Even though we're stuck in winter, it's not a bad idea to start planning for summer, especially if you're thinking of camping this year at Lake Carlos State Park.

The reason is that among the 64 state parks in Minnesota, it is the second most popular place to camp.

In 2018, Lake Carlos ranked second only to Itasca State Park in the total number of campsite reservations with 11,306, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The spots fill up fast, assistant park manager Ryan Sansness said, because it's one of the busiest parks in Minnesota and it provides plenty of variety for visitors and its excellent camping sites.

"The biggest draw is the lake itself," he said. "There many activities for people to do

here, including watching the beautiful sunsets during the evening hours."

Busiest days

During the main camping season, which Sansness said runs from May through September, Lake Carlos State Park tends to have more availability during weekdays. Depending on weather conditions, it will be full most weekends, with its busiest times on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, around the Fourth of July, and the whole month of July.

"Fourth of July is the busiest weekend of the year," he said. "All of our sites will be full to capacity at any given time. We could have to up 600 overnight guests, plus all of the day users in the park."

Lake Carlos offers camping reservations year round, but water/showers are not available during the winter months.

During winter, they also offer six miles of cross-country ski trails, nine miles of snowmobile trails, and snowshoe trails. People can rent a pair of snowshoes for $6.

The park has approximately 130 campsites, with about 70 in the lower campgrounds near the lake, 50 in the upper section that is more wooded and secluded, two sites for a group camp and seven for a horse camp. There are also two that are wheelchair accessible. Many sites offer electricity.

To make reservations, visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website - www.mndnr.gov/reservations - or call 866-857-2757.

State parks provide the opportunity to modify reservations for people who cannot make their original arrival date. Sansness said that can be done through the call center or online.

"If you choose not to modify your reservation but cancel instead, we encourage people to do so in advance because you do get some money back if this is done before your arrival date," he said.

Top five parks

The most camping reservations in 2018:

• Itasca State Park 22,602

• Lake Carlos State Park 9,269

• St. Croix State Park 9,104

• Whitewater State Park 8,850

• Sibley State Park 7,791