Snake River Campground
Chengwatana State Forest
Pine City, MN
Management: Chengwatana State Forest
Size: 26 sites
Cost: $14 (non-reservable, first come first served, self pay box, cash/check only)
Environment: Tall pine tree forest, river nearby, grasslands surrounding
Cell Phone Reception: Good
Privacy: Very Good
Dog Rules: Dogs on Leash
Amenities: Primitive. Pit-style toilets, Hand-pump water access
Trails Nearby: Canoe launch at the river access.
This idyllic little campground provided me the best sleep of 2016, and certainly the best sleep in any campground. State forests are wonderful because they are quiet, secluded, yet still provide everything you need. There were plenty of spots to choose from, even on a weekend, and we drove the two loops twice before selecting a campsite and using the pay box to reserve it.
The sites are great. Spacious, sheltered, and good for tent pads. You can bring an RV, but there are no hookups. Which means it is quiet! Everyone was doing their own thing, and it felt private. Perfect for a weekend of R&R, which is exactly what we did. The mosquitoes were really bad, though. It was early fall, and I had to coat myself in bug spray. Even though I brought an all-natural bug repellent for the dogs, Mica had a horrible time. We had to either be on the move or in the tent. No campfire for us this time because we just couldn't sit out without bugs. I'd try one of those lanterns next time that creates a dome of repellent.
I had hoped for good hiking, but I admit I didn't do much research. There was a highly overgrown trail that skirted the campground, but after traveling for at least a mile, it didn't seem to go anywhere. The portions near the campground were wonderful, as you can see in the photos. After diving in, though, and attempting to follow one trail further, it quickly turned into a boggy, wet, overgrown mess. In sum, it was awful. If I went back, I'd do more research on nearby hiking trails that are better maintained.
The key feature of this campground is the Snake River, and wow was it ever gorgeous! You can access it right from the campground, although the bank was really steep and washed out. Hopefully the management has put some efforts into making it easier and safer to reach the water's edge since our visit. I could have sat there and read a book for hours. It was beautiful upstream and down. The water access also serves as a canoe launch, but be prepared for shallow water and many river rocks. I watched a couple launch their canoe with difficulty getting out of the shallow water.
My dogs loved wading out in the fast-moving current to get sticks. River liked crawling all over the rocks at the water's edge. I liked just sitting there and listening to the rushing water and seeing my dogs happy to be cooled off and away from bugs.
We went on a sunset hike after setting up our tent, and even though we couldn't go far on the meager trail, it was breathtaking. Completely serene, quiet, and almost magical. We walked up the gravel road out of the campground, and there was a trail off of the road. Probably a good half mile or more in one direction, it seemed to truncate, so we turned back. But I was able to catch these amazing photos which should attempt to translate just how wonderful it was. Walking back to camp, we avoided the mosquitoes by ducking into the tent to read and listen to the water rushing quietly by. We fell asleep under the tall trees with the stars overhead, and slept peacefully all night long.
Highly recommend spending a weekend or even just one overnight at this campground. Close to the Twin Cities and perfect for a mini-getaway. If you do some research of the nearby trails and parks, I'm sure you could make a longer stay but you'd have to drive to the trails.
To read more about the differences between camping at state parks and state forests with dogs, check out this article.