On the far side of Minnesota is a stunning state park that packs a punch. Camden State Park in Southwest Minnesota is a fun family-friendly destination for camping and day use. Every time we turned a corner winding through the park, we were amazed at the new things we’d see.
It just so happens, this park put me at 35, of the 70 different Minnesota State Parks I’ve visited. While I was interested in hitting my goals, I couldn’t believe how much I’d fall in love with the park and hiking at Camden State Park in MN.
Before this hiking season got started, I knew needed a plan. I got out my map of all the MN State Parks and started to map out what I can get to with a day trip, and where I needed to spend the night, or two based on the things to do there.
While every park has tons of fun things to do, some are larger and need more time to explore. One area that we haven’t seen much of is the South West corner of Minnesota.
I’ve spent a little bit of time in passing through when visiting Pipestone National Park and found it breathtaking.
This summer, our first camping trip of the year will cover three different state parks in one long weekend, Camden State Park, Split Rock Creek, and Blue Mounds. The forecast is only predicting 98 degrees each day. I got this!
Camden State Park
When looking for state parks to visit with a lot of activities to keep you busy, Camden State Parks is first to mind. The unique landscape has something for everyone. While in southwestern Minnesota, the campground is situated in the Dakota Valley.
There are plenty of hills and low lands to explore. In order to not be on the move as much, we decided to spend one day at the first park, and two days at Blue Mounds.
The decision between staying at Camden vs Split Rock Creek came down to in-park activities.
The Camden State Park Hiking Club Trail
Miles: 2.4 miles
Total Miles Hiked: 96.3 miles
Given that the forecast for the day was in the upper 90’s we needed to hike when it was cooler out. The best time to hike at Camden State Park is at dusk or dawn.
There is a two-hour window in the morning and night that is ideal for the hiking trail. With a weekend of hikes planned, we decided to go at night.
Interestingly enough, I’ve always wanted to do an evening hike. The allure of sunset and extra activity from animals had me intrigued.
Starting out at 7:30, I hurried everyone over to the trail. The sun was starting to go down, and the light was perfect. The group of beachgoers was giving us a weird look, like why would anyone want to hike at this time of day.
Download your Camden State Park Map before you leave. With Avenza Maps you can have a free GeoPDF map that tracks your movements on your smart phone. The best part is it doesn’t use any internet after it’s downloaded.
Creek Side Hiking
The trail is broken into two primary zones, a wooded section alongside the creek. This area is packed filled with trickling water over rock formations.
Everywhere we looked it was like finding our own personal waterfall. The most pronounced waterfall is at the beginning of the hike before it flowed into the swimming area.
The terrain was varied and included hills and roots to navigate. You’ll both enter and exit in the woods.
The second half of the trail is along with the open fields. Hitting this part of the trail during golden hour, was magical. The trail follows the tree line before going back into the forest. This time of night is perfect for spotting deer in the brush.
The whole time I kept reliving watching Bambi’s mom tell him in the meadow. “You must never rush out on the meadow. There might be a danger.
Out there, we’re unprotected. The meadow is wide and open, and there are no trees or bushes to hide us.”
After looking at the deer we found out there, they have a lot more protection than the movie led us to believe. They blend right into the grass.
Tips for Evening Hikes
First things first, bring a flashlight for each person. I like to have my hands free, so I throw a headlamp on. When it comes to flashlights, I make sure there is enough for everyone in the group.
At this time of day, it’s especially important to make sure you have a good line of sight on tree roots. Don’t rush it either. That’s when you get tired and slip up.
If you have the light in your bag, there won’t be a big hurry to get back. If you haven’t done this type of hiking before, you’re in for a spectacular view. Don’t let the sun going down scare you.
Don’t get caught in the dark. there are plenty of lightweight flashlights you can bring with you on your next adventure. Even some that can clip to your pack. Check out my full review of Best Flashlight for Backpacking and Night Hikes: Why you need one?
Other Things to Do at Camden State Park in MN
Camden State Park has a bunch of mountain biking trails along the edge of the trail system. Officially speaking 1.3 miles of the hiking club trail can be biked. The woods are great. There are plenty of hills to pick up speed and make for a challenge.
The Camden Regional Trail runs through the park. It’s a paved bike path, 34 miles long, and takes riders from the state park to Southwest Minnesota State University and Marshall MN.
As far as bike trails go, this was fairly flat but winded around more than I’ve seen most trails. It also is out in the open without much for shade. I’d wait for a cooler weekend to take advantage of it.
In 1935 the Veterans Conservation Corps build a swimming pond, fed by the spring. It has s a sand beach and a bathhouse built from local stone.
As far as man-made swimming beaches go, this is by far the most elaborately designed one I’ve seen. Grab your picnic blanket for this great spot!
The pond has plenty of space for beachgoers. To the side of the swimming area, is a concrete set of steps and a ledge for people to exit.
It’s not deep enough for diving, but perfect to have a great time with friends. Nearby is a picnic table and other amenities.
Looking to catch dinner? The Redwood River is a designated trout stream. The cool river has multiple access points in the park and is fully stocked with brown trout.
Camden State Park has loaner equipment for those wanting to try out the sport. Check at the ranger station for details. There are so many great spots to access the river.
My favorite was by the south picnic area. There is a trail running along the stream.
Fish For Free in Minnesota State Parks
Did you know if you have a Minnesota driver’s License you can fish for free in Minnesota State Parks? The only expectation is if the body of water requires a trout stamp, or if you are in a Recreation Area. To fish for free you must be:
1. Fishing from shore or wading in water within the state park; or
2. Fishing through the ice, from a boat or a float on a designated lake that is completely encompassed within a Minnesota state park.
Click here for the official statue.
Jones Mill Historic Site
One of the fun finds was the Jones Mill Historic Site. Trying to take advantage of the cooler morning, we ended up doing a second hike at the park, along the Jones Mill Historic Site.
There is only a brief section of hiking in the restored prairie before you enter the woods. The hike does a .7 mile loop with a short pathway to the Mill site.
The Jones Mill was a grist mill constructed in 1830. Grain has to be transported several miles to be made into flour. It went out of business probably due to location.
The trail leading to it was a little steep. I can see why it would be inconvenient for people. All that is left is the foundation. For those not camping in the upper campground, there is a small parking lot next to the trailhead.
If you love Camden State Park you’ll also want to check out Lake Shetek State Park. It was so beautiful with lots to explore. 7 Best Things to do at Lake Shetek State Park in Southwestern MN
How much does it cost to visit Camden State Park in MN?
All Minnesota State Parks are free with an annual permit. You can buy them in person or online for $35. If you are planning to visit for the day, expect to pay around $7. Throughout the year, there are a few free days and other discounts you can check out too.
Camping costs anywhere from $25-35 a night.
Pro Tip: Visit any State Park during one of their free days. Check out Minnesota State Park Pass Hacks, Tips, and Free Days to find all the days
Would I Go Hiking at Camden State Park in MN Again?
I would love to go back and do more hiking at Camden State Park. While you can day trip here, it really deserves a whole weekend to explore. The trail is all beautiful. The summer blooms were magical. And the number of things to do to keep the kids entertained is endless.
Camden State Park in Southwestern Minnesota is a great family camping area. Next time I go here I’m not going to forget my Pro-Camera equipment so I can capture more of this beautiful location!