Outdoors Travel

HOW I PLAN MY MINNESOTA CAMPING TRIPS

I've heard your questions and curious voices loud and clear. How do I pick a campsite? Do I need to make reservations? What should I pack? Well, it’s your lucky day. I’m spilling my secrets for planning a Minnesota camping trip. Plus, a TON of freebies to help you get started on your camping adventure!

Today, I’m taking you camping in my vintage camper, the Lil Hotdish. Our destination: St. Croix State Park in Hinckley, MN. This park is a first time for me and it may be for you too!

I’ve been hearing your questions and curious voices loud and clear. How do I pick a campsite in Minnesota? Do I need to make reservations? What should I pack? Well, it’s your lucky day. I’m spilling all of my secrets for planning a Minnesota camping trip.


NARROW DOWN YOUR CAMPSITES WITH ‘MN GREAT OUTDOORS’

There are so many public state and regional parks and trails in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manages more than 5,000 campsites across the state. So narrowing down your campsite options might seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be! I recently discovered a handy, free resource called MN Great Outdoors.

It’s a website that allows you to search for state and regional parks and trails. Don’t know what to search for? Filter your search based on things like location, camping options, water activities, accessibility and much more. You can click on the narrowed list of parks and check out all of the details and amenities available at each park. 

When I was looking for a campsite, I knew I needed an RV campsite, access to the water for canoeing and the option to rent a canoe. Through filtering, I can see a map that shows all of the parks that meet my criteria. How intuitive and efficient is that? Check out the video above to get the demo and highlights from my camping trip.

You can learn more about MN Great Outdoors at mn.gov/greatoutdoors.

RESERVE YOUR CAMPSITE ASAP

Camper

Alright, let’s be honest. I am not a great plan-aheader. I’m more of a go-with-the-flow, let’s do this thing on a whim kind of gal. But I’m learning from my mistakes! I am not surprised so many people are taking advantage of our awesome outdoor resources in Minnesota. Campsites can fill up very quickly so be sure to make a reservation at leastamonth or two in advance.

I’m counting my lucky stars because I was able to reserve the last campsite at St. Croix State Park just a couple of days before our trip. We got an awesome spot big enough for the Lil Hotdish and two cars. Plus, BONUS: We had quiet neighbors. I like to hear the sound of birds, not the sound of partying.

If you’re using the MN Great Outdoors tool, you can click on the park’s website link which usually leads to details on how to make reservations. Reservations are either through the DNR or a county park.

Want to fit in at least a couple of family camping trips later this summer or fall? Book ahead! Once you have a general idea of what park you want and dates that work, book it ASAP!

MAKE A CAMPING LIST AND CHECK IT TWICE

drinking coffee at campsite

This one may seem like a given, but it’s one that I always have to think about before any trip — a camping checklist. Because the Lord knows how many times I’ve reached my campsite only to realize I forgot extra fuel for the camp stove, my headlamp or an SD card for my camera.

Making a physical camping checklist will not only help you stay organized, but also get you motivated for the upcoming trip. I don’t know about you, but I love lists. It motivates me to take action and get those tasks leading up to the camping trip donezo. It also (hopefully) prevents my forgetfulness and simplifies the camping planning process.

For the trip to St. Croix State Park, I scrapped a lot of the usual essentials from my list — like a tent and sleeping bag — since my camper is my home away from home. But there were other things I had to remember like insect repellent with tick resistance (I heard the ticks were really bad this season), paddles for canoeing, extra batteries for my string lights, my camera gear and rain gear.

If you need a little more structure to help you get started on that checklist, I’ve got you covered with this Ultimate Camping Checklist as a free resource.

PUT ON YOUR CHEF HAT AND WHIP UP A CAMP MENU

Camping with yorkie dog

Speaking of lists, my favorite kind of list involves food. Creating a camping menu can be fun, yet challenging! Think of it as meal planning without a microwave or oven. Your camp menu will depend on whether you’re car or RV camping or backpacking. When you have access to a vehicle, there’s more room for luxury camping kitchen gear like my Primus Stove Top or even a sink. When you’re backpacking, you may be limited to a single whisper light or the campfire.

One major tip that has helped me with my camping menu is to skip the breakfast and lunch go straight to brunch. That’s right. You can definitely get rid of the three-meals-a-day system and go for a simple brunch and dinner. If you’re feeling the munchies, have some light snacks throughout the day. End the night with s’mores at the campfire. How easy and perfect does that sound?

I like to Pinterest the heck out of my camping menu. There are so many good ideas out there! Like these cast iron skillet Campfire Pizza Nachos or this 2-Day, 3-Night Backpacking Menu from Hipcamp. Check out my Camp Food Board on my Pinterest and be sure to follow me for other curated inspiration.

If you’re backpacking into your campsite and want to get gourmet, try the app Trail Chef. It’s an app made for adventurers who want delicious meals even when they are in the wilderness. It even comes with a meal planner so that you can save recipes and plan ahead for however many days you are on the trail. The Trail Chili and Poached Trout sound especially delicious.

PLAN FOR FUN ACTIVITIES ON CAMP AND NEARBY

Aerial drone shot of canoe in lakeGirl of 10,000 Lakes Jenny Anderson and Kiwi fishing
Girl of 10,000 Lakes holding bass in canoe

You didn’t go camping to stay cooped up in your tent or camper, right? So plan ahead and research as many outdoor activities as possible. Chances are, there will be plenty of trails to hike and discover no matter which campsite you choose. The DNR manages more than 1,300 miles of state trails while the Metropolitan Council manages nearly 400 miles of interconnected trails throughout regional parks.

If you’re using the MN Great Outdoors tool, you can filter your campsite down to guided tours, historic site, nature programs, archery, disc golf, geocaching, canoeing and rock climbing. You’ll find that most parks have plenty of activities on site, including rentals for canoes and fishing poles. The state parks system is also home to 360 fishing piers and over 3,000 publish boat launches — so if you’re looking to fish, the odds are in your favor!

puzzle

Plan for a rainy day by bringing simple board games or a deck of cards. Here are some of my favorite games to play while camping on a rainy day. Bring a book you’ve always wanted to read but never had time to. Since the Lil Hotdish has a little dining table, Nick and I sometimes work on puzzles while we drink wine, snack on charcuterie and wait for the rain to stop.

Want to get away from the campsite for a day? Do a little Googling. A quick Google search of “things to do near St. Croix State Park” leads to other links like Explore Minnesota where you can find other events or places nearby. One of my favorite stops near St. Croix State Park is Tobie’s which has the best maple bacon cronuts and raised chocolate donuts a girl could ever ask for. Mmmm, I’m drooling just thinking about it. It also has a super cute section with Minnesota-themed gear and goodies.

Are you looking for a different kind of camping adventure? One that isn’t too far from the Twin Cities but many people won’t have access to? I’ll let you in on the secret. Grab your free guide on how to camp at High Meadows Canoe-In Campground on the Rum River in Anoka Co. It’s a campsite you can also discover on MN Great Outdoors! Sign up to get the guide!

This post is in partnership with Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) which developed the MN Great Outdoors website for the Minnesota DNR, Metropolitan Council, and Great Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission.

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