|American elm is one on many northern hardwoods that can be found in|
Minnesota's Rum River State Forest.
The state forest’s south unit is particularly remote. There will be times when walking past the ferns, evergreens and lush hardwoods that you’ll feel as if you’re in the forest primeval.
One peaceful 3-mile round trip is a combination of the Rum River Forest Road combined with a loop hiking trail. It’s best done in early spring or late autumn – that is, before and after the mosquitoes and black flies swarm.
To reach the trail, from Milaca take U.S. 169 north, turning right/east onto 230th Street. After three miles, you'll come to a T-intersection with County Road 16; turn left/north. Follow County Road 16 as it makes right angle to the east and then again to the north. Turn left/north onto Rum River Forest Road (Google Maps shows this as “Game Refuge Road”).
Into the woods
Continue straight across the West Fork Groundhouse River. West of the bridge is a large pond that the fork feeds. There’s a parking lot across the bridge.
Hoof it north along the primitive Rum River Forest Road. You’ll pass around a gate intended to keep motorized vehicles out of the area.
When the road comes to another parking area, go left/west and take the trail in a loop. Part of the loop joins with the Mystic Riders snowmobile trail.
The bottom half of loop is wooded. Among the tree canopies you’ll pass under include the typical northern hardwoods of ash, basswood, elm, maple and oak. When close to the river or marshlands, look for ash, black spruce, elm, tamarack, and marsh grass to dominate.
Thank a glacier for this forest
The top half of the area that the trail circles around largely is an open area. After the region was timbered off by 1900, farming tried to take root. The land proved unsuitable for that, however, as most of the soil here is a sandy loam mixed with rock, all deposited by glaciers during the past ice age.
By 1930, efforts at farming in the area were abandoned. The trees now growing in the area date to that time, so you’re not quite walking through the forest primeval…but compared to our urban settlements, it’s a fairly wild region. Indeed, coyotes even have been spotted here.
Once the loop rejoins Rum River Forest Road (you’ll pass another parking lot), return the way you came to your vehicle. You should be refreshed now for another round with civilization.
Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.