Camping- without making a reservation


Are you like us? Do you hate making reservations for, well, pretty much anything, but most of all camping? Do you despise the fact that your summertime weekend camping trip has to be scheduled and booked by mid-January so you can even get a spot? Yeah, that’s lame, and Minnesota is notorious for its campgrounds booking up before summer even starts.

Let’s be real: Isn’t at least part of the spirit of camping in the rejection of modern social norms? When people talk about the virtues of camping the focus seems to be on a disconnect from technology, but really camping’s a break from much more of our modern human conventions and conveniences. That’s why it can seem so odd when camping requires a reservation the way a hotel, or restaurant, or golf course does. Ew.

For that reason, we at MNAdventure have compiled a short list of ways to go camping without a reservation. Here’s a few ideas to escape crowded campgrounds without any spaces: 

Hike-in sites: Several campgrounds have hike-in sites that are far less used than typical campgrounds. George H. Crosby-Manitou state park was recently visited by MNAdventure friends and looks fantastic. They hiked in with their kids and dogs and had a great time. They only saw a few other people and camped by a beautiful river with waterfalls to swim in. There’s a list of state parks with hike-in, cart-in, and remote campsites here. Hiking in adds a challenge but hey, you’re camping. Didn’t you want a little challenge?

Look beyond the state park: You can camp pretty much anywhere in a state forest. The state asks that you use a campsite, but you can legally camp anywhere so long as you do it safely and practice leave-no-trace camping. Check it outThe MNAdventure team has camped at Wealthwood on kiting trips to Mille Lacs. Go on Google Maps, look for a forest road and go exploring.

Plus, there’s a ton of county-run parks, Corps of Engineers campgrounds and more that are lesser-known and often therefore lesser-attended. You might find your own secret campground.

Non-reservable sites: This is a no-brainer. There’s plenty of non-reservable sites at state park campgrounds, and often you can call the campground and ask what’s going to open up the next morning. Often they’ll even give you a time frame for when you need to get there to get a site. But, it’s a less reliable alternative than some of the others we’ve listed.

Embrace the shoulder season: Summertime is buggy. It’s hot. Muggy. Invest in a warmer sleeping bag (or toss an extra blanket in your gear) and hit the campgrounds before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. For some reason, some people don’t even think about camping a few weeks before or after the official “summer” season, and that makes it your opportunity. In October reservations really start to drop off.

There are probably more ways to go camping without making a reservation somewhere- but this should get you started.

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