Dispersed camping in Minnesota state forests

DNR forester and landowner walking in landowner's woodlands

Minnesota state forest campgrounds, day-use and recreation areas, and dispersed camping are open.

Visitors are encouraged to recreate close to home and to maintain social distancing on trails.

Dispersed camping is allowed in Minnesota state forests. Dispersed camping is different from camping in a designated campground. It is a wilderness experience for campers who enjoy camping far from others and do not need any amenities.

  • Camping is limited to a single household. (per Executive Order 20-56)
  • There are no amenities. No bathroom, pit toilet, water pump, fire grate, trashcan, or picnic table.
  • State forest maps are a great guide; many are available as downloadable geopdfs.
  • No fee. First-come, first-served.

Where to disperse camp

You must camp at least one mile outside of designated campsites or campgrounds on state forest land. Park vehicles in parking lots or safely on the full shoulder of a road. Do not block road or trail traffic with your vehicle. You cannot camp at parking lots or trailheads.

Campsite selection

Dispersed campers can camp in any suitable site that already exists or any opening in the woods - such as a natural clearing, meadow, or timber sale landing. You cannot create new campsites by cutting trees or vegetation.

Pick a location that has level ground with good drainage. Place camping equipment to avoid damage to plants and do not camp within 100 feet of any water source.

Dispersed camping rules

All dispersed campers are responsible for obeying state forest rules and regulations in Minnesota Rules, part 6100.3000 through 6100.4300.

  • 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.

Dispersed campfire safety

Exercise caution with any campfire. If you need a campfire while dispersed camping, select a safe place.

  • Choose a level area away from dry grass, shrubs, or logs that is free of overhanging branches.
  • Scoop out a depression in the center of the area and put a ring of rocks around it.
  • Make sure your campfire is not more than 3 feet in diameter by 3 feet high and the ground is cleared of all combustible material at least 5 feet from the base of the fire.
  • After a campfire, Drown-Stir-Repeat until it is out cold.
  • If it is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave.
  • If you see a wildfire, call 911.

Only use dead wood lying on the ground and approved firewood for campfires. Remember, unapproved firewood could spread insects or diseases that can kill oak, ash, maple, and other trees.

Leave no trace and dispose of waste

All campers must "leave no trace" no matter where you camp. Pack out what you pack in, do not damage trees, water, habitat, or anything else. Do not burn litter or garbage. Always observe posted signs.

Your visit could have a big impact. Seeds and mud on gear and clothing can spread harmful invasive plants. Before leaving home, make sure your gear, footwear, and clothing is free of seeds and soil—especially tents, tarps, and hammocks. Clean and dispose of anything before leaving home.

Take extra care when disposing of human waste to avoid contaminating nearby water. Dig a hole six inches deep and at least 100 feet away from any water source. When you are done, fill the hole with soil. Never defecate or leave toilet paper on top of the ground.

Drinking water

The only way to ensure that water is safe is to treat it. That means heating it until it comes to a rolling boil or using water purification tablets or a water purification filter. Water from faucets in developed recreation areas has been tested and is safe to use without treating.