Camping Options in Afton State Park

Hastings, Washington County • Daily or annual state vehicle permit required

backpacking campsite in afton state park with picnic table and fire grate
One of Afton State Park’s hike-in tent sites

Afton State Park is one of the Minnesota state parks within easy distance of the Twin Cities metro. Its camping is unique in that the campsites are backpack-in and hike-in only—there’s no car camping and no RV sites.

For the uninitiated, that means you’ll leave your car in the parking lot, then pack your gear up to a mile to your site—uphill!

It’s also the most rustic campground in the 7-county metro area. There are no flush toilets except in the Visitor’s Center (which isn’t close to any of the campsites), no showers and no electricity. There are water spigots throughout the area with drinkable water, though.

Afton’s summer map gives you a good overview of the area and where the various campsites are located.

A Great Place to Try Backpacking

Afton would be a great place for an introduction to backpacking—whether it’s yourself, your kids or new campers.

It doesn’t feel exactly like wilderness since it’s just 20 miles from downtown St. Paul. And it’s a very popular place, especially during the summer months. But the backpacking sites definitely give you the feel for what it’s like to carry all your gear on your back for a fair bit, including up some pretty steep terrain.

If you’re thinking of a backpacking trip with your family or some newbie friends somewhere, this would be a great way to get some experience before driving hours away. The hiking trails are easily accessed right from the campground for lots of exploring opportunities.

The backpacking campsites include fire rings and picnic tables. Firewood is available for purchase nearby (it’s against Minnesota law to bring firewood from home) and vault toilets are available. These sites are available year-round.

part of the backpack-in trail in Afton State Park
This beautiful trail is steeper than it looks! It leads to the hike-in campsites.

Canoe Campsites

Are you a paddler? Afton has three canoe campsites. Two of them are right along the shore with, of course, great views of the river. The third is up a steep hill a little ways off the river.

(I’m not sure why that one is considered a canoe-in site, except maybe popularity demanded a third site and there wasn’t another spot left on the river. It’s quite a climb, especially if you were to haul your canoe or kayak up there!)

NOTE: The DNR website says Afton only has one canoe camping site, but the map shows three.

canoe campsite sign at Afton State Park
One perk: the campsites—including this canoe site—are reservable so you’re guaranteed a spot

Yurts and Cabins

If tents aren’t your thing, Afton has two yurts and four camper cabins for rent, too. These are set up for year-round use with heat. The yurts don’t have electricity, but the cabins do.

I can already imagine renting one of these for a couple of days when we have plenty of snow for some quiet camping. Snowshoers or cross-country skiers would especially enjoy it.

rental yurt at afton state park
One of the yurts, available for rental all year round

Group Camping

There are a couple of group campsites for tents and one that accommodates small trailers. It’s rustic camping with no showers, electricity or indoor plumbing (vault toilets available).

Winter Camping

Yes, there’s winter camping at Afton! Whether you’re a pro or have always wanted to try it, Afton is beautiful and very, very quiet in the winter. You’ll probably see some cross-country skiers out and about on the trails. Pack your snowshoes and explore while you’re there.

The only thing to disturb your camping experience is the unaffiliated Afton Alps ski area nearby. Light pollution from the slopes can be seen from some of the campsites, so make your choice of site with that in mind.

Other Activities at Afton

Your best bets for outdoor activities while you’re camping here are the miles of trails for hiking and the swimming beach. Unfortunately, there isn’t a good place to launch within the park itself that we could see. The only paddling you’ll have is to launch a canoe or kayak from another location and paddle over to one of the canoe sites.

two women and a dog hike a wooded trail in Afton State Park
Take advantage of the many miles of great hiking in Afton

There are no playgrounds, stores or other fancy city stuff like some of the regional parks and private campgrounds have. But there’s a small educational nature display in the Visitor Center. And a couple of the trails allow biking along with hiking so that’s another option.

If you’re a birder or love wildflowers, you’ll find plenty of that here.

The first thing Renee said when we walked down to the beach was, “What a great place for a hammock!” There are several mature trees right on the water’s edge at perfect hammock-stringing distance from each other. So bring a book and your hammock and relax awhile!

swimming beach on the st croix river at afton state park
This gorgeous shady area is the swimming beach—the St. Croix River with Wisconsin on the far shore.

Reservations and Fees

Like all our state parks, the camping fees are cheap. Tent sites are just $20-23 (2023 prices). Yurts are $80/night, cabins $75-90. You’ll need reservations for the yurts and cabins. Click here for more prices and reservation info.

How to Get There

Afton State Park is in southeast Washington County right on the scenic St Croix River, about halfway between Interstate 94 to the north and Hastings to the south. The main entrance and park office are off 70th Street and St. Croix Trail South.

Hiking Guide cover

Twin Cities Hiking & Trail Running Guide

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Sharon Brodin
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