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Governor Knowles State ForestActivities and recreation

The Governor Knowles State Forest provides recreational opportunities that are compatible with the forest's natural resources. Our recreational facilities and policies are designed to give visitors the best experiences possible while protecting safety as well as the health of the environment.

Camping Biking

Bicycles are allowed on all trails, except those signed closed. Trails are non-paved, off road and vary in difficulty. During the non-winter months, enjoy the Brandt Pines Recreational Trail System, located at 26001 Gile Road. Most of the northern hiking trails are open for bicycle use as well. If you wish to take an overnight trip, camp at one of the backpack campsites by reservation. Contact the forest headquarters at (715) 463-2898 for further information.

Camping Camping

Camping at Governor Knowles State Forest

Canoe Canoeing and kayaking

Canoe or kayak the Wood River from Grantsburg to Raspberry Landing on the St. Croix River. Thousands of water enthusiasts flock to the St. Croix River, taking advantage of the beauty and its resources. The St. Croix River winds its way through a wild and scenic countryside from its origin in a spruce-tamarack swamp near Upper St. Croix Lake. The river system varies from swift and rocky whitewater to placid flowages.

A typical day of canoeing will take you about 20 miles, that is, unless you decide to explore an island or two or wet a fishing line in some of the quiet bays and backwaters. Primitive campsites can be found along the shore and on many islands. Water must be purified before drinking and firewood is scarce.

The St. Croix is part of the National Scenic Riverway system, which is administered by the National Park Service. Detailed information about river trips can be found at Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway [exit DNR].

Hiking Hiking for the day or overnight

Interpretive sign on trail near river
Wood River Interpretive Trail

Governor Knowles State Forest has a total of 40 miles of hiking trails that stretch the wild and scenic St. Croix River Valley. This trail system is split into two segments; the north segment is 23 miles long and the south segment is 17 miles long. Each trail meanders along the bluffs overlooking the St. Croix River and occasionally swings down onto the scenic wilderness area along banks of the river.

If you only have a few hours to hike, we recommend you go to the Brandt Pines Trail System (26001 Gile Road) or the St. Croix Campground Trail System (23409 West River Road).

Trail maps

Horseback riding Horseback riding

Trade River Equestrian Trail System

Trade River trail
Riding along the Trade River trails

The Trade River Equestrian Trail System [PDF] consists of 40 miles of maintained and marked trails that wind through a variety of terrains and different forest types. They are located on the southern half of the Governor Knowles State Forest in northwest Polk and southwest Burnett counties.

There are two trailheads. One is at the Trade River Campground on Evergreen Avenue, 5 miles west of Highway 87. The other trailhead is on 340th Street at the northwest parking lot, 4 miles south of County Highway O. Detailed maps and trail logs are provided at both trailheads.

The main trail is the Barrens Loop (brown signs). For a shorter ride there is the Sunrise Shortcut (green signs), which divides the Barrens Loop in half. The Wolf Creek Trail (red signs) loops east from the main trails toward Wolf Creek. The Multiple Use Trail (north of the northwest parking lot) takes the rider toward Grantsburg for a distance of 18 miles.

The forest offers 40 miles of well-maintained horse trails.
Trade River day-use area

Trade River Campground

The Trade River Campground [PDF] has been used by horseback riders for over 45 years. Please see Governor Knowles camping for more information.

The Equestrian Friends of Governor Knowles State Forest [exit DNR] maintains an excellent website with maps, photographs and detailed trail descriptions.

Hunting Fishing Hunting and fishing

Hunters will find whitetail deer, turkey, black bear, squirrel, ruffed grouse and woodcock throughout the forest. It also encompasses several trout streams, of which, the Trade River and Wolf Creek are most popular for anglers. Governor Knowles State Forest is the gateway to a portion of the St. Croix River—known for small mouth bass, walleye, catfish, musky and sturgeon.

Winter recreation Cross-country skiing

The rolling hills and river valleys of the Brandt Pines Recreational Trail System, located at 26001 Gile Road, offer nine miles of groomed and tracked trials for both traditional and skate skiing. (No bikes allowed during the winter months)

Hiking Snowshoeing Fat Tire Biking Hiking, snowshoeing and fat tire biking

If you're into winter hiking, snowshoeing or fat tire biking, check out the groomed trails at 23409 West River Road to access the trail system near the St. Croix Campground.

Winter recreation Snowmobiling and winter ATV

The southern half of the State Forest has 32.5 miles of snowmobile trails which serve as a main connecting link between Burnett and Polk Counties' trail system.

The opening and closing of snowmobile trails is at the discretion of each county. Snowmobile trails which cross DNR lands are opened and closed consistent with the surrounding county (or counties). Whenever possible, the opening and closing of snowmobile trails is done on a county-wide basis, however localized conditions may require localized trail opening and closing. It is the responsibility of the county to provide notification about the status of snowmobile trails. The Travel Wisconsin Snow Conditions Report [exit DNR], and local club and county snowmobile web pages [exit DNR] and telephone hotlines will provide the most current information.

Last Revised: Monday March 06 2017