We wanted to get a jumpstart on the 2019 camping season so we booked a backpacking site (Friday) and two sites here (Saturday) for the first weekend in May. In hindsight, it may have been a bit ambitious as temperatures dropped to the low 30s at night - but hey, it was retrospective fun!
Our sites, E119 and E120, were pretty standard as far as drive-in sites go, and perhaps a bit expensive ($25). That said, after backpacking the previous night, it was nice to be able to charge our electronic devices. Each site has its own picnic table and fire ring, and ample room to place a tent (or two!). If you're camping outside shoulder season, make sure you stock up on firewood as most of the local convenience stores don't seem to have it in stock. Overall, solid spot - but nothing overtly special.
Itasca State Park is a jewel in the state park system of Minnesota, and the park’s Pine Ridge campground is where hordes and crowds of visitors stay when visiting it in summer. The park is very quiet and lightly used in winter, but wow, its the best time of year! The paths to famous spots like the headwaters of the Mississippi River and the visitor centers are plowed and maintained, and there are myriad groomed trails from cross country skiing and snow shoeing. A lot of people go ice fishing too. There is not a big demand for camping so mist if the campsites are closed, but Pine Ridge does maintain a selection of campsites with hookups for those who do want to venture forth. The campground bath houses are closed for the winter and water is shut off, but you can car camp and rv with hookups if you want, or tent camp if you know how to do so comfortably in winter and dint mind using outhouses in the campground. There is running water and regular bathrooms at the main visitor’s center so that is an option, but several miles drive from the winter campsites. So, bottom line, come prepared with all your own supplies, and make sure you know how to stay warm if car or tent camping. A winter visit to the park is well worth it!
Three different people recommended Lake Itasca so I made my way here. It’s the start of the mighty Mississippi with a large natural area surrounding it. There are even a pack of wolves getting started here. Bring your bicycle or your boat or just enjoy the hiking.
I showed up without a reservation and was limited in my selection. I went with the rangers suggestions and found myself in a central location. I stayed at pine ridge but there is bear paw campground, cabins or the lodge. Plenty of choice. They do suggest reserving a spot during peak times such as weekends. Sunday night arrival was perfect and I ended up near the shower house (maybe too close for my dog). The sites on the outside of the loops are more private but watch out for the poison ivy.
The shower and restroom were older but well kept. Love the water pressure! The garbage/recycling areas are convenient. It’s a large park so expect to drive to destinations if you don’t bring your bike. This was a crowded time in the campground but we found our own space in the park. There is plenty of space to spread out.
Insider tips: I wish I brought my bike. The paved bike path is beautiful and you can continue around Wilderness Drive. We were all alone at the headwaters by getting there between 9 and 10 am. You can rent a canoe or take a boat tour.
This turned out to be an ok place to visit. There are a lot of people and it stressed out my dog. She calmed down once people left on Monday morning.