Camping starts with planningSummer is here, for all practical purposes, so for many it is time to pull out the tent from storage and head for the wilderness. But state park reservations are going fast, so planning might help. Minnesota is loaded with a variety of parks — state parks, county parks, city parks, state forest campgrounds, federal forest campgrounds, Boundary Water Canoe Area and Voyager’s National Park.
By: Karrah Anderson , State Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL — Summer is here, for all practical purposes, so for many it is time to pull out the tent from storage and head for the wilderness.
But state park reservations are going fast, so planning might help.
Minnesota is loaded with a variety of parks — state parks, county parks, city parks, state forest campgrounds, federal forest campgrounds, Boundary Water Canoe Area and Voyager’s National Park.
Chuck Lennon of Explore Minnesota Tourism said there is a variety of camping opportunities. The question often lies in where to start.
Explore Minnesota offers a search engine that allows a Web user to put in a city, Zip Code or region of interest that will pull up campgrounds in that area. The search results will give information about each campsite, from whether it features flushing toilets to whether wilderness trails are in the area.
It helps to know where you want to camp, Lennon said, so it can be plugged into the search engine. But if searching for a certain activity, say horseback riding, it is possible to give a travel counselor a call to help find the right campsite.
“State parks are filling up fast,” Lennon said.
He speculated that with the economy slumping, it would be smart to make reservations quickly, regardless if its state, county or city park.
Amy Barrett, public information officer of Minnesota State Parks and Trails at the Department of Natural Resources, is noticing the trend.
“Weekends are busy from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” Barrett said. “If you can, travel during the week. If you can take a few days off, the traffic will be much lower.”
And if a camper plan things right, Barrett said, it could feel he has the park to himself.
Barrett’s family belongs to the Passport Club, and has traveled to each of the 72 state parks in seven years.
“It’s a fun way to explore the state,” she said.
Barrett highlights state parks that were most fun for her family:
- Scenic State Park, Big Forks, is “like the Boundary Waters,” she said. There is an esker campers can explore, canoeing and visitors can hike along the high peninsula.
- Near Preston, Forestville-Mystery Cave includes a cave tour cave and underground lake. Barrett said this can be fun even if it’s raining.
- At Upper Souix Agency in Granite Falls, visitors may stay in a teepee. Only two are available, so book early.
- A family may take a tour of a mine at Soudan Underground Mine. The tour takes visitors a half-mile underground on an elevator. On an underground train, visitors receive an insight into the life of a miner and it offers another waterproof experience for the family to enjoy if it rains.
- Hill Annex Mine near Calumet is for the explorer at heart. A bus takes people to a pile of silt where they can search for fossils. “You can honestly find sharks’ teeth and clams and you’re allowed to keep it,” Barrett said. “Most mottos at other state parks are ‘take only pictures and leave only footprints,’ but here you can take what you find.”
For people looking for a camping experience outside of the state park system, Lennon highlights both a city and county park he has enjoyed.
Hobo Park Campground and Marina in Starbuck, on Lake Minnewaska, includes a swimming and a bicycle and walking trail, Lennon said.
Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Apple Valley is Dakota County’s largest campground. “It’s really nice,” Lennon said. “It’s large, rolling, and wooded.” It offers a true rustic outdoor experience, he added.