Reporting Crystal Grobe
In today’s camping environment, available amenities range from full electrical and water hookups to nesting down in the backwoods. For some, a weekend of camping very closely resembles being at home — with everything from satellite TV and mobile Internet to a stove to cook dinner and air conditioning. For others, camping isn’t camping if you can see a light or have access to running water. No matter your expectations, Minnesota’s multitude of campgrounds have a little something for everyone.
Bluff Valley Campground
61297 Bluff Valley Rd.
Zumbro Falls, MN 55991
Price: $42 to $49 a night (assuming double occupancy, additional people and vehicles add a minimal amount to the nightly price)
Hours: daily – 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Open mid April through the end of September
If your idea of camping more closely resembles taking your entire house and duplicating it within the confines of an RV, or at the very least, if you want your tenting experience to include electricity, running water and a nearby shower, then Bluff Valley is exactly what you are looking for. For families with young children, there are daily activities up at the lodge. Adults will enjoy the driving range and karaoke events every weekend. For the “big kids” in between, it offers an indoor bike/skate park and rock climbing wall. Disc golf, mini golf and an indoor arcade are also on the list of possible activities, but on a hot summer day, the biggest draw by far is the chance to tube down the river. Rent an inner tube from the office, or bring your own river-ready flotation device — your average pool toy may or may not stand up to being dragged across the sand, rocks, sticks, etc. Lather on the sun screen, grab a few cold beverages for the trip, and wait for the truck to come pick you up. Trailer passes may also be purchased at the office, and are good for the day. The truck and trailer combination will transport you to the start of the run. For a bit more adventure, nearby canoe rentals are also available, as is a longer tube run, but neither are directly associated with this campground. Also, keep in mind that this is considered a family campground, so quiet hours are strictly enforced.
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Father Hennepin State Park
41294 Father Hennepin Park Rd.
Isle, MN 56342
Price: $12 to $75 a night (vehicle permit required as well).
Hours: daily – 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Open year round
Father Hennepin State Park sits on the southeast corner on Mille Lacs, on the edge of Isle Bay. For the fishing-minded visitor, it’s two private (to park guests only) boat accesses provide just the right amount of seclusion to avoid the hustle and bustle of the public areas on the lake. Choose a lakeview campsite and you are mere steps from launching your boat, making a run back to your campsite for lunch a very efficient affair. Choose any other campsite throughout one of the park’s two spacious campgrounds, and you are still never far from a breathtaking panoramic view of the lake. Anglers will also appreciate the on-site fish-cleaning shack, and visitors looking for a bit of nature will no doubt appreciate the scenic walking trails complete with a few resident albino deer. The nearby towns afford quaint food and gift shopping attractions as well. Be sure to be home on time, the park gates close at 9 p.m.
Lebanon Hills Campground
12100 Johnny Cake Ridge Rd.
Apple Valley MN 55124
Price: $17 to $35 a night
Hours: check out – 12 p.m.; check in – 1 p.m.; quiet time – after dusk
The 2012 camping season runs Wed, May 2 through Sun, Oct. 14.
The closest to the Twin Cities metro of all these campgrounds, Lebanon Hills Campground offers just the right mix of camping adventure and nearby attractions – in its words, it’s city close but country quiet. Enjoy 2,000 picturesque acres of woods and lakes surrounding this campground, while Wi-Fi reception (in the west camping loop only) and onsite caretakers do their best to help ensure a great experience. Nearby beaches, a zoo and close proximity to the Mall of America and Water Park of America mean this campground is more about giving you a quiet place to rest your head after a fun-filled day. Visitors will still find enough scenery and on-site activity options to make it worth staying in for a few days as well.
Related: A Guide to Minnesota Water Trails
Plum Creek Park
County Road 78
Walnut Grove, MN 56180
Price: $20 to $27.50 a night/two night minimum stay
Hours: check out – 2 p.m.; no check in time; quiet hours – 11 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Reservations are accepted for camping in June, July and August.
If you are looking for a little history lesson in addition to your scenery when you go camping, look no further than Walnut Grove’s Plum Creek Park. It lays claim to one of the childhood homes of Laura Ingalls Wilder (the Wilder family dugout home site is just 1.5 miles north of Walnut Grove). Visit the nearby Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, as well as a Wilder family pageant every July. Focusing solely on the camping amenities, this site offers swimming areas, playgrounds and activity fields for children big and small, a nine-hole disc golf course, ample hiking paths and a picnic shelter with tables. This is definitely a family oriented camping area, but well worth the extra drive for anyone who ever enjoyed reading (or watching) “Little House on the Prairie.”
Whitewater State Park
19041 Highway 74
Altura, MN 55910
www.dnr.state.mn.usPrice: $12 to $75 a night
Hours: daily – 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Open year round
Nestled amongst the towering bluffs of southeastern Minnesota, Whitewater State Park has the perfect mix of fishing opportunities for anglers, and naturally scenic settings just about anyone can appreciate. Hiking trails range in difficulty from beginner to advanced, and staff hosts programs year round to help you get the most out of your visit. For the aspiring angler looking to be humbled by a brook or rainbow trout, the Whitewater river flows throughout the park, offering deep pools and fast-running sections. Fair warning: Fishing by the swimming beach is off-limits. However, a patient observer in the twilight hours will often be rewarded with a glimmer of a large brown trout rising to take a bug from the surface — the likes of which will carefully avoid your hook in the fishable stretches of the river, but a beautiful example hangs on the wall in the park office. Enjoy a long walk through the hills on one of the many trails, wet a fly or cast a lure (trout stamp required, as this is a designated trout stream), or play at the beach all afternoon. Shower buildings open for the season April 13, but camping is offered year-round.
Rich Rein, previously featured in magazines like Midwest Outdoors and Outdoors Weekly as well as a contributor to MyBuckStory.com and covering the Minneapolis fishing scene for Examiner.com, is a Minnesota transplant doing his best to enjoy the state’s multitude of fishing opportunities while holding down a career as a software developer by day and a firefighter/EMT by night. His work can be found at Examiner.com.