5 Best Places to Camp in Minnesota

Best Places to Camp in Minnesota

Let me preference this post by disclosing that my family has an affinity for state parks. I know there are privately owned camping facilities across the state, but we’ve never tried them. I’ve had friends rave about the activities available at these locations. Perhaps at some point we will give it a try, but we definitely prefer the slow pace of life that comes with a state park visit.

If you take a quick glance at the list below you’ll notice that almost all the parks are located along the North Shore of Lake Superior. I’m definitely biased, but all other locations in the state merely pale in comparison to this spectacular area. The rocky shoreline, beautiful cool water, and the densely tree covered land simply magnificent to experience.

Gooseberry Falls State Park:

Gooseberry Falls

The camping area at Gooseberry Falls isn’t very large. I highly recommend making your reservations far in advance to secure the best spots. My recommendations include sites: 23, 56, 61, and 62. 

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Be sure to hike some of the trails along the falls, but don’t forget to spend time throwing rocks at the beach and walking along the lava flow over Lake Superior.

Gooseberry Falls State Park - Lake Superior

Gooseberry Falls State Park trail

The best time to visit the main part of the falls {this area receives the heaviest tourist traffic} is in the early morning. We’ve had the luxury of being one of only a small handful of visitors at this time of the day. It makes for such a different experience then the bustling chaos that loads of tourists bring.

Jay Cooke State Park:

Jay Cooke Bridge

Jay Cooke is a much larger camping site than Gooseberry Falls. And while this park doesn’t have the flashy falls that attract loads of tourist, this site is beautiful and somewhat of a secret gem. The main attraction of the park is the St. Louis River or as my boys like to call it, the root beer river. The water {colored by the tannin content in the water from decaying plants} looks like it is the color of root beer. To three sugar-crazed young boys this sounds like the river of their dreams.

Jay Cooke State Park trail

While Jay Cooke is a much larger campground, I still recommend making reservations online well in advance. My recommended sites include: 10, 11, 14, 18, 19, 21, 66, 68, 70, and 72. 

Jay Cooke Park

Jay Cooke State Park St Louis River

Take a walk across the bridge and checkout some of the fun trails in the area. Of course when all else fails just continue to enjoy throwing more rocks into the river. That just never gets old to little boys.

Tettegouche State Park:

Tettegouche State Park map

Tettegouche is a beautiful park. The only thing limiting our visits to this area is the distance. Located 58 miles north of Duluth, it can take quite a long drive to make it to this site. Given this distance it also makes this park more low key as well. I recommend the following camping sites: 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 20, 22, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29. 

tettegouche state park 2007

Full of spectacular hiking trails and waterfalls this park is worth a stay at least once. 

Split Rock State Park:

Split Rock State Park shoreline

I actually think that we have never stayed here, but it truly feels like we have. We’ve visited the park so frequently that it seems almost irrational that we technically have not pitched the tent. The catch with this park is that there are limited spots and many of them require carting-in your belongings. With three kids and a dog, I don’t pack light. I don’t have any time for this carting business at this point in my life, but I would like to give it a go at some point.

Split Rock State Park

Split Rock Lighthouse

By the Shores of Split Rock Lighthouse

Of course be sure to make your way to the lighthouse and uncover all it’s glory, but the boys favorite thing to do is……..throw rocks into the lake overlooking the lighthouse. Are you surprised? This super rocky shoreline is a perfect place for rock throwing. I’ve spent hours here soaking up the sun, enjoying the amazing view, and watching my little guys pitch rocks till their heart is content.

Itasca State Park:

Itasca State Park map

Itasca is definitely the odd man out on this list. The only state park not part of the North Shore, I felt that I couldn’t create a list without including this iconic Minnesota destination. Why Itasca? It’s the headwaters of the Mississippi River, of course! I have not actually brought my fellas to this park yet, though I’ve been a few times in my youth, hence why there are no pictures for this post {the time before digital}.

This park is a great place to learn about the native history of the area and understand the importance of wild rice. There are actually two campgrounds and I don’t have the area mapped to provide suggestions on the best site locations. But check it out yourself for the available options. 

I have stayed at a few other state parks in Minnesota throughout the years- Forestville-Mystery Cave, Great River Bluffs, Myre Big Island and Minneopa. But I don’t necessarily need to visit them again, as I felt they didn’t have as much to offers as some of the others parks on this list.

5 Best Places to Camp in Minnesota

Which Minnesota State Parks are your favorites? Is there a park not on my list you would recommend? Please share in the comments below.

Comments

  1. Barbara Montag says:

    I live in MN and have only been to Itasco State Park.
    Thanks for all the great info!

  2. Sheila Vives says:

    Very nice. I didn’t know about this place. Thank you for the great photos!

  3. We have visited but not camped at the places you mentioned. They are indeed beautiful. Last summer we were able to go back-packing on the North Shore trail and that was really neat. Our kids are older however so they can mostly all carry their own load. We have also really enjoyed canoe trips both along the Mississippi, in the Boundary Waters and at Voyageurs National Park. The Boundary Waters Wilderness Area is incredibly gorgeous and we loved our time there. We had a little island all to our family. We picked a place that we could get to with out having to portage all of our stuff which was really nice as we had younger kids at the time. Along the Mississippi there are a lot of little campgrounds that are free to stay in and are quite secluded and really fun. Voyageurs National Park was pretty as well but there are so many motor boats there that I don’t really recommend doing it with canoes. We would like to go back with a houseboat or a pontoon boat someday. We have also enjoyed biking and camping along the Mesabi trail and the Paul Bunyan State Trail (though sometimes campgrounds are tricky to find). Our state is just filled with beautiful places to go and camp.

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