Savanna Portage State Park was created to commemorate the Savanna Portage Trail, a historic route that, more than 200 years ago, allowed the Dakota and Ojibwe, voyageurs, and explorers to cross the Saint Lawrence River Divide. Today’s Hiking Club route (at 5.3 miles (8.5 km) the longest we would do on this trip) touches on part of this old route, allowing us a visceral connection to the long history of this area.
After a restful night in Grand Rapids (Minnesota!), we drove about an hour south to Scenic and parked near where the historic Savanna Portage Trail used to reach the West Savanna River. While this old portage trail appeared on the state park’s map, it wasn’t obviously on any other map we had. Then we found an article in the Minnesota History Magazine from 1927 that described the re-discovery of this historic trail.
Finding this publication so allowed us to figure out that a snowmobile trail shown on the 1972 Balsam and Little Prairie Lake USGS quads was the portage trail. Sadly, channelization of the East Savanna River in the last century was not kind to the portage trail and (per the state park brochure) its last 1.6 miles (2.6 km) are today minimally maintained.
We started the Hiking Club loop at the parking lot near the West Savanna River and went counter-clockwise. Parts of the first mile or so are the old Savannah Portage Trail, only now widened and mowed to make walking easy. It was obviously not this easy back in the day. We were far enough south now for the Fall colors to be farther along and for maples to shoot bright spots of red into the forest. 🍁
The portage part of the loop is dotted with little information plaques that spoke mostly to how the voyageurs (fur traders) used the portage. While its Dakota and Ojibwe users were likely closer to what today we’d call ultralight hikers, the voyageurs were definitely not. They were in the business of moving tons of trade goods one way and tons of furs the other. Trotting for miles with the equivalent of three sacks of concrete (160-180 pounds; 72-82 kg) on your back seems like an Earthly version of the infernal regions. 🥺😈 And didn’t they know that smoking isn’t healthy! 🙄
We read this plaque and then continued on toward Lake Shumway, staggering under the weight of our 4 pound (2 kg) lumbar packs. But no smoking! 😉
At the north end of the Continental Divide Trail, we reached the Saint Lawrence River Divide, where the waters of the Mississippi and the Great Lakes are at their closest approach in North America. To the west, the waters of the West Savanna River eventually enter the Gulf of Mexico, while, to the northeast, the waters of the East Savanna River eventually enter the Atlantic Ocean. The old portage trail connected these two rivers, crossing the divide just south of here as it did so. From here, we took the Old Schoolhouse Trail back to the parking lot.
And with that, we were done with this piece of our state parks quest. We’d had excellent weather, good hotels and food, easy trails, colorful foliage 🍁, and NO bugs this time out! 😊 We dodged a moral dilemma and even learned a little something new at each park we visited. Not a bad way to spend a few days in our new state, not a bad way at all. 😁
The Hiking Club and our state park quest are made possible by all the folks that help run and maintain Minnesota’s wonderful state park system – it’s certainly something to be proud of. So, thank you! 👍👍👍😀BACK TO BLOG POSTS
Yes, we too found it helpful sorting out the various “continental” divides in North and South America. 😉
Thanks! And thank you for reading along about our trips. We’re finding that Minnesota is a huge and amazing place, with a lot more interesting things stuffed in it that we imagined. 😀 I guess we’re getting over any snobbery we may have had about the big parks out West. Yes, those are amazing, but they’re not the whole story. 😉 Your stories about rural Minnesota have also helped us understand our new home. So thanks for that too!
Thanks for including the Continental Divides map!
I am amazed by all the miles you hike, the photos you take, the beauty you see. Thank you for sharing your adventures. You are showing me places in Minnesota where I’ve never been.