Lake Carlos State Park
Guide

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Introduction

Located about 10 miles north of Alexandria in Douglas County, Minnesota, Lake Carlos State Park is a 1,231-acre public recreation area well-known for its wide array of recreational opportunities, breathtaking natural scenery, and RV camping offerings. The park was established in 1937 inside one of Minnesota’s summer resorts and has since been attracting visitors from near and far to break free, for at least a little while, from their urban lives. The park presents a wonderful natural setting in its tamarack bog, marshes, meadows, hilly lakes, and woodlands featuring maple-basswood. The park lies within a transition zone between Minnesota’s prominent prairie landscape and tall coniferous forests. The park is named after its highly famous, Lake Carlos, which also serves as a hub of water recreation like boating, swimming, and fishing. Other recreational offerings at the park include hiking, birdwatching, wildlife viewing, nature programs, interpretive exhibits, park tours, picnicking, sightseeing, and winter recreation.

Camping, especially RV camping, is excellent at Lake Carlos with the availability of three campgrounds. The Upper and Lower campgrounds accommodate RV and tent campers and an equestrian campground serves campers with horses. Sites with electric hookups and many other camping facilities are offered in the campgrounds, mostly during the peak camping season. Peak season at the park typically lasts from mid-May to mid-October.

RV Rentals in Lake Carlos State Park

Transportation in Lake Carlos State Park

Driving

Located on County Road 38, 10 miles away from Alexandria, Lake Carlos State Park is an easily accessible destination in Douglas County, Minnesota. The park features a lot of parking areas all over the park including near the entrance, at campgrounds, beachside, and at the picnic areas. