Minnesota state park campsites booking fast
DULUTH — If you're hoping for a campsite at Gooseberry Falls State Park over Memorial Day weekend, you're probably out of luck.
Same for Jay Cooke, Split Rock, Tettegouche and most of the region's other most popular state park campgrounds — they're 100 percent booked for the three-day, unofficial opening of the summer camping season.
But if you're willing to drive a little and maybe try some new locations, there are still available campsites in the state park system for the upcoming long weekend.
For example, as of last week, about half the 28 campsites at Schoolcraft State Park campground were still available for Memorial Day Weekend.
Never heard of it? Just west of Grand Rapids on the Mississippi River, the park is named for Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who charted the headwaters of the Mississippi River with Anishinabe guide Ozawindib. The park features quiet hiking trails leading through a virgin pine forest along with boat access to the Mississippi and Vermillion Rivers.
As of midweek, several sites also remained available for Memorial Day weekend at Hayes Lake State Park near Roseau in northwestern Minnesota. The park features fishing, swimming and canoeing in the lake and the park's hiking trails connect with trails in nearby Beltrami Island State Forest.
Zippel Bay State Park on giant Lake of the Woods, with its sand beaches and great walleye fishing, also had numerous drive-in sites available. Savanna Portage State Park near McGregor had a few hike-in, backpacking campsites available.
Have two or three families that want to camp together? Two of the three group camps at Lake Vermilion State Park near Tower — the state's newest state park campground — were still available at midweek with large, spacious sites and shared picnic enclosures. They can each take up to 30 people and six vehicles. Group camps are perfect for family reunions, scout troops and groups that want to set up multiple tents (and in some cases, campers) in close proximity to one another.
Statewide, more than 200 campsites are available in the state park system, the DNR reported Thursday, plus another 100 sites set aside for horseback camping.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources now requires reservations for all state park campground sites; none are left for drive-up visitors. But Amy Barrett, spokeswoman for the DNR's Parks and Trails Division, has some tips.
"We do get cancellations, so keep checking. You never know when you might get lucky and be the first person to check after someone cancels,'' Barrett said.
Barrett also suggested, if possible, being flexible with your dates. Maybe go camping Wednesday through Friday, or Sunday through Tuesday, if your schedule allows. (A quick check late last week showed every state park in the region had campsites available during weekdays for the next two weeks.)
Barrett said reservations are accepted up to one year in advance for each campsite. So if if you're a confirmed camper you can reserve a site for Memorial Day weekend 2019, starting Saturday.
"And now's a good time to check for availability for Fourth of July and Labor Day this year. The earlier the better,'' Barrett said. (Both Jay Cooke and Crosby-Manitou, for example, had campsites available over Fourth of July as of midweek. But hurry — they were going fast.)
Park popularity going up
Sales of annual state park permits continue to rise, up 4.3 percent to 182,697 last year even with a price increase, according to data the DNR provided the News Tribune. Since 2012, sales of annual state park permits have increased 37 percent.
State park camper cabins
Several Minnesota state parks, including Bear Head Lake, Savanna Portage, Jay Cooke and vanning in northeastern MInnesota, have rentable camper cabins — small rustic cabins that can take the place of a tent for people who want more structure.
Basic cabins are $55 per night weekdays; $65 on weekends. Cabins with electricity are $60 per night weekdays; $70 weekends. All camper cabins are reserved for Memorial Day weekend, but most have available weekday dates in coming weeks.
State Forest campsites
There are 46 state forest campgrounds in Minnesota state forests (most of them in northeastern Minnesota) and all the sites are on a first-come, first-served basis with no reservations, so you will have to stop by to see if space is available.
They tend to be a it more primitive than state park campgrounds and do not have resident managers, organized nature programs or modern facilities such as showers and flush toilets. They do have cleared tent or campers areas, vault (pit) toilets, garbage cans, drinking water, fire rings and picnic tables.
To see where the state forest campgrounds are located, go to dnr.state.mn.us/state_forests and click on "location map." Registration is required via envelopes provided at each campground. NIghtly camping is $14; $50 for a group site.
Firewood rules tightened
In an effort to keep emerald ash borer out of state parks, the DNR has tightened restrictions on the use of firewood in state park and state forest campgrounds.
The state used to allow firewood in parks and forests from anywhere within 50 miles. But as the bugs expand their range, the DNR now wants campers to buy their wood at the park they are going to burn it, or from a nearby, approved vendor. If you don't buy it at the park, the vendor has to provide proof it is non-ash wood and was harvested in the same county as the campground you burn it in. Approved firewood will be certified, either by the state or federal department of agriculture, and will be labeled with a seal from one of those two agencies.
Wisconsin state campgrounds in the region are already booked for the long weekend, including Pattison State Park, Amnicon Falls State Park, Gov. Knowles State Forest and Copper Range and Brule River State Forest campgrounds. But some sites are reserved on a first-come, first served basis, so call ahead. All of them have openings during weekdays in coming weeks. Wisconsin campsites can be reserved up to 11 months in advance at wisconsinstateparks.reserveamerica.com.
Minnesota state park camping
• To check for Minnesota state park campground availability and to make reservations got 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 what campgrounds have openings.
• You can make a reservation right on the website or call 866-857-2757. There is $7 fee to make a reservation online and $10 to make a reservation by phone. There is no fee to make a same-day reservation.
• 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 $15 to $23 per night, depending on amenities like flush toilets and showers. Add $8 per night for electric hookup where available and $6 per night for water and sewer hookup where available.
• Group campsites, for up to 30 people and six vehicles, range from $50 to $250 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.