Known as the land of 10,000 lakes, Minnesota is an outdoor lover’s dream. The state features some of the most wild and remote wilderness in the Midwest, thousands of acres of National Forest, and many remote and secluded natural areas. The combination of all of this makes Minnesota a great camping destination and the perfect place to sleep out under the stars.
However, what many people don’t know is that Minnesota has a plethora of free, dispersed camping opportunities for the adventurous to take advantage of. From the state’s two National Forests to its plentiful State Forests, there are tons of possibilities for dispersed camping here.
We’ve created this guide to help you navigate the variety of rules and regulations, and find your perfect Minnesota dispersed campsite.
Keep reading to learn more.
Minnesota Dispersed Camping Guide
- The Basics
- The Best Dispersed Camping Areas in Minnesota
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In the following sections we’ve outlined the basic information you’ll need to plan a dispersed camping trip in Minnesota. This includes invaluable intel on where you can dispersed camp, what to bring, what the rules are, and more.
This is the critical information to know before you pitch your tent!
Where is dispersed camping allowed in Minnesota?
There are two main public land agencies in Minnesota that permit dispersed camping on the land they manage. The largest of these is the United States Forest Service, but you’ll also find dispersed campsites on Minnesota’s State Forests. Regardless of where you end up camping, you’ll of course need to familiarize yourself with that land manager’s specific rules and regulations, which we’ve outlined below.
US Forest Service Dispersed Camping in Minnesota (USFS)
Minnesota is home to two National Forests managed by the USFS, and both permit dispersed camping within their boundaries. Located in north-central Minnesota you’ll find Chippewa National Forest, while in the far north-east corner of the state you’ll find Superior National Forest, which includes the famous Boundary Waters region.
In addition, neighboring Wisconsin also features several National Forests that allow dispersed camping.
The map below shows the location of Minnesota’s National Forests, with more details on dispersed camping in each in the following section.
There are a few key rules to keep in mind when looking for dispersed camping in either Chippewa or Superior National Forests. You’ll generally find that dispersed camping is permitted in both forests as long as you set-up camp away from any developed campgrounds, trailheads, or picnic areas, and practice Leave No Trace camping.
The following section contains more details on dispersed camping rules, and we’ve linked to the specific dispersed camping pages for Chippewa and Superior NFs below:
In addition to the traditional dispersed camping permitted along most forest service roads, Chippewa National Forest also has several designated dispersed camping areas. These are primitive campsites and camping areas that occasionally have basic amenities such as fire rings and pit toilets.
However, don’t get these confused with a developed campground, as while they do have some basic services you will still need to be self-sufficient when camping here.
You can see a map of the designated dispersed campsites in Chippewa National Forest below:
The rules for dispersed camping in Minnesota’s State Forests are similar to what you’ll find in the national forests, but the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources publishes these helpful rules and regulations:
- State forests are open to dispersed camping unless otherwise posted.
- Do not dig or trench the ground around your tent.
- Bury human waste (if vault toilets are not available) and animal parts, such as fish guts, at least 150 feet from a water body and away from areas where it could cause a nuisance or hazard to public health.
- Collect only dead wood lying on the ground for campfires within the state forest.
- Do not block trails, roads, or gates with your vehicle.
- Building permanent structures of any kind is prohibited.
- You must remove all garbage.
- Summer dispersed camping is limited to 14 days.
- Dispersed camping is limited to 21 days between the second Sunday in September and first Saturday in May.
Additionally, you must set-up your dispersed campsite at least 1 mile for a developed campground or campsite, and cannot dispersed camp in an established parking lot or trailhead.
The best way to get more information on dispersed camping in Minnesota’s State Forests is to directly contact the Department of Natural Resources which can provide you with up to date rules and regulations, and also suggest good campsite destinations.
How to find dispersed camping in Minnesota
Armed with a little knowledge of where to look, you shouldn’t have too difficult of a time finding a dispersed campsite in Minnesota. As we outlined above, you’ll certainly want to start looking in either a National of State Forest and then dig deeper into your options from there.
We always recommend your first step be to reach out directly to the National Forest Ranger District in either Chippewa or Superior National Forest to inquire about dispersed campsites in the area you’re heading. This is also the case for State Forests, where we recommend reaching out to the Minnesota DNR.
These offices will be able to give you the most up to date information and have the best recommendations for campsites.
However, there are also several excellent online resources that can help in your dispersed campsite search, which we’ve outlined below.
- Freecampsites.net – Our go to resource for finding free camping in the US. Simply enter your desired location and filter through the results.
- The Dyrt – An app that let’s you filter for free and dispersed campsites. Try the PRO version for free and download offline maps.
- Campendium – A website and app that allows you to see user reviews for campsites and campgrounds across the country.
In addition, and specific to National Forests, we really like to use Motor Vehicle Use Maps to find potential dispersed camping areas. These are published by the Forest Service and give an overview of all roads in a particular area. While Minnesota’s National Forests don’t specifically call out roads that permit dispersed camping like some other states, they do give a good sense of the road network.
You can generally count on the fact that a given forest service road will have at least a few options for dispersed campsites, making these maps a great resource. To be most effective, we like to have the MVUM open in one tab and cross reference with Google Maps in another tab to find dispersed campsites.
Links to the relevant MVUMs for both Chippewa and Superior National Forests are below:
Dispersed Camping Rules & Regulations
One of our favorite things about dispersed camping is the lack of special permits, advance reservations, and the general ease of heading out on a camping trip. Dispersed camping in Minnesota is no different, although it is still important to familiarize yourself with the relevant rules.
