9+ Best Places for Free Dispersed Camping in Minnesota

Minnesota is definitely in the running for my favorite state for dispersed camping in the Midwest.

Thanks to two national forests (Chippewa and Superior), 59 state forests, and countless city park and county park campgrounds, the North Star State has a ton of free campsites to choose from, including countless dispersed campsites.

Today, I break down my 9 favorite free campsites, including dispersed campsites, in Minnesota to help you plan your next trip.

Related Post: The Best Free Campsites in Michigan

Please always follow the Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping, especially packing out all of your trash, including human waste.

Best Free Campsites in Minnesota

Jump down to the free campsite you want to learn more about:

Or, use our Minnesota free camping map to find a free campsite near your destination.

My Favorite Free Campsites in Minnesota

Minnesota is home to dozens upon dozens of great free campsites – but here are 9 of my personal favorites to help you start your search!

Six Mile Lake (Chippewa National Forest)

Near Deer River

Dispersed camping in Minnesota just doesn’t get much better than Chippewa National Forest.

Although I focus specifically on Six Mile Lake, part of the Deer River Dispersed Camping Area, here, just know that the national forest is home to over one hundred additional designated dispersed campsites spread across five official dispersed camping areas. 

So, what’s so special about Six Mile Lake? For starters, the six designated campsites are level and spacious with enough room for RVs and trailers of all sizes.

Better yet, the lake itself is just steps away and is a fantastic spot for boating, fishing, and birding. Make sure you get down to the lake for sunrise or sunset at least once. 

It wasn’t very busy here on my last visit in the middle of summer. However, I did camp here during the week – never on the weekend. If all six campsites are full, it looks like there are another half dozen non-official pullouts where dispersed camping is allowed.

What I Like:

Each campsite is quite private with a lot of space between campsites. The lake takes less than a minute to walk to and provides ample recreational opportunities. The unpaved access road is typically well-maintained and there’s enough room here for even the biggest rigs.

What I Don’t Like:

Not much to complain about here aside from the mosquitos – but you’ve just got to expect skeeters when dispersed camping in Minnesota, especially in summer. 

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Designated dispersed camping in Chippewa National Forest is also available in the Blackduck Area, Cass Lake Area, Marcell Area, and Walker Area. Dispersed camping outside of designated dispersed campsites is also allowed throughout most of the national forest!

More Info:

Six Mile Lake is part of Chippewa National Forest.

Designated dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Deer River District Office: (218) 246-2123

GPS: 47.311597, -94.124080

Cedar Bay Campground (Cloquet Valley State Forest)

Near Duluth

Just an hour north of Twin Ports, there’s no denying Cedar Bay Campground is one of the best spots for free camping near Duluth. 

Although I believe it used to be an official campground sometime in the past, it’s now an unofficial and primitive dispersed camping area with few amenities. 

Unlike most dispersed campsites, a few of the campsites here do have metal fire pits with fire grates, but most are little more than handmade rock fire rings.

The gravel access road isn’t terribly rough, but is minimally maintained. Expect washboarding and occasional potholes. Low hanging branches are challenging to avoid, especially in RVs or pulling a trailer. 

The views here are quintessential Minnesota with many campsites right on Bear Lake itself, offering easy access for fishing, swimming, and paddling.

What I Like:

Just an hour from Duluth but extremely remote. Never too busy on my past visits, even during the peak of summer. Several campsites located just steps from the lake itself. 

What I Don’t Like:

Not to beat a dead horse here – but the mosquitos and bugs are horrendous in the summer. I’m not from Minnesota, so this might not be as big of an issue if you’re from the Upper Midwest. 

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Dispersed camping is allowed throughout most of Cloquet Valley State Forest. I haven’t yet had time to explore elsewhere in person, although browsing the area with Satellite View on Google Maps shows lots of potential options. I believe Carrol Truck Trail is another known spot but I haven’t been there yet myself.

More Info:

Cedar Bay Campground is part of Cloquet Valley State Forest.

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: (651) 296-6157

GPS: 47.204027, -91.922563

Harriet Lake Rustic Campground (Superior National Forest)

Near Isabella 

Superior National Forest is the only place on par with Chippewa National Forest for dispersed camping in Minnesota. 

Although there are hundreds of campsites to choose from (for both dispersed camping and in free campgrounds), I recommend starting your search at Harriet Lake Rustic Campground.

This small primitive camping area is more akin to designated dispersed camping than an actual campground. Each of the six marked campsites does have a picnic table and fire ring but there is little in the way of amenities beyond that (a vault toilet is available). 

The camping area at Harriet Lake is spacious and reasonably level. The access roads are unpaved but well-maintained. These factors make this a great place for boondocking in RVs and trailers of all sizes.

