Continental Divide Trail Hiking Club Loop

Savanna Portage State Park, Minnesota

Trip Date: Saturday, September 23rd, 2017
Last Updated: Tuesday, October 10th, 2017
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 5.5 miles roundtrip
Time 2.5 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons Spring, Summer, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

At over 5 miles long, this is one of the longest Hiking Club trails in Minnesota State Parks. However, the long distance is worth the effort as you climb to an overlook at the top of the Continental Divide through the beautiful north woods. I modified the official route slightly to include a side trip to the West Savanna River and to use the Savanna Portage Trail rather than the Anderson Road Trail. This increases the distance only slightly while still allowing you to collect your Hiking Club password (and since you hiked extra you don't have to feel guilty for not following the entire official route). Not only does this give you some additional scenery, it also follows the historic route that is the namesake of this park.

Dogs are allowed on leash. Usually Hiking Club trails are a go-to for family friendly hiking, but the distance and uphill climbing make this trail too difficult for most young children. If you only hike to the overlook on the Continental Divide Trail, you still must hike over 4 miles (at that distance it's almost not worth it to modify the route from a loop to a point-to-point route). So if you have young kids, stick to the Shumway Lake Trail. The trail is good for use in the three warm seasons; in the winter, these trails become snowmobile routes, so hiking and snowshoeing is not permitted. I hiked this on a Saturday morning, and only saw a couple people. Expect to see more people on the Continental Divide Trail during the high season, though the other trails probably won't see as much use. Be sure to bring bug spray, or be eaten alive in the long expanses of marshland on this hike.

From the parking lot, look for the trailhead with the blue Hiking Club signs on the end of the lot opposite the lake. At the intersection ahead, turn to the right. After walking past a nice stand of tall pines and some gradual changes in elevation, you will arrive at a possibly confusing 5 way intersection. Look for the blue Hiking Club sign straight ahead and continue in that direction.

The trail soon begins the ascent to the top of the Continental Divide, a glacial ridge that separates the Mississippi River watershed from the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River watershed. They say on a rainy day you can watch water trickle down either side of the hill, with one side heading for the Gulf of Mexico, and the other side to Lake Superior. Once you reach the top you will see a wooden viewing platform on the right featuring the best view in the park, as pictured at the top of the page.

Continuing down the trail, turn sharply to the left at the next intersection to take the Old Schoolhouse Trail. This section isn't very noteworthy, so I didn't take any pictures here. Eventually, the trail meets a dirt road. Follow this road to the south, passing the nice marsh pictured below on your left, until you see a large, colorful, informational sign designating the Savanna Portage Trail on your right (you can't miss it).

A pretty little marsh on the side of the road

A pretty little marsh on the side of the road
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You are now traveling the Savanna Portage, the historic link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River first used by native peoples and eventually used by the voyageurs and early Minnesota settlers. The route was infamous for being a mucky slog through marshes -- the name "Savanna" comes from the marsh grasses that grow along the route. If you are hiking after a recent rainstorm, you too will get to experience the muddy joy and constantly soaked shoes enjoyed by early travelers. Joking aside, this little stretch of trail from the road to the West Savanna River has some nice scenery. The first picture below is a view across a marsh you will see on your left. After walking across some boards over particularly wet and muddy sections (note that these may sink into the water when you step on them, especially after a rainstorm), you will reach the East Savanna River as shown in the second picture below.
Looking across a grassy green marsh on the Savanna Portage Trail

Looking across a grassy green marsh on the Savanna Portage Trail
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The East Savanna River doesn't look like much here, but it eventually reaches the Mississippi

The East Savanna River doesn't look like much here, but it eventually reaches the Mississippi
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After you reach the river, turn around and return to the dirt road. Turn left on the road, and look for the continuation of the Savanna Portage Trail on the right. The dirt trail soon becomes a long wooden boardwalk cutting straight across the large marsh. As you take each comfortable step onto hard wood, realize that travelers originally had to walk through this marsh while dragging a canoe and supplies with them. They probably weren't looking around and thinking about how pretty their surroundings are.
Early travelers did not have such luxuries as this boardwalk over the marsh

Early travelers did not have such luxuries as this boardwalk over the marsh
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I must have been too absorbed in the scenery because I missed a turn to stay on the Savanna Portage Trail and instead took the South Spur at intersection F (as shown on the official map linked below). Stay left at that intersection to take the "correct" route which eventually meets the Anderson Road Trail and takes you more directly back to the parking lot. Or you could do what I did and take the South Spur, then turn left at intersection D, and right at intersection G (this route adds less than a half a mile to the total). If you do make my "mistake", you will be rewarded with a walk through a stand of tremendously tall red pines as pictured below (you merely get to walk past these on the other routes).
Feel small as you walk through these towering red pines

Feel small as you walk through these towering red pines
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This excellent hike exposes you to some geography, topography, and history with interesting scenery smattered throughout. Hiking Club trails usually travel through some of the best parts of each state park, and this trail is no exception. I hope you enjoy this hike! Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Directions

From the Twin Cities, take Interstate 35W north to U.S. Highway 10 west. In Blaine, exit for Minnesota Highway 65 (Central Avenue) and turn right. Follow Minnesota Highway 65 north for about 2 hours. In McGregor, turn left, then turn right to stay on Minnesota Highway 65. Turn right on Lake Ave (County Road 14) and continue straight until the park. Pay your fee at the park office on the right, then turn right and follow the dirt road approximately 1.5 miles to the boat launch area and parking lot.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Like all Minnesota State Parks and Recreation Areas, you must pay a vehicle entry fee of $7 per day or $35 for an annual pass (highly recommended if you frequently go to Minnesota State Parks). There is a vault toilet, boat launch, fishing dock, and several canoes and small boats for rent (pay at the park office) near this lot.

External Links

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