It is best to check current regulations with the relevant USFS or Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but you should plan on adhering to the following as outlined by the USFS:
- Do not camp in areas near trailheads, picnic areas, or developed campgrounds.
- Keep your campsite small.
- Use existing sites and fire rings when available.
- Pick a site where vegetation is absent.
- Do not camp within 200 feet of a water source.
- Dispersed camping is generally limited to 14 days within any continuous 30 day period.
- Only have a campfire if it is permitted, and always be sure it is completely extinguished.
- Practice Leave No Trace principles – more on that below!
Leave No Trace Principles & Dispersed Camping
One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping is to follow Leave No Trace principles. This will minimize your impact and ensure your campsite can be enjoyed by future visitors. Here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping:
- Plan Ahead & Prepare: Have an idea of where you’d like to camp and always be sure you are camping in an area that permits dispersed camping.
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces: Never camp on fragile ground or create a new campsite.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack out all of your trash and bury human waste away from water sources. Ideally, carry out human waste or use a portable toilet.
- Leave what you find: Never take anything from your campsite. Other than trash of course!
- Minimize campfire impacts: Never create new fire rings and only have fires if permitted.
- Respect Wildlife: Properly store food at all times and be aware of the area’s wildlife.
- Be considerate of Other Visitors: Pack out your trash, don’t be loud, and leave your campsite in better condition than you found it.
Our dispersed camping checklist has everything you need.
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The Best Dispersed Camping in Minnesota
Alright, time to start planning your trip!
Now that you have a general overview of what dispersed camping in Minnesota is like, we’ve put together the following list of our five top dispersed campsites in the state. Don’t forget to check out the dispersed camping map below to see where each site is located.
Six Mile Lake Dispersed Camping
Restrooms: Vault toilet
Six Mile Lake is a designated dispersed camping area in Chippewa National Forest near the small town of Bena, MN. There are twelve campsites here, and several of them can accommodate larger RVs and trailers. This make Six Mile Lake a good option for those with larger rigs or who just want a bit more space.
There is also a boat ramp adjacent to the campsites, so this is a good spot to head out on the water if you’re interested. There is a vault toilet available, but no potable water source. Given that, please come prepared with all the water you’ll need or a way to filter water from the lake itself.
You’ll typically find the crowds to be light here and given the number of sites we don’t think you’ll have trouble securing a campsite even on busy summer weekends. While the lake is lovely, keep in mind that as with most dispersed campsites in Minnesota the mosquitoes can be horrible and you’ll want to be sure to pack your bug spray!
Restrooms: Vault toilet
Another great designated dispersed/rustic campground in Minnesota is the Harriet Lake Rustic Campground. Located in Superior National Forest, the campground was once a farm that has since been abandoned. This is to the benefit of Minnesota campers as you’ll have plenty of space to spread out while also having access to basic amenities such as a vault toilet.
As you’d guess, the campground is located on the shores of Harriet Lake which features a boat ramp and is known for excellent fishing. If you show up and find the camping area full, don’t sweat it as you’re just a stones throw from the Hogback Lake Rustic Campground, another excellent free campground.
Although Harriet Lake does have a vault toilet, there is no potable water available. Plan to filter from the lake or pack in all that you’ll need. This is a wonderful dispersed camping area so please do your part to keep it wild by always practicing Leave No Trace camping here.
Rum River State Forest Dispersed Camping
Rum River State Forest is located northwest of the Twin Cities and not far from Duluth, making this a great weekend dispersed camping option. The entire forest is open to dispersed camping, and you’ll find nice pull outs along many of the roads that cross through this State Forest. This is a somewhat popular destination, but there are plenty of good sites to choose from.
During the peak summer months you can expect the horse flies and mosquitoes to be out in full force, so plan to bring some good bug spray for any camping trip at Rum River!
It is also important to note that this is true dispersed camping. There are no facilities to serve campers here, so you’ll need to be fully self-sufficient and pack out all of your waste.
Diamond Lake Dispersed Camping
Another great dispersed camping option in Chippewa National Forest is along the secluded shores of Diamond Lake. This is a smaller dispersed area that can only accommodate a few setups, but those that do camp here will be rewarded with a tranquil, lakeside campsite. Located at the end of a long, and rather rough road, Diamond Lake also features a boat ramp and is close to several nearby trail systems.
This is not a designated dispersed campsite, so you won’t find any restrooms, picnic tables, or other amenities.
Although there is room for larger RVs and trailers at Diamond Lake, be sure to proceed with caution when driving in. The road condition isn’t always great, especially after a big rain or in the early summer months when it can be a muddy mess. If you find the campsites here full, there are several other option in close proximity so you should be able to find something to suit your needs.
In addition to the Diamond Lake area described above, there are several excellent dispersed campsites in Chippewa National Forest near the town of Walker, MN. The best of these in our opinion is located along Long Lake, which enjoys easy access to the lake, the town, and a great segment of the North Country Trail.
This is a designated dispersed site, so you can rest assured that camping is permitted here. The site has room for 3-4 RVs or a handful of tent setups, making this a quieter camping experience.
You won’t find any restrooms here so you’ll want to properly bury any human waste and also pack out all of your trash. The lake can be filtered for drinking water, but we still recommend bringing a good supply just to be on the safe side.
There is excellent fishing in Long Lake, so this is the perfect dispersed campsite for anglers!
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Have a great trip!
That’s it! We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a great Minnesota dispersed camping trip .
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!
Looking for more dispersed camping content? Don’t forget to check out our other state specific dispersed camping guides: