Where To Go Camping near the Twin Cities: Our 11 Favorite Spots

The Twin Cities natural beauty is one of our favorite things about living here, and what better way to explore mother nature than with a camping trip?

And who said that trip had to be very far?

While there’s technically only one campground within the Minneapolis and St. Paul city limits (we’ll get to that!), there’s tons of beautiful campsites within a short drive of the metro.

If you’re like us and love both camping and the Twin Cities, here are the 11 best spots to go camping near Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Map of Campgrounds near Minneapolis and St. Paul

All-Around Winner – William O’Brien State Park

Located about a one hour drive from Minneapolis and St. Paul, William O’Brien State Park ranks as our top choice for go-to camping near the Twin Cities.

Situated on the St. Croix River banks just north of Stillwater, the park is home to two large campgrounds and plenty of acres to spread out and enjoy a quick get-away. Of the 114 sites (with 71 including electric hookups), many offer scenic views of the area and are close to hiking trails.

Protip: The Riverway Campground provides the best campsites in the park, with some right on the St. Croix riverfront.

The Closest Camping in The Twin Cities – Lebanon Hills Campground

Lebanon Hills Camping Twin Cities

Looking to access the closest campground to the Twin Cities Metro? Look no further than the Lebanon Hills Campground on the border of St. Paul and Eagan.

Just 15 minutes from downtown St. Paul, it’s our recommendation for anyone looking to camp while they tour the rest of the Twin Cities area.

While Lebanon Hills offers plenty of hiking, paddling, and biking options, this is urban camping at its finest. Expect a little more traffic and airplane noise from MSP than the other campgrounds on this list.

Best for Hiking – Willow River State Park

If you’re like me, camping doesn’t just involve sitting in a lawn chair for the weekend. When given the option, our camping crew prefers great hiking along with our camping destinations.

Located 25 miles east of downtown St. Paul just outside Hudson, Wisconsin, Willow River State Park is one of the top hiking destinations in the Twin Cities area. You’ll find 13 miles of hiking trails departing directly from the campground area, the most popular of which travels along Willow River to Willow Falls.

However, Twin Cities campers should note that Wisconsin State Parks charge parking and higher fees for non-residents. So expect your stay in the campground here to be a bit more expensive if you live across the border.

Best for Testing New Gear or for Trying Backpacking – Lake Maria State Park

Have a new tent that you’re not too sure about? Looking for a spot to test out some new hiking boots? Need to figure out if you and your partner are up for a multi-day backpacking trip? Lake Maria State Park near Monticello is about 45 miles northwest of downtown Minneapolis, making it the perfect spot to test your new gear or your new camping companion!

All sites here are hike-in and just far enough to test out your sense of overnight adventure.

Protip: We especially love the lakeside sites along Bjorkland Lake!

Best for Fall Colors – Frontenac State Park

Located 1-hour drive south of the Twin Cities metro along the Mississippi River near Red Wing, you’ll find tiny (but mighty) Frontenac State Park.

The majestic limestone bluffs here overlook Lake Pepin and are one of our favorite places to view fall colors. From the river overlooks, you can see miles of Mississippi River bluffs and admire the foliage across the way into Wisconsin.

The campground here has 58 wooded sites that are spread out far enough you might even forget there are other campers around.

P.S. – We like this spot so much that we featured it in both our best day trips from Minneapolis / St. Paul article and our best road trips article.

Best for Camping with Little Kids – Lake Elmo Park Reserve

One of the closest campgrounds to the downtown metro area, Lake Elmo Park Reserve, is part of the Washington County Park System.

There’s two main reasons the 80 modern campsites and five hike-in sites snag our vote for the best camping with little kids:

  1. First, if the wheels fall off on your camping adventure in the middle of the night, it’s not too far to pack up and head home.
  2. Second, the wheels are not likely to fall off because there are tons of ways for kids to have fun at the park here!

Campers here have access to one of the best beaches in the Twin Cities, new playground equipment, access to biking and hiking trails, and park activities on weekends all summer long.

Best Spot to Camp with Pets – Cleary Lake Regional Park

We know plenty of furry friends that love to camp just as much as their humans. Cleary Lake Regional Park near Prior Lake is just a short 30-minute drive south from downtown Minneapolis and snags our vote for the best spot to camp with pets.

The park has a 28-acre off-leash dog park (one of the best dog parks in the Twin Cities!) near the campground and an area for Fido to take a swim in the lake.

Plus, at only $16 per night, there’s plenty of extra cash left in the wallet for extra dog treats!

Best for Paddle Trips – Wild River State Park

Located 50 miles northeast of the downtown Twin Cities metro area, Wild River State Park is a water lover’s paradise. The campground here lines the banks of the St. Croix River and is one of the best kayaking and canoeing destinations in the Twin Cities.

You’ll have the option to rent paddling equipment, including shuttle service up the river for half-day and full-day float trips back to the campground.

Best for Boating & Fishing – Ham Lake Campground

One of the few private campgrounds on this list, Ham Lake Campground, is about 30 minutes drive north of downtown Minneapolis & St. Paul.

The 95 campsites here are a popular destination for campers who plan to spend just as much time in the boat as in the campground.

You’ll also find resort events and themed weekends all summer long.

  • Address:  2400 Constance Blvd NE, Ham Lake, MN 55304
  • Website:  Ham Lake Resort
  • Reservations:  (800) 231-0425

Best for Wildlife -Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park was one of our first camping destinations when we moved to the Twin Cities and still one of our favorite spots to bring first-time camper friends.

Located 50 minutes south of the Twin Cities near Northfield, MN, we love coming here for the hiking, fall colors, and the chance to see wildlife. We almost always see white-tailed deer on our drive into the campground and find the birdwatching here to be top-notch!

Best for RV’s – Minneapolis Northwest KOA

It wouldn’t be a list of campgrounds without mentioning a KOA.

Twin Cities Minneapolis Northwest KOA is located about 20 minutes outside the Twin Cities metro near Maple Grove. It has everything travelers love about KOA options– big spots for RVs, an outdoor pool, mini-golf, and weekend resort activities for the kids.

If you’re in the south metro, the Twin Cities has a KOA option near Jordan, MN as well.

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