Top-rated campsites in Minnesota: 14 state parks for outdoor recreation

By Alina GoncharovaJun 27, 2023 16:09 PMMinnesota
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Top-rated campsites in Minnesota: 14 state parks for outdoor recreation
Camping in a state park. Source: Image Yinan Chen/Pixabay

Minnesota is not only the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes, but also home to many beautiful campsites. From ancient Native American burial grounds and caves and quarries to limestone cliffs and the sources of the legendary Mississippi River, the North Dakota region boasts a wealth of natural assets. The state is home to nearly 70 state parks, many of which are not only great places to spend time exploring the landscape and popular attractions, but also to stay overnight. Local residents, volunteers and employees are dedicated to protecting the environment to keep their beloved state at the highest level.

To make choosing a location for your outdoor holiday even easier, check out the following selection of top-rated campsites in Minnesota. It's worth noting that reservations are most often available 120 days in advance, but in some cases, you can book up to a year in advance.

1. Red Fox Campground, Minneopa State Park

The highlight of this state park is the fantastic double waterfall and the hiking trail that leads to it. To see this natural wonder, you'll need to hike a quarter-mile path. You will also see a variety of buildings from the Great Depression during the hike.

In addition, Minneopa State Park is home to Minnesota's popular campground with more than 65 sites. Red Fox Campground is designed for tent camping and RVs up to 60 feet long. It is worth noting that only six pitches have electricity connections. Campers have access to toilets, showers, and water taps.

One of the most popular things to do in Minneopa State Park, besides hiking to the falls, is bison watching. There are about 40 bison roaming the Bison Drive Road, which has more than 300 acres of protected area at its disposal. Visitors must stay in their cars at all times to avoid danger. The road is open every day except Wednesday. However, keep in mind that it is not always possible to meet these amazing majestic animals.

2. Split Rock State Park Cart-In Campgrounds

From Duluth in the north of the state to the Canada-US border, there are countless things to do and adventures to be had along the shores of Lake Superior. From hiking trails of varying difficulty to sailing, you can choose the activity that suits your taste.

Split Rock is home to a large number of campsites that offer some of the best views in the region. Split Rock State Park has about 20 equipped outdoor recreation sites, all within two thousand feet of the car park. The campsites are equipped with picnic tables, safe fire pits, and a cart for transporting your belongings and equipment. All locations have showers, toilets and running water. Of course, the biggest advantage is the location in close proximity to incredible natural attractions. Campsites are in great demand during the summer season, so you should book your pitches in advance. In some cases, it can be done even a year in advance.

If you decide to spend a weekend in Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, we strongly recommend visiting the lighthouse itself, which is one of the most popular and photographed places in the state. From Friday to Sunday, you can book an interesting guided tour or purchase a pass to explore the historic sites and other locations on your own.

3. Jay Cooke State Park

The best camping spots in Minnesota are concentrated in Jay Cooke State Park, which is also known for its extensive network of hiking trails with a total length of more than 50 miles. The eight-thousand-acre state park stretches along the shores of the St. Louis River near the western end of Lake Superior. The most popular route is the Superior Hiking Trail. The trail starts from the Minnesota-Wisconsin border near Jay Cook State Park, connecting with the Willard Munger State Trail. It is also worth a walk along the Silver Creek Trail, the most scenic part of which is a crossing of a rickety bridge over the St. Louis River.

Jay Cook State Park campsite has more than 80 pitches. Visitors can stay here with tents or park their own caravans with the possibility of connecting to electricity. There is also an option to stay in comfortable cabins. There are toilets and showers with hot water on site.

4. Wooden Frog Campground, Cabotogama State Forest

Top-rated campsites in Minnesota: 14 state parks for outdoor recreation
Campfire on the banks of the Kabetogama. Source: Image kabmn/Pixabay

Minnesota is home to more than 50 state forests. Many of them offer equipped campsites, and they are usually easier to access and less crowded than protected parks.

All locations for overnight stays in nature are considered "primitive", as they provide only established sites, each of which is marked with a separate picnic table, a fire pit, fresh water taps and toilets.

The Kabetogama State Forest is a great Minnesota campground with minimal amenities, but with beautiful views and easy access to a variety of entertainment and activities. The campsite has 61 pitches, no electricity, and toilets.

The campsite is also located next to Voyageurs National Park, which also offers tent accommodation or caravan parks. It's worth noting that it's not possible to book pitches here, as they are provided on a first-come, first-served basis and fill up quickly in high season.

A special feature of this campsite is access to water with a swimming beach and boat ramp, as it is located on the shores of the picturesque Lake Kabetogama.

5. Portsmouth Campground, Cuyuna State Recreation Area

One of the most modern recreational areas in Minnesota is quickly gaining favour among locals and travellers from other parts of the country. It used to be an iron mining site. Now the quarries left behind are filled to the brim with clear turquoise water. In addition to recreational opportunities on artificial reservoirs, Cuyuna Country boasts some of the best mountain biking trails in the state. The trails are more than 25 miles long.

Camping in Minnesota is a great way to get to know the natural beauty of the region. Portsmouth Campground covers an area of five thousand acres and is located on the shores of Portsmouth Mine Lake. The campsite offers the following facilities:

  • 18 spaces with electricity connection;
  • 15 areas without amenities;
  • four walk-in sites, which can only be accessed on foot;
  • three yurts for seven people, which can be rented all year round;
  • access to running water;
  • toilets and showers, etc.

The advantage of this Minnesota campsite is the easy access to all the activities of the Cuyuna Country, including 20 man-made and natural lakes and beautiful views.

6. Wild River State Park Campground

Canoeing, hiking on equipped trails, horseback riding - one of the largest state parks in the North Star State offers countless opportunities for outdoor activities. In addition, there are many campsites worth checking out. Despite the large number of sites, it is worth booking in advance. Especially if you plan to spend time here on the weekend.

A popular campsite in Minnesota is Wild River State Park Campground, which offers almost a hundred tent and caravan sites, some of which have electricity. Some sites are accessible only by non-motorised transport. All sites are equipped with picnic tables and a barbecue area.

7. Afton State Park Backpacking Sites

Top-rated campsites in Minnesota: 14 state parks for outdoor recreation
A variety of outdoor recreation. Source: Image https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/

Afton State Park is less than half an hour's drive from St. Paul and is a popular travel destination, attracting travellers from different cities and states. What makes these campgrounds in Minnesota special? First of all, they are only available to those travelling with a single backpack, carrying all the necessary things, food and equipment behind them. For everyone else, there are 27 so-called "backpack sites" located next to the car park, just one mile away. The sites include the following amenities:

  • picnic table;
  • a campfire area;
  • access to a toilet;
  • running water.

You can choose a location in Afton State Park to suit every taste - from shaded areas to open spaces where you can enjoy the sun. In any case, guests will enjoy beautiful views, access to protected areas and numerous hiking trails to explore the surrounding landscapes.

Another advantage of campsites in this state park is that they are located at a sufficient distance from each other. That's why you can count on more privacy, listening only to the pleasant crackle of a campfire in the middle of the night, which reminds you that you are not alone in this vast forest.

8. Itasca State Park

Within Itasca State Park are two great Minnesota campgrounds with over 200 sites:

  • "Payne Ridge";
  • "Bear's Paw".

Here you can stay with a tent or park a caravan. Visitors have access to various amenities that will make their outdoor recreation as comfortable as possible. Among them:

  • hot water showers;
  • flush toilets;
  • playgrounds;
  • running water.

Most importantly, though, you can go exploring the state park's vast expanse of unique landscapes, including more than a hundred lakes and a network of more than 50 miles of hiking trails. Itasca State Park is also home to the headwaters of the famous Mississippi River, the main freshwater artery of the United States.

9. Fall Lake Campground

Covering an area of three million acres, this nationally designated natural landmark was established in 1909, offering a wide variety of recreational activities for all ages and tastes, from jet skiing and kayaking to hiking the many hiking trails.

Stay under the stars in the woods by choosing the best campsite in Minnesota in a unique protected area. There are not only standard tent and RV sites, but also glamping locations with the most modern facilities and even beautiful cottages.

One of the most popular accommodation options is the modern Fall Lake Campground. It has 64 pitches, each of which is equipped with a picnic table and a fire pit. There are also toilets and access to water on site. In addition, it offers amazing views, in particular, of the picturesque shores of Lake Fall.

If you prefer to spend your holidays on the water, we recommend exploring the Boundary Waters by canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which has more than 1,200 miles of trails. It is worth noting that this activity requires a special permit.

10. Gooseberry Falls State Park

Another state park on northern Lake Superior in the state is located a few miles from the equally popular Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and a 40-mile drive from Duluth. Gooseberry Falls is home to beautiful Minnesota camp sites that are also suitable for long trips along the coast.

The campsite has 70 pitches for tents and RVs no longer than 40 feet. Electricity hook-ups are not provided, but there is access to showers, toilets and running water.

Gooseberry Falls State Park, as the name implies, attracts tourists from all over the country with its complex of amazing waterfalls. These natural gems are located in close proximity to Highway 61, and their easy access attracts millions of travellers each year.

11. Lakeview Campground, Father Hennepin State Park

Mille Lacs Lake is one of the largest inland lakes in the state and a popular summer destination. On its shore is Father Hennepin State Park, a 17th-century priest who first mentioned the area in his writings. There are plenty of places to relax in the open air. One of the most popular campsites in Minnesota is Lakeview Campground, with easy access to water, a fishing pier, and places to moor a boat.

It has 60 individual pitches, both with and without electricity. However, all visitors have access to showers, toilets and running water. It is possible to pitch a tent or park a campervan or caravan no longer than 60 feet.

Places at Lakeview Campground go very quickly, so it's worth booking in advance. However, if the location is full, don't be upset, as there is another great campsite, Maple Grove Campground, located very close by.

12. Cedar Hill Campground, Whitewater State Park

The rushing waters of the Whitewater River, cliffs against the endless sky, hiking trails stretching across picturesque landscapes - it's all about Whitewater State Park, which is also home to some of the best campsites in Minnesota.

Cedar Hill Campground is the most popular place for outdoor recreation. It has more than a hundred pitches and can be booked well in advance, especially if you are planning a weekend or holiday trip. Cedar Hill Campground, as well as the neighbouring Gooseberry Glen Campground, have separate buildings with showers, toilets and access to drinking water. The facilities are available throughout the season. Each site is equipped with a picnic table and fire ring for safe campfires

The locations provide easy access to a variety of outdoor activities, including

  • fishing;
  • walking in shallow water;
  • hiking along marked routes;
  • tubing, etc.

If you want to be as secluded as possible, we recommend going to the other side of the river, where Whitewater State Park is located. The campsites here are more spacious and are about 500 yards from the car park. But in both cases, travellers will enjoy some of the best views in the region. In addition, Whitewater State Park offers opportunities for outdoor recreation in the winter.

13. Glendalough State Park

Top-rated campsites in Minnesota: 14 state parks for outdoor recreation
Comfortable trails of the park. Source: Image https://images.dnr.state.mn.us/

In the western part of the state, a two-hour drive from St Cloud, there is a state park that allows you to take a break from the bustling city and escape into the arms of nature. Glendalough State Park is surrounded by several reservoirs and is located in the transition zone between Minnesota forests and prairies. The 300-acre Annie Battle Lake is a must-see on the route, attracting water activities such as kayaking and canoeing. There is also an asphalt path around the reservoir for cycling.

You can choose from a variety of camping sites in Minnesota. For example, Glendalough State Park has quite secluded locations with incredible views, where travellers will enjoy peace and quiet and hear only birdsong and the sound of leaves. The 22 cart-in sites provide access to toilets, hot showers and drinking water.

14. Stony Point Campground, Chippewa National Forest

On the shores of Leech Lake, a three-hour drive from Minneapolis, is a beautiful Minnesota campground that is most easily accessible from Walker. Staying at Stony Point Campground is a great choice for those who plan to explore the vastness of the Chippewa National Forest. With direct access to the lake, the campground has 44 sites that can be booked in advance. Facilities include:

  • shower stations;
  • flush toilets;
  • access to drinking running water;
  • equipped picnic areas.

You can stay here with a caravan, as well as use the boat launch if you are travelling by water. There is a beach in the immediate vicinity, and the location also attracts fishing enthusiasts. Cycling and hiking enthusiasts can take advantage of various trails, including the Paul Bunyan State Trail and the North Country Trail.

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