Minnesota State Park Campgrounds: A Family Camping Guide

Girls playing in tent. "Family Fun Twin Cities Minnesota: State Park Campgrounds"

First, a quick confession: I may not be the most qualified to write this article. The truth is that I don’t tent camp with my children, in Minnesota State Park Campgrounds or otherwise. There’s a good chance that I will again someday, but until all my kids are of the age where I’m guaranteed a decent night’s sleep, we plan to stick to an old, class-C motorhome we bought off Craigslist six years ago. It was purchased in a bit of a panic – we’d just found out we were expecting our third child – and I feared that if our family kept expanding, it would be years before my husband and I could enjoy one of our favorite hobbies again. The one weekend we had spent camping when our firstborn was 13 months old was so miserable I vowed never again to sleep on the ground with a nursing child. (We did take him tenting again at age three and it was wonderful, so I did realize there was hope for traditional camping in the future.)

So that’s my admission. I am absolutely not an authority on tent camping with kids. My redemption, however, might lie in that at least I’ve spent many nights in Minnesota State Park campgrounds, and also a decent amount of time exploring many of the parks themselves. I’m confident in recommending them as fantastic places to spend time as a family and connect with nature.

About Minnesota State Park Campsites

Standard (drive-in) campsites ($20-$25 per night) include a cleared, level space for one tent or camper; a picnic table, fire ring, and seasonal access to bathroom and shower facilities. Some have electric or water hookups for an added charge. Rustic campsites include space for one tent or camper, a picnic table, fire ring, trash can and access to water and a pit toilet. Keep in mind that in addition to the campsite rental, there is a $7 one-day park permit fee. A one-day permit is all that is necessary for one overnight in the park. Consider applying the fee to a $35 annual permit to enjoy the parks year-round!

Reserving a Campsite at Minnesota State Parks

Reserving a campsite in advance is strongly advised – and often required to secure a spot at the most popular Minnesota State Park campgrounds. Families start making their summer plans early! Camping reservations may be made up to one year in advance of your first night’s stay. Online reservations can be made by calling 866-857-2757 24 hours a day, except for the first day a reservation becomes available (8am). A non-refundable fee of $7 per web reservation and $10 call-in reservation is charged per campsite. There is NO FEE charged if making a same-day reservation. There is also no fee charged if you show up to the park and make a reservation (though there is no guarantee a spot will be available. We speak from experience.)

For additional camping opportunities (read: if you’re brave enough to take the kids out to a remote campsite or you want to get a gang of friends together to camp), Follow this Link to the DNR’s Stay Overnight Page.

Minnesota State Park Camper Cabins

Camper cabins offer another lodging option. Sprinkled throughout the state park system are rustic cabins that sleep 5 – 6 and are furnished with bunk beds, benches and a table. All are located near restroom and water facilities. For details on electricity, heat, and seasonal availability, the MN DNR offers information here. Again, a $7 one-day park permit fee is charged per night camping.

I’d like to share 6 State Parks within 60 miles of my home in St. Paul (roughly in the middle of the greater Metro) where camping is permitted. Campsites at these popular parks tend to fill quickly. Your best bet to score a site is to log onto the Reservations page at the Minnesota DNR website to check availability. This list is particularly geared toward families with younger kids, but teens and tweens will love these campgrounds, too.

Twin Cities-Area Minnesota State Park Campgrounds

Afton State Park

6959 Peller Ave S., Hastings, MN 55033

Park features:

Family Friendly:

A sandy swimming beach on the St. Croix River, geocache units to borrow

Frontenac State Park

29223 Cty 28 Blvd., Frontenac, MN 55026

Park features:

  • Drive-in & electric campsites
  • Modern restrooms and showers (early May to mid-Oct)
  • Water stations and dishwashing area
  • Wi-fi at the rangers station, plus I had phone connection at all times.

Family Friendly:

In-Yan-Teopa rock hike is right inside the campground. If you don’t need electricity, the non electric sites back right up to the hiking trails and forts. The park is a short distance to Red Wing & Lake City with more recreational options.

Photos of Frontenac State Park

Interstate State Park

307 Milltown Rd., Taylors Falls, MN 55084

Park Features:

  • Drive-in & electric campsites
  • Water & showers (mid-April thru mid-Oct)
  • Popular campground nearly filled summer weekends, try weekdays or later summer
  • Naturalist programs most summer & fall weekends

Family Friendly:

Amazing glacial pothole trail for hikers, paddle boat rides on the St. Croix (a nice alternative to a kayak trip for smaller kids), and beautiful fall colors

Lake Maria State Park

11411 Clementa Ave NW, Monticello, MN 55362

Park Features:

  • Rustic backpack sites
  • 3 year-round camper cabins – none with electricity

Family Friendly:

Short hiking trails for kid-friendly adventures, lakeside picnicking, great fall colors

Wild River State Park

9797 Park Trail, Center City, MN 55012

Park features:

  • Drive-in & electric campsites
  • Water & showers (mid-April thru mid-Oct)
  • 6 year-round camper cabins
  • Year-round visitors center with exhibits and deck overlooking the St. Croix River
  • Naturalist programs many summer & fall weekends

Family Friendly:

Paved bike trail (the DNR suggests the paved trails a kid-friendly alternative to mountain bike trails), self-guided hikes & geocache units to borrow

William O’Brien State Park

16821 O’Brien Trail N., Marine On St Croix, MN 55047

Park Features:

  • Drive-in & electric campsites
  • 4 year-round camper cabins
  • Water & showers
  • Naturalist programs every weekend (I Can Paddle, archery, stargazing)

Family Friendly:

Swimming beach on Lake Alice, berry picking, biking, and a nice visitor center

More State Park Campsites to Explore With More Experienced Kids:

Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area

307 3rd St, Ironton, MN 56455 

Itasca State Park

36750 Main Park Drive, Park Rapids, MN 56470

Jay Cooke State Park

780 Highway 210, Carlton, MN 55718 

Lake Bemidji State Park

3401 State Park Rd NE, Bemidji, MN 56601

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

3755 Split Rock Lighthouse Rd, Two Harbors, MN 55616

Tettegouche State Park

5702 MN-61, Silver Bay, MN 55614

Whitewater State Park

19041 MN-74, Altura, MN 55910

National Park Campsites to Explore

Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Wilderness Area & Superior National Forest

Duluth, MN 55808

Voyageurs National Park

1797 Township Rd 342, International Falls, MN 56649

Campsites are only accessible from the water.

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