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Savanna Portage State Park

By Jim Umhoefer
Savanna Portage State Park, Minnesota’s third largest, is named for a centuries-old footpath used by the Dakota and Ojibwe, and later by explorers, missionaries and voyageurs. This trail is a 6 mile-long portage between the East Savanna and the West Savanna River. The Savanna Portage was a vital link between the St. Louis River watershed and that of the Mississippi River on the canoe fur trade route from Lake Superior to the Upper Mississippi. Modern-day voyageurs can still follow this route today.

Savanna Portage State Park is located 17 miles northeast of McGregor just off the Great River Road Scenic Byway in Minnesota’s Aitkin County.

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Picnic area at Loon Lake at Savanna Portage State Park

Picnic area at Loon Lake

Sunrise on Lake Shumway at Savanna Portage State Park

Sunrise on Lake Shumway

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Trails
Some people bring their bikes to Savanna Portage to pedal through the campground and on the park roads. You can also mountain bike on 10 miles of park trails. Chances of spotting wildlife are good on the park’s 27 miles of hiking trails. Most of them weave through the hilly country between Loon Lake and Lake Shumway. The Continental Divide Trail takes you along a ridge that separates the St. Louis River watershed from the Mississippi River watershed and offers a scenic overlook. The Remote Lake Trail off Loon Lake Trail will take you to the Remote Lake Solitude Area within the Savanna State Forest.

A fall walk around Loon Lake at Savanna Portage State Park

A fall walk around Loon Lake

The Remote Lake Trail off Loon Lake Trail will take you to the Remote Lake Solitude Area within the Savanna State Forest

The Remote Lake Trail off Loon Lake Trail will take you to the Remote Lake Solitude Area within the Savanna State Forest

The bog walk gives you access to a unique ecosystem at Savanna Portage State Park

The bog walk gives you access to a unique ecosystem

Overlook on the Continental Divide Trail at Savanna Portage State Park

Overlook on the Continental Divide Trail

The Savanna Portage Trail ar Savanna Portage

The Savanna Portage Trail

Old Schoolhouse Trail at Savanna Portage State Park

Old Schoolhouse Trail

Camping/Lodging
The 61-site campground is located on Lake Shumway while the primitive group camp is on Savanna Lake. Backpackers can hike to six primitive campsites within the 15,818-acre park. Many campers enjoy fishing from the pier near the campground loops. The park also offers one canoe-in site. For a less rustic experience you can rent the park’s seasonal camper cabin or the year-round Garni guesthouse, which sleeps up to six.
Paddling/Boating
Canoeing is popular on Loon Lake and Lake Shumway, both of which have drive-in boat landings. You can rent boats or canoes at Loon, Shumway or Savanna lakes. Fishing on the lakes is mostly for northern, bass and pan fish. Only electric motors are allowed on the park lakes, and speeds are limited to 10 mph. Loon Lake has an enticing picnic and beach area set among the pine trees that surround the shoreline. You can canoe from the West Savanna River below Little Savanna Lake to Big Sandy Lake and the expanses of the upper Mississippi River. Ask the park manager about the water level on the West Savanna River before attempting this trip. Savanna Portage State Park has several lakes within its boundaries.

Early morning canoe ride on Shumway Lake at Savanna Portage State Park

Early morning canoe ride on Lake Shumway

Rental boats waiting for the day's business at Savanna Portage State Park

Rental boats waiting for the day’s business

Plants and Wildlife
Savanna Portage is a combination of rolling hills, lakes and bogs that support a rich variety of animals and birds. Bear, moose, deer and timber wolves are the largest forest residents in the park, but deer are most commonly sighted. Otter, muskrat and beaver live in the wetlands of the park. Another attraction is the bog boardwalk, which allows visitors a glimpse at a unique ecosystem usually inaccessible by foot. Here, you can see the carnivorous Pitcher Plant growing among the mosses of the bog.

The carnivorous pitcher plant in the bog at Savanna Portage State Park

The carnivorous pitcher plant in the bog

Shoe cleaning station at the entrance to the bog. brushing of your boots helps minimize the introduction of invasive species to this sensitive area at Savanna Portage State Park

Shoe cleaning station at the entrance to the bog. brushing of your boots helps minimize the introduction of invasive species to this sensitive area

Winter

Visitors can keep warm by hiking, biking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. Trails in the park are groomed as time permits.
More about skiing in the park and the McGregor area

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