backroads crow wing river

For thousands of years, the 90-mile long Crow Wing River in central Minnesota was the heart of a vast water-based transportation system. Even now there are archaeological sites of that canoe economy to be found along the river. 

Today, the river is a designated Minnesota State Water Trail with campgrounds and recreation areas every few miles. The trail extends from the river’s headwaters in the Crow Wing chain of lakes in southern Hubbard County to its confluence with the Mississippi in Morrison County. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources refers to the river route as wilderness. In many cases, it can be only accessed via long sandy roads through pine, oak and aspen forests.

For those interested in canoeing, kayaking or tubing a part or all of the river, the DNR has an on-line map which may be helpful in planning your trip. There are also outfitters who can help you with planning, water craft and transportation. For example, Gloege’s Northern Sun Canoe and Kayak Outfitting — located right on the river — can help you with a short day trip involving swimming and picnicking along the way, or a longer three to four-day trip.

“One of my favorite short trips is the mile and a half from our landing to the tiny town of Nimrod,” said Lee, from Gloege’s. “It has the biggest drop in inches per mile of the river trail. It is fast and fun and beautiful and you are almost guaranteed to see a bald eagle.”

Boating is not required to enjoy the Crow Wing River, however. The 52 square mile Huntersville State Forest, south of the town of Hubbard, has an excellent (although somewhat remote) campground along the river. The campground can be reached via a well-maintained sandy forest road called Huntersville Forest Road which intersects with the equally sandy Campground Road.

If you enjoy hiking, hunting or berry picking, you’ll see lots of trails going from the road into the forest. You’ll also likely see active logging operations. When you reach the campground you’ll find a wonderful river view, camp spots for large campers as well as tents. The campground features a hand pump for water and pit toilets. You’ve got to bring your own electricity.

Compared to nearby Itasca State Park, it’s a deeply peaceful spot. If, by chance, the Huntersville Campground is full, there is another campground, as well as one for horse campers just to the north, where the Shell and Crow Wing Rivers join.