. The already well-separated sites spread apart even further after site #24. Three water spigots serve this campground, and there are open sites on weekends (including holiday weekends). Modern vault toilets are accessed via six short trails leading into the loop.
Canoeing the St. Croix River is the primary activity around these parts. The river deserves its wild and scenic status. Lush banks of grass and thick trees line the clear water teeming with smallmouth bass and other fish. Slender islands break up the shallow sandy river bottom. The swift current speeds up even more on the occasional riffles and shoals. The wildlife along this river will amaze. I saw bald eagles, osprey, a porcupine, ducks, and more deer than people. A canoe landing is located within walking distance of the campground. A short trip would be five miles from the campground canoe landing to Stevens Creek Landing, located on the Minnesota side of the river. It is nine miles down to County O Landing in Wisconsin. Upstream trips can end at the campground landing. Consider putting a whole day in and make the 13-mile float from Nelson's Landing to the campground. This section has many riffles and shoals. Before you come, be sure to visit the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway website at www.nps.gov/sacn and learn more about potential float trips. Numerous outfitters operate along the river; however, Wild River Outfitters is conveniently located near St. Croix Campground. They offer all lengths of trips and shuttles. For more information, visit www.wildriverpaddling.com.
Don't forget about hiking here at Governor Knowles State Forest and vicinity. The Wood River Interpretive Trail offers a one-mile leg-stretcher with views of the Wood River and information about the flora and fauna of the area. A spur trail connects the campground with the forest picnic area. Two long trails extend through the forest, each running about 22 miles; these are popular with backpackers. Just north of the campground, at Highway 70 Landing, is the Sandrock Cliffs Trail, which makes a narrow five-mile loop along the St. Croix River and the escarpment above it. The St. Croix Trail extends in both directions from the Marshland Visitor Center just across Highway 70 in Minnesota. And after a night or two at St. Croix Campground, you may decide to extend your stay in this underutilized Wisconsin resource.
To get there: From Grantsburg, drive west on Highway 70 for 4.5 miles to a left turn into a marked road wayside. Turn left again into the campground.
Address: St. Croix, P.O. Box 367, Grantsburg, WI 54840; (715) 463-2898
Open: May 1 through October 15
Individual sites: 31
Fee: Wisconsin residents $7 per night SundayThursday, $9 per night FridaySaturday; non-residents $9 SundayThursday, $11 per night FridaySaturday
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication