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Autumn camping: Southern Minnesota parks, campgrounds prepare for fall

September 27, 2017

Autumn in Kilen Woods State Park will be a little busier.

The color-changing leaves will remain the same, but for the first year, the small state park of only 202 acres in Lakefield is opening its land to fall campers. Access to its sites will not stop when summer does, park manager Phil Nasby said. Kilen Woods joins a long list of southern Minnesota campgrounds and state parks, whose woods, prairielands and rushing water landscapes remain open to campers through the fall.

It’s smaller sized thank most other Minnesota state parks, but Kilen Woods offers 32 camping sites – $19 for non-electrical sites and $27 for electrical sites.

With a well-maintained sanitation building, Nasby said campers can enjoy amenities while exploring the park’s natural wonders. Cliff overlooks and hiking trails can be explored within an hour, Nasby said, or campers can leisurely hike the park in a day.

And Nasby finds campers make their sites into their temporary homes. He often will find campers from mountainous areas are attracted to campsites Np. 6 and 7, because of the scenic tenting overlooks.

For the more expansive and avid naturalist interested in interacting with nature, Whitewater State Park features premiere trout fishing in the Whitewater River. Gene McGarry, a 22-year park ranger, said the stream is designated specifically for trout fishing.

The park is situated in Altura and features the sprawling Whitewater River. It also boasts hiking trails and nature programs that feature histories of the park, trout fishing for beginners and arts and crafts for families, McGarry said.

For the opportunity to see the peak of the autumn season at Whitewater State Park, McGarry suggested campers visit the first weekend in October.

Campsites range from $23 for a non-electric site to $31 for an electric site. The park also offers $60-$70 camper cabins, depending on what nights campers stay, with weekends being the more expensive option, McGarry said.

Myre-Big Island State Park. Photo by Jonathunder

For even more hiking and exploring opportunities, southern Minnesota campers have the luxury of visiting Myre-Big Island State Park. There, campers can be afforded a “best of both worlds” experience, according to one park worker.

Between the new bathroom facilities and the remnants of glacial treks, campers have the experience of new world and old world. The park sits just outside of Albert Lea and is nearly 1,600 acres.

Positioned with a woodsy, island feel on one side and a simple, clearer campground on the other side of the park, the hiking experiences for campers will vary, the worker said, adding her favorite hiking path is the Esker, where hikers are afforded to sights from glaciers passing through and the traces left behind.

At this state park, campers can stay for $21 in non-electric sites and for $29 in electric sites, along with the cost of a vehicle admission sticker.

Myre-Big Island State Park. Photo by Greg Seitz

More than 100 miles to the north of Myre-Big Island State Park, campers can escape the lull of modern life at Afton State Park, where assistant manager Nick Bartels said a “more rustic” experience can be found.

The campground doesn’t offer showers, but it does offer camper cabins and yurts for campers who need more stable shelter within the park’s St. Croix River valley and prairies.

The strength of the fall colors coupled with scenic overlooks can give campers a variety of views, as they tackle the hiking options available. Bartels added the park offers 28 backpack and hiking sites for campers looking for an immersive hiking experience.

Lake Byllesby Regional Park.

Shying away from a state park landscape, Lake Byllesby—situated on a lake formed by a dam on the Cannon River— provides campers with a water recreation experience at a lower price than some state parks.

Non-electric sites are $15 a night while electric camper sites are $25 and include use of a dump station.

Campers have the option of taking kayaking and canoeing trips by renting equipment and customizing the length of their paddle, summer camp host Karl Johnson said. But Johnson’s favorite draw to the park is the campground’s position, which creates a scenic sunrise and sunset for all.

As the metaphorical sun sets on another summer in Minnesota, campgrounds and state parks are gearing up for September, October and November.

Between long-standing sites welcoming back avid campers, such as Whitewater State Park, to places like Kilen Woods State Park, opening its autumn doors for the first time, campers can rest easy—probably in the comfort of their favorite sleeping bag—knowing southern Minnesota has a plenty to offer for fall camping.


By Samantha Stetzer

SouthernMinn Scene | editor@southernminnscene.com |
115 5th Street West Northfield, MN 55057