Whether you hike, paddle, or drive to your spot, Minnesota is an incredible camping destination. Thousands of lakes, gorgeous rivers, deep wilderness areas, and well-managed park systems put the North Star State among the top places to spend a night under the stars. Here are our favorite spots.
With more than a million protected acres in the northern third of the Superior National Forest, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) offers, perhaps, the most authentic backwoods experience in Minnesota. Inaccessible by car, campers must either hike or, more commonly, paddle to campsites. With no amenities in the wilderness, a BWCAW trip is for able-bodied, experienced campers. Permits are required, and between May and October, available only by quota system from the forest service.
Though it’s less than an hour from the Twin Cities, Lake Maria State Park feels like it’s in another world. Although you can drive into the park, campsites are only accessible on foot or by horseback. All sites are at least a mile from the parking area, but amenities, such as water, are available inside the park. Dotted by ponds, wetlands and stretching along its namesake lake, the park is a well-preserved example of the deciduous, hardwood forests that once covered southern Minnesota. Look for salamanders and Blandings turtles. Listen to coyotes howl as you count the stars in the firmament.
Though it’s named for the frequently-visited Lake Superior lighthouse that lies within the park (and is managed by the Minnesota Historical Society), the camping area is hike-in only. So, despite it’s accessibility (paved paths and carts to help you haul your gear), you can still escape the crowds and enjoy the forested, craggy shore of Lake Superior. One of the things that makes Split Rock so special is its proximity to some of North Shore’s best short hikes. Day Hill and the Split Rock Loop to the Superior Hiking Trail will both reward your efforts with stunning vistas.
Interstate is a park that straddles the St. Croix River, and thanks to cooperation from Wisconsin, is a park on both sides. The Minnesota park offers a drive in campground with several sites directly overlooking the river where it shoots through basalt gorges known as “dalles.” Less than an hour northeast of the Twin Cities, the park offers some of the best canoeing and rock climbing in the region. Anglers will not be disappointed, either.
Among the wildest state parks on the North Shore, Tettegouche combines rugged Lake Superior scenery with backcountry hiking opportunities, a gorgeous inland lake (Lax), and one of the state’s tallest waterfalls (on the Baptism River). While hiking abounds, including part of the Superior Hiking Trail, you needn’t do so to get to your campsite. Most of the park’s sites are easily accessible from nearby parking lots, yet secluded enough to feel like an authentic backwoods experience.
Carved out of the Superior National Forest between Grand Marais and Hovland on Hwy. 61, Judge C.R. Magney State Park stretches inland from Lake Superior, along the swift and tumbling Brule River. The campground is car accessible, but the sites are heavily wooded and well spaced. One of the park’s highlights is the Devil’s Kettle: A double waterfall in which one cascade continues downriver, while the other disappears mysteriously into a cauldron in the riverbed.
Minnesota’s only full-fledged national park, Voyageurs is nestled against the Canadian border and defined water: The same water that voyageurs—the first Europeans in the area—plied at the height of the fur trade. In fact, most of the park's 200 campsites can only be reached by water. Otters, wolves, moose, martens, and black bears make the park their home. You can obtain free camping and paddling permits from the National Park Service.
When you see the crystalline lakes and stands of virgin white pine forest, you’ll understand why the only possible name for this park is Scenic. Located near Grand Rapids, Scenic State Park offers up all the beauty you’d hope from Minnesota’s Northwoods and combines it with fishing, hiking, and boating. In addition to well-spaced car-accessible sites, the park offers a handful of hike-in and boat-in campsites, as well.
A finger of Crosby Manitou State Park touches the North Shore of Lake Superior, and then follows the course of the Manitou River up and over the Sawbill Mountains, where the park spreads across thousands of Northwoods acres. One of the least used parks in the system, Crosby Manitou is where you want to go to get away from it all. The only campsites in the park are 21 backpack sites on Benson Lake and along the Manitou River. The hike to some of the sites can be challenging, with considerable changes in elevation. Few amenities are available in this park.
A former game farm and retreat, Glendalough State Park is now home to one of the last undeveloped lakes in Western Minnesota. To preserve the park’s pristine nature, Annie Battle Lake has been designated a “Heritage Fishery.” No motors or fishing electronics are permitted on the lake. Moreover, all of the campsites on the lake are either cart-in or canoe-in so campers can avoid all the bustle and noise associated with motorboat so and car camping.
In beautifully stark contrast to the watery Northwoods parks, Blue Mounds State Park protects one of the largest remaining swaths of prairie in Minnesota, along with shimmering hundred-foot, Sioux quartzite cliffs and rolling seas of tallgrass where a herd of buffalo still roam. Most of the campsites here are drive-in, but folks looking for a little separation can hike a few hundred feet to a dozen-or-so tent-only sites.
Carved out of a piece of the Upper Midwest’s “Driftless Area,” a term describing the part of the U.S. that avoided glacial coverage during the last Ice Age. One of the smaller parks In the system, Beaver Creek Valley is set in a beautiful, hardwood-forested gorge lined by sandstone cliffs and capped with prairie remnants. Many of the wooded campsites are drive-in, but wooded, but those willing to hike a couple hundred yards can find even more seclusion at one of a handful of walk-in sites.
Another gem within an hour of the Twin Cities, Wild River State Park showcases the rugged beauty of the St. Croix River before it gets anywhere near civilization. Overlooking the river from oak savannas and prairies, the park follows 18 miles of the streams course down to the hardwood forests than line its banks. Despite its proximity to the metro area, the park regularly hosts black bears and other wildlife species. Wild River offers a variety of camping opportunities from drive-in or horseback-only to hike in.
A stone’s throw from the Boundary Waters, Bear Head Lake State Park offers car campers a taste of what paddlers flock to the BWCAW to get: Pristine, Northwoods lakes and stunning rock formations. Home to the state’s megafauna, including moose, black bears, and wolves, Bear Head offers a true wilderness experience with modern camping amenities. A handful of hike-in sites are also available if you want dodge the RV crowd.
Afton is another park close to the Twin Cities, only half an hour from St. Paul, but nowhere near civilization. Stretching from St. Croix River beaches to bluff-top prairies, the park boasts miles of forested ravines and tall-grass savannas that afford spectacular views across and down the river. Campsites are either hike-in or boat-in, which adds to the feeling of seclusion and quietude.