Almost all of the campsites have at least peekaboo views of the lake. And the boat launch as well as fishing access are just steps away. Please remember to pack out all fish remains from cleaning fish as well as all your trash!

What I Like:

Extremely beautiful area with decent privacy between campsites. If all six designated campsites are full, I believe you’re allowed to dispersed camp here, as long as you’re not impeding traffic.

What I Don’t Like:

Fairly small and it does get busy on summer weekends. Like most of Minnesota, the bugs are bad in the summer, especially if you’re from out of state and not used to them. 

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

The USFS provides a ton of information for dispersed camping in Superior National Forest on their website (much more than for other national forests).

A few of my additional favorite dispersed campsites in the Tofte Ranger District (the same ranger district as Harriet Lake) are Hogback Lake Rustic Campground and Whitefish Lake Rustic Campground

I believe dispersed camping is allowed pretty much anywhere outside of developed sites in Superior National Forest, aside from within the borders of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

More Info:

Harriet Lake Rustic Campground is part of Superior National Forest.

Free camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Tofte Ranger District: (218) 663-7060

GPS: 47.657875, -91.118252

Itasca County Recreation Sites (Itasca County)

Itasca County 

Itasca County offers a unique take on dispersed camping in Minnesota. 

Their County Park System maintains 11 designated dispersed camping areas near public water accesses on popular lakes in the county.

Although these recreation sites were designed with boaters, fishers, and hunters in mind, anyone is free to use them for free for up to 14 days at a time. 

You’ll find Itasca County dispersed recreation sites at Crooked Lake, Erskine Lake, Island/Hay Lake, Kelly Lake, Little White Fish Lake, Long Lake, Nickel Lake, Scooty Lake, Sherry Lake, Sucker Lake, and Wolf Lake.

Each camping area is quite different, although most are quite small. Crooked Lake and Wolf Lake both have three campsites each while all the other areas have just one campsite.

These Itasca County dispersed campsites are better suited to tent camping (or camping in a van or other passenger vehicle). A handful will accommodate small to medium sized trailers and RVs. I believe Kelly Lake and Scooty Lake are best for boondocking in such rigs. 

The coordinates listed in our map above and in the GPS section below will direct you towards Wolf Lake, my favorite campsite of the bunch. 

What I Like:

Very quiet, very remote, very beautiful. These recreation sites get a lot of day-use traffic but are very peaceful at night, especially since most only have one campsite each. I believe all of these campsites have fire rings and a nearby vault toilet. 

What I Don’t Like:

These campsites can be a little tricky to find. Coordinates aren’t listed on the Itasca County website nor do most of the campsites show up on Google Maps. More difficult still, most of these recreation sites don’t even have road signs directing you to them once you’re close. 

On top of that, the access roads are hit or miss. Early in the season and late in the year, especially, you’ll often find them extremely muddy and rutted – sometimes to the point of impassibility. 

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

You’ll already have your hands full choosing between Itasca County’s 11 designated dispersed camping areas.

More Info:

Itasca County Recreation Sites are managed by Itasca County.

Designated dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Itasca County Land Department: (218) 327-2855

GPS: 47.561256, -93.263096

Cascade River Rustic Campground (Superior National Forest)

Near Grand Marais 

If I had to choose, I’d most likely select Cascade River Rustic Campground as my very favorite free campsite in Minnesota. 

With that said, it’s certainly not for everyone. It’s small, quite remote, and very primitive. Small RVs and trailers can make it in, but it’s better left to vans, passenger vehicles, and tents.

Part of what I love about Cascade River Rustic Campground is its location. It’s just a half hour to Grand Marias (one of my favorite small towns in Minnesota). It’s also an hour to Grand Portage as well as a short drive to the 57 mile long Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway which stretches from Lake Superior up to Saganaga Lake. 

As for the campground itself, it’s tucked away in thick woods. Each of the, I believe, four campsites offers plenty of privacy from other campers. Best of all, the campground is right on the river (with site #1 having the best river access). 

Although the forest service states there are no amenities here on the official webpage for the campground, each of the four campsites does have a picnic table and fire ring. There are also vault toilets onsite. 

What I Like:

Very remote. Peaceful and quiet. Excellent fishing in nearby Cascade River (a valid fishing license is required with an extra stamp for trout fishing). Campsite #1 is my favorite by far. It’s the closest to the river as well as the largest and most private. 

