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Camping 2022: Here's how, where to get outdoors this summer

From state parks and national forests, to private and municipal campgrounds, camping options abound.

tent campsite at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
A couple eat lunch at their campsite overlooking Lake Superior at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. The state park features 20 walk-in campground sites; several backpack sites along the shore of Lake Superior; and a new drive-in campground is set to open this summer.
Clint Austin / 2011 file / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — You can’t reserve a campsite at Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton over Memorial Day weekend; you were beaten to the punch months ago by folks who planned ahead to make reservations. Same with North Shore state parks Gooseberry Falls and Tettegouche.

In fact, the News Tribune couldn’t find a single Minnesota state park with drive-up campsites available from Friday night to Monday over the long weekend. Even the lesser-known parks in southern Minnesota are booked as the COVID-created camping craze continues.

But don’t despair if you are still looking for a campsite for the unofficial kickoff weekend to the 2022 camping season. Several national forest campsites across the Northland are still available, as are lesser-known private and municipal campgrounds. You just have to know where to look to find and reserve them.

And now is the time to plan ahead for that July 4, midsummer or Labor Day camping trip, too, when you still might find a few more options available.

pull behind camper trailer RV
A pull-behind trailer camper. RV sales and ownership hit record highs in 2021 and are expected to increase even more in 2022.
Contributed / gorving.com

Perhaps no other outdoor endeavor can mean as many different things to different people as camping. It can mean a pup tent in the backyard; a hammock stretched between red pines in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness; a pop-up camper in a Minnesota state park; or a giant RV at a posh resort on a Northland lake.

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It’s all camping. And it’s all up to you how you do it. Here are some options:

State park camping

To check for Minnesota state park campground availability and to make reservations, go to dnr.state.mn.us and click on "state parks," then "make a reservation." You can plug in a specific park to check availability or plug in the dates you want to go camping and see which campgrounds have openings.

camping at a Minnesota state park
Whether you camp at a Minnesota state park campsite like this one or on a remote island in Voyaguers National Park or the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the key is to make reservations early and check out all your options. Several websites can help you decide where to camp and make reservations.
John Myers / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune

You can make a camping or lodging reservation up to 120 days before your arrival date, meaning you can book now for late September.

You can make a reservation right on the website or call 866-857-2757. There is a $7 fee to make a reservation online and $10 to make a reservation by phone.

A $35 year-round state park vehicle permit is required and provides unlimited visits to all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas for a full year from the month of purchase.

Overnight camping fees, in addition to the vehicle permit, range from $20-$25 per night, depending on amenities like flush toilets and showers. Add $10 per night for electric hookup where available and $8 per night for water and sewer hookup where available. Group campsites, for up to 30 people and six vehicles, range from $50-$300 nightly.

The state park website also has useful lists for first-time campers and information on the "I Can" series of field classes for beginners in camping, paddling, mountain biking, fishing and other activities.

For Wisconsin state park camping, go to dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/parks/camping .

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Federal lands camping

tent in Voyageurs National Park
A tent nestled in pines and balsams at a Rainy Lake campsite in Voyageurs National Park.
John Myers / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune

For camping at Voyageurs National Park, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Isle Royale National Park, the Apostle Islands or any of the national forests across the Northland — Superior, Chequamegon, Chippewa and Hiawatha — and nationwide, go to recreation.gov.

Simply type in your destination and your trip dates and you can see what (if anything) is available. If your chosen site isn’t available, the website does suggest other nearby options that might work for you.

Most national forest campgrounds also keep some sites as first-come, first served for drive-up visitors. But be warned these will go early each day in many areas and don’t count on them if you don’t have a backup option.

New Split Rock campground opens June 1

Originally set to open last year, the opening date for a long-awaited new campground at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Two Harbors has now been set for June 1.

The 46-site Shipwreck Creek campground at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park can be reserved at the usual state park website.

The park currently has walk-in camping, but the new campground will offer the first vehicle-accessible campsites at Split Rock.

Split Rock Lighthosue State park campground
The new shower and bathroom facility at the new Shipwreck Creek drive-in campground at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. The campground is now open but is already fully booked for most dates into September.
Contributed / Minnesota DNR

What’s the best state to go camping?

Everyone probably has their favorite state to visit and go camping, but the folks at Lawn Love decided to rank the state’s based on a number of measurable metrics.

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The winner? California came out on top by a good margin, with Washington second and Minnesota third. Wisconsin came in at 11th, North Dakota 30th and South Dakota 42nd. Nevada was ranked the worst state for camping.

Researchers looked for states with plenty of high-quality campgrounds and easy access to state parks, national parks and trails. Safety and affordability levels also influenced the ranking. Some states that have many national parks and open space (like Nevada) did surprisingly poor because the cost of visiting those camping areas was so high.

Minnesota came in first for its variety of campsite options, eighth in average RV rental cost, fourth in cost for overnight camping feeds, fourth for number of camping supply stores and second for safety.

Here are the top states for camping, according to the survey:

  1. California
  2. Washington
  3. Minnesota
  4. Michigan
  5. Florida
  6. Ohio
  7. Texas
  8. Colorado
  9. New York
  10. Oregon
  11. Wisconsin

Best campgrounds in each state? Book lists author’s favorites

The authors of the book "Where Should We Camp Next? A 50-State Guide to Amazing Campgrounds and Other Unique Accommodations" (paperback, Sourcebooks $12.99), took some of the work out of finding great campsites in each state.

Written by longtime RV camping gurus Stephanie and Jeremy Puglisi, the 2021 book lists more than 300 campground destinations in detail and tilts toward the glamping side of camping — places accessible by the family RV or SUV and suitable for all levels of camping experience.

