Minnesota, also known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, is a complex state full of wilderness, waterfront, and wildlife areas. This combination makes for any outdoor lover’s dream camping trip, hence why it’s a popular spot for all types of outdoor adventure seekers.
Any avid camper knows that sometimes camping isn’t always the cheapest activity or vacation. However, if you’ve been planning a trip to the Midwest and are looking for a cheap way to explore the great outdoors, you’re in luck.
Below we’ve outlined nine of the best places you can go free camping in Minnesota, so you can enjoy all that this state has to offer without breaking the bank.
Best Free Boondocking Areas in Minnesota
If you’re looking to go boondocking (or dispersed camping), look no further. There are plenty of places to go free camping in Minnesota that are perfect for just that. Keep reading to explore some of our favorites.
1. Marcell Dispersed Camping Area
Marcell Dispersed Camping area is found within Chippewa National Forest and offers a variety of free dispersed camping areas for you to choose from. Some popular areas include Spider Lake, Trout Lake, and the birch forest of Suomi Hills.
One benefit to free camping in this Minnesota area is that each of the sites provides wilderness latrines and fire rings. Also, with so many sites, you never have to worry about yours being overcrowded, so you can enjoy a trip full of peace and quiet (if that’s something you’re looking for).
Marcell Dispersed Camping Area is another ideal spot for free camping in Minnesota because each site allows plenty of recreational activities to keep you busy. During your time boondocking here, you can experience the wonders of the wilderness while also going hiking, fishing, hunting, canoeing, picnicking, and so much more.
Make sure to take a look at what each site has to offer so you can create your dream camping trip. Lastly, always have a backup option in case your first site choice is full (although you can’t go wrong at any of them!).
2. Cloquet Valley State Forest
For another great spot to go free camping in Minnesota, check out Cloquette Valley State Forest. Found in the southern area of St. Louis County, Cloquet Valley State Forest has multiple sites on Indian Lake for you to choose from when mapping out your boondocking itinerary.
In the areas surrounding Indian Lake, you’ll find 25 drivable campsites, a group camp, and plenty of room for activities. During your stay, you can go fishing, canoeing, boating, hiking, hunting, and even snowmobiling (weather permitting, of course).
For hiking lovers, you’ll have access to the Cloquet River State Water Trail, which spans about 33 miles of river. This hike will take you through areas of local forest and rocky stretches. The lake trail is also known for its fishing, paddling, and powerful rapids.
With so much to see, boondocking at Cloquet Valley State Forest is a fun and cost-effective way to explore the land and get the most out of your experience while free camping in Minnesota.
3. Old Crossing Treaty Park
Old Crossing Treaty Park is a lesser-known spot for free camping in Minnesota. It’s found in Red Lake Falls and doesn’t require reservations.
Old Crossing Treaty Park, although a smaller site, there are some amazing amenities here. Within the free campground, you’ll find picnic tables, areas to set up fires, drinking water, and restrooms. This area is also equipped for both tent camping and RV parking.
Because it’s not necessarily a hot spot, Old Crossing Treaty Park makes for the perfect getaway full of peace and quiet. Also, because of its minimal foot traffic and the general camping courtesy of “leave no trace”, this free Minnesota campground is clean and well-intact.
Although this park does have official campsite areas, it also allows for boondocking so you can explore off the beaten path. Old Crossing Treaty Park has a boat and canoe launch, allowing for fun afternoons on the lake, and also makes for a good spot for a group camping event.
Free Camping in Minnesota’s National Forests
National Parks are areas that are jam-packed with incredible sights and unique characteristics, making them desirable destinations for campers. For campers and tourists alike, these spots aren’t always so budget-friendly.
Fortunately, there are a few places to go free camping in Minnesota’s national forests. Keep reading to learn all about them and how you can enjoy this space.
4. Superior National Forest
If you’re looking to explore areas around Lake Superior, then Superior National Forest should be your next free camping destination. This is the largest national forest east of the Mississippi River and spans over three million acres of land.
Some of the notable features of this national forest are its clean lakes, stunning fall foliage, rocky landscapes, and rich cultural history. It’s also the perfect place to stargaze, and if you’re lucky, you may even get to see the northern lights.
Although there are some areas that have camping fees, there are plenty of others that allow camping that won’t cost you a thing. These are known as backcountry campsites, and they require no permits or fees. They provide fire grates, areas for tent set-ups, outhouses, and picnic tables.
You can also choose to go dispersed camping and choose your own place to set up camp in a non-designated area. This is a great way to spend time with just you and the land. Make sure you check out the national forest’s rules before starting your adventure so you and others can enjoy this experience for years to come.
5. Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park is another spot that offers free camping in Minnesota. The park itself allows free entry for daytime use; however, you may notice that many of the campsites do require reservations and fees.
Not to worry, though, because there are plenty of spots you can boondock in Voyageurs National Park to fulfill your dreams of camping in Minnesota for free.
Many of the boondocking areas are located at or around local lakes. Some of these places include Sherry Lake, Erskine Lake, Kelly Lake, Wolf Lake, and more. It should be noted that these lakes tend to freeze up around November, so if you’re looking to participate in water activities, make sure you come during the warmer months.
If you don’t mind a frozen lake and cold temperatures, winter camping is also an option. You can access these spots by foot or snowmobile, and although it’ll be chilly, winter camping can make for an awesome adventure and even better memories.
Free Campgrounds in Minnesota
If you’re looking for a free camping experience that provides designated areas and provides some amenities to reduce some of the stress of your trip, take a look at a couple of our favorite free campgrounds in Minnesota.
6. Harriet Lake Rustic Campground
This Minnesota free camping spot is special in that it’s located at the site of an abandoned farm. That being said, Harriet Lake Rustic Campground has plenty of coneflowers and other uncommon plants, which can make for an amazing picnicking area and an unforgettable campout.
Harriet Lake can be accessed by a boat ramp and dock and doesn’t require any sort of reservation. There is an outhouse on site, and this campground is located near the town of Tofte, should you need anything during your trip.
Because of its large open area, there’s lots of room for group activities, which makes this area a top choice for group campers. Make sure you pack plenty of water and trash bags, however, because there is no drinkable water here, and the park places a large emphasis on “leaving no trace”.
7. Hogback Lake Rustic Campground
Hogback Lake Rustic Campground is an area for free camping in Minnesota that is a perfect choice for nature and hiking lovers, alike. Along with three sites, this rustic campground holds a five-mile trail system that passes numerous lakes and offers several different loops so you can make the most out of your time here.
If you’re looking to spend time on the water, this free Minnesota campground also has a boat launch and fishing pier. Something to note is that this spot has a maximum of nine people allowed at each site. The campground also has space for two vehicles (one towed), so if you have more than one car, it must be parked on the spur.
Lastly, Hogback Lake Rustic Campground has both vault-style outhouses as well as wilderness latrines that are available at all times.
This area has endless opportunities to connect with nature and stay active through hiking, fishing, and time on the water. Therefore, Hogback Lake Rustic Campground is definitely not to be overlooked when looking for the best spots for free camping in Minnesota.
Best Free Waterside Camping in Minnesota
Because Minnesota is known for its abundance of lakes, you may be wondering about the best areas to go camping that are near the water or have water access. Listed below are some of our favorite options for waterside-free camping in Minnesota.
8. Six Mile Lake
Found just off Highway 2 at Six Mile Lake Road, you’ll find Six Mile Lake Campground. This free Minnesota campground features a boat ramp, space for up to six trailers, and an on-site restroom.
Six Mile Lake is around 1,300 square acres and has eight miles of shoreline. With a wide variety of unique fish species, this lake holds endless opportunities for all-day activity.
This lake is ideal for both experienced and beginner fishermen (and fisherwomen), and you can expect to find plenty of black bullhead, crappie, pumpkinseed, rock bass, burbot, and so much more.
There are also a few local businesses nearby for you to explore, shop, and eat, so you’ll never be bored (or hungry!). If you’re looking to spend some time outdoors, on the water, and with your fishing poles, Six Mile Lake Campground is an amazing place to do just that.
9. Diamond Lake
Diamond Lake, found within most of the east shore of Diamond Lake, makes for a beautiful spot to plan your next Minnesota camping trip. Not only will you get to enjoy all the pleasantries of camping, but you’ll also have access to endless recreational activities.
Outdoor enthusiasts will get to experience refreshing swims through Diamond Lake, fishing opportunities, paved biking trails, and scenic hikes during their time free camping in Diamond Lake.
Diamond Lake is also known for its rich cultural and geologic history that helped shape the landscape into what it is today. Its vast mountaintops, strong rapids, and booming waterfalls are all part of this Minnesota campground’s charm and favorability.
The campground also has 238 sites that are able to accommodate tents, RVs, and trailers. On-site, you’ll also find picnic tables, grills, drinking water, toilets, and campfire rings. So, no matter your camping preferences, Diamond Lake has something for everyone.
Time to Start Packing!
From experiencing incredible sights and hikes to endless opportunities for swimming and fishing, Minnesota’s free campgrounds truly offer something for everyone. So, Now that you know some of the best places to go free camping in Minnesota, it’s time to start planning your adventure.
Whether an avid outdoorsman or a first-time camper, it’s important to make sure you’re prepared for your trip and have all that you need to make the most out of your trip. To learn more about what to bring, take a look at our post on the Ultimate Camping Checklist for all you need to know!