Holiday weekend campsites in short supply — but not entirely booked — at Minnesota state parks

Sunset over a lake
Sunset over Lake Bronson at northwest Minnesota's Lake Bronson State Park in August. Sunsets at the time were affected by wildfire smoke in the atmosphere.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News 2021

If warmer weather in the forecast has you thinking about a spur-of-the-moment holiday weekend camping trip to a Minnesota state park, you're not completely out of luck — but you'll have to do some searching to find an open site.

The Department of Natural Resources reported earlier this week that of the approximately 4,500 state park campsites in the state, only about 177 were available for the full three-night Memorial Day weekend, starting Friday night — a number that's likely now somewhat lower.

Of those available sites, 117 were drive-in sites and 60 were for equestrian campers.

A tent at a campsite
A tent at a campsite in Lake Bronson State Park in northwest Minnesota in August 2021.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News

Lake Bronson State Park in far northwest Minnesota had the most availability earlier this week, with 77 open drive-in sites. Zippel Bay State Park on Lake of the Woods had 23 open sites.

A handful of sites also remained open for the weekend at Hayes Lake, Lake Bemidji, Maplewood, McCarthy Beach and Old Mill state parks.

Of those 117 open drive-in sites earlier this week, the DNR reported just four were ones with electricity.

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Hike-in, cart-in and paddle-in sites were fully booked for weekend-long stays at state parks in Minnesota.

If you’re looking to camp for only one or two nights this weekend, there are more options available, at more parks.

Find updated availability and reservation information here.

That reservation site also offers a notification feature, to let users know if there's a campground reservation cancellation for a park they're interested in.

Spring wildflowers in Minnesota
Bluebells in bloom on May 10 at Carley State Park near Plainview, Minn.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News file

Summer outlook

Looking beyond the Memorial Day weekend, campsites may be hard to come by at times through the summer at popular state parks, as an increase in visitors seen since the start of the pandemic shows no sign of slowing down.

But the DNR has some suggestions for parks that see less traffic but offer great opportunities to get outdoors.

Those include the previously mentioned Lake Bronson, Hayes Lake and Old Mill state parks in northwest Minnesota, as well as George Crosby-Manitou State Park on the North Shore, Carley State Park in southeast Minnesota and Kilen Woods State Park in southwest Minnesota.

And there are plenty of options beyond state parks. There are many private campgrounds across the state, and camping is allowed in some city and county parks.

State forest campgrounds generally have fewer amenities than state parks, but those sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

There also are campgrounds in the Superior National Forest and Chippewa National Forest in northern Minnesota.

And if you’re new to camping, the DNR has compiled some tips to help beginners get started on an overnight outdoor adventure.