Wisconsin's Governor Knowles State Forest

Escape from the urban at Wisconsin's Governor Knowles State Forest.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.


Tinged gold by the rising sun, tendrils of fog drift over the river. A doe gingerly picks her way through the shallow, tannin-stained water before dipping her head for a drink. Time moves slowly along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Civilization may be near (obvious from the parking lots that access trails along the water), but you’d have a hard time telling it when you’re immersed in the Governor Knowles State Forest on the Wisconsin side of the river. The narrow, rugged, and wild 32,500-acre woodland runs for 55 miles, and there’s not a trace of the urban world to be found inside it.

Two trails-one heading north, the other heading south from the trailhead-depart from either side of state route 70, taking hikers through a variety of terrain, providing spectacular views of the river and its eye-pleasing, quadriceps-teasing bluffs. The 22-mile Northern Hiking Trail skirts marsh, home to wild orchids, fragrant stands of white cedar, and numerous deer. It leads to Brandt Pines Natural Area’s 10 miles of trails graced by cathedral-like stands of conifers. The Southern Hiking Trail shadows the St. Croix River for 16 miles.

Other than in the Brandt Pines area, neither the Northern or Southern trail provides loops, so you’ll have to shuttle cars or hike out and back.

Where: 70 miles northeast of Minneapolis. The trailhead is located about 5 miles west of Grantsburg, off WI 70.

Maps: Trail maps are available free at state forest headquarters (see below).

Trail Info: Governor Knowles State Forest, (715) 463-2898.

Trending on Backpacker