If you have spent the summer camping in Minnesota’s state parks, consider taking your outdoor experience to a state forest area this fall. Fall camping in forest areas offer superb autumnal colors, and the hike to a carry-in campsite is more enjoyable in the cooler temperatures.
In southeast Minnesota, the Ricard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest covers more than 1 million acres in seven counties. A hidden gem in this forest area is Isinours Management Unit, a 188-acre recreation area about three miles north of the town of Preston.
Though it is a relatively small management unit, Isinours is ideally located for recreation in southeast Minnesota. One of its best features is that the area is situated directly on the Root River Trail, a 60-mile trail network that connects Preston, Lanesboro, Harmony and other recreation-filled areas.
There are two dispersed campsites in Isinours located along non-motorized use trails. It’s about a mile walk to a primitive campsite, which has a picnic table, fire ring and small open-sided shelter. A vault toilet is located at the start of the trail.
While Isinours might not sound like much on paper, it has become a personal favorite campsite of mine for a few reasons. I’m a fan of primitive campsites and remote areas, and the seldom-used campsites at Isinours meet both criteria.
On recent trips to Isinours, I have enjoyed quiet sunsets over farm country, cool, clear night skies and unscheduled wake-up calls from wild turkeys in the surrounding forest.
The hike up to the campsites at Isinours is not unpleasant, either. The trail begins in the forest populated by southeast Minnesota’s more common deciduous species, but quickly moves into an impressive stand of conifers. The pine-padded forest floor is a welcome change from many of the area’s other camping options.
It’s easy to make a weekend from a trip to Isinours with so many recreation options nearby.
The Root River Trail runs virtually from the foot of the Isinours trailhead, setting up campers to day-trip along the bike trail to Lanesboro, Harmony, Whalan, or to make a short trip into Preston.
The Old Barn Resort is across the road from Isinours, and if you enjoy trout fishing, you might be pleasantly surprised by the stretch of the Root River from under the bridge at Old Barn’s golf course downstream.
Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park is a short drive to the southwest from Isinours and offers more hiking, trout fishing, cave tours and more recreation opportunities.
A favorite hike of mine at Forestville is the overlook trail that heads up the bluff from near the Historic Forestville site. This short trail leads up to an overlook of the river valley that is a must-see when fall colors are starting to turn.
If you’re used to the amenities of state park campsites, the primitive nature of Isinours might feel a little bare. But if you’re up for the hike and setting up camp away from the hustle and bustle of a busier campground, give this little-known destination a try.
Five tips for fall camping
- Reserve a site: If you’re camping in a Minnesota State Park, make a reservation ahead of time. If it’s a spontaneous trip, call the park office to check for availability.
- Check the weather: It’s tempting to get in a few more trips before the weather turns, but be aware of the weather forecast before you go. It might save you a night of being wet and cold.
- Dress right: With warm daytime temperatures and cooler nights, it’s important to dress appropriately. Avoid cotton base layers; wool outer layers are great for adding warmth and avoiding dampness.
- Follow fall colors: The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources keeps an up-to-date map of changing fall colors. Check before you pick a site and find the colors you’re looking for.
- Burn approved wood: A campfire in fall is very appealing — just be sure you’re burning park-approved firewood. Non-local firewood is not allowed in state campgrounds, nor is collecting firewood on site. It’s easiest to buy from the park office.