When people think of camping in Minnesota, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in the northeastern part of the state immediately comes to mind. Fortunately for Twin Cities residents, one need not drive five hours north to Quetico-Superior Country to experience camping in the woods. Right within the Twin Cities area there are plenty of options for locals to get out for a quick weekend away from the hustle and bustle of urban life.
From sunny lakeside sites to heavily wooded options, there’s a little something for everyone at surrounding regional and state parks. We've rounded up some of our favorites to help you plan your next weekend getaway.
With 28 rustic backpacking spots, Afton State Park is located just a half hour from St. Paul. You’ll find 20 miles of rugged hiking trails in the park that offer plenty of scenic vistas along the bluffs of the St. Croix River, as well as 10 miles of bike trails and a 5-mile horse trail. If you’re looking for a place to grab groceries or a bite to eat, head to downtown Hastings for some grub.
Marked by a maple, oak, and basswood forest, Lake Maria State Park is the perfect place to spend a quiet weekend in the woods. Seventeen backpack sites sit on several remote lakes within the park, requiring a 1-2 mile hike from the trailhead. They also offer three camper cabins for rental, which sleep six people each and have wood stove heat, making them comfortable all year round. Nearby Monticello is the closest city where you can get supplies and other necessities.
Maple Plain, MN
Located on Lake Independence, Baker Park Reserve is a haven for outdoor activities all year round. With 2,700 acres and more than 200 campsites, you’ll be drawn back time and again. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring and most offer electrical hookup. Showers and flush toilets are also available on site. If you get tired of grilling and roasting your meals over a fire, head into Maple Plain for some pub grub at McGarry’s Irish Restaurant.
Prior Lake, MN
Cleary Lake Regional Park is conveniently located in Prior Lake in the south metro. With two separate campgrounds maintained in the park, Red Pine campground has 5 hike-in sites and Basswood has 15 sites. Since they are both tent-only sites, you won’t have to worry about getting crowded by campers and RVs. Seven miles of hiking trails, an off-leash dog area, a fishing pier, and a swimming beach make this a great place to bring the whole family.
Whether you come in spring when the wildflowers are in bloom or in the fall when the trees are changing to brilliant hues of orange and gold, Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is among the most convenient campgrounds in the area. Featuring 51 drive-in sites, you can pitch your tent as soon as you arrive, leaving more time to explore the 11 miles of hiking trails that snake through the forest. Downtown Northfield is just a stone’s throw away with great restaurant options like Hogan Brothers or the Contented Cow.
St. Croix, MN
Situated on the St. Croix River, William O’Brien State Park has everything an outdoor enthusiast could ask for, including hiking trails, a swimming beach, a fishing pier, and boat access. With 112 drive-in sites and 4 group camp sites, there’s no shortage of options for parties of all different sizes. In terms of scenery, it’s hard to beat the tall white pine trees and the imposing limestone bluffs that mark this landscape.
The largest park in the Dakota County parks system, Lebanon Hills is comprised of nearly 2,000 acres of lakes, grasslands, and forest, offering a true wilderness right in the metro. Over 90 campsites, a camp store, and onsite caretakers make this one of the best campgrounds in the area. The park is also a destination for mountain bike buffs thanks to 12 miles of great singletrack. For supplies and restaurant options, there are a number of choices in Eagan, including Doolittles Woodfire Grill or the locally-owned Roasted Joe Coffee Co .
Part of the Three Rivers Park District, Carver Park is home to a wide range of wildlife, including Trumpeter Swans, osprey, mink, white-tailed deer, and barred owls. Also situated within the park are the Lowry Nature Center, Grimm Farm Historic Site, King Waterbird Sanctuary, and the Lake Auburn Campground, which has 57 rustic campsites available. With no showers or electricity, this park offers an authentic camping experience. For a great day-long excursion, bring your bike and take the Lake Minnetonka Regional LRT trail to charming downtown Excelsior.