Woman camping Superior National Forest

Adventure & Relax on a Minnesota Camping Trip

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Camping in the Superior National Forest / Alyssa Hei

Adventure & Relax on a Minnesota Camping Trip

By Erica Wacker

Relaxation, adventure, escape, and quality time with family and friends are among the many reasons why camping is a beloved Minnesota pastime.

Whether you’re ready to take on the Boundary Waters or prefer the comforts of an RV, a Minnesota camping trip will surely be one to remember.

Camping in the Boundary Waters

Camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a badge of honor. There are no roads, buildings, motorboats and definitely no cell phone service. The only mode of transportation is canoe, and there are more than 1,500 miles of waterways to explore in one. When it’s time to set up camp, simply paddle to an open campsite and pitch your tent. Every campsite is private, so you'll have a little piece of the wilderness all to yourselves.

Most campers venturing into the Boundary Waters plan their expeditions with help from a local trip outfitter. Whether you’re looking for a guide or simply some solid options for renting a canoe or other essential gear, you’ll find ample possibilities in nearby towns. Ely has over 20 outfitters alone, and there are several located along the Gunflint Trail and in Grand Marais, a few near Tofte and one in Babbitt. Trip outfitters can help you with canoeing equipment, camping supplies and the best boundary waters routes.

Camping in the Boundary Waters involves a lot of preparation, but the payoff is well worth the work. Embrace the rare pleasures of this off-the-grid adventure in one of the most breathtaking environments on the planet. This is a uniquely Minnesotan experience that's restorative and invigorating in all the right ways. 

Lake Maria State Park camping

Backpacking at Lake Maria State Park

Backpacking in Minnesota

Adjacent to the Boundary Waters, the Superior National Forest has a wide range of camping options, from primitive "dispersed camping" sites up to drive-in sites complete with bathhouses and electric hookups. Also in this picturesque part of the state, the Superior Hiking Trail covers nearly 300 miles of rugged terrain above the North Shore of Lake Superior, with more than 90 campsites along the way.

Another backpacking hot spot is Crosby Manitou State Park on the North Shore near Silver Bay, where challenging trails are flanked with spectacular views of waterfalls and forests. The secluded campsites are for backpackers only (though you may have to share them with moose, deer and other wildlife).

Similar camping experiences can be found in the northwest part of the state, in the Chippewa National Forest and along the North Country National Scenic Trail, which travels 800 miles across the northern half of Minnesota with multiple segments that stretch from the North Dakota border all the way to the Superior Hiking Trail.

Backpacking opportunities even exist near the Minneapolis-St. Paul area at AftonLake Maria and St. Croix state parks. Several state parks also have “walk-in” (less than half a mile) sites, with carts available to haul your gear in some cases.

Airstream Mille Lacs State Campground

Airstream at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park / Mali Mish Family

Campgrounds & RV Parks

If you're looking for a more laid back and family-friendly camping experience, Minnesota has about 500 privately operated campgrounds, most of which are on a lake or river, with sites for RVs as well as tents. A number of the campgrounds are at resorts that also rent cabins and other indoor lodging.

These campgrounds usually feature an array of amenities, such as pools, playgrounds, game rooms, entertainment, boat rentals, Wi-Fi and on-site laundry, groceries and restaurants. Many campgrounds offer fun family-friendly activities, like bonfires, that make them a great choice for groups of all ages.

A myriad of Minnesota’s most scenic spots have been preserved as state parks, and most of the 75 parks and recreation areas have campgrounds with tent and RV sites. The settings range from forest to prairie; scenic hiking trails and access to a lake or river are among the highlights at these popular parks.

Pair of winter cabins at Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Whitetail Woods in Farmington has two camper cabins open year-round / Paul Vincent

Several state parks and some private campgrounds also rent camper cabins, an appealing alternative for those who don’t want to sleep in a tent. The majority have electricity and heat and can sleep up to six people. But since camper cabins don't have their own restrooms or running water, you can still say you’re roughing it.

City and county campgrounds are another good option; in-town campgrounds are usually near shops, restaurants and attractions. If you don’t have your own camping equipment, various outfitters offer rentals of everything from tents and pop-up campers to top-of-the-line motorhomes complete with kitchens and master suites.

Erica Wacker

Erica Wacker is a Midwesterner through and through, growing up in Illinois, going to college in Wisconsin, and settling down in Minnesota. She loves to run, travel with her family, and go to concerts to relive her youth.