BikeCamping on Minnesota Public Lands
The romance of nomadic living, traveling overland at horseback pace, encountering the locals and engaging in side quests lives on in a form a bit more mechanical. And a bit less romantic. Numb butts and vicious headwinds aside, the quality exposure to the sounds and smells of slow travel remain for the intrepid bike tourer to experience. Minnesota has developed a vast network of paved trails dedicated to bike traveling.
The right rig can tackle any road designed for four wheels, and some specialized ones can travel off-road and singletrack where usage rules allow. Extra equipment and skills are required to maintain travel on two wheels. The reward is less in unlocking the small number of sites only accessible to bikes, but more in the journey taken to reach them.
The next four ways to camp on Minnesota public lands are approached on a saddle.
$20 Fee Sites
Here is a map of bike opportunities on Minnesota public lands.
When scouting dispersed camping opportunities, determine the boundaries of state forest and national forest land with the DNR's Recreation Compass.
Use this link to view on mobile device.
Camping while biking experiences generally synthesize in one of two forms; bike touring and bikepacking. Shared characteristics include solving the puzzle of packing overnighting gear onto a bike then planning the multi-day route to make use of it on. Where they diverge, is with the mechanical capabilities of the bicycle and the terrain they can cover.
The bike tour favors a road bike geometry and routes along paved trails and road shoulders, to cover more distance in shorter time.
State trails (paved)
The bikepack leverages mountain bike features to favor gravel road and off-road trails and singletrack, to more intimately access the technical terrain of remote and natural areas.
State trails (paved and unpaved)
Highway shoulders and county gravel roads
Minimum maintenance forest roads
Off-road trails and single track trail systems
Consider these two ends of a spectrum, where endless variations of bike builds and travel routes are not only possible, but are the norm when camping by bicycle.
While the Way of the Bike Camper certainly differs from other experiences in this guide (in the equipment and skills necessary to achieve it) much of the campsite experience is shared with previous mentions.
Ride your bike into the same car campgrounds in the state parks, state forests, national parks or national forests.
Many of the previous camping experiences are not accessible by bike, due to regulation or use restriction.
You may not bikepack to the backpacking campsites on most hiking trail systems in the state parks, Superior National Forest, North Country National Scenic Trail or Superior Hiking Trail. You may walk your bike in alongside you, if so willing.
You may not bike within the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness, where mechanical forms of travel, including bikes, are prohibited.
With these in mind, the following venues and experiences cover this guide’s recommendations for distinct camping experiences on Minnesota’s public lands by bicycle.
Minnesota State Trails
25 trails, 1,500+ miles 0 sites $free
There is an evenly distributed network of dedicated biking trails across the state. They host fantastic tours through urban, rural and natural sceneries linking the brick and mortar amenities of various communities with parks and recreation spaces. Many of these miles are paved, while some are crushed limestone or gravel.
Traveling these trails are great experiences. While there are no “state trails campsites” for bikes along these lengths, the rider is typically taking advantage of city/county/municipal campgrounds, the state or federal car campgrounds or the dispersed camping potential on public lands as they travel their route.
13. Bike Camping In Minnesota State Parks
2 CAMPS 10 sites $13-22 0% reservable
Really, you can ride your bike into any car campground campsite. The same camping fees apply for your stay. The saver, is that entrance fees to Minnesota state parks are waived if you enter and exit by bicycle.
But this 13th way to camp is a little less accessible, and a little more special.
Along a couple of the Minnesota state trails are two state parks with bike-only access campgrounds. These sites are semi-modern. Open grassy areas with potable water, picnic tables and space to pitch a tent. Potable water sources and bathroom facilities tend to be in nearby car campgrounds.
These include 5 bike-in campsites in Sakatah Lake State Park off the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail.
And 5 bike-in campsites in Great River Bluffs State Park off the Mississippi River Trail route as it travels the shoulder of Highway 61.
These campsites are in the state parks system but no advance reservation is required or accepted. All bike-in sites are first come - first served.
14. Bikepack Camping In Minnesota State Forests
1 forest 5 sites $free 0% reservable
Richard J. Dorer State Forest, in the Isinours Management Unit hosts two remote campsites, on grassy doubletrack trails that can be used with a mountain bike. The approach from the trailhead is less than a half mile, but uphill. Amenities are primitive and include a cleared tent site, a fire ring and a picnic table. These sites are free and first come, first served.
There are also three remote campsites marked on maps for the Reno Recreational Unit. These are very primitive and considerably overgrown with plant life. The biking on these overgrown trails would not be very enjoyable.
There may not be a large inventory of designated sites but consider camping style #16 to unlock more bike camping in the state forests.
15. Bikepack Camping in US National Forests in Minnesota
1 forest, 3 trails 12 sites $free 0% reservable
Bikepacking is not allowed on trails that lead to backpacking campsites in the Superior National Forest. It is only allowed on roads and designated singletrack mountain biking trails (these do not include campsites).
Bikepacking is allowed on the following trails with backpacking campsites in the Chippewa National Forest; Trout Lake, Suomi Hills, Cutfoot Sioux.
These are single isolated campsites often on scenic lakefront, with open and clear natural surface trail approaches. They have a cleared area for a tent, a fire ring and a vault toilet. Sometimes a picnic table. Some can also be reached by boat. There are no reservable sites, all are first come-first served. There is also no entrance fee to enter a national forest. These sites offer overnight vehicle parking at a hiking trailhead.
16. Dispersed Bike Camping in State and National Forests
2,500 mileS ∞ sites $free
Dispersed camping happens in the general forest area, outside of designated sites. You may set up camp anywhere so long as you are not within 150 feet of roads, trails, water bodies or other designated campsites.
There is no infrastructure of any kind. It is your responsibility to safely and responsibly locate a shelter site, treat your own water, keep your food away from animals, dispose of and pack out your waste and leave no evident trace of your visit.
State forests provide more than 2,000 miles of forest roads and thousands of logging trails, off of and along any of which you can dispersed camp, free of charge. This allows you the freedom to make camp where you find your energy depleted at the end of a day and many comfortable nooks can be discovered with the ability to disappear down a spur trail on two rugged wheels.
When scouting dispersed camping opportunities, determine the boundaries of private, state forest and national forest land with the DNR's Recreation Compass. The large print national forest maps are a great resource for this task also.
US National Forests in Minnesota have the same rules.
Let's go camping...