If you’ve got an adventurous spirit and are looking for a different kind of camping gateway, these seven hidden van camping gems in Minnesota should be on your bucket list.
The land of 10,000 Lakes has it all. It’s got breathtaking landscapes, pristine wilderness, and abundant outdoor recreation opportunities. It’s the perfect place to explore solo, with a partner, or with a family.
If you ask me, there’s no better way to see the countryside than van camping. You get to experience all the wonders of nature, and at the end of a long, active day, you retire to your warm van with all your creature comforts.
I’ve traveled around the US in my camper van, and one state I keep returning to is Minnesota.
1. Big Bog State Recreation Area
Big Bog State Recreation Area in northwestern Minnesota is one of the most unique areas I’ve ever explored. This park is the most expansive peat bogs in the lower 48 states, covering an area of 500 square miles.
The best way to see the bog is to take the 1-mile boardwalk hike (2 miles both ways). The Big Bog ecosystem is home to hundreds of unique plant and animal species, many on the endangered species list. The Purple Pitcher Plants were a sight to behold, with their leaves forming a trap of water and digestive juices luring unsuspecting critters to their deaths.
The Big Bog Recreation Area has 31 camping sites on the banks of the Tamarac River. You’ll find a convenient restroom/shower facility in the center of the campground. There are endless activities for nature-loving families, including hiking trails for all ages, fishing, paddling, boating, wildlife watching, and snow sports during the winter.
But what’s camping without a place to swim? My whole family loves the sandy beach at Upper Red Lake. The water is shallow and warm, ideal for the kids to splash in. Climbing the fire tower was also a fun way to tire everyone out while experiencing a breathtaking view of the surroundings. This campground is definitely on our repeat list!
2. Soudan Underground Mine State Park
If you want a van camping experience with a subterranean twist, head to Soudan Underground Mine State Park on Lake Vermilion in northeastern Minnesota. The campground has 32 stunning, spacious sites surrounded by towering pines. It’s a haven for active families as it’s got hiking trails, biking, kayaking, fishing, and viewing wildlife.
One of the main attractions, of course, is the Soudan Underground Mine, which offers three tours:
- The Underground Mine Tour takes you 2341 feet beneath the surface in a metal cage to see the iron ore mine, You’ll hear the miners’ stories from days gone by.
- The Walking Drift Tour takes you on a ¾ mile walk, the same route miners took to work in bygone eras. We thoroughly enjoyed looking for geological clues and discovering the mining tools previously used by the miners.
- The Secrets of The Deep Science Tour explores the former physics lab. Participants learn about the way scientists are using bacteria from the mine to treat bat diseases, develop alternative energy sources, and purify water.
3. Myre-Big Island State Park
Myre-Big Island State Park in southern Minnesota has a wetland wonderland that begs to be explored, even if you need to rent a campervan to do so. I love this park because it boasts such a diverse ecosystem. You can spend hours (or days) exploring the wetlands, prairies, and hardwood forests. The campsites near Albert Lea Lake are my favorite because they’re so picturesque. Plus there’s birdwatching, canoeing, fishing, and hiking on your doorstep.
At the center of the park is Big Island, a 117-acre forested area that’s thick with old hardwood trees. There’s also wildlife galore! You’ll spot white pelicans, raccoons, and white-tailed deer, among many other critters who call it home.
4. Franz Jevne State Park
Located on the Minnesota-Ontario border, Franz Jevne State Park is the best destination if you’re looking for a cross-border camping adventure like no other. The park winds along the Rainy River, so you have the unique opportunity to camp on the shores of an international waterway. You get to enjoy panoramic views of Minnesota and Canada at the same time. And you can take advantage of the rich fishing waters, too.
One of the reasons my partner and I prefer this secluded campground is its quietness. While it’s sometimes nice to have many amenities and activities, enjoying the beauty of nature in birdwatching, hiking, stargazing, fishing, and canoeing is good for the soul.
5. Whitewater State Park
Whitewater State Park lies about 30 miles south of Rochester. It is home to Trout Run Creek, a superb fishing spot, as well as the Whitewater River, which is perfect for water activities. There’s also a delightful swimming beach. And the park is home to tons of wildlife and birds, including the awe-inspiring bald eagle.
If you’re a hiker of any skill level, you won’t be disappointed. The park has a variety of limestone trailheads, ranging from easy to challenging, and the views from the trails are spectacular. With an abundance of campsites, Whitewater is a great stop for van camping in Minnesota.
6. Gooseberry Falls State Park
If you love waterfalls, you need to pay a visit to Gooseberry Falls State Park. The park is located in Two Harbors and boasts stunning waterfalls, trails for hikers of all levels, and myriad species of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. The area is known for its superb trout fishing spots, too, so casting a line is always fun.
If you enjoy icy adventures, the park is also open in winter. It has snowmobile trails and 12 miles of cross-country skiing. You can also pull your camper van into the campground all winter as long as you are self contained.
Waterfall lovers will get a kick out of the little trails that lead to the falls. You can walk around on the rocks or take a dip in the pools beneath. Although it’s a very popular park all year round, I can guarantee you that it’s well worth the visit.
7. Blue Mounds State Park
A southwestern Minnesota natural wonder, Blue Mounds State Park spoils you with its natural beauty. One of its most impressive attractions is the 100-foot Sioux Quartzite cliff. There are 15 miles of hiking trails leading to the cliff-top, and once you reach the summit, you get to overlook the prairies and hopefully spot the resident herd of bison.
I’ve spotted a lot of other animals in the park, too, including coyotes and deer. And there’s decent birdwatching if you prefer winged creatures over four-legged ones.
With rock climbing, mountain biking, fishing, boating, paddling, swimming, and snow sports in winter, this park is perfect for anyone active who loves the great outdoors.
Memory-Making Adventures While Van Camping in Minnesota
Whether you’ve got a brand-new RV or you’re camping in a retro VW bus, Minnesota’s state and national parks deliver a diverse range of experiences. Enjoy adventures from remote wilderness retreats to bog adventures and jaw-dropping waterfalls.
If you’re ready for a real van camping adventure, I recommend you venture off the beaten path and explore the Land of 10,000 Lakes.