Can you imagine walking waist-deep in muck and water with a 180-pound pack for six miles?
Neither can we.
But we learned how Native Americans and voyageurs endured such a traitorous journey when we visited Savanna Portage State Park.
This state park is packed with lessons in history, geology, and geography. Here are three things we learned by exploring the park.
Bogs and Carnivorous Plants
Bogs are the lowland areas left from glacial lakes. Today they are spongy and wet. It’s a land of ferns, moss, and peat. The park has a .3-mile boardwalk through a bog with interpretive signs and a lookout.
The most interesting fact we learned was about the pitcher plant. These plants fill up with a sweet-smelling liquid that attracts and traps unsuspecting insects before being slowly digested.
The Savanna Portage: Connecting Waterways
The Savanna Portage was a transportation route between Lake Superior and the Mississippi River. Native Americans and voyageurs would canoe UP the St. Louis River to Floodwood, MN. Here they would continue ASCENDING the East Savanna River until they reached a marshy grassland where they had to traverse by foot the dreaded six-mile, bug-infested, muddy bogs of the Savanna Portage –- with a hundred or more pound pack.
Once they reached the West Savanna River on the other side of the portage, they would finally descend in their canoes along the Prairie River to Big Sandy Lake before reaching the Mississippi.
And we complained about a few misquotes bites while walking to our air-conditioned, snack-filled car while carrying nothing more than a state park pamphlet.
Today, the Savanna trail in the park has a boardwalk so you can walk the portage path without having to wade through the wet marsh.
The Continental Divide: In Minnesota?
Did you know there is more than one Continental Divide in the U.S.?
I recall from geography class in junior high only the Great Continental Divide that runs along the Rocky Mountains.
Turns out there are two that intercept in Minnesota, the Northern (a.k.a Laurentian) and St. Lawrence Seaway Divides. These divides separate the direction of water flow in our state.
After a short 1/3-mile uphill hike, we were standing on the ridge of the St. Lawrence Seaway Divide. Waters flowing west go towards the Mississippi River and then to the Gulf of Mexico. Waters flowing east go toward Lake Superior and then to the Gulf of St Lawrence.
And now for the park highlights from the kids’ perspective. Our family goal is to visit all 72 MN State Parks and 4 Recreation Areas. Savanna Portage is the 7th stamp in the kids’ MN State Park Passports.
Park Highlights as Reported by Finley (4 ½ years old)
• The picnic. It was nice.
• Swimming in the lake. It was cold.
• Seeing all the wildflowers. They were pretty.
Park Highlights as Reported by Daley (8 ½ years old)
• Swimming in the cold lake.
• The picnic. I was really hungry.
• The playground, especially the tire swing,
• Seeing the pitcher plants in the bog. They eat bugs.
Savanna Portage State Park is about an hour and a half drive from Duluth (17 miles northeast of McGregor, MN). It has over 15,000 acres to hike, swim, boat, and fish (4 lakes).
Have you visited Savanna Portage State Park? Share your experiences in the comment box below. Thanks!
P.S. Thank you Daley, Finley, and Tim for planning this fun Mother’s Day surprise outing. It was a thoughtful addition to our in-depth exploration of the St. Louis River (read more on my blog entry, “From Headwaters to Estuary: A St. Louis River Excursion”) and our participation in the One River, Many Stories community project.