Reserve now for Minnesota state parks camping

(Photo: Temperance River State Park campsite.)

The Department of Natural Resources recently made a change to the Minnesota state parks camping reservations system which has the potential to dramatically change your experience. Every last state park campsite on the North Shore is now available for advance registration—and an impromptu state park camping trip “up north” is likely a thing of the past; your desired sites are likely already reserved.

The parks used to hold 20-30% of their sites for spontaneous campers and if you were lucky enough to get one of those sites, you could stay there as long as you wanted. It’s the end of an era and times have changed.

With this change in management practices, even if you’re lucky enough to find an open campsite at your favorite North Shore state park on a Tuesday, very likely you’ll be kicked out by Thursday when the next party with a weekend reservation shows up.

The Minnesota DNR says this is good for us. “Making every site reservable in advance so that no one has to leave their plans to chance is just one of the customer service improvements at Minnesota state parks and trails this year,” said the DNR’s Erika Rivers in a press release.

So if you’re planning for or hoping for a North Shore state park camping trip, the takeaway is this: make your reservations now.

The state park campgrounds are a top pick for many North Shore campers. They have prime lakefront locations, direct access to park trails and beaches, and amenities like hot showers, flush toilets, and even Wi-Fi. It’s no wonder that the high-tech reservation tools have been so successful for these premiere campgrounds.

There are still great options for finding last-minute campsites on the North Shore

If you’re willing to drive a few miles out of your way, if you’re able to camp without running water or Wi-Fi, you still have many terrific choices in the North Shore area. The spontaneous North Shore camping road trip is not dead.

Look for Superior National Forest campgrounds where you can show up almost any day of the week and find quiet open sites. For example, Ninemile Lake Campground is just a 30 minute drive from Highway 61, is on a walleye lake, and is close to great trails. Kimball Lake Campground is just twelve miles up the Gunflint Trail from Grand Marais. Some Superior National Forest campgrounds do accept reservations, but they still have plenty of “first-come, first-served” sites as well.

A rough trail, used by shore-casting trout anglers, circles Kimball Lake.

A rough trail, used by shore-casting trout anglers, circles Kimball Lake at the campground.

Minnesota state forest campgrounds, like Eckbeck and Finland, have no reservations at all. Those two campgrounds are very popular with hikers as they are close to Superior Hiking Trail trailheads. Read my blog post about campgrounds up the Cramer Road for more ideas.

Of course, you can find essential, additional information on these just-off-the-beaten path campgrounds in my guidebook, Camping the North Shore.

But note that the following North Shore state park campgrounds have been affected by this Minnesota DNR update and may not have any available sites without advance reservations:

  • Jay Cooke State Park
  • Gooseberry Falls State Park
  • Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
  • Tettegouche State Park
  • Temperance River State Park
  • Cascade River State Park
  • Judge C.R. Magney State Park

It’s still possible to find your perfect place in the woods, even at the last minute. You’ll just have to “think outside the state park.”


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