What I Don’t Like:

Not much to complain about here. My only complaint is that each of the campsites (except for #1) is fairly close to the campground road. While there’s plenty of privacy between campsites, there’s little to be had from those driving past or walking by.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

I’m not aware of any other free campsites in the immediate vicinity, although I do believe dispersed camping is allowed throughout much of this area. A little farther away is Baker Lake Rustic Campground, a great alternative. 

More Info:

Cascade River Rustic Campground is part of Superior National Forest

Free camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Gunflint Ranger District: (218) 387-1750

GPS: 47.832444, -90.529792

Old Crossing Treaty Park (Red Lake County)

Near Red Lake Falls

Although it’s located in Minnesota, Old Crossing Memorial Park is my favorite place to camp when visiting Grand Forks in nearby North Dakota.

This free campground – which I believe is managed by Red Lake County – is about 15 minutes from both Red Lake Falls and Crookston. Grand Forks is around a half hour to 45 minutes away.

There are no designated campsites here. It’s basically just a large grassy area (sort of like a city park or county park that allows camping), although most campers seem to set up camp near one of the several shade trees.

You’re welcome to camp just about anywhere, including right beside the beautiful Red Lake River (just be careful of mud). But there are a handful of campsites with picnic tables and fire rings. Other amenities include two vault toilets and a water pump.

Old Crossing Treaty Park is flat and wide open. It’s perfect for RVs and trailers of all sizes. In fact, this might just be one of the best places for boondocking in Minnesota, period.

I’m not sure of this park’s official name, but it’s also commonly called “Old Crossing Treaty Memorial Park.”

What I Like:

Just steps from the beautiful Red Lake River. Very well-maintained, including regularly cut grass. Lots of room for even the longest RVs and trailers. Very quiet, except for summer weekends and holidays. 

What I Don’t Like:

Not the spot to camp if you want to be in the wilderness. This is definitely a free campground rather than the usual dispersed campsites we typically recommend. 

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

I’m not aware of any other free camping in this part of Minnesota.

More Info:

I believe Old Crossing Treaty Park is managed by Red Lake County.

I’m not sure how many days you can camp here at a time.

I’m also not sure of a good contact phone number.

GPS: 47.862145, -96.427760

Related Post: The Best Free Campsites in North Dakota

Rum River State Forest (Michigan DNR)

Near Twin Cities

Rum River State Forest is my go-to for free camping near Minneapolis-Saint Paul. 

Just an hour and a half north of the Twin Cities, this expansive state forest is also just under two hours from Duluth and less than an hour from Saint Cloud.

What I love about camping here is just how many campsites there are to choose from. As long as you’re at least one mile away from a designated campground, you can dispersed camp just about anywhere.

A great place to start your search is just south of the South Unit’s northern boundary along Game Refuge Road south of 280th Street. There are several pullouts just off the main access road that make perfect campsites (most have handmade rock fire rings). 

Although many of these campsites accommodate RVs and trailers of all sizes, very big rigs should stick to the first handful of campsites. If you are in a passenger vehicle, I strongly suggest driving in a bit to find a more private spot to set up.

In my experience, Rum River State Forest is surprisingly mellow. Crowds are minimal, although they do tend to pick up during hunting season.

What I Like:

Easy to reach from Twin Cities, Duluth, and Saint Cloud. Comparatively light usage with lots of room to spread out and explore.

What I Dislike:

This is tick central in the summer months. Keep an eye out, especially if you have small children or pets. Hunting is popular here, so expect to hear occasional gunfire in the distance if you stay during hunting season.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Sand Dunes State Forest closer to Minneapolis is another option, although it’s something of a local party spot, so expect a rowdy atmosphere if you do camp here.

More Info:

Rum River State Forest is managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time in summer and 21 days in winter.

Call the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: (651) 296-6157

GPS: 45.949219, -93.571105

Clear Lake Park (Sibley County Parks & Recreation)

Sibley County

Clear Lake Park is the epitome of free city park camping in the Midwest.

Located just an hour and a half southwest of Minneapolis, this free county park campground makes an ideal stopover for those traveling through the central part of the state.

Of course, as a county park, camping here isn’t for those looking for a primitive wilderness experience. However, the campground is forested and set on the peaceful Clear Lake.

I believe there are about a dozen campsites with lake views and easy access as well as several additional campsites a bit farther away. Most of these campsites are suitable for RVs and trailers, although big rigs should select one of the larger spots to avoid low hanging branches.

Although camping here is free, a $10 nightly donation is suggested. You must also call the Sibley County Sheriff’s office ahead of time to let them know you’ll be camping here. 

What I Like:

Beautiful views and extremely quaint. Surrounded by farmland. Great fishing, swimming, and boating. Good for even the biggest rigs. Well-kept grass for tent camping. Feels very safe and is regularly patrolled by the sheriff. 

What I Dislike:

Fills up quickly in the summertime, although I believe there is an overflow camping area. Lots of mosquitos as is expected when camping by any lake in Minnesota. 

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

There are a handful of similar city or county parks nearby. Franklin City Campground offers free camping as does High Island Creek Park in Henderson (also part of Sibley County). 

More Info:

Clear Lake Park is managed by Sibley County.

I’m not 100% sure how long camping is allowed. 

Call the Sibley County Sheriff’s Office: (507) 237-4330

GPS: 44.464570, -94.510825

Nelson Park (Koochiching County Parks & Recreation)

Near Baudette 

Nelson Park is an excellent spot for boondocking in Minnesota’s far northern reaches.

Set on the Rainy River (which separates the United States from Canada), this small free campground is something of a hidden gem, in my opinion. 

I believe Nelson Park is a county park run by Koochiching County – and it feels as such. It’s very well-maintained with lots of open grass for tent camping. Plenty of trees offer shade and a little bit of privacy.

Amenities are limited but you will find picnic tables and fire pits at each campsite. The campground itself also has vault toilets and garbage cans as well as a boat launch and playground. 

Nelson Park is ideal for RVs and trailers. Several of the campsites can accommodate even the biggest rigs. However, it’s smart to scout ahead on foot before driving in as a few areas have somewhat tight corners as well as limited turnaround space if all the campsites are full.

What I Like:

Peaceful and relaxing setting right on the Rainy River. Many campsites have great views of the river with Canada on the other side. Clean and well-maintained.

What I Dislike:

Non-campers often park their vehicles in the campsites overnight. This includes empty RVs and trailers as well as passenger vehicles and boat trailers. I’m not sure why this isn’t enforced, but it can sometimes make it hard to snag a spot for the night during the busy summer months.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

This is another part of Minnesota with limited free camping options. I’m not aware of any others in the vicinity. Please let me know if you find another free campsite near Baudette. 

More Info:

Nelson Park is managed by Koochiching County.

Free camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

I’m not aware of a good contact phone number.

GPS: 44.464570, -94.510825

How to Find Even More Free Camping in Minnesota

Waterfall in the forest in Minnesota.

If my 9 favorite free campsites in Minnesota just don’t cut it for your trip, here are a few additional tips on how to find other free campsites near you:

  • Online Maps – Avenza Maps and Gaia GPS are invaluable when scouting out dispersed campsites of your own. Even Google Maps Satellite View can help you pinpoint potential sites, although it’s not quite as helpful. 
  • MVUMs – Avenza Maps is a great source of Motor Vehicle Use Maps for your smartphone (downloadable for offline use). However, I prefer picking up paper copies of MVUMs at the nearest ranger station. 
  • Rangers – While you’re at the ranger station picking up MVUMs, don’t be afraid to ask for dispersed camping recommendations. In fact, this is the very best way to get the most up-to-date recommendations that best fit your individual needs and preferences. 

Still not satisfied? Additional free camping options include blacktop boondocking (i.e. overnight parking in a Walmart or other store parking lot), RV camping in a casino parking lot, or even stealth camping in a pinch.

Related Post: Find Free Campsites With These Apps

Minnesota Dispersed Camping Rules and Regulations

Trees in a forest in Minnesota glowing at sunset.

Please always follow the Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping.

First and foremost, this means packing out all of your trash. Most dispersed campsites in Minnesota don’t have trash cans. Better yet, don’t only pack out your own trash, but leave your campsite even cleaner than it was when you arrived.

Along these same lines, it’s very important to properly dispose of human waste. While most public lands in Minnesota still allow you to bury your waste in a cat hole, we strongly encourage you to pack out your waste in a WAG bag or with a portable camping toilet.

Just as important is following all area rules. At many designated dispersed campsites and free campgrounds, this information is posed. At true dispersed campsites, you’ll need to be aware of any regulations going in. 

Typically, dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time in Minnesota. Campfires are sometimes banned, especially during the peak of summer. Most areas don’t allow cutting live trees or constructing “improvements” at your campsite (like trenches or rock fire rings). 

Don’t be afraid to call or visit the nearest ranger station for a rundown of the area rules and information on current closures/restrictions if you’re unable to find this information online.

Related Post: The Best Free Campsites in Wisconsin

Let Us Know If You Have Questions!

Hopefully, my Minnesota free camping recommendations give you a push in the right direction.

But, if you still have dispersed camping questions or want additional recommendations, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email. I’m here to help! 

More Help: jake@campnado.com

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Post written by Jake Heller, the founder of Campnado. Read all Jake's posts. Or reach out to him directly: jake@campnado.com

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