FFTC Family Camping Guide: Minnesota State Park Campgrounds

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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 state park campsites

Standard (drive-in) campsites ($15-$23 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 ($15-$19 per night) 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 $5 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 $25 annual permit to enjoy the parks year-round!

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), click here.

About state park camper cabins

Camper cabins ($55-$70 per night) 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, click here. Again, a $5 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. My apologies that I didn’t publish this guide sooner; most of the camper cabin options in Minnesota State Parks have been reserved through the summer.  Campsites at the popular parks tend to fill quickly as well. Your best bet to score a site is to log onto the Reservations page at the Minnesota DNR website to check availability. Also know that most state parks keep up to 30% of their campsites open on a first-come, first-served rental basis. If you arrive at the campground early enough, you might score a site without having to pay the online ($8.50) or over-the-phone ($10) reservation fee!

Afton State Park
6959 Peller Ave S., Hastings, MN 55033

Park features:
– rustic backpack sites ($18)
– 4 year-round camper cabins (no weekends available this season, $55-$60)
– water but no showers
– occasional naturalist programs (such as Universe in the Parks & Archery in the Parks)
– 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 ($23/$31)
– water & showers (early May to mid-Oct)
– family-friendly: In-Yan-Teopa rock hike, a short distance to Red Wing & Lake City with more recreational options

Interstate State Park
307 Milltown Rd., Taylors Falls, MN 55084

Park features:
– drive-in & electric campsites ($23/$31)
– 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, paddle boat rides on the St. Croix, and beautiful fall colors

Lake Maria State Park
11411 Clementa Ave NW, Monticello, MN 55362

Park features:
– rustic backpack sites ($18)
– 3 year-round camper cabins – none with electricity (some weekend availability left this summer, $55-$60)
– family friendly: short hiking trails, lakeside picnicking, great fall colors

Wild River State Park
9797 Park Trail
, Center City, MN 55012

Park features:
– drive-in & electric campsites ($23/$31)
– water & showers (mid-April thru mid-Oct)
– 6 year-round camper cabins (no weekends available this season, check for fall $55-$60)
– year-round visitor center w/ exhibits and deck overlooking the St. Croix River
– naturalist programs many summer & fall weekends
– family friendly: paved bike trail, 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 ($23/$31)
– 4 year-round camper cabins (no weekends available this season, most weekdays filled, $55-$60)
– 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

Thanks for bearing with me on this first installment of the FFTC Family Camping Guide! I’ll be back in the coming weeks with more ideas of where to get out camping with your crew this summer and beyond.

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About the author

Anne Kingston

If we left it up to Anne to write her own bio, it would never get posted. She doesn't enjoy talking about herself, but Anne does love exploring the Twin Cities with her family and sharing her finds here. She, her husband and their four kids are lifelong residents of St. Paul.


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