The state of Minnesota has some of the finest outdoor recreation in the entire U.S. From its mixed hardwood forest, oak savanna, and tallgrass prairie to its abundance of lakes and waterways, Minnesota is an outdoor adventurist’s dream come true.
Needless to say, you could produce several of these “Best Camping in Minnesota” lists without exhausting the reservoir, and this one is certainly not intended to be definitive. But the following 14 camping areas all exemplify what makes outdoor adventuring in the Gopher State so utterly world-class.
Minnesota’s only national park is one of the state’s real treasures—and one of the best camping destinations in the country. Sprawling nearly 200,000 acres on the Ontario border and anchored by the roadless Kabetogama Peninsula, Voyageurs National Park will satisfy all of your extreme outdoor adventure needs.
Wolves, moose, black bears, lynx, loons: The full lineup of Northwoods wildlife is her. All Voyageurs campsites, both frontcountry and backcountry, are only accessible by boat and offer fantastic wilderness-lakeshore ambiance.
Sprawling across more than a million acres, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is surely Minnesota’s most legendary wildland. Part of Superior National Forest, it’s the classic domain of canoe campers cherishing the gorgeous rock-bound lakes, the loon calls and wolf howls.
Nestled within a tremendous reserve of old-growth mixed-conifer/hardwood forest, including mighty eastern white pines, wilderness camping doesn’t get any better in the Midwest.
3. Superior National Forest (Outside the Boundary Waters)
Along with its world-famous Boundary Waters, the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota offers a large amount of frontcountry and backcountry to explore beyond the bounds of that watery wilderness.
Established in 1909, the Superior includes some 2,000 miles of hiking trails and a host of camping destinations, including such developed fee campgrounds as East Bearskin Lake, Trail’s End, South Kawishiwi River, Ninemile Lake, and Temperance River. In addition, you’ll also find free rustic campgrounds such as Hogback Lake, Oxbow, and Trestle-Pine, and essentially endless options for adventurous backcountry tent camping.
A gorgeous slice of Minnesota’s renowned Lake Superior North Shore, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is another of the Gopher State’s standout camping destinations. Bold headlands and islets, wildwater rivers, quiet forest depths, the iconic 1910 landmark of Split Rock Lighthouse itself: This park shows off the magic of the Northwoods in spades.
Take a day hike on the Superior Hiking Trail, and revel in the presence of everything from snowshoe hares and beavers to black bears and moose. At Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, you will find some of the best camping in Minnesota. There’s not a bad campsite here, whether it’s one of the cart-in sites (which offer plenty of woodsy elbow room) or the backpacking spots, including a pair accessible to Lake Superior kayakers.
Spectacular sightlines over the St. Croix River Valley delight campers in Afton State Park, just a stone’s throw from the Twin Cities. From the heights of glacially molded ridges and blufftops quilted with restored prairies and oak savannas to the rich forests of deep-cut sandstone ravines, the park presents a marvelous ecological and scenic mosaic.
Camping options are diverse, from the hike-in backpacking campground to rentable yurts, camper cabins, and a wall tent.
Covering more than 600,000 acres in north-central Minnesota, the Chippewa National Forest is another knockout camping destination, offering the full range of experiences: from backcountry and dispersed tenting-out to 21 developed campgrounds, including Deer Lake, Norway Beach, Stony Point, and Webster Lake.
Swaddling some of the upper Mississippi River as well as more than 1,300 lakes and extensive swamps and marshes is the Chippewa. Established in the early 20th century as the “Minnesota National Forest”, the Chippewa rewards deep exploration, whether you’re hoofing it along the North Country National Scenic Trail, watching bald eagles swoop into white pines along an undeveloped lakeshore, or trekking into the magnificent old-growth of the “Lost 40” tract.
Containing two Scientific and Natural Areas, Great River Bluffs State Park presents a striking landscape including a trail with a breathtaking view of the Mississippi River Valley.
Surrounded by the Richard J. Dorer Memorial State Forest, this nearly 3,000-acre park includes lush maple-basswood forests, hardscrabble hickory, and pine woods, and the unique “goat prairies” common on south and southwest-facing Driftless Area slopes.
Birdwatchers have a heyday given the park’s location within the Mississippi Flyway. Leaf-peepers” enjoy magnificent fall colors. Overnighting it in Great River Bluffs State Park extends the enjoyment, whether it’s in a drive-in, cart-in, or bike-in campsite.
Those of the angling persuasion, in particular, will relish camping out at Gull Lake Recreation Area, set essentially in the very heart of Minnesota within shouting distance of Brainerd. Managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the recreation area lies at the outlet of the Gull Lake Chain of Lakes, fronting both Gull Lake and the outflowing Gull River.
Offering several dozen spacious wooded campsites, Gull Lake Recreation Area not only serves up fine chances of reeling in walleye and northern pike, but also a slew of developed recreational features and indigenous effigy mounds.
Encompassing roughly 32,000 acres, Itasca State Park in north-central Minnesota isn’t just the state’s oldest state park, it also contains the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center.
Also, the western shores of Lake Itasca include the remarkable Itasca Wilderness Sanctuary with its glorious Great Lakes pine forest. Wilderness Drive edges an ancient bison kill site. Birdlife’s diverse, and mammals include such exciting animals as gray wolves and black bears.
Itasca State Park includes two developed campgrounds, Bear Paw and Pine Ridge, accounting for more than 200 campsites, plus some backpacking opportunities.
A hidden gem within the great outdoors of Minnesota is Sand Dunes State Forest. This forest presents an enchanting area of hardwood forest, oak savanna, prairie openings, and pine plantation between St. Cloud and the Twin Cities. Among its ecological highlights is the Uncas Dunes State Natural Area, named for an endangered butterfly found here.
The state forest also includes the Bob Dunn Recreation Area, within which you’ll find the 36 campsites, good fishing, and rather irresistible swimming beach of the Ann Lake Campground.
Experiencing the tallgrass prairie at Blue Mounds State Park in far southwestern Minnesota, a visitor can almost feel the immensity of the Great Plains to the west. This jewel of a park is named for its ancient quartzite cliffs, which reach 100 feet tall and, while pinkish up close, appeared blue to 19th-century settlers passing by, who christened the outcrop belt the “Blue Mound.”
Blue Mounds State Park is also known for its resident group of American bison: the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd, some 130-head strong and a living symbol of the mostly vanished prairie wilderness that once covered much of southern Minnesota. The park includes drive-in and cart-in campgrounds, the latter offering, besides tent sites, the chance to bed down in canvas tipis.
Some truly fascinating Northwoods wilderness draws campers to Beltrami Island State Forest near the Lake of the Woods. Covering vast wetlands and upland “islands”, the state forest harbors a mosaic of conifer swamp, bogs, and pinewoods, with multiple State Natural Areas within its bounds.
They include the evocative Red Lake Peatland, the biggest peat ecosystem in the Lower 48 and still laced by ghostly migration trails of now-vanished woodland caribou. This second-biggest of Minnesota’s state forests includes multiple campgrounds as well as extensive opportunities for dispersed camping.
Fall in love with the loveliness and slow-rolling current of the St. Croix River at Wild River State Park, situated northeast of Minneapolis-St. Paul on the border with Wisconsin. The park’s sandy plain supports mixed hardwoods, pine forest, oak savanna, and prairie, a fine backdrop, along with the riverine forest, for a variety of options for the best camping in Minnesota.
Those camping options include drive-in and walk-in sites to backpacking and canoe camping, not to mention a number of rentable cabins. This is an awesome choice for paddling and angling, needless to say.
Last but not least on our list of the best camping in Minnesota is Minneopa State Park. One of the oldest state parks in Minnesota, Minneopa seduces visitors with its preserved sample of the Minnesota River Valley. The park is named for the gorgeous Minneopa Falls, which is Minneopa in native Dakota meaning “water falling twice.”
Besides that photo-op water feature, you’ll get a taste here for the oak savanna and tallgrass prairie that’s more extensive in this part of the Gopher State, plus the historic Seppmann Mill, built in 1864. The park includes 61 drive-in sites, camper cabins, and walk-in, tent-only group camping.
Upper Midwest Camping at Its Finest in Minnesota
From prairie bison range and Driftless Area ravines to the trackless swamps and conifer hills of the Northwoods, get out there and explore some of the best camping in Minnesota.
While resting in between your outdoor adventures, please share with us all of the amazing experiences. We’d love to hear from you!
If you are searching for more amazing parks in Minnesota, check out 10 Of The Best State Parks To Go Camping In Minnesota. Also, if you are adventuring in an RV, find the best camping in Minnesota at any one of the 11 Best RV Campgrounds in Minnesota.
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Born in Madelia, MN, to a now 5-generation Minnesota family, Ryan’s MN roots go deep.
A painter by day, Ryan founded Life in Minnesota in 2013 with his wife Kelly to chronicle their musings on everything Minnesota. Ryan and Kelly are raising their 7 kiddos in Maple Grove, MN.
When he’s not shuttling his kids around to hockey practice, you might find him in the shop working on his leatherwork. Undoubtedly, there will be a family trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area every summer, and of course weekends at Grandpa’s cabin up north in the summer.