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State Forest Camping

An Alternative to Minnesota State Parks

Everyone knows about Minnesota's excellent State Park system - Itasca, Gooseberry Falls, St. Croix, Wm. O'Brien and about 70 others, most of which offer camping. Many State Park campgrounds offer electrical hook-ups. Showers and flush toilets are common. But if the idea of a little more rustic camping is appealing, with a lower potential for campground crowds, take a look into our State Forests.

While the State Parks offer more than 5000 campsites and a variety of cabins, guest houses and even a few lodges, there are about 1000 campsites in our State Forests. Often overlooked, these campgrounds have bare-bones facilities - picnic tables, fire rings, vault toilets (a glorified outhouse), a water pump and a garbage container. A boat ramp or a canoe landing is found in campgrounds on a lake or river. You can gather your own downed wood (prohibited in State Parks) and hunting is allowed in State Forests, though uncased guns are prohibited in campsites. There are no staff or rangers or naturalists at State Forest campgrounds and there are no vehicle fees and no reservations aside from group campsites. Campsite fees are required (currently $12 per night per campsite). Your fee is put into a drop box with your registration information. This is picked up regularly to confirm that everyone is paying. There is some confusion on the Dept. of Natural Resources website about camping in State Forests. It refers to individual campsites that require a "Fee and Reservation". I believe they meant "Fee and Registration" (the envelope) because only group campsites can be reserved.

For a weekend trip that's an easy drive from the Twin Cities, you might consider one of the following:

  • Kruger Campground (west of Wabasha) in the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest
  • Snake River Campground (east of Pine City) in the Chengwatana State Forest
  • Ann Lake Campground (west of Zimmerman) in Sand Dunes State Forest
  • Boulder Campground (east of Hinkley) in the St. Croix State Forest
  • Willow River Campground (north of Willow River) in the General Andrews State Forest
  • Birch Lake Campground (north of Melrose) in the Birch Lake State Forest

For information on these campgrounds and more, click on MN State Forests. There are many camping options in north central and north east Minnesota, including National Forest campgrounds in the Chippewa and Superior National Forests. Wisconsin also offers these semi-rustic camping opportunities in their state and national forests. On busy weekends, they are all good alternatives to the heavily used MN State Park system.

- Jay Berne