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.

Source: Hart (1927), “The Old Savanna Portage”

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.

The Savanna Portage (red dots) shown as a snowmobile trail in 1972

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. 🍁

We start our walk into history
The maples were going bright red
Fall color was everywhere
Sunlight really brought out the color

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. πŸ₯ΊπŸ˜ˆ And didn’t they know that smoking isn’t healthy! πŸ™„

Sorry, a job crossing the portage holds little appeal

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! πŸ˜‰

We stagger on…
Departing the portage trail for the path to Lake Shumway
On toward the lake
Lake Shumway, Savanna Portage State Park, Minnesota
Lake Shumway
Lake Shumway, Savanna Portage State Park, Minnesota
Fall foliage over the waters
Doubling back from the lake on the Continental Divide Trail
Winterberry
Colorful Winterberry
Not all parts of the forest were ready for Fall colors yet

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.

View of Wolf Lake to the northeast from the Saint Lawrence River Divide, Savanna Portage State Park, Minnesota
View of Wolf Lake to the northeast from the Saint Lawrence River Divide
Source: Wikipedia
On the Old Schoolhouse Trail
A maple leaf fades toward winter
Near the end of the Old Schoolhouse Trail
Oak leaf
Our loop (blue line) on the Hiking Club route; the arrow points to a snowmobile trail that is the Savanna Portage Trail

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! πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ˜€

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