Camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is typically what people think of when they think of camping in Cook County and more specifically the Superior National Forest. These are campsites within the road less wilderness that require some effort to access, whether by canoe, foot and in some areas boat. There is something to be said about taking the effort to access these wonderfully remote campsites, but there is also something to be said about car camping. The flexibility that car camping allows makes it a wonderful option to explore the area while still offering some of the comforts of home. There are dozens of campgrounds throughout the Superior National Forest, but we will be focusing on the eight within the Gunflint District, and couple other obscure camping option run by the state. These campgrounds will be listed in order of a combination of size, popularity and obscurity. Obviously some of those factors are based on judgement, so keep that in mind. Here we go!
Unless otherwise noted fees are per site per night for up to 9 people.
East Bearskin Lake Campground: 32 Campsites at $20/night | 3 Cabins at $76/night
This is the most centrally located campground in the county and offers direct access to the BWCA from East Bearskin Lake and the mid-Gunflint Trail hiking trails. It is the perfect balance of wilderness and car camping. It offers seasonal potable water, garbage service, and outhouses, as well as three cabins. Some of the campsites can be reserved while others are available on first come first serve basis. This is a very popular campground in the summer, so keep that in mind when planning a trip.
Trail’s End Campground: 32 Campsites at $16-$24/night
You will definitely want to make sure all of your supplies are packed as the name speaks for itself at this campground at the end of the 56-mile-long Gunflint Trail. Grand Marais is your closest source for supplies. There are a wide variety of campsites here, some with beautiful views of Seagull and Gull Lakes, some hike-in only and some with water right in your campsite. Some of these sites can be reserved. The popularity of this campground in the summer can be a challenge if you’re planning on “winging” it. You will find seasonal water, garbage service, and outhouses.
Flour Lake Campground: 37 Campsites at $20/night
Another very popular campground in the mid-Gunflint Trail area, with direct access to the BWCA and adjacent wilderness. Its location makes for a great mix of wilderness and convenience. It offers seasonal water, garbage service, and outhouses. Some of the campsites can be reserved ahead of time, and due to its popularity is reservations are recommended.
Devil Track Lake Campground: 16 Campsites at $16-$18/night
This is the closest campground to Grand Marais, but still feels off the beaten path. Keep in mind that the campground is relatively close to the road, and the lake has no motor restrictions and many private residences. By no means is it a noisy campground but it might not be as remote or quiet as some of the others. It offers seasonal water, garbage service, and outhouses. All of the campsites are available on a first come first serve basis.
Two Island Lake Campground: 38 Campsites at $16-$18/night
This campground is also relatively close to Grand Marais but does not feel like it at all. Two Island Lake is very remote with very few cabins on it and as an added bonus offers excellent fishing. It is the closest campground to the Eagle Mountain hiking trail which takes you up to the highest point in the state. It offers seasonal water, garbage service, and outhouses. All of the campsites are available on a first come first serve basis, and it is pretty rare that you would not be able to find a campsite here.
Kimball Lake Campground: 10 Campsites at $16-$18/night
This quiet campground is smaller than most and offers great access to two managed trout lakes, Kimball and Mink. Mink Lake is just down the road from this campground and offers a fishing dock and swimming beach. It is closer to Grand Marais than most of the campgrounds as well and offers seasonal water, garbage service, and outhouses. All of the campsites are available on a first come first serve basis, while rarely all full its smaller size does see it fill up occasionally.
Iron Lake Campground: 7 Campsites at $16-$18/night
This small campground was dramatically affected by the Ham Lake fire in 2007, and while it has come back over the years, the results of that fire are still noticeable more than any other campground on this list. It offers excellent access to the BWCA and the intimate nature of the narrow meandering water ways of Iron Lake are a paddlers dream. The campground offers seasonal water, garbage service and outhouses. Some of the sites can be reserved in advance.
Cascade River Rustic Campground: 4 Campsites at no fee
This is a really cool spot that offers excellent opportunities to fish the Cascade River and managed trout lakes in the area while giving you more of a BWCA camping experience as there is no water or garbage service. Plan to either pack in water or filter the river, also plan on packing everything out. There isn’t any tables or chairs so plan on bringing something to sit in or on. There is an outhouse available. The road that takes you to the campground runs right through it which can be annoying. The fact that there is no fee to camp here does make it somewhat popular, especially the sites on the river, but there is typically always at least one spot available.
Twin Lakes Campground: 3 Campsites at $14/night
This campground is actually managed Judge C.R. Magney State Park even though it isn’t close to it at all; its not close to anything to be honest. Its always a good sign you are in for a quiet camping experience when the campground is at the dead end of a road. The three sites offer fire rings, picnic tables and garbage cans, while water can be packed in or filtered from either East or West Twin Lakes. This campground is an excellent option to get that car camping in the BWCA feel as it is incredibly remote, rarely filled and sits on the shores of a lake with no structures on its shores and excellent fishing. Twin Lakes Campground is one of the best kept secrets in the area.
McFarland Lake Campground: 2 Campsites at $14/night
Another relatively obscure campground that offers directly adjacent access to the BWCA and Border Route Hiking Trail. Though it is right on the road, the traffic in the area is almost non existent. McFarland Lake does have a number of cabins and no motor restrictions, but in general is a very quiet lake. Water, garbage and outhouses are available seasonally. This is a rarely used campground.
Devilfish Lake Campground: 4 Campsites at $14/night
This is another campground managed by Judge C.R. Magney State Park and offers four very primitive campsites. Only a picnic table and fire ring are available at this truly off the beaten path campground. Campsites are first come first serve and in general is a very quiet spot.
Esther Lake Campground: 3 Sites at $14/night
Yet another rustic campground offering the bare minimum in terms of amenities, so be prepared to pack in water or filter lake water. Outhouses and garbage cans are available. At the end of Esther Lake Road this campground is about as quiet as it gets with only a few cabins on the lake and nothing more than a small fishing boat occupying its waters typically. Car camping at its finest.