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Outdoor Options Abundant for Last Minute Trips

Outdoor Options Abundant for Last Minute Trips Click to Enlarge Photo: Tony Oquias, Photos.com

Jul 2, 2012 at 8:22 am

ST. CLOUD, MN (KNSI) - Nearly three-quarters of a million people camped at a Minnesota state park last year and, unlike last year when a state government shutdown have state parks locked down, this 4th of July is already shaping up a big one at those campsites.

If you haven't already made your plans to be among the Independence campers, do not despair, there are still plenty of good sites to be had.

"We do have openings, we want to encourage people that it isn't too late," Minnesota DNR spokeswoman Amy Barrett said. "You may not get into your favorite campsite on the North Shore or at Itasca State Park, but if you're willing to try a park you haven't been to before or drive a little further than you usually do, there are openings out there."

Up to one-third of the state's campsites are available on that first-come, first-serve basis.  And the best way to find one of the open spots is through the DNR website.

"You can search by park, or you can search by location in the state and check out a couple of parks that might be an option for you," Barrett said. "Or you can certainly call and have one of our operators at our call center assist you."

While the North Shore and Itasca are perennial favorites, there are some hidden jewels both across the state, and right here not too far from St. Cloud. Nearby Mille Lacs Kathio State Park has several sites available while Sibley State Park to the west, Wild River State Park to the east and Flandrau State Park in New Ulm also are nearby options with openings.

For those that may enjoy hitting the road a little longer there are sites available at more far reaching environs like Blue Mounds State Park in the southwest corner of the state, and one park to the north that Barrett says may be one  of the most pristine of all.

"Phoenix State Park...is kind of like going to the Boundary Waters without having to worry about portaging and packing dried food," Barrett, who recently visited the park, said. "It is absolutely beautiful...that park had quite a few openings left, it is one of our best kept secrets."

If you usually find yourself headed northward for your camping, the DNR says you need not be concerned about effects of the recent flooding. Only one park is closed, and Barrett says the extra water makes the open parks even more special.

"The only park still closed is Jay Cooke State Park. The rest of the North Shore is open and it is really a great time to visit those parks because of all the additional water, the waterfalls are just roaring," Barrett said. "The pictures on our Facebook Page will show people just how gorgeous those waterfalls are right now."

Last year, about 7-and-a-half million people visited a state park, down sharply from 2010, primarily due to the 3-week state government shutdown.  But Barrett says the state parks are rebounding strong this year.

"They're up about four percent right now," Barrett said. "That is very encouraging to us that we have bounced back from the shut-down and still offer a very affordable way for a family to get out and have fun and spend time together."

And even though the merriment of this Fourth of July is not yet come or gone, Barrett says it is never too early to think about making plans for next year if you're looking to get that number one spot on your list.

"For people that want to spend a holiday weekend on the North Shore or at Itasca, they really have to plan quite a ways ahead," Barrett said. "We do take reservations up to a year in advance. So if you're feeling like you got squeezed out this year, now is the time to call and make plans for 2013."

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