Best Places to Camp in Minnesota

Not only the home of Bob Dylan, Minnesota also contains over 10,000 lakes and has some of the best camping spots in America. Minnesota, in the midwest of the U.S., borders Canada and Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. We think that some of the most breathtaking of the camping experiences in Minnesota revolve around the lakes, and especially Lake Superior. We’ve selected our favorite lakeside camping spots, in some of which you can book your own private island for you and your group to go wild camping, only accessible by boat or canoe! We think that these are the best places to camp in Minnesota: what better way is there to really get away from it all?  

There are also many cultural experiences in Minnesota that will blow your socks off. The “Twin Cities” of Minneapolis and state capital Saint Paul are dense with cultural landmarks like the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Walker Art Center, a modern art museum, so head here to engage your mind before you venture off into the great outdoors. In some of these sites, there are incredible historical or cultural sites of interest, like the historic and spiritual home of Native American communities, historic lighthouses, or parks like Voyageurs, named after the French-Canadian fur traders who were the first European settlers to frequently travel through the area.

 

Split Rock State Park during sunset.

In the great outdoors of Minnesota, water is king.

 

1. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a lush 1,090,000-acre wilderness area within the Superior National Forest in the northeastern part of the US state of Minnesota. It’s under the administration of the U.S. Forest Service, so you know you’ll find clearly marked trails and can easily plan well-organized trips here. It’s filled with so many different activities from hiking trails, to canoeing, and so much more, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness will occupy you ad your group or family for days on end. 

Located in the northern third of the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota, this wilderness area is a rugged natural wonder which you’ll want to explore until the cows come home. Created by glaciers, this unique topography is lined with stunning rugged cliffs, beautiful lakes and streams, fascinating rock formations and many other geological wonders to see. More than 1 million acres in size, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness utilizes over 150 miles of international border between the United States and Canada and boasts over 1200 canoe routes and 12 major hiking trails. 

However, we wouldn’t recommend this if it’s your first time camping, or you’re taking a group with young children. Boundary waters vacations are remote and rustic. There’s quite a lot of elevation change, and with rugged surroundings like these, your camping trip is certainly not going to be a walk in the park. There are no cabins within the preserve, so don’t come here for a glamping experience. There are also no RV spots within the preserve, with hookups and restrooms, so if you are planning on staying the night, you will need a tent. However, if you don’t mind roughing it a little in this rough and rugged landscape, there are 2,000 designated campsites that guarantee peace, quiet, and wildlife fun.

Also located within the wilderness area are some of the most well preserved Native American pictographs. When planning a camping holiday, it’s always good to have another reason to visit the place, that isn’t just about enjoying the views. And what better way to engage with the land intellectually than by learning about and celebrating the historical native inhabitants of the land? The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the historic home of the Ojibwe tribe. Before their arrival, the Sioux at least visited the area regularly. The cliffs located throughout the park contain literally hundreds of well-preserved pictographs and petroglyphs depicting the life of the Ojibwe people, giving you a fascinating insight into their day-to-day, and how they organized their peoples.

 

2. St. Croix River

Head to the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers, where your next adventure on water and land awaits! Together they form the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, offering over 200 miles of clean water that glides and rushes through a stunning forested landscape. Paddle, boat, fish, and camp among this wild and scenic haven. If you want a break from cooling off in the crystal water, then why not try one of the beautiful and scenic hikes that scatter the Riverway, or enjoy pottering around and learning about the local history of some of the picturesque local towns. 

We would recommend heading to this location in fall, as the fall colors on the leaves are especially beautiful here, and reflect wonderfully on the vast expanse of water. The St. Croix River is a tributary of the Mississippi River, it’s approximately 169 miles long, in the U.S. states of Wisconsin and Minnesota. The lower 125 miles of the river forms the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota, so if you’re based in Wisconsin and wanting a camping experience that crosses borders, this might be the perfect option for you. The river is a National Scenic Riverway, so you know you won’t be without breathtaking views. 

If you’re looking for an adventurous camping holiday, and want to get that real feeling of getting back to the land, we would recommend St. Croix River as an excellent choice. Primitive shoreline campsites scattered along the St. Croix and Namekagon rivers offer the opportunity to move from campsite to campsite for multi-day trips and embrace the backcountry camping experience. These campsites are often only accessible from the water and are relatively isolated. There’s nothing better than paddling up to your own private island and setting up camp for the night!

Campsites are easier to secure mid-week and during non-holiday weekends, and all camping on this stretch of the St. Croix River is limited to islands only. All campers must have immediate access to a toilet, and floating restrooms are available at several locations. There is a seven-night limit of stay (maximum of 30 nights annually), so make sure to check out the rules and regulations before planning your trip.

 

3. Afton State Park

Afton State Park is a state park of Minnesota, on the St. Croix River in Washington County. Its hiking trails offer stunning views of the river, rolling glacial moraine, and the bluffland it preserves. People flock here from all over for birdwatching, picnics, camping, and other typical outdoor recreational activities, but all surrounded by this unique landscape. When on your trip here, we would recommend checking out the visitor center and then walking south on the paved trail behind the building for a 0.4-mile self-guided interpretive trail among restored prairie. You can also hike to one of several scenic overlooks to view the river valley: the hikes are well marked, and the views are well worth it. For a more relaxing day trip, you can also walk to the swimming beach and enjoy a picnic at the lower picnic area, the perfect idea for a family camping trip

The Afton State Park was established in 1969 to preserve unique natural features and to provide opportunities for nature-oriented recreation along the St. Croix River. Located on the bluffs overlooking the St. Croix River, the campground is a strenuous ¾ mile hike from the parking lot. Thus this is a much better option for backpackers rather than those going car camping, these are really more backpack sites. If you are going camping with your car, we recommend not bringing any heavy kit with you that’s not easily transportable. There are 24 campsites, 1 canoe-in site, 4 camper cabins with electricity and 2 yurts, for those wanting a bot more of a glamping experience. Firewood is also available for a fee, so you can get a big campfire going to relax around after a long day hiking and exploring.

Even in the fall in this stunning location, people still go bathing at the sandy beach in their swimsuits. It’s such a beautiful surrounding that you might not mind the water being that little bit extra nippy. Temperatures in the ’80s in late September also regularly bring out crowds for day hikes and picnics, at the picnic tables or on the shore. The prairie grass and leaves are very colorful, scattered with wildflowers, and it’s a wonderful location for kids to play, or for you all to share a picnic. The closest city is Afton, where you can potter around, and pick up all your necessary groceries for the campsite. 

 

4. Voyageurs National Park

Encompassing 218,000 acres, Voyageurs is one of the wildest, most scenic, geologically unique, and historically rich areas of Minnesota and the National Park system. The park’s name commemorates the voyageurs, French-Canadian fur traders who were the first European settlers to frequently travel through the area, so head to this location if you want to be immersed in the history of Minnesota. Voyageurs National Park is known for its amazing water-based recreation and camping experiences, pristine lakes and world-class fishing, boreal forests, calling loons, winter ice roads, and starry skies. Why not download one of these useful hiking apps, so you can impress with your knowledge of the constellations, as you relax and stargaze at your campsite? 

Voyageurs National Park is in northern Minnesota, near the Canadian border. It covers a vast area and is known for its forests, waterways and huge, island-dotted Rainy, Kabetogama and Namakan lakes. For the thespians amongst you, there’s also a modern art exhibit in the park which is routed in the landscape. The Ellsworth Rock Gardens, created by artist Jack Ellsworth, are a series of stunning abstract sculptures on a terraced outcrop. The remote Kettle Falls area has a dam and a red-roofed hotel, both from the early 20th century, so head here if you want to feel like you’re stepping back in time. 

With over 40% of the park water, Voyageurs is a maze of interconnected water highways. Plan ahead before coming to this water park by bringing your own watercraft, reserving a watercraft or boat rentals, or taking a park ranger boat tour. This is especially important as all campsites in Voyageurs are accessible only by water, and are all lake campgrounds. We think that this is one of the most exciting ways to arrive at your campsite, and it also brings you the peace and quiet that we all crave on a great camping trip. 

However, there are also drive-up campsites near the park’s borders for tents, RVs with hookups and electric sites, and car campers, so if you’re going with a larger group, or you don’t want quite as an adventurous or primitive camping trip, there are options available for all. Another option, if you don’t want to hire a boat or bring your own, is to take a water taxi to some of the route island camping sites. 

 

A lighthouse by a body of water.

Head here to snap a pic of one of the most photographed lighthouses in the U.S.

 

5. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is a state park of Minnesota on the North Shore of Lake Superior. It is best known for the picturesque Split Rock Lighthouse, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the United States, which seems to emerge miraculously from the rugged rock formation. You can head on a tour of the historic Split Rock Lighthouse, to learn more about the story of this famous landmark. The 2,200-acre state park offers a unique cart-in campground and scenic trails for hiking, biking, picnicking, fishing and, in winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

The park is located outside of Two Harbors on the shore of Lake Superior, meaning it’s super accessible, and you’ll never be stuck for somewhere to buy groceries or go out for a bite to eat. When planning your trip here, there are many things you could do. We’d recommend hiking to the top of Day Hill, sit by the stone fireplace, and enjoy the lake view. You should also walk the shore at Pebble Beach to see Ellingsen Island and snap a photo of the much-loved lighthouse, and immerse yourself in its story. The Lighthouse was built after many ships were lost in a fierce storm in November of 1905 and operated from 1910 until 1969.

If you’re looking for more strenuous sport, why not head off on a bike trail like the Gitchi-Gami State Trail? Its a four-mile section of the paved Gitchi-Gami State Trail which lies within the park. From the trail, you’ll find a great view of the Middle Falls waterfall and will also catch a glimpse of the Upper and Lower Falls. For a bit more of a challenging hike, why not hike the Split Rock River Loop Trail? With 12 miles of hiking trails within the park, there are many areas to explore. One noteworthy hike is the Split Rock River Loop Trail which has unique red rhyolite rock towers near the boundary of the park and a beautiful overlook of Lake Superior and the river valley on the east side of the trail.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is also a great spot for wildlife viewing. We would recommend bringing some binoculars with you so you can go birding, especially in the spring and fall months when many birds migrate along the shore of Lake Superior on what is known as the North Shore Birding Trail. Split Rock State Park has been designated an Audubon Important Bird Area because of the presence of Peregrine Falcon nests. When you’re at the park, be sure to bring along a copy of the Split Rock State Park Bird Checklist in hopes that you can check off the Peregrine Falcon and many other birds. There are many options for camping in Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, including two remote sites only accessible by kayak. 

6. The Superior Hiking Trail

If you’re traveling to Lake Superior, why not check out the Superior Hiking Trail, a 310-mile long footpath in northeastern Minnesota that follows the ridgeline overlooking Lake Superior for most of its length. One section we would recommend is the 7.8 mile stretch from Caribou Falls state wayside to Lutsen. This stunning hike follows the historic Cross and Temperance Rivers for several miles, so you’ll really burn some calories. You’ll be traveling through rich old-growth maple forest with views at Tower Overlook, as far as the eye can see. From here you’ll get wonderful views of the falls, but it also crosses Fredenburg Creek and follows along Boney’s Meadow, an old beaver pond.

 

Trees beside a body of water.

Head here in fall to see the beautiful colors reflected on the water.

 

Final Verdict: 

There are so many sites of interest in Minnesota, others including Tettegouche State Park, Minnesota State Park, Lake Maria State Park, Whitewater State Park, Bear Head Lake State Park, Baptism River, Duluth, and Grand Marais. In this state, lakes are king. Whether you want a drive-in RV park, want to head off backpacking, you need a large group site, or go primitive camping on your own island, Minnesota offers some of the best campgrounds for all types of camping trips. To plan your best camping trip, take a look through the best places to camp in Minnesota, and head off in the fall to see the stunning russet tones reflected across Minnesota’s tens of thousands of lakes. 

 

Bonus tip: To get a taste of the beauty of Minnesota’s lakes, take a look at this beautiful video!

 

 

Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.