Expect more visitors at Lake Carlos State Park this summer

Many overnight campsites are already booked.

Brecken Walker, 11, sprints ahead of his family on a Lake Carlos State Park trail on Monday. The Walkers have been visiting state parks since the pandemic slowed down their busy family schedule. (Karen Tolkkinen / Echo Press)

The Walker family of Eden Prairie might never have visited a half dozen state parks — including Lake Carlos on Monday — had it not been for the pandemic.

The family of five is normally too busy traveling for sports and to see family in other states to explore Minnesota. But the pandemic put a stop to those travels as it did for many families in their situation, and the Walkers are among those driving up attendance figures at many Minnesota state parks.

"Last year was the first time we ever went to a state park" as a family, said April Walker, who was spending spring break in Alexandria along with her husband, Eric, and their three children, Brecken, 11, Madiana, 9, and Gretchen, 6.

Lake Carlos State Park's daytime attendance ticked up 8% in 2020 from the previous year. Even though the park was closed for April and May, the park still logged 190,839 daytime and overnight visitors, up from 185,951 the previous year. Lake Carlos wasn't swamped the way smaller parks closer to the Twin Cities were, said Park Manager Allen Lego, but the higher density of visitors did have some impact.

"It did cause some stress on the weekends as far as parking but during the week it was OK," Lego said.


Overnight attendance fell a whopping 14.9%, partly because of those two shuttered months, partly because cabins had to remain closed for a day between rentals for cleaning, and partly because its large group campsite, Hidden Lake Group Center, which can accommodate 60 people, didn't open last year.

In 2020, the park was short-staffed due to a moratorium on new state hires. That left about 11 employees to handle what normally takes about 16 to do, he said. So other parts of the park were also closed last year, including the bathroom at the beach area and other group camps.

This year, staffing levels should be at normal levels, he said, and they expect another surge in visitors.

Those who want to camp overnight at Lake Carlos should act fast. They need to call 120 days in advance to book an overnight camping spot, or make reservations on line.

"There's still availability during the week but some of the weekends are booked up right now," Lego said. "They tend to fill up pretty fast."

The Hidden Lake Group Center is open again, but that requires booking a year in advance, and gets snatched up pretty much exactly 365 days to the hour.

"We're definitely seeing more people booking sites, even midweek," Lego said. "We're getting a lot more midweek traffic."

Monica and Richard Schulzetenberg of Sauk Centre were among those walking at Lake Carlos State Park on Monday as an icy wind blew off Lake Carlos, which is still covered in ice.


"You gotta get out or you'll go nuts," Monica said. The couple are veteran park visitors.

Harlan and Ceil Campbell of Alexandria took their dog, DeeDee, to the park on Monday.

"It's hard to get into Carlos State Park," Ceil commented.

"They're all going to be hard this summer," Harlan said. They've been noticing that a lot of people are buying campers.

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