Camping in Minnesota is not to be underestimated, as this state has some downright breathtaking natural areas. Minnesota is sometimes known as the land of 10,000 lakes, but there’s actually nearly 12 thousand basins of water large enough to be classed as a lake in this state. One of the most famous is Lake Superior where you’ll also find Superior National Forest. Northern Minnesota also contains Voyageurs National Park along the Candian border.
With plenty of lakes and outdoor recreation areas, Minnesota is a great place for camping. In this article, we’re going to share 7 of the best tent camping destinations in MN, whether you prefer private campgrounds or primitive sites. A total of 66 state parks exist in the Gopher State, from Tettegouche on the North Shore to Itasca State Park, Bemidji, where the legendary Mississippi River begins.
Minnesota State Forests offer more than 2000 miles of roads and thousands of trails, while more than 1000 individual campsites are spread across state parks. No matter if you’re a hiker, an angler, or a plain old nature-lover, the perfect destination lies in wait. Minnesota has a lot to offer campers, so we’ve put together this list of the best campgrounds in the state. For tent campers in Minnesota, there are no better options than this fantastic selection of sites.
1. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Ely
The Ely Wilderness is home to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, one of the most popular camping spots in the entire state. The BWCA spans more than one million acres of wilderness and is one of the most visited natural areas in the entire United States. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a part of the Superior National Forest and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
About 20% of Boundary Waters’ million acres is made up of water. That’s 190,000 acres of rivers and streams for your exploration! The rest of this area is forested with a range of flora, because of special ecology in the area. This Minnesota-Canada border is also where the northern boreal forest meets the southern hardwood forests, so a stunning range of tree life can be found. Conifers and deciduous trees are common, and blueberries and raspberries can be found growing wild in certain areas.
Tent campers visiting the BWCA can choose between park campgrounds and remote sites. Commercial and state-run campgrounds offer tent sites with hookups, bathrooms, and other amenities. However, anyone visiting a park campground is missing out on some of the best wild camping Minnesota has to offer! Because of the extensive network of waterways linking throughout this wilderness area, it’s the perfect place for canoe camping. If you’ve never tried out this adventure experience, we strongly recommend trying canoe camping in Minnesota.
Campers can bring their own canoe or hire one on-site, and then pack out on the water for their expedition. You can explore the park by the water and pick out your own riverside campsite to enjoy a truly magical camping experience. Finding your own camping spot can be very exciting, as long as you manage to pitch your tent in time. Small off-shore islands offer private and breathtaking camping spots if you can arrive before the crowds.
2. Lebanon Hills Regional Park, St. Paul
Just minutes away from numerous Twin Cities attractions, Lebanon Hills Regional Park offers a peaceful escape from the bustle of the city. It’s the largest park in Dakota Country at just under 2000 acres and offers a mind-boggling array of recreational activities. Lebanon Hills is an excellent Minnesota tent camping spot no matter the season, so come here for a jam-packed camping adventure.
All of your favorite camping pastimes are on offer in style, with miles of hiking and equestrian trails, tons of fishing, and plenty of water-related activities. But that’s not all, as Lebanon Hills Regional Park is open through the winter! If you fancy some cold-weather camping, you can enjoy cross-country skiing, ice skating, sledding, and more. Any family campers or explorers looking for a challenge will enjoy the range of activities at Lebanon Hills.
Lebanon Hills Campground is located in St Paul, only 30 minutes from the capital of Minneapolis. Despite it’s close vicinity to the city, this Minnesota campground is peaceful and secluded. Amenities include restrooms with showers, fire rings, and picnic tables. Some sites can offer electric hookups, and a dump station is located within the site. This spacious campground offers clean and tidy tent sites as well as select RV spaces.
The Lebanon Hills Visitor Centre is located in the east of the park and can provide plenty of information about nature preservation and courses on offer. In addition, certain equipment can be rented for the parks more extreme activities, so don’t worry if you don’t have your own kayak. Nearby, Schulze Lake Beach offers clear swimming water and a sandy beach to relax on.
3. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Two Harbors
Lake Superior is the largest of all the Great Lakes, with a surface area of more than 31 thousand square miles. This 350-mile long lake is the largest body of fresh water in the world, holding 3 quadrillion (that’s 3 with 12 zeros) gallons of water. The North Shore of Lake Superior runs from Duluth in Minnesota all the way to Ontario, Canada, and is home to a number of excellent recreation and camping opportunities.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is located about halfway along the Northern Shore. The lighthouse was built after a 1905 storm wrecked almost 30 ships on the rock, and Split Rock State Park became one of the most popular spots to visit along Lake Superior’s North Shore. Sunsets behind the lighthouse over the great lake are among the best views in Minnesota, so make sure you check out this prime camping spot.
There are backpacking and cart-in campgrounds in Split Rock State Park, open all year round. All camping spots at Split Rock are tent only, set in private and secluded areas. Flush toilets, showers, and potable water are provided by the campground. If you make reservations early, you could score a lakeside camping spot with some of the best views over this scenic state park. Even some of the cart-in campsites allow you to camp directly by the water.
The Superior Hiking Trail is easily accessible from Split Rock, there you can also see the Split Rock River waterfalls. Snowshoe and mountain biking trails are also available so there are plenty of options to take in the stunning area. Stream, river, and lake fishing opportunities are abundant, including brown trout and salmon. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park has unparalleled views which make it some of the best tent camping in Minnesota.
4. Afton State Park, Hastings
Afton State Park offers the best camping in Minnesota if you want a scenic view over the St. Croix River. The campground at Afton State Park is a short but strenuous hike from the parking lot, on a series of bluffs overlooking the river. There are 24 tent campsites available, as well as 4 camper cabins for those who want more of a glamping experience. This state park even offers a canoe-in camping spot, as well as two yurts.
This scenic state park is just 20 miles from St Paul, making it an ideal destination for any camper living in the twin cities. The park totals around 1600 acres of gorgeous prairies, oak woodlands, and huge limestone canyons. This natural area is maintained to be as undisturbed as possible, making it ideal for those seeking a truly wild Minnesota camping experience. The campground area also includes a small swimming beach.
Hike-in backpack camping sites each include a picnic table and fire ring, and share access to a pit toilet and water spigot. There are fewer amenities in Afton State Park, but the lack of luxury is well worth the sacrifice. In return, you’ll get a spacious and private camping area with stunning natural surroundings. Miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails set out from the camping area, with lots of options for exploring.
Recreational options are similar to other Minnesota campgrounds, with great access to all water-related activities. As well as boating and fishing, snow sports are on offer during the winter. Most visitors to Afton State Park are in charge of their own recreation, choosing to watch the wildlife and take in the scenery. At this prime camping spot along the St Croix River, you don’t need much more entertainment than the wonders of the great Minnesotan outdoors.
5. Whitewater State Park, Altura
Whitewater State Park is considered one of Minnesota’s prime natural areas, centered around a stretch of the Whitewater River and its rocky bluffs. There are 2700 acres of blufflands characterized by steep prairies, stream valleys, and diverse forests. This environment hosts a noticeable reduction in mosquitos compared to the rest of Minnesota, making it a very popular camping option.
A total of 6 scenic overlooks jut out over Whitewater River, where Cedar Hill Campground is located. This is the most popular Whitewater State Park camping spot because they offer abundant riverfront campsites. More than 100 individual tent campsites are spread throughout the state park, as well as four camping cabins. On the opposite side of Whitewater River, six walk-in campsites offer more secluded spots to spend the night.
Each campsite includes a picnic table and fire ring, but visitors must travel to the nearest campground for amenities. Here they can access clean water, hot showers, and flush toilets. Trout fishing is one of the biggest attractions for campers at Whitewater River, and the angling is also excellent at the nearby Trout Run Creek. Ten miles of hiking trails are contained within the park, and you can rent snowshoes to traverse them in the winter.
During the summer season, a beach is available for visiting campers to cool off in the river. Springtime brings a host of spectacular wildflowers which alone are worth the trip to see. More adventurous individuals may want to try out tubing on the water, an exciting adrenaline-fuelled way to enjoy this stunning Minnesota river line. With pure and natural space, plenty of camping opportunities, and a divine lack of mosquitos, Whitewater State Park can definitely offer some of the best campgrounds in MN.
6. Voyageurs National Park, Northern Minnesota
Minnesota’s only national park was established in 1975 and named after the French-Canadian fur traders who would frequently travel through the area. Voyageurs National Park is just east of Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and offers just as many fantastic boating opportunities. There are several boat ramps and visitor centers around the periphery of the national park, from which visitors can access the water.
This Minnesota camping destination is for boating campers only, as the majority of the park is only accessible by water. Campers can canoe, kayak, or boat in by another means to enjoy this stunning natural area. The National Park Service maintains 282 designated tent campsites in Voyageurs National Park, mostly front-country sites. A handful of backcountry camping spots are also available if you prefer a more secluded area, however, every tent site requires a reservation.
The central peninsula of Voyageurs National Park can only be accessed by boat in the summer, but freezing temperatures in winter provide a different form of transportation. Smaller lakes can freeze solid in the coldest months, allowing access by ski, jetski, or snowshoe. This peninsula is also home to the majority of hiking trails in the park, including long-distance backcountry trails for thru-hikers.
Frontcountry camping sites at Voyageurs are all equipped with a tent pad, picnic table, bear locker, and campfire ring. These camping spots are all directly accessible by boat, so you may not need your own transport. Backcountry sites can be more difficult to access and may require additional hiking and boating after you reach the trailhead. All campers can access an outdoor toilet from their site. Boat rentals are available on the smaller lakes only.
7. Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton
Jay Cooke State Park is another of Minnesota’s most popular natural areas, attractive because of a privileged selection of hiking trails. The park encompasses the lower reaches of the Saint Louis River as well as a foreboding 13-mile gorge. One hiking trail in the park takes you over a swinging bridge across this gorge, ideal for nature lovers seeking a small thrill on their camping trip.
The main pull of this state park is the 50 miles of stunning hiking trails. Included are 8 miles of biking trails and 6 miles for equestrians. During winter, a 34-mile intermediate cross-country ski trail opens up, and there are also 8 miles of snowmobile trails. It’s easy to see why Jay Cooke is the first choice for hikers, as Minnesota camping doesn’t get much better.
This state park offers a variety of camping options to suit every visitor. There are drive-in, hike-in, and RV sites with full hookups, as well as fully-equipped camper cabins. Every tent campsite comes with a tent pad, table, grill, and fire ring. The campground has showers and flush toilets as well as drinking water available. Jay Cooke State Park campground is functional through the winter, but with fewer campsites open and available.
Aside from hiking and canoeing, this scenic state park offers plenty of recreation. Horseback riding and fishing are popular choices, and you could visit the nearby Thomson Dam. The Willard Munger State trail passes through Jay Cooke and is the perfect place to set off for a long-distance hike. Wildlife viewing opportunities are also plentiful with coyotes, wolf packs, and black bears spotted in the park.
As the home of some of the United States’ most stunning water-bound camping destinations, Minnesota has a lot to offer. Canoeing campers will find no better location to take to the waters and find their very own secluded spot for the night. Primitive campsites and formal campground tent spots in Minnesota can provide stunning views over the state’s many rivers and lakes. A prime spot for any boater or fisherman, you have to visit one of these sites for the best camping in Minnesota. For even more inspiration, check out the best hiking trails in Minnesota.
Bonus tip: Check out this National Geographic showcase of Voyageurs National Park!