The Complete Guide To Camping in Minnesota

Ah, Minnesota. Land of the Twin Cities, the Vikings, and the Mall of America. Minnesota is a wonderful state packed full of American icons, and it has one of the highest living standards out of all of the 50 states.

Yet perhaps one of the biggest perks of living in Minnesota is its connection to the great outdoors. It’s packed with vibrant plants and wildlife, hiking trails, and parks that are perfect for hunting, fishing, hiking, and other sports no matter the weather. For example, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota is considered one of the best camping destinations in the entire world! There’s almost no better place to camping than in Minnesota.

Index

  1. Why Minnesota is a great place for your next camping trip
  2. Ten great places to camp in Minnesota
  3. Wildlife
  4. Safety
  5. Now what?

Why Minnesota is a great place for your next camping trip

Out of all the US states, Minnesota is ranked 31st in its population density and is the 12th largest. The state also has a relatively small population of about 5.5 million people, most of which (60%) concentrated in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. This leaves a massive amount of open space and wilderness that’s just waiting for you.

The many lakes are just a small fraction of the places where you can find a great view in Minnesota. Large open fields blanketed by clouds, jagged cliffs, serene waterfalls, rushing rivers, and more await you. Minnesota is actually home to a whopping 4 national parks, 66 state forests, and even more private campsites and wildlife reserves. There is incredible variety in the scenery you can experience, from the dimly-lit caverns of Niagara Cave to the rushing waterfalls of Gooseberry Falls.

Minnesotans take pride in their state’s natural beauty. They care deeply about their state’s environment and make strides to use green energy. Minnesota is the 4th largest producer of wind power in the country and requires all gasoline to have a two percent biodiesel blend. These measures are all taken to ensure the longevity of the beautiful Minnesota ecosystem.

Many residents are extremely active and enjoy regularly exercising outdoors. In fact, Minnesota is considered one of the healthiest states in the USA, and there’s no doubt this statistic is related to the states close connection to the outdoors and endless opportunities to experience the wilderness firsthand.

Ten Great Places to Camp in Minnesota

Okay, I think you get it now. Minnesota is awesome for camping. If you’ve gotten to this point, you’re probably already itching to grab your camping gear and experience the wonder yourself. Before you do that though, you need to know just where to go in Minnesota to get the most out of your camping trip!

Check out our Downloadable Camping Checklist Here

These parks are listed in no particular order. They each have landmarks unique to them and you can definitely find a park that suits your camping tastes. Let’s go!

1. Voyageurs National Park

Voyager’s National Park is aptly named because it will sure make you feel like a voyager. The park’s name pays homage to the first group to settle and travel in the area, the French Canadian Voyageurs.

One important disclaimer – you’re going to need a boat. All campsites at the park are only accessible by boat, and so is the best scenery.

The many jagged rocks throughout the lakes of the park are part of the Canadian Shield, a massive area of exposed ancient Precambrian rocks, composed of volcanic igneous stone. Wherever you walk, you’re walking on millions of years of history!

The park has many lakes, streams, and other bodies of water. These make it a great place for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. Despite all the water, there’s plenty of space to hike too. The park has about 50 miles of hiking trails.

To see prices and get reservations for Voyageurs National Park, view the official website here.

2. Gooseberry Falls State Park

Located on the northern shore of Lake Superior, Gooseberry Falls is dotted with numerous waterfalls that flow into the Great Lake. Wherever you go, you can likely hear the rushing water near you and feel the cool Lake Superior climate.

There are 70 (nonelectric) camping sites throughout the park, as well as 18 miles of hiking trails. If you like bringing your bike on your camping trips, you can ride it on the park’s 8 miles of mountain biking trails. Many streams in the park are also suitable for canoeing and kayaking.

The most iconic area in the park is the Fifth Falls area, where many small waterfalls and streams lead to a serene stream surrounded by evergreens and smooth water-weathered rocks. The falls are located under a bridge which gives you a view downstream, letting you see the falling water spread to smaller streams and empty in deep caverns beneath the earth.

For information about prices and campsites in the park, click here.

3. Itasca State Park

Established in 1891, Itasca State Park is the oldest state park in Minnesota. It’s also by far the most popular with an average of 80,000 overnight stays each year. The park has 32,000 acres of land that can be used for any outdoor activity imaginable.

A Family Camping Trip To Itasca State Park

There are over 300 campsites throughout the park, about a third of which are electric and have internet access. There are even special group campsites if you enjoy camping with friends.

A must visit is Lake Itasca, where the park gets its name from. The lake is surrounded by a scenery of rocks and evergreens. Near the lake is the Jacob V. Brower visitor center, where you can find more information about the lake and the park.

For information about staying in Itasca State Park, click here and select Itasca State Park in the drop-down menu.

4. Judge C. R. Magney State Park

Judge C.R. Magney State Park is yet another park located on the Northern shore of Lake Superior. The park is interlaced with long hiking trails surrounded by thick, green forests. It’s an ideal park for camping and waking up by the North Shore for a morning hike. The hiking trails are known for their difficulty, but they lead up to the most iconic location in the park.

The park’s many streams lead to the signature attraction – the Devil’s Kettle waterfall. The Devil’s Kettle is a massive waterfall that flows over layers of volcanic igneous rock built up over thousands of years. Only massive waterfalls don’t empty down into a lake, while the other leads to deep beneath the earth. People have thrown objects beneath the surface to find out where the mysterious stream leads, to no avail. The stream is believed to empty into Lake Superior somewhere underground.

For information about staying in Judge C.R. Magney State Park, click here and select Judge C.R. Magney State Park in the drop-down menu.

5. Superior National Forest

An evening view of Paddle Lake in the BWCA
Paddling a Wenonah Minnesota 2 in the BWCA.

Located just north of Duluth, Superior National Forest is a massive park with hundreds of o miles of untouched forest. The park is known for its numerous clear lakes, boreal forest ecosystem, and its history. It was established over 100 years ago in 1909.

The campsites at the park have something for every camper. You are even permitted to camp somewhere within the forest, away from the larger campsites. Wilderness camping is specifically reserved for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the biggest highlight of the park.

The BWCA is an incredible 1 million acre wilderness area within Superior National Forest. Like many other parks in Minnesota, it has many ancient remnants of primitive Earth that can be seen in the environment. The area is perfect for canoeing and places many limits on motorized boats to keep the environment safe for all boaters. In fact, nearly 97 percent of visitors used a boat to get around in it! It is one of the most popular wilderness areas in the USA, hosting over 250,000 visitors a year.

See How Canoes Are Made at Wenonah Canoe

6. Hok Si La Campground

Hok Si La campground is a campground located near Lake Pepin. Despite its small size of 252 acres, it’s packed with big camping fun!

The campground is lined by coasts on both sides, which means there’s a big chance of you getting the perfect location for a bayside camping retreat. You can camp under a thick foliage of trees and be only a sandy beach with just a few steps out of your tent.

Hok Si La also has excellent facilities. Within the campground, you will find sleeping cabins, a dining hall, screened-in shelters, playgrounds, and a small outdoor chapel. These are all maintained and kept in ship shape year-round.

For information about rates and reservations at Hok Si La campground, click here.

7. Interstate State Park

Interstate State Park is located by the St. Croix River, the very river that has shaped the surrounding environment for thousands of years.

The area’s rocks and geology have been uniquely shaped by the river and the surrounding environment, and have made it an attraction for geologists from all over. There are 10 exposed lava flows, two glacial deposits, and ancient traces of valleys and streams throughout the rocky surface. In summer, ice melts to expose the many potholes and other effects of weathering over thousands of years.

The park has about 50 campsites, half of which are electric. There are also 4 group camp sites which can accommodate up to 25 people. There are also showers and toilets conveniently located near the campgrounds. Camping season is April 1st through October 22nd.

For information about staying in Interstate State Park, click here and select Interstate State Park in the drop-down menu.

8. Glacial Lakes State Park

Glacial Lakes State Park is a park unlike the others. Instead of vast forests, there are plains dotted with small lakes all over. These seemingly endless plains were formed by glaciers which molded the earth many years ago.

The glacier-formed plains of Glacial Lakes State Park are perfect for pitching up a tent and observing the local wildlife. They’re also perfect for long hikes and stargazing. You can even walk down to the shore of the 156 acre Signalness Lake for fishing or a waterside hike.

Unique activities such as horseback riding and backpack camping are available at the park. Signalness Lake is the perfect space for a picnic after a long day of hiking. The best time to visit the park is in spring, where tree and flowers bloom all throughout the land.

For information about staying in Glacial Lakes State Park, click here and select Glacial Lakes State Park in the drop-down menu.

9. Lake Maria State Park

If you love camping but prefer to stay in touch with civilization as well, Maria State Park is ideal for you. It’s a short drive from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the largest metropolitan area in the state. Despite the closeness to the city, you’ll feel far from any city during your stay.

The park’s forests are one of the last remaining parts of the “Big Woods”, a massive basswood, maple, and oak forest that once covered the entirety of southern Minnesota. The rolling terrain is ideal for hikers, skiers, and backpackers who are looking for a challenging trail.

There are 17 campsites throughout the park, as well as two group sites. There are also 3 sleeper cabins with room for up to six people, as well as lighting and a wood stove.

For information about staying in Maria State Park, click here and select Maria State Park in the drop-down menu.

10. Wild River State Park

Wild River St. Park is positioned near an 18 mile stretch of the St. Croix River. For many thousands of years, it was home to the Dakota and Ojibwe Indian tribes. Like many other Minnesota parks, it is an example of living history.

St. Croix River was one of the first rivers to be legally protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Wild River State Park received its name from this bill. The land deserves to be protected after all, as it is one of few remnants of land shaped by glaciers millions of years ago during the last Ice Age.

For information about staying in Wild River State Park, click here and select Wild River State Park in the drop-down menu.

Wildlife

Minnesota’s nearly untouched preserved environments are a perfectly safe space for all kinds of animals. Some of these animals are quite rare and rely on the state’s effort to preserve the ecosystem as it has been for hundreds of years.

Mammals

While hiking, you can sometimes spot mammals such as deer, elk, bison, and badgers. Near the water you even see beavers creating dams or otters playing. You may even spot foxes, rabbits, weasels, and raccoons scurrying through the plains and thick undergrowth.

The Moose We Saw in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The Moose We Saw in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

There may be plenty of docile and cute animals throughout the park, but the park certainly has its share of wild predators. Cougars, bobcats, lynxes, wolves, and even black bears roam the land hunting for prey. Although they generally avoid humans, the bears have been known to ransack the occasional campsite to steal camper’s food!

Birds

Minnesota is home to many beautiful bird species such as Canadian geese, crows, cormorants, bluebirds, cardinals, pheasants, ducks, cranes, swans, and many more. There also incredible predators such as owls, falcons, and eagles. You can even find the symbol of America, the bald eagle flying throughout the state.

Fish

Many elegant fish swim in the waters of the land of a thousand lakes. In fact, their variety and density attract fishermen from all over. Bass, trout, salmon, walleye, perch, crappie, and catfish and just a few fish among the potential fish you could catch.

Reptiles and Amphibians

You can find many toads and frogs hopping along the streams, and salamanders nestled under the rocks. Turtles can often be spotted basking in sunlight in the lakes. Although scarce, small lizards such as slinks often scurry throughout. Many reptiles are attracted to warm campsites, and can likely be seen near your tent. Snakes also slither in the grass and dig burrows in the dirt.

We haven’t even begun to cover the extensive variety of animals in Minnesota. To find out more about Minnesota species, click here.

Safety

How To Create The Ultimate Camping Survival Kit

Weather

Although some campsites permit camping at any time of the year, be aware that Minnesota gets extremely cold during winter. Without the proper gear and experience, you could be put in a dangerous situation. However, the other seasons are generally not as cold, and summer is rarely unbearably hot.

Mosquitoes

Minnesota is known mostly for good things when it comes to camping. However, one downside of camping in Minnesota are the mosquitoes – they’re EVERYWHERE! They fly all over you, cause itchy bites, and even can carry the nasty West Nile virus. If you’re not armed with clothing that covers well and good bug spray, you’re in for a bad time.

Check out this article if you need advice on dealing with mosquitoes. Your best bet is a Thermacell lamp, which burns naturally occurring repellents found in certain plants and flowers to ward off mosquitoes. It’s a must have for any campsite, and can ward off mosquitoes even in the most infested areas.

Stop The Mosquitoes

Camping gear

Unless it’s winter, you likely won’t need any other gear you wouldn’t need on any other camping trip. As always, make sure you have basics such as proper clothing, hats, a backpack, sunscreen, insect repellent, and your tent. Always be sure to bring extra of everything, especially food and water in case of emergency. The state of Minnesota has a full list of camping gear recommendations here. You can also view Beyond the Tent’s camping checklist here!

Animal safety

Although you’re likely safe with wild animals as long as you keep your distance, always be aware. Attacks are very rare, but they do happen. Never get close to a wild predator or make it feel cornered.

Bears are the most encountered predators. They are often drawn into campsites by the smell of human food and will even invade a tent in search of it. Food should never be stored in a tent, and it should be put out of reach of any hungry bears. Be sure to remove any food scraps and trash from the campsite and throw garbage away at home or in designated areas.

Other predators such as foxes, coyotes, wolves, cougars, and bobcats generally avoid humans and are skittish. However, be sure to keep your distance as they will attack if threatened and can carry rabies, which is especially deadly if you are far from any medical facilities.

There are also poisonous snakes in Minnesota, two to be exact. These are the Timber Rattlesnake and the Eastern Massasauga. These snake bites are deadly if untreated. Some campers even carry antivenom with them. A snake bite is unlikely, however, and if you see any snakes they will likely be harmless garter snakes.

Campsite Safety in the Backcountry

Now what?

Now that you know the essentials of camping in the great state of Minnesota, you’re all set! Minnesota is an outdoor fanatic’s dream. No matter what you love most about the outdoors, it has it. History, geology, wildlife, fishing, boating, hiking, amazing scenery… the list goes on. If you’ve gotten to this point, there’s no way you don’t want to grab your tent and pitch it at the next Minnesota campsite.

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