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It's time to camp! What you need to know before you go

Try Minnesota state forests for last-minute options, Voyageurs tops list of Midwest camping spots and why one survey ranked Wyoming as the best state to camp in.

Camping in Wyoming
A survey that looked at multiple factors determined that Wyoming is the best state to go camping, based on the number of campgrounds, RV parks, trails and more.
Contributed / Travel Wyoming

DULUTH — Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff to camping season across the Northland, but if you’re just starting to plan your trip now for the holiday, you may need to search hard for an open campsite.

Most state parks and many national forest campgrounds are already full, but you may get lucky and get in thanks to a cancellation, so it sometimes pays to check again. There are also ample private campgrounds that may have open spots.

Of course, the best time to book a campsite is months in advance — up to four months for state park sites and six months for federal sites.

Whether your idea of camping means a pup tent in the backyard, a covered hammock stretched between red pines in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a pop-up camper in a Minnesota state park or a giant RV at a posh resort on a Northland lake, here are some tips from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other sources on how to overcome some obstacles to your summer campout:

pull behind camper trailer RV
A pull-behind trailer camper. RV sales and ownership hit record highs in recent years.
Contributed / gorving.com


Book campsites early or be flexible

If reservations are full for state parks (as most are next weekend) the DNR has three suggestions:

  • First, sign up for the “notify me” function on the reservation website, reservemn.usedirect.com/MinnesotaWeb, to get notified by email if there’s a cancellation.
  • Second, consider a camping trip Sunday through Thursday instead of the busy weekends if your schedule allows.
  • Third, look for open reservations at less busy parks. The DNR has a list of less-popular parks (they call them "quiet") at mndnr.gov/state_parks/starter_kit/quiet that provides suggestions for locations more likely to have open reservations. You can make a reservation right on the website or call 866-857-2757. There is a $7 fee to make a reservation online and $10 to make a reservation by phone.
Ebb and Flow Outdoors serves local renters as well as those as far as California and Arkansas. The more listing participants, the wider the selection.

Overnight state park camping fees, in addition to your $35 vehicle permit, range from $20-$25 per night, depending on amenities like flush toilets and showers. Add $10 per night for electric hookup where available and $8 per night for water and sewer hookup where available. Group campsites, for up to 30 people and six vehicles, range from $50-$300 nightly.

Find details on the Minnesota state park vehicle permit webpage at mndnr.gov/permit . State forests do not require a vehicle permit.

For Wisconsin state park camping, go to dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/camping .

rental tee pees at Blue Mounds State Park
Don't have a tent for camping? Several Minnesota state parks have rental camper-cabins or, in the case of Blue Mounds State Park, rental tipis.
John Myers / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune

Try camping in a state forest

If spontaneity is your style, try camping in a state forest where all campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and dispersed camping is allowed. There are usually fewer amenities, but you may get a great camping experience. However, you won’t know until you get there if any sites are available. Learn more at mndnr.gov/state_forests/camping .

First camping trip?

The Minnesota DNR has a checklist of what gear you’ll need at dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/stay_overnight/packing101.html.

Broken tent poles or a leaky air mattress might ruin a camping trip or make it less comfortable. If your camping gear hasn’t been used in a while or is new, test it at home before the trip to make sure it works.


Research local events to enhance your trip

Events and programs are scheduled at state parks throughout the year, offering a wide range of activities, from fishing and birding, to interpretive hikes, to crafting. Visitors of all ages are welcome, and no prior experience is needed.

Find event listings on the state parks and trails event calendar at mndnr.gov/ptcalendar . Contact local chambers of commerce to see what’s happening in towns across the Northland, such as festivals and concerts. You may want to attend annual events like Ely's Blueberry Festival or Grand Marais' Fisherman's Picnic — or you may want to avoid them.

The DNR has also set four dates for free admission to state parks.

Check visitor alerts before leaving home

State park and recreation area websites post visitor alerts to communicate important information related to safety, closures, construction projects and other helpful details. Find visitor alerts by choosing a park from the state parks map at dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/map.html .

Don’t get lost — navigate with a smartphone

The Avenza Maps app uses GPS location tracking so visitors can stay found, even off the grid. After you download the app and a GeoPDF map, no internet or cell service is needed. DNR maps can be downloaded for free. Get details at mndnr.gov/geopdf .

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Area off-roading parks are perfect for any thrillseeker looking to kick up some dirt and get muddy.
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The team is now in its 14th season, and will offer once again a full schedule of nights at the ballpark to residents of and visitors to west central Minnesota.
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The Glacial Lakes Recreation Trail provides plenty of opportunities for a variety of outdoor activities across Kandiyohi County’s prairie lakes region.
Tepetonka Club near New London reveals plans for an 18-hole destination course and short-play course.
Ed Talone became the first known person to hike trails along the entire length of the Mississippi River May 18.
The annual Ride of Silence takes place the third Wednesday in May, which is National Bike Month.

Watch the weather

Stay in the know by enabling severe weather notifications on your smartphone. Because cell service is not available in all locations within state parks, recreation areas and forests, visitors may want to bring a weather radio to get information about severe weather warnings, watches and advisories.

For more information about any of these camping tips, visit mndnr.gov or contact the DNR Information Center at info.dnr@state.mn.us or 888-646-6367.


A tent at one of 143 remote, boat-to campsites in Voyageurs National Park. Campgrounds across the country, including in the Northland, are filling up fast for holiday weekends and peak summer weeks. But several options remain if you are willing and able to be flexible with your dates.
John Myers / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune

Federal lands camping

For camping at Voyageurs National Park, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Isle Royale National Park, the Apostle Islands or any of the national forests nationwide and across the Northland — Superior, Chequamegon, Chippewa and Hiawatha — go to recreation.gov.

Simply type in your destination and your trip dates and you can see what (if anything) is available. If your chosen site isn’t available, the website does suggest other nearby options that might work for you.

Most national forest campgrounds also keep some sites as first-come, first-served for drive-up visitors. But be warned these will go early each day in many areas, so don’t count on them if you don’t have a backup option.

Still no luck? Try The Dyrt or Hipcamp

Nearly 40,000 campgrounds are listed on the free Dyrt app. You can upgrade to The Dyrt Pro for $36 a year. Subscribers get the basic Dyrt services along with offline access (for when you are out of cellphone reach approaching that remote campsite) as well as trip-planning services, discounts at some campgrounds, online maps and more. Go to TheDyrt.com for more information.

Hipcamp.com now lists 24,854 parks, 41,846 campgrounds and 386,172 campsites across the U.S., but also has a bunch of quirky other options for glamping and small cabins. You may end up camping in someone’s backyard that has extra space and a great lake view.

Looking for something a little different for your Memorial Day camping experience next weekend? Or maybe you want to make plans for a long Fourth of July weekend in the North Woods? Hipcamp.com may be for you. Think of it as the Airbnb or Trivago...

10 best places to camp in the Midwest

Speaking of The Dyrt, campers who use the app just voted Voyageurs National Park as the best place to camp in the Midwest. The list is based on reviews posted on the app by people who actually camped at the various locations.


It’s not hard to see why Voyageur’s rated so high, with giant lakes and unspoiled forests, sand beaches, private campsites and good fishing. Voyageurs has more than 130 campsites throughout the park, but you’ll have to have some sort of a boat to get to them. None are accessible by road.

Fall Lake Campground near Ely also made the top 10 list:

1. Voyageurs National Park — near Canadian border, Minnesota
2. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Backcountry Sites — northern coast of Lake Superior, Michigan
3. Sandy Springs Campground — Stout, Ohio
4. Starved Rock State Park Campground — Utica Township, Illinois
5. Fall Lake Campground — Ely, Minnesota
6. B Berry Farms & Co. — Elkland, Missouri
7. Green Acres at Red Brick Farmhouse — Higginsville, Missouri
8. Wagon Trail Campground — northern Door County, Wisconsin
9. Sycamore Springs Park — English, Indiana
10. Ledges State Park — Boone, Iowa

Looking for an outdoor-oriented job? The Dyrt is hiring during the pandemic camping craze.

The 10 best states for camping

So here’s yet another list, this one from the off-road vehicle experts at Adventures on the Rock : Which state is ranked best for overall camping opportunities?

The answer is Wyoming, according to this survey that analyzed 10 factors that could contribute to a successful camping trip and then scored each factor to create an overall camping index score out of a possible 100 for all 50 states.

Yurt in Wyoming state park
A yurt at Wyoming's Sinks Canyon State Park near Lander can make for a fun family camping option. A new survey has rated Wyoming as the top state to go camping.
Contributed / Travel Wyoming

The survey looked at each state’s number of national parks and landmarks relative to size of the state; the number of hiking trails; RV parks and campsites relative to state population; average fuel prices; yearly average rainfall; diversity of plant and animal species; deaths per 10 million national park visits; and deaths caused by dangerous animal or plant exposure.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau, National Park Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Campendium, Trailforks, Natureserve.org, AAA Gas prices and the National Climatic Data Center was used.


Wyoming ranked on top for several factors, including the highest number of RV parks, as well as free and paid for campsites. The Cowboy State was found to offer 26 RV parks, 118 regular campsites and 45 free campsites per 100,000 residents. The state also had the third-highest number of hiking trails of any state, at 350 per 100,000 residents.

(The states with lots of open space and smaller populations did best in this survey, which may be a bit misleading because it doesn't take into account tourists that flock into states like Wyoming because of destinations like Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks. There may be more tourists in Wyoming some summer months than residents.)

Montana ranked second-best for camping in the U.S. per 100,000 residents. It had the highest number of hiking trails (418), offered the second-highest number of free campsites (32) and paid campsites (90) and the second-highest number of RV parks (21).

Survey’s top 10 states for camping and their scores:

  1. Wyoming, 72.12
  2. Montana, 69.29
  3. New Mexico, 65.94
  4. Idaho, 63.62
  5. Vermont, 61.23
  6. South Dakota, 61.12
  7. Utah, 60.15
  8. New Hampshire, 59.93
  9. Colorado, 59.86
  10. North Dakota, 58.81

Wisconsin finished 20th on the list with a score of 49.2 and Minnesota was 25th with a score of 47.95.

more by john myers

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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