The Mountains of the North Shore
Some of the best places to camp in Minnesota are the mountains of the North Shore. The western edge of Minnesota is included in this area. This perhaps contributes to the perception that the state’s terrain doesn’t have much in the way of elevation.
It’s certainly true that the tallest point in Minnesota isn’t even half a mile high. Yet, some of the best places to camp in Minnesota are located in the mountains of the North Shore region. Bordering Lake Superior, this region runs from Duluth to Canada. The North Shore boasts lakeside cliffs, a ski resort, and some of the most stunning views you’ll find anywhere.
This article explores some of the best higher-elevation camping spots in the North Shore region to help you plan your next Minnesota outdoor adventure.
The highest point in Minnesota, Eagle Mountain, peaks at 2,301 feet above sea level. It’s located in the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA), providing some amazing recreational opportunities.
Two different hikes take you to the mountain’s summit: the Brule Lake Trail and Eagle Mountain Trail. Both are out-and-back trails that come together at Whale Lake before a short 0.8-mile spur trail takes you up to Eagle Mountain’s peak. The best outlook that offers scenic views of the area’s inland lakes is actually before the summit, which is a more densely wooded spot.
Camping at Whale Lake
The best way to take advantage of Eagle Mountain is to camp at one of the two campsites that flank Whale Lake. Both are lovely spots that sit adjacent to the water. You will need to hike in with your gear to camp there, which is roughly a 3-mile journey if you take the Eagle Mountain Trail.
It’s the highest point at which you can camp in the state, and it offers some of the best tent camping in Minnesota. You will need to get an overnight camping pass from the BWCA to stay there.
When to Go
Eagle Mountain can be an enjoyable hiking and camping spot in any season. Remember, if go in the winter, you should certainly be prepared for snow! The leaves of the aspen and birch trees in the surrounding forest display particularly beautiful yellow and orange colors in the fall.
Lookout Mountain is located in Cascade River State Park, one of Minnesota’s most magical public parks. Situated on the Cascade River, the park offers spectacular waterfalls, multiple camping options, and breathtaking views of the Lake Superior Shoreline. The most dramatic view is at the peak of the aptly named Lookout Mountain, accessible via either the Lookout Mountain trail or the Superior Hiking Trail.
The Lookout Mountain Trail is a 3.2-mile loop trail. This takes you past multiple waterfalls on the Cascade River, across a wooden walking bridge that spans Cascade Creek, and up to the Lookout Mountain summit.
Camping at Lookout Mountain
Some of the best tent camping in Minnesota can be found at the backpacking sites along the Superior Hiking Trail. There is one such camping space, known as BP 5, at the intersection of the Superior Hiking Trail and the Lookout Mountain Trail. Well worth the effort to get there, this site offers a firepit, a bear box, and very close proximity to the mountain’s peak.
If hiking for a couple of miles while carrying your gear feels like too much, you can also camp at the Cascade River State Park campground. With 40 sites — about half of which have electric hookups for RVs but not water or sewer hookups — it’s a great alternative that’s a bit closer to sea level. It also offers access to the shoreline of Lake Superior.
When to Go
Cascade River State Park is open year-round, as are the campsites. Park roads and a few of the drive-in campsites are plowed during the winter. There are also 17 miles of cross-country ski trails available in the park, but running water is only available at the campground from May through October.
Tettegouche State Park is home to some truly spectacular hikes at altitude. The highest peak in the park, Mt. Baldy, offers panoramic views of Lake Superior on one side and several inland lakes on the other. Meanwhile, the cliffs above Lake Superior offer 23 miles of lakeside trails along the clear waters of the Great Lake and views out to the Apostle Islands.
The top of Mount Baldy is roughly 1,600 feet above sea level. Getting to the top is moderately strenuous due to the incline, but the spectacular outlook is completely worth the relatively steep hike. The hike to the peak is about 1.4 miles each way, although there are several different loop trails you can enjoy along the way that allow you to customize the hike to the distance of your choosing.
If you’re looking for unique camping in Minnesota, the Tettegouche Camp found along the hike up to Mount Baldy might be for you. This site consists of four rustic cabins, each with accommodations for two to six people. There is no car access to Tettegouche Camp, so you’ll have to hike for several miles to reach it. The roof over your head may mean this isn’t technically camping, but it’s still an exciting wilderness experience.
When to Go
The cabins are available year-round, although you will need to make camping reservations through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Each cabin is equipped with a wood stove and firewood, and the site also includes two shared fireplaces.
The scenery varies quite a bit with the seasons — if you take this hike in the fall, you’ll be treated to some glorious autumn colors.
Moose Mountain is part of the Sawtooth Mountain range in Minnesota’s North Shore region. The Sawtooths are home to the midwest’s highest ski hill, Lutsen Mountains, as well as the famous Summit Express aerial gondola.
The gondola ride is a truly unique experience. It’s a perfect way to take in the Sawtooth Mountains, the Superior National Forest, and the coastline of Lake Superior at the same time. You can ride the gondola from the Lutsen Mountains ski resort to the top of Moose Mountain and then hike down via the Superior Hiking trail if you’re up for it. There’s also a ridgeline trail along Moose Mountain that allows you to take in the entire vista while hiking just over a mile.
Camping at Moose Mountain
While there aren’t any camping spots on Moose Mountain proper, you can find backcountry camping spots available by taking the Superior Hiking Trail in either direction. The Mystery Mountain campsite is roughly 2.5 miles north of Moose Mountain. The East and West Rollins Creek campsites are less than 2 miles to the southwest.
These campsites are not fancy, but they offer firepits and flat ground where you can set up your tent. All three are located in the Superior National Forest, and none require reservations or permits. So you’re free to visit at your leisure!
When to Go
If you’re most interested in hiking and camping, April through October is the season to visit Moose Mountain. But if you’re enticed by the idea of taking a gondola ride in the snow and possibly breaking out your snowshoes afterward, this is also a great spot for a winter adventure.
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