What to love about fall camping in Northeast Minnesota

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Fall Camping at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. All photos by Holly Scherer.

“Is something wrong?” my husband asked as I packed up my camp chair and walked toward the tent. “Nothing is wrong,” I said. “Then why are you going to bed?” he asked. “Because it’s not snowing in there,” I responded. “Oh, it is snowing,” he said with a laugh. Even with a dusting of snow during our first night of fall camping in Northeast Minnesota, I knew that it wouldn’t be our last.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, my husband and I didn’t start camping until we were in our 30s. Although we got a late start, we couldn’t get enough once we began. We started camping by taking one week-long trip every summer. These trips to the Superior National Forest and Minnesota’s North Shore left us longing for more nights outside in this dark, quiet, and captivating place.

By the time our fourth season rolled around we were ready to extend our camping season into late September. That August, I booked a site at Flour Lake off of the Gunflint Trail and we eagerly anticipated our first Minnesota fall camping trip. In addition to that light dusting of snow, most of that first trip was cold and wet. But it was still wonderful to be outdoors in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

We enjoyed that trip so much that we’ve done more fall camping every year since. We even managed to extend our fall camping season into November last year. These are the top five things we love about fall camping that I think you will love too.

5 things to love about fall camping in Minnesota

#5: Cooler Weather

Even the northernmost reaches of Northeast Minnesota can experience unbearably hot and humid summers. There have been plenty of nights spent on top of my sleeping bag liner, tossing and turning in the stagnant and steamy air. I love summer as much as anyone, but trying to sleep on those hot and humid nights can be challenging.

With the right sleeping bag and pad, or hammock setup, nothing beats sleeping outside while fall camping in Minnesota. On a recent Boundary Waters canoe trip, we had a couple of nights in the low to mid-30s. I was so cozy, cuddled up in my base layers and sleeping bag that it was hard to get up in the morning. It had been a while since I had one of those cool nights that I forgot how much I enjoy them.

And there’s nothing like sitting around a campfire on a Minnesota fall evening. The warmth on my face and fingers is so comforting. In those moments it feels as though all is right with the world.


#4: Shorter Days

We took a trip to Rose Lake in the BWCAW in late June of this year and didn’t use our headlamps once. It was still light out when we went to bed, as it was when we got up around 4 o’clock am. I don’t mind the short nights, but I’m also grateful they don’t last all year.

I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve slept through the northern lights during these short nights. And as much as I love getting up to watch the sunrise, it can feel like work during the months of June and July.

Fall camping in Minnesota offers shorter days and longer nights that are perfect for sunrises, star gazing, and if you’re lucky, a view of the northern lights.


#3: Fewer Bugs

Just like the hot and humid weather, there are summers in Northeast Minnesota when the bugs are unbearable. And June of this year was one of those summers. I enjoy Minnesota summers so much that I’m willing to deal with them. But there’s nothing like that first camping trip of the season when they’re no longer bugging you.

Beware, however, to not let your guard down while fall camping in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, adult ticks “become active again in the fall, usually by the end of September and through October, until temperatures drop below freezing or snow covers the ground.”


#2: Less Demand

Trying to secure a weekend campsite reservation during July and August in Northeast Minnesota can be a frustrating task. The demand for campsites throughout the arrowhead region is high and for good reason. But once school is back in session, you can enjoy the best the region has to offer with fewer crowds.

If you can be flexible, watch the forecast and jump at the opportunity to head out on the summer-like days that grace us each fall. Last October I enjoyed beautiful lakefront campsites, paddling, and hiking in the Superior National Forest off of the Gunflint Trail and there was hardly anyone else around.

There’s something special about the transition from fall to winter in Minnesota. The smell of the forest floor with its mosses, mushrooms, and decaying leaves is comforting. I’m forever impressed at the hardiness of fall wildflowers and how they offer remarkable displays after a hard frost and a dusting of snow. And then, of course, who can get enough of the marvelous fall colors? The transition from fall to winter in Northeast Minnesota is truly an experience to behold.

Fall is one of the best times to get outdoors in Northeast Minnesota. You’ll find pockets of beautiful weather, changing leaves, and stunning sunrises. Before you pack away your camping gear for the season, consider giving fall camping a try.

All photos by Holly Scherer

Holly Scherer is a Minnesota-based writer, photographer, outdoorswoman, and guide. She’s most at home in the great outdoors; camping, hiking, paddling, cycling, and gardening. When she’s not on an adventure, she and her husband live in the Twin Cities where they’re fond of saying, “home is where we store our outdoor gear.”

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