Things I've Learned About Camping With Dogs
Updated: Nov 26, 2022
After 2 years of visiting Minnesota state parks for day hikes, we’ve started camping in the parks this summer with Bert and Ernie. It’s been a fun way for us to immerse more fully in the parks, plus we can establish a base camp to serve as a jumping-off point to visit other points of interest in the area. This makes for busy weekends, but it’s a great way to see several parks in further parts of the state.
Here are some of the best decisions we’ve made in our first season camping with dogs!
Rent group campsites
Group campsites are a great way to guarantee yourself some S P A C E when camping! Many state parks offer these large sites as a way for, well, groups to experience the outdoors together - think Boy Scouts or extended families. We choose to rent group sites because Bert and Ernie can have a hard time settling in close proximity to lots of other people, dogs, and RVs. Traditional loop campsites are high-density by design, and our dogs do better with a bit more elbow room. Plus, the last thing I would want would be for my dogs to be barking and disturbing other campers!
The group site at Blue Mounds State Park where we stayed for 2 nights had a huge fire ring, probably 10-12 picnic tables, and not one but TWO pit toilets within the site! It also had a water spigot within the group site, which was great for keeping the dog bowl full and easily doing dishes. We parked about 100 yards from the site and carried our things just a short distance to set up camp.
The road side of the group campsite at Blue Mounds is part of a well-trafficked hiking trail, so we definitely had passers-by, but after a day of hiking themselves, Bert and Ernie were too tired to be too concerned with any walkers. Showers were about a 5 minute walk into the traditional campsite loops, and the ranger station was just across the road from our parking spot, which made it easy to buy firewood. The solitude of a group site at night is really special - we were grateful to be able to immerse in nature and hear the nighttime prairie sounds without the hum of generators or raucous campers or kids.
To reserve a group camp site, visit the MN State Parks and Trails website up to 120 days before your desired stay. Pricing will vary based on the park (full details here), but group sites are usually $50-$75 a night vs. traditional drive in (non-electric) campsites at $23-$30 a night. A few group camps are significantly more expensive ($100-$250 a night), but those usually have electric hookups for several RVs. There are several group camps with unique features - the Lake Bronson group camp includes a WPA shelter building with electricity, a kitchen, and a stone fireplace. Options!
Get a bigger tent - and a fan
We are definitely car campers rather than backpackers, so we have the luxury of space to pack a larger tent, and we don’t have to worry about weight/size of our tent since we’re usually only carrying it a couple hundred yards. A big tent means more elbow room for both humans and pups!
We’ve invested in some nice, comfy, LARGE sleeping pads, and our big tent means there’s plenty of space for those and for Bert and Ernie to lie down and relax. We also have a small collapsible stool and rug that we set up in the tent vestibule so we have a nice place to sit and put on our boots!
We get a lot of questions if Bert and Ernie like the tent and the answer is YES - the family snuggle pile is one of their favorite places to be. But to keep the tent a comfortable temperature with 4 bodies (2 dogs + 2 humans), we bring along a small battery-powered fan to keep the air moving. The one we have from Amazon (affiliate link) doubles as a light and can hang from the top of the tent to provide some white noise.
Bring long lines
Biothane leashes are your new secret weapon for camping with dogs! This super durable material is waterproof and easy to clean, making it a-ok to get grubby when camping. We have 20 foot Biothane leashes for Bert and Ernie (blue for Bert, red for Ernie, of course) - these work great when looped around a picnic table or a sturdy tree so the dogs stay tethered but have some room to roam.
Bert and Ernie are still honing their long line management skills so they sometimes get a little tangled. Many of our pup friends also like to use these when swimming at state parks!
Another useful and stylish addition to your camp box is a light up harness, like the Noxgear Lighthound (affiliate link). Black dogs like Berners turn basically invisible in the dark, but the super reflective material + LED lighting of this harness gives Bert and Ernie 360-degree visibility. There are more than a dozen color and flashing modes to choose from - whether it’s disco Ernie or firework Bert Bert, the dogs are looking good and we can see them in the dark when they have these harnesses on!
Bert will steal your spot
Ever since he was a small puppy, Bert has looooved to lay on soft things. The day we met him, he sought out piles of laundry to snuggle into, and since then, he’s often found cuddling a bathmat or dish towel. Bert usually sleeps on the foot of the bed at night and right smack in the center of the bed during the day (LOL), and when we’re camping, he prefers to be on a bed too! If you leave your sleeping bag and pad setup for a moment, Bert will hop right up and settle in to the cozy spot, giving you sweet, doleful eyes when you return to inevitably evict him.
We’re packing up our tent for the season pretty soon - winter camping in Minnesota takes some next-level dedication - but we have really enjoyed our first year of camping with Bert and Ernie. Looking ahead, we’re already scoping out which parks and group camp sites we’d like to visit next year!
Are you going to try some of these tips on your next camping trip?