Minnesota is home to many great summer escapes. Many people in the state love heading north to the lake or to a sunny campsite. But why wait until summer to plan a camping adventure? Minnesota is home to many state parks where you can camp no matter the season. Each park offers a variety of wildlife and winter activities, so you’ll never be bored. Read on to see which Minnesota state parks are the favorites for winter camping and activities.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Bear Head Lake State Park - Ely
Located in the beautiful town of Ely, Bear Head Lake State Park is a popular spot for camping in the warmer months. But did you know that there is plenty to do here even when the weather dips below zero? In the fall, the park is awash with color. And in winter, this park offers 7 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails as well as snowshoeing available throughout the park. If you’ve got your snowmobile all gassed up, there are 4.5 miles of trails, with a 1-mile spur connecting to the Taconite Trail, a 165 mile groomed trail.
Address: 9301 Bear Head State Park Road, Ely, MN.
2. William O'Brien State Park - Marine on St. Croix
Located on the banks of the St. Croix River, William O’Brien is the perfect park for anglers, campers, and hikers alike. Hikers can explore the park’s rolling, wooded hills for hours, possibly spotting wildlife along the way. For anglers, the channels of the St. Croix provides the opportunity for catching northerns, walleye, bass, and trout. There is plenty of lodging at William O’Brien State Park, with 4 camper cabins and over 100 campsites, many offering electricity. In the colder months, there is one campsite open for those prepared enough for winter camping. Camper cabins are also available for the season.
Address: 16821 O'Brien Trail North, Marine on St. Croix, MN.
3. Minneopa State Park - Mankato
Perhaps one of Minnesota’s most unique state parks, Minneopa is beautiful no matter the season. If you’re looking for something to do after a day of winter activities, be sure to check out the buffalo that are free to roam the more than 300 acres. While you can’t snowshoe within the buffalo range area, there are trails around the range for your pleasure. Most park visitors come in the summer to see the beautiful 40-foot waterfall, but this sight is equally beautiful in the winter. There is even a year-round camper available for those who want to experience this park overnight in the winter season.
Address: 54497 Gadwall Road, Mankato, MN.
4. Myre-Big Island State Park - Albert Lea
Book early if you’re hoping to score a camper cabin at Myre-Big Island State Park! Only one cabin is available during the winter months, and only Thursday-Sunday. There are also four tent-only sites and four additional RV sites with hookups. Compared to the busy season, you’ll have the park almost entirely to yourself. When you arrive, you’ll have access to 7 miles of groomed snowmobile trails that connect to the trail system in Freeborn County. Bird watching and snowshoeing are other popular activities. No matter the season, you’re sure to have a wonderful time.
Address: 19499 780th Avenue, Albert Lea, MN.
5. Itasca State Park - Park Rapids
A must-see park in any season, Itasca State Park is stunning in every month of the year. With the trees turning red and gold or blanketed in snow, and the sight of the Mighty Mississippi starting its winding run to the Gulf, Minnesota’s oldest state park cannot be beaten. Winter features picturesque snowscapes easily viewed by ski, snowmobile or snowshoe. Don’t forget your ice fishing gear! Lake Itasca is a great place to try to get a crappie to bite.
Address: 36750 Main Park Drive, Park Rapids, MN.
6. Afton State Park - Hastings
Afton State Park is a beautiful spot all year long, but it takes on a magical feel in wintertime. Located just 30 minutes from the Twin Cities, Afton State Park is a snowshoe enthusiast’s delight. This park offers 12 gorgeous miles of snowshoe trails. There are even rentals for those who want to try the hobby for the first time. In addition to the snowshoes, Afton State Park also offers 12 miles of cross-country ski trails with 2.5 miles for beginners. Make sure you reserve your winter camping accommodations in advance. There are seven two-person yurts, and they fill up fast!
Address: 6959 Peller Avenue South, Hastings, MN.
7. Lake Bemidji State Park - Bemidji
Many of Minnesota’s state parks on situated on lakes and rivers. Lake Bemidji State Park, located 4.5 hours north of the Twin Cities, is one of the best. This park offers visitors swimming, boating, fishing, birdwatching, hiking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and many other seasonal activities. Spring is a favorite time for hikers. Take the 1-mile hike to the boardwalk that leads into the bog. From late May through mid-July, you’ll find orchids in peak blooming season, including the showy lady slippers. And when you’re done for the day, pitch a tent near the lake, lay back, and watch the stars come out.
Address: 3401 State Park Road Northeast, Bemidji, MN.
8. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park - Two Harbors
One of Minnesota’s most popular state parks, Split Rock Lighthouse is a must-visit in every season. In warmer months, try out the biking trails or take a long hike with Lake Superior views. In winter, strap on the snowshoes and start exploring! Then, warm up in the enclosed picnic shelter that doubles as a warming house. This park is full of fun in all seasons, and you can even pitch a tent all year. Just make sure you’re prepared when the temperature dips!
Address: 3755 Split Rock Lighthouse Road, Two Harbors, MN.
9. Whitewater State Park - Altura
Situated on limestone bluffs in 2,700 acres of wilderness, Whitewater State Park is a hiker’s paradise! This park can accommodate hikers of any skill level with 10 miles of beginner, intermediate, and advanced trails. If you love fishing, don’t forget your rod! Anglers can fish the spring-fed Whitewater River and Trout Run Creek for fishing varieties of yummy trout. The noticeable lack of mosquitoes makes Whitewater State Park great for camping. There are almost 150 drive-in sites and 87 sites offering electricity. Winter campsites are available, and they’ll give you a glimpse of this park that most never see. All in all, this little-known park is a treat every season of the year.
Address: 19041 Highway 74, Altura, MN.
No matter which Minnesota state park you choose this winter, you’re sure to find something special. Let us know below how your winter camping trips pan out!