Minnesotans, after a year cooped up inside, flock to state parks and campgrounds

Campsite occupancy rates and annual state park permit sales are up.
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A year of cabin fever has people flocking to Minnesota State Parks and campsites.

Through the first six months of 2021, nearly one-third of all available nights at state campsites had been reserved for use, according to data provided by the Minnesota DNR. During that timeframe the agency recorded 142,095 reservations out of 431,725 available nights.

This occupancy rate of 32.91% marks a fairly large jump from 2019, when the occupancy rate from January through June was 24.49% (103,368 visits during 422,104 available nights). In May alone this year, more than half of all available campsite nights were taken up.

(Note: The DNR said it isn't using 2020 as a comparison, because campsites were shut down throughout the spring, with reservations limited throughout the year.)

Related: Mystery Cave is once again open for scenic tours

The data also shows an increase, though less dramatic, in the number of group camping reservations, which went from a 19.55% occupancy rate (1,775 out of 9,079)  through the first half of 2019, up to 23.54% (2,072 out of 8,801) in 2021. Lodging and cabin reservations are also up slightly.

The figures in Minnesota reflect a behavioral trend seen nationally: Americans, after a year cooped up indoors, desperate to get out into nature. National Parks have bore the brunt of this voracious appetite for the outdoors, with overcrowding leading to environmental concerns at popular sites.

Related: Minnesota's lone National Park is also one of the least popular in the country

In the state, sales of annual state park permits hit 125,281 through the first half of 2021, according to DNR data — up noticeably from 2020 (100,673 annual permit sales) and 2019 (78,246). 

While some state parks, particularly those in and around the Twin Cities metro, have been "very busy" this year, Visitor Services and Outreach Section Manager with the DNR's Parks and Trails Division Rachel Hopper told Bring Me The News, state parks haven't seen those troubling crowd levels noted nationally.

Hopper said that last year, metro-area state parks experienced "visitation pressures" related to parking, with lots at parks such as Afton filling up quickly. That has not been the case so far in 2021, she continued, possibly due to more overnight campers (as revealed by occupancy rates) or visits being more spread out.

"That being said they're still busy, especially on weekends," Hopper added.

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