Going the scenic route

Sandra Potter can't travel in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness anymore. The retired school teacher has made a dozen solo canoe trips in the million-acre wilderness in addition to many trips with friends. "But I have heart disease and art...

Scenic State Park
Dale and LeAnn Warren of Milaca, Minn., head back to camp after doing some fishing on Sandwick Lake in Scenic State Park on a July morning

Sandra Potter can't travel in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness anymore. The retired school teacher has made a dozen solo canoe trips in the million-acre wilderness in addition to many trips with friends. "But I have heart disease and arthritis, and I can't portage," said Potter, 69, of Bayport, Minn. That doesn't stop her from finding a near-wilderness experience every summer. She finds it at a paddle-in campsite at Scenic State Park near Bigfork, Minn. She was camped there for a week recently.

Paddle-in and boat-in campsites at several Minnesota state parks offer campers a remote camping experience on the water without having to portage their gear. The remote sites at Scenic State Park are about three-quarters of a mile from the boat landing by water.

Perfect spot to pitch

Potter's site is idyllic. Her camp is on a small point that catches the breeze from three directions. Mature Norway pines reach to the sky. The camp is high above the water, with views down the mile-long throw of Sandwick Lake. She couldn't see any of the other four boat-in campsites from her point.

"I can't imagine not having a place like this," Potter said, sitting at her picnic table.


The remote campsites at Scenic State Park are in demand by campers, said Dawn Voges, Scenic's assistant park manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

"They like being not in a campground, out on their own," Voges said. "They like the convenience of coming back (to park headquarters) to get ice or firewood."

Most boat-in or paddle-in campers do come in by boat, Voges said. That's how Dale and LeAnn Warren of Milaca, Minn., reached their camp just up the lake from Potter. Dale had been coming to Scenic for 40 years with his family, but this was the first year he and LeAnn had used a boat-in site.

"It's the seclusion," Dale said. "We love it."

"We've got our own dock," LeAnn said. "It's private."

Scenic's boat-in campers come from the Twin Cities, Duluth, Grand Rapids, Minn., and the local area, Voges said.

"The majority of them do bring fishing boats," she said. "A decent amount canoe out. And we're seeing more folks kayaking."

Boaters are restricted to 10 mph speeds, and towables aren't permitted, according to park rules. Each boat-in site has apicnic table, a fire ring and a primitive toilet.


But the best part of each camp isn't man-made. It's the silence, Potter said.

"Solitude. A natural setting," she said. "It'sa peek into animal and plant life, a chance to see animal behavior you wouldn't see if you were camped in a state park campground. It forces you to be outside in the place you came to visit."

That isn't all.

"Another thingI like is the lack of artificial light," Potter said. "You can see the stars."

Some of the boat-in campsites can be reserved, while a few are held on a first-come, first-served basis, Voges said.

"During busy summer weekends, you can figure the only way to get in is by reservation," she said. "For our two non-reservable sites, you have to show up pretty early. During weekdays, it'sa little quieter."

For the Warrens, fishing for largemouth bass on Sandwick and nearby Coon Lake is a part of every trip to Scenic. They had caught a few on this recent trip already.

"Last year, we did really, really well," Dale Warren said. "We caught some 3½- to 5-pound bass. And if you're fishing for northerns, you can't keep 'em off your lures."


Sitting in the boat, looking across the lake, he offered a sweeping assessment of the park.

"Scenic is just an awesome place," he said.

Remote going

Six state parks in Minnesota offer paddle-in or boat-in campsites that offer a wilderness-like experience without the portaging. Paddle-in campsites are mostly reachable with a short paddle of less than two miles. Some of the sites also can be reached by land as backpack sites. None has vehicle access.

"The sites are more isolated than what you'd find at a regular campground, but they're not too remote for a novice," said Scenic State Park Manager Steve Railson.

Twenty-two of these campsites are scattered throughout the region at six Minnesota state parks:

Scenic State Park (near Bigfork): five paddle-in campsites.

• Bear Head Lake State Park (near Ely): two paddle-in campsites.


• Lake Vermilion State Park (near Soudan): three temporary paddle-in campsites.

• Savanna Portage State Park (near Mc-Gregor): one paddlein campsite.

• Schoolcraft State Park (near Deer River): one paddle-in campsite.

• St. Croix State Park (near Hinckley): 10 paddle-in campsites.

Most campsites have a tent pad, fire ring and primitive toilet. Campers should be prepared to pack in all of the drinking water and supplies they need.

Paddle-in campsites range from $12 to $24 per night.

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