Canoe camping in Minnesota is one of the most fulfilling experiences anyone can have. Voyaging out into the natural environment, camping in the great outdoors at night, and traveling along the water in a canoe cannot be beaten.
Experiences like this let us get to know ourselves while taking a break from the hustle and bustle of life to reconnect with nature. Whether it is fishing in pristine waters or sleeping under the stars, the only real question you need to ask is, “where is the best place to do all of this in Minnesota?”
That is why our team at Wild Iowa Outfitters put together this information on the best locations in Minnesota for canoe camping.
Top 5 Locations for Canoe Camping in Minnesota
1. Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA)
- Closest City: Ely, Minnesota Grand Marais
- Difficulty: Beginner to Expert
- Paddling Style: Quiet lake paddling to rapids
- Camping: Alder Lake, Daniel’s Lake, Duncan Lake, and Horseshoe Lake campgrounds are just a few of the 2,200 campsites in the BWCA.
- Permits/Fees: Reservations are not required; however, overnight camping permits are required and cost $16 for adults and $8 for people under 18.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of America’s greatest natural expanses in the northeast of Minnesota, extending over 150 miles along the US-Canadian border. This pristine area consists of over 1,000 interconnected lakes and streams with over 1,200 miles of canoe routes and close to 2,200 campsites.
The BWCA covers 19,000 acres and offers everything from relaxing lake paddling to fast white water experiences. As a part of the Superior National Forest, the BWCA is a nature expanse like no other.
For more information on the BWCA, visit the Superior National Forest website.
2. Glendalough State Park
- Closest City: Battle Lake, Otter Tail County
- Difficulty: Beginner
- Paddling Style: Quiet lake paddling and gentle stream paddling
- Camping: 3 canoe-access campsites and 22 cart-in sites
- Permits/Fees: Daily camping fees of $15-$23
Glendalough State Park is home to the famous crystal clear Annie Battle Lake. This lake is an expansive 335 acre, non-motorized lake perfect for canoe escapes in the central-western area of Minnesota. Designated as a heritage fishery, Annie Battle Lake has a healthy population of large fish that are ripe for the picking and can also be the start of a canoeing adventure that takes you down the connecting creeks and rivers that travel throughout the park.
Vehicles must be left in the parking lot of the park to ensure that the sounds of motors don’t disturb the tranquility of the many campsites, 3 of which are only accessible by canoe.
For more information on Glendalough State Park, visit the DNR website.
3. St. Croix River State Water Trail
- Closest City: Taylor Falls, Chisago County
- Difficulty: Beginner to intermediate
- Paddling Style: Gentle river paddling with some white water rapids
- Camping: 40+ watercraft campsites operating on a first-come, first-serve basis
- Permits/Fees: There are no fees for camping in the National Scenic Riverway areas, although there is a three-night camping limit. Other nearby campgrounds may require reservations and charge camping fees.
The St. Croix river stretches for 169 miles along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, connecting with the Mississippi River in Minnesota at its southern end and running all the way up to the Gordon Dam Country Park in Wisconsin. One of the best sections of this long river involves a 14.8-mile stretch where canoers can launch from the Interstate Park landing just outside of Taylor Falls, MN, and head south on the river until they reach the William O’Brien State Park landing. This 14.8-mile paddle provides canoers with lots of shade with overhanging trees and can take approximately 5-7 hours with ample time for exploring the backwaters of this beautiful river.
Here is a link to the Department of Natural Resource’s virtual tour collection of this amazing waterway.
4. Zumbro River State Water Trail
- Closest City: Kellogg City and Zumbro Falls City, Wabasha County
- Difficulty: Intermediate to Expert
- Paddling Style: Fast-flowing river paddling
- Camping: There are 7+ campgrounds and campsites, some of which require making reservations, although all State Forest locations are free for camping.
- Permits/Fees: Depending on the specific camping location
The Zumbro River is 64.6 miles long, connecting to the Mississippi River in the South-East of Minnesota. The water level in this river is often influenced by the water flow of the Rochester power dam that operates in lake Zumbro, with the dam operators often releasing water on the weekends, which raises the water level of the river, making it even better for canoeing.
The Zumbro River is known for having a relatively fast-moving current due to its steep gradient, making it an exciting challenge for experienced canoers adept at avoiding snags and fallen trees.
Many parts of the river travel through limestone cliffs surrounded by tall hilltops, and you are almost guaranteed excellent fishing in most parts of this river.
You can find more information about the Zumbro River on the DNR’s website.
5. Vermilion River State Water Trail
- Closest City: Vermilion City and Farmington City, Dakota County
- Difficulty: Beginner to Expert
- Paddling Style: Quiet river paddling to fast-flowing rapids
- Camping: There are 9 Forest Service Backcountry campsites along the Vermillion River from Vermillion Lake to Crane Lake and many other campgrounds along the river’s length.
- Permits/Fees: The Forest Service campgrounds are free on a first-in first-served basis, although other campgrounds will charge a few and require a reservation.
The Vermilion River runs 40 miles from Lake Vermilion to Crane Lake with long, peaceful sections of river that have little current, making some sections of this river perfect for beginners. There are several rapids from class I up to class VI, making portages necessary to avoid some of the more dangerous rapids. All of the portages along this river are well worn and easily identifiable. As this river is surrounded by dense pine, fir, aspen, and birch forest, portaging in this area serves as an enjoyable walk through nature break up the paddling.
For more information on the Vermilion River State water trail, visit the DNR’s website.
Minnesota has some of the country’s best wildlife reserves and waterways that can take adventurers for miles through pristine natural environments. The trick is knowing exactly where you can get your canoe in the water for the best voyage through picturesque landscapes.
If you need any more information about the above canoeing destinations or are ready to begin your next big adventure out on the water, then book a trip with Wild Iowa Outfitters now so you can get back to nature with the best equipment and professional advice.