Best Campsites in Minnesota

by Amy Myers

In Minnesota, camping isn’t just a way to escape the constant noise and bustle of the front country. Rather, folks pack up their inflatable pillows, headlamps and dirt-stained boots and head to their favorite campsites to find a deeper sense of community.

It might seem counter-intuitive – leaving society to find a different kind in the woods, but Minnesota’s state parks, forests and recreational areas aren’t just a place to cook a marshmallow and hit the hay. Each of these destinations is an oasis where adventurers of all kinds can test their skills, share their triumphs and learn from each other over a shared love of outdoor sports and the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Between the thousands of waterfront, prairie-front and cliff-facing campsites, Minnesota has something in store for hikers, skiers, bikers, climbers, paddlers and just about every adventurer in between.

Find your niche paradise at one of Minnesota’s best campsites below.

Photo by Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Afton State Park

For the campers that need wide, open spaces.

  • Location: 6959 Peller Avenue South, Hastings, MN 55033
  • Campground contact: (651) 201-6780
  • Park hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Campground website

Full of rolling hills and floral-speckled prairie lands, Afton State Park’s landscape will instantly make you breathe a little deeper and feel a little lighter. Here, you can enjoy the expansive, miles-long views across deep ravines and the St. Croix River all the way up to the bluffs and neighboring, wooded state park, Kinnickinnic, making it the prime destination for hikers, equestrians and just folks who just need to stretch their legs. And for those that prefer cold weather camping, the level terrain creates the perfect paths for cross-country skiing.

Because the state park is relatively small, there are no separate campgrounds. Rather, the campsites are dispersed by type, depending on just how much open space and seclusion you prefer on your excursion.

Campground breakdown:

  • 28 backpacking/rustic campsites: $20 to $23 per night
  • 1 boat-to site: $20 to $23 per night
  • 2 group camps: $50 to $300 per night (open April 29 to October 31)
  • 4 camper cabins: $75 to $90 per night
  • 2 yurts: $80 per night
  • 1 wall tent/cabin tent: $35 to $40 per night (open April 29 to October 31)

Afton amenities: flush and vault toilets, park office, visitor center, interpretive exhibit, firewood, picnic area and shelter, seasonal volleyball court, horseshoes and winter warming house.

Note: While there is a single boat-to campsite at Afton State Park, there is no boat launch. If you plan on paddling, use on of the surrounding boater-designated beaches and portage your canoe or kayak to the location.

Reserve an Afton campsite here.

True North Basecamp in Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area

For the mountain bikers.

  • Location: 825 1st St SW, Crosby, MN 56441
  • Campground contact: (218) 454-3222
  • Campground website

If you book a campsite at True North Basecamp, a helmet and a good set of gears are just as mandatory as a sleeping bag and toothbrush. This is Minnesota’s capital of mountain bike trails. Nestled beside Serpent Creek, you have direct access to the world-class Cuyuna Lakes mountain bike trails. Here, there are roughly 30 miles of well-worn dirt trails that cater to gearheads of all types, from first-timers to seasoned professionals. With the campsites so close to this extreme sport destination, the adventure starts at first light and doesn’t end until the moon comes out. And even then, you’ll have a front seat view of thousands of stars spanning across the quiet creekwater.

Campground breakdown:

  • 31 non-electric tent sites: $29 to $39
  • 13 “cabin tents”: $59 to $99
  • 6 camper cabins: $99 to $149

Even if you decide to opt for a cabin over a campsite, you’ll still have a one-of-a-kind stay. Each one has a different theme, including Cabin No. 1, which is decorated with Gear Junkie equipment from climbing Mt. Rainier and Mt. Everest’s Basecamp as well as GJ’s race-winning bike frame. That way, even as you drift off to sleep, you’re surrounded by the motivation to push your limits even further the next day.

True North Basecamp amenities: shower house, potable water, campfire ring, picnic tables, Wifi access and flush and vault toilets.

Reserve a True North site here.

Fall Lake Campground in Superior National Forest

For the canoers.

  • Location: Fall Lake Rd, Ely, MN 55731
  • Campground contact: (218) 365-2963
  • Campground website

Like True North Basecamp, Fall Lake Campground in Superior National Forest beckons hardcore outdoor adventurists to its corridor. But instead of toting a muddy set of wheels, these adventures prefer to put the paddle to the metal. Superior National Forest is home to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), which boasts more than one million acres of pristine, remote boreal forests and 1,200 miles of canoe routes. With so much to explore, you’ll find it hard to steer yourself back to shore to rest up for the next day of paddling.

Though the BWCAW is one of the most highly visited wilderness areas in the country, Fall Lake Campground offers solace from the business you might find at the put-in and take-out locations. Partially seated directly in the wilderness area, Fall Lake’s campsites keeps you immersed in the environment while also giving you the amenities you need to freshen up after a hard day of exploring on the Boundary Waters.

Campground breakdown:

  • 10 non-electric standard campsites: $26 per night
  • 3 drive-in sites: $26 per night
  • 52 electric sites: $32 to $34 per night
  • 17 ADA-compliant sites: $32 to $34 per night

Fall Lake amenities: swimming beach, picnic area, boat launch, nearby hiking trails, potable water, fire rings, tent pads, showers and flush, vault and pit toilets.

Reserve a Fall Lake campsite here.

Photo by Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Glacial Lakes State Park

For the geological junkies.

  • Location: 25022 County Road 41, Starbuck, MN 56381
  • Campground contact: 320-239-2860
  • Park hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Campground website

While adventurers likely have a general idea of how our favorite rivers, canyons and mountains were formed and carved, we often forget the beautiful and extensive natural history that is behind each one of these environments. And Glacial Lakes State Park is the perfect reminder of how lucky we are to have such fruitful formations. Located in a geological area known as Leaf Hills, the area was originally home to a 10- to 19-mile-wide band of glacial hills, spanning from Detroit Lakes to Willmar. As the ice descended southward, hills and bluffs were ground down to nothing but bedrock. And in the glacial ice’s wake, it left deposits of rocks, gravel and dirt, as well as the much-loved lakes.

Like Afton State Park, Glacial Lakes doesn’t have separate campgrounds so much as it does designated zones for different types of camping. No matter what gear, equipment or animals you’re bringing, though, the state park has room for every type of camper within its borders.

Campground breakdown:

  • 37 drive-in campsites: $20 to $35 per night
  • 14 electric sites: $30 to $35 per night
  • 1 pull-thru site: $30 to $35 per night
  • 4 backcountry sites: $20 to $23 per night
  • 8 equestrian sites: $22 to $25 per night
  • 1 group camp: $50 to $300 per night
  • 6 camper cabins: $75 to $90 per night

Glacial Lakes amenities: sanitation dump station, showers, flush and vault toilets, picnic area, fire rings and potable water.

Reserve a Glacial Lakes campsite here.

Frontenac State Park

For the wildlife watchers.

  • Location: 29223 County 28 Boulevard, Frontenac, MN 55026
  • Campground contact: 651-299-3000
  • Park hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Campground website

We can’t say that Frontenac State Park boasts a quiet environment because within the trees, beside the lake and scattered across the ground, the park’s hundreds of feathered residents are constantly singing a symphony to the sanctuary. Frontenac is home to 260 species of birds, year-round, making the park and its campsites the prime location for birdwatchers and wildlife advocates. In the morning, you’ll wake to the morning tune of warblers, bluebirds, orioles and fellow songbirds. And at night, the campsites offer the perfect opportunity to hear the hauntingly beautiful hoot of a distant barred owl.

Also frequently spotted in the park are more grounded animals like deer, raccoon, opossum, red fox, coyote, woodchuck, beaver and wild turkey, all of which benefit from the thriving bird populations of the area, too.

Campground breakdown:

  • 58 drive-in campsites: $20 to $35 per night
  • 19 electric standard sites: $30 to $35 per night
  • 6 cart-to/walk-to sites: $20 to $25 per night
  • 2 backpacking sites: $20 to $23 per night
  • 1 group camp: $50 to $300 per night

What’s even more special about Frontenac State Park is its wildlife observation blind. Located at the southeastern edge of the Pleasant Valley lakelet, this is the optimal spot for watching a juvenile bald eagle snatch a fish or a mother fox guide her kits across the landscape.

Download the bird species checklist, and see how many you can check off during your trip.

Frontenac amenities: fire rings, food lockers, tent pads, picnic tables, showers, flush and vault toilets, sandbox, Wifi access and wildlife observation blind.

Reserve a Frontenac campsite here.