With all the extra gear and precautions, winter camping in Minnesota can seem a little daunting if you’ve never done it before. Luckily, we’ve got all the essential tips and tricks you’ll need to become a successful winter camper in no time!
Keep reading to learn all about where you can go winter camping in Minnesota and how to keep yourself warm while winter camping.
Where to Go Winter Camping in Minnesota
Itasca State Park
The oldest state park in Minnesota, Itasca State Park is located in the northwest region of the state. It features beautiful old growth forests and is home to the start of the Mississippi River.
In addition, Itasca State Park boasts well-maintained snowmobile and cross-country skiing trails. You can even rent snowshoes on site if snowshoeing is more your thing!
This particular state park has a variety of campsites depending on what kind of Minnesota winter camping experience you want. Specifically, 12 outdoor campsites and 12 indoor lodging units are available in the winter.
The indoor lodging includes four-season suites, which can sleep two to four people. They’re heated, have a kitchen, and offer WiFi and cable.
Drive-in, cart-in, backpack, and electric campsites are also an option, although availability varies in the winter.
Afton State Park
When winter camping in Minnesota, Afton State Park is another great choice! Located near the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, you can catch beautiful views of the St. Croix River in this state park. The terrain is also very hilly, which makes it perfect for skiing.
Cabin and yurts are available to rent during the winter at Afton State Park. One important difference is that the cabins have electricity and heat, while the yurts don’t. However, the yurts do have wood stoves, and the campsite provides free firewood!
Additionally, there are 28 backpack/hike-in campsites open in the winter, as well as one group campsite that can fit up to 60 people. However, the group-camp campsite may not be accessible if the snow is too deep.
Jay Cooke State Park
Situated in northeast Minnesota, Jay Cooke State Park claims the St. Louis River Swinging Bridge and the Pioneer Cemetery as two of its main attractions.
In terms of other amenities and activities, Jay Cooke State Park rents out snowshoes and sells firewood to any interested winter campers. With 32 miles of cross-country skiing trails in a range of difficulty levels, this is the perfect spot for winter sports lovers of all kinds!
This state park provides 12 drive-in campsites as well as five camper cabins that have electricity and heat.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
You may not think of the iconic Boundary Waters as suitable for winter camping in Minnesota, but it’s such a hidden gem when the weather gets cold!
The Boundary Waters is much less crowded in the winter, and you get to enjoy a whole different kind of Boundary Waters beauty with snowy trees and frozen lakes.
One benefit of Minnesota winter camping in the Boundary Waters is that in the summer, camping permits are reserved months in advance, and you have to pay for them. However, between October 1 and April 30, permits are free and self-issued on the day of your trip.
Winter camping in the Boundary Waters is also a great opportunity to go snowshoeing, skiing, and even dog sledding across the frozen lakes and down the portage trails!
However, be sure to choose your entry point wisely. A lot of the entry roads that are easily accessible in the summer go unplowed in the winter, which could mean miles of skiing or snowshoeing just to get to the start of your journey.
If you’re a less experienced winter camper, it may make sense to stay at a cabin or even an outdoor campground close to the Boundary Waters and take day trips to the nearby lakes. Sawbill Lake Campground is a great option for winter campers who are just starting out!
How to Stay Warm When Winter Camping in Minnesota
Essential Winter Clothing
Camping in Minnesota during the winter means that you’ll need lots and lots of layers!
Specifically, you should be wearing a base layer (the best are made out of wool or polypropylene), a mid-layer or two (something like a fleece, down jacket, or puffer), and a waterproof, hard-shell jacket.
It’s important to pack extra base layers that you can change into in case your original layers get sweaty or wet.
Wool socks are great, but your preferred sock material is really up to you as long as it’s not cotton! Quick dry socks are also super helpful in preventing prolonged dampness from sweat.
Socks for Minnesota winter camping should be thick but not so thick that your boots won’t fit comfortably with your socks on.
Insulated, waterproof winter boots are the way to go if you’ll be camping in deeper snow.
Hiking boots may be okay if there won’t be much snow on the ground, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to winter camping footwear, so you may just want to settle on winter boots.
Balaclavas, Beanies, and Hats
Wool or synthetic are the two best materials for headgear that will keep you warm when winter camping in Minnesota.
Winter Camping Gear and Accessories
To start off, you’ll want a sleeping pad with a high R-value, which is a score given to sleeping pads based on how well they insulate. The higher the R-value is, the better the insulation is.
For example, this Exped MegaMat 10 Sleeping Pad has an R-value of 8.1, which is a pretty high R-value that’s compatible with winter camping in Minnesota.
Whatever sleeping bag you choose should be built to withstand temperatures 10 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the coldest temperature you plan to camp in.
Many sleeping bags for winter camping are specifically labeled as winter sleeping bags or as four-season sleeping bags.
This Marmot Never Summer Sleeping Bag is a great example because it’s usable in temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit and explicitly says in the product description that it’s for winter camping.
The perfect tent for Minnesota winter camping is either a three-season tent or a four-season tent, depending on how deep into the winter you’ll be camping.
It’ll also need vents to properly ventilate airflow at night, like this Clostnature Lightweight Backpacking Tent has.
Finally, you’ll want a tent that’s slightly larger than the number of people who will be staying in it, but not too much larger. Too much extra room could make the tent cold and drafty!
For example, if two people are staying in the tent, you should bring a three-person tent with you.
Hot food is a must when winter camping in Minnesota, so you’ll definitely want a cooking stove!
Liquid-fuel stoves are particularly great because they work well in low temperatures. However, they’re noticeably heavier than your average camping stove, so keep that in mind when packing your gear
Whatever cooking stove you choose, be sure to bring extra fuel with you because more fuel is required to melt snow and turn it into drinking water.
Lithium batteries are a great asset for winter camping because they tend to work more effectively in colder temperatures than other types of batteries.
Make sure your electronics are loaded with lithium batteries, and bring some spares if you have room in your gear.
A water bottle can come in handy for so many uses when winter camping in Minnesota!
Obviously, it’s important to stay as hydrated as possible when winter camping, but a water bottle can also help you retain your body heat.
Fill up your water bottle with hot water and put it near your feet or near your groin when sleeping. Just make sure that you have a water bottle that can seal really tightly to prevent leakage!
Tips and Tricks for Staying Warm
Avoid Sweating Through Your Layers
This tip might seem a little out of place when it comes to Minnesota winter camping, but it’s actually one of the most crucial ones!
The reason you need to prevent sweating is because sweat will eventually cool, which will make you cold and wet.
Remove and add layers when necessary so that you don’t overheat, and don’t be afraid to put them back on again when you get cold.
Use Hand and Foot Warmers
When winter camping in Minnesota, using hand and foot warmers can really help stave off the effects of frostbite. You can even put some in your sleeping bag at night for added warmth!
Eat and Drink a Lot
Shivering and being cold burns lots of calories! Therefore, you’ll have to take in lots of calories from eating and drinking so that you keep your energy levels high.
To do this, you’ll want foods that are high in protein and high in fat. Hot meals that don’t produce a lot of dishes to spend time cleaning out in the cold are also ideal.
In addition to staying hydrated and keeping your energy up, drinking a lot means that you’ll be peeing a lot. This is actually a good thing because it takes energy to keep your bladder warm when it’s full or partially full, so emptying your bladder actually saves you energy in the long run!
Double up on Your Sleeping Pads
Double the sleeping pads means double the insulation (and double the comfort!). It’s important to use two sleeping pads whenever possible because the ground will absorb your body heat over time if you’re not properly insulated.
The ideal combination for double sleeping pads is a thinner pad on the bottom and a thicker one on top. If this isn’t enough insulation, you can even add blankets in between your sleeping pads and sleeping bag.
Ventilate Your Tent
When sleeping in a completely closed tent in cold weather, the warmth of your breath will cause condensation to form. This condensation eventually cools and sometimes freezes, making your tent cold and wet.
However, opening the vents in your tent will promote enough airflow that this condensation won’t occur. This is why it’s so important to get a tent with vents if you’re going camping in Minnesota during the winter!
Keep Your Head Outside of Your Sleeping Bag
The reason for this tip is fairly similar to why you need to keep your tent ventilated.
Basically, if your mouth and nose are stuck inside the sleeping bag, your breath creates condensation on the sleeping bag, making it damp and chilly.
Wearing balaclavas, hats, and beanies or utilizing your sleeping bag’s hood will keep your head warm while keeping your mouth out of your sleeping bag.
Demystifying Winter Camping in Minnesota
Camping in Minnesota during the winter can be an incredibly fun experience if you know what you’re doing! Hopefully, our guide to the best Minnesota winter camping spots and how to stay warm when winter camping will inspire you to plan your first winter camping trip this year.
If you enjoyed this post and want to learn more about the ins and outs of winter camping, check out our Winter Camping page for lots more information.