For Minnesota's "Best in State" category, the authors picked The Pines of Kabetogama Resort — with RV sites, RV rental, cabins and even a house to rent on beautiful Lake Kabetogama in Voyageurs National Park. ( thepineskab.com .)

Bear Head Lake State Park near Ely scored high for its natural beauty and seclusion, access to great fishing and the quintessential Minnesota northwoods feel with RV access. ( dnr.state.mn.us .)

Lambs Resort and Campground near Schroeder is a very popular North Shore destination. Still family-owned and with a half-mile of Lake Superior beach, the campground offers both RV amenities and a North Shore feel. Log cabins to rent, too. ( lambsresort.com .)

campsite at Lamb's Resort & Campground
Lambs Resort and Campground near Schroeder, on Minnesota's North Shore of Lake Superior, was voted among the best in the state by the authors of the camping guidebook "Where Should We Camp Next?"
Contributed / Lambs Resort and Campground

Itasca State Park, Minnesota's first and oldest, is at the head of the Mississippi River near Park Rapids. The authors say the park has "top-notch" lodging in addition to wooded campsites on 32,000 acres with more than 100 lakes. ( dnr.state.mn.us )

The authors also spend a page describing Voyageurs National Park, with more than 150 individual (remote) boat-to (or canoe- or kayak-to) campsites. ( nps.gov )

For North Dakota's "Best in State" category, the authors picked Cottonwood Campground in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, near Medora. With world-class wildlife watching in the Badlands, this campground sits along the banks of the Little Missouri River. Simple sites, half reservable and half on a first-come, first-served basis. ( nps.gov )

For South Dakota's "Best in State" category, the authors picked Rafter J Bar Ranch in Hill City in the Black Hills, which the authors call "one of the best campgrounds in the country." Spacious sites with beautiful views of the Black Hills. Heated pools and just 15 minutes from Mount Rushmore. ( rafterj.com .)

2021 was record year for RV production, ownership

According to a recent survey by Go RVing, a partnership between the RV Industry Association and the RV Dealers Association, RV ownership is at a record high, with 11.2 million households owning an RV in 2021. That's up 62% over 6.9 million households in 2001and 26% more than 8.9 million RV-owning households a decade ago.

Industry officials say 2022 will likely surpass 2021 as the RV craze continues.

Part of the RV rev-up is the massive influx of retiring baby boomers into the RV market, with time and money on their hands and a desire to get out and explore. But it's not just the gray-haired crowd. The survey found that 18- to 34-year-olds are the fastest-growing demographic of RVers, making up an estimated 22% of RV travelers in 2021. And 51% of RVers are under 55.

It seems the enthusiasm for going camping while still bringing the comforts of home along is not waning. Under the pandemic, 2020 set records for most RVing. But more RVs were made in 2021 than any other year ever.

camper trailers RV
Camper trailers sit at campsites at Duluth’s Indian Point Campground. Private and municipal campgrounds are great options for people who want full hookups, flush toilets and showers and easy access. But like state and national park campgrounds, make reservations as early as possible or you may be disappointed.
Steve Kuchera / 2021 file / Duluth News Tribune

Nearly one-third of the respondents in the study, 31%, are first-time RV owners, underscoring the growth of the industry in the past decade.

RVs include everything from small, pop-up tent campers and teardrop trailers small enough to tow behind a motorcycle, to giant motorhomes with multiple beds and big-screen televisions. In between are tow-behind campers, fifth-wheel trailers, pickup truck campers and more.

The median annual usage for current RV owners remains steady at 20 days. But as work rules and norms change, allowing more people to work remotely, people intending to buy an RV say they expect to use it an average of 25 days per year. The typical RV owner is 48 years old, married and has an above-average annual household income of $62,000.

Glamping guide: Try Hipcamp.com

Looking for something a little different for your Memorial Day camping experience next weekend? Or maybe you want to make plans for a long Fourth of July weekend in the North Woods?

Hipcamp.com may be for you. Think of it as the Airbnb or Trivago of camping, but with an offbeat attitude. Hipcamp encourages and recruits private landowners to open up space — in their backyard, along their lake, river, farm or ranch — for campers to rent. It then lists and promotes those sites, along with most public campgrounds, to prospective campers.

There are also small cabins, converted chicken coops, covered wagons and clear plastic bubbles for rent for camping.

Alyssa Ravasio founded the site in 2013, but said the company grew slowly at first, focusing mostly on public campgrounds — state parks, national parks and forests, etc. But campers continually reported that the public sites were already booked. (For example, most popular Minnesota state park campgrounds are full for Memorial Day weekend; many are already full for the Fourth of July.) That gave Hipcamp organizers the inspiration to recruit and encourage private landowners to open their property for campers, in some cases one at a time.

Get The Dyrt on 40,000 campgrounds

The Dyrt, the nation's top app for camping, now has someone visiting every second of every day on average. The basic service is free to download and use and has some 4 million photos, reviews and reports by campers that show and tell people exactly what they are getting into, from state park and national park campgrounds, to backpacking sites, RV parks and resorts, as well as camping cabins, glamping sites and other options.

Many of the campers posting reviews and photos are regular visitors as part of The Dyrt community, Smith says, and the veterans become "Rangers," "Guides" and "Legends" on the site. Employees are encouraged with bonuses to go camping and submit reports.

split rock campground
The walk-in campground at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park on Minnesota's North Shore has been ranked the fifth best in the nation, according to The Dyrt, a camping app.
Contributed / thedyrt.com

Nearly 40,000 campgrounds are already listed on the app. You can upgrade to The Dyrt Pro for $36 a year. Subscribers get the basic Dyrt services along with offline access (for when you are out of cellphone reach approaching that remote campsite) as well as trip-planning services, discounts at some campgrounds, online maps and more.

Go to TheDyrt.com for more information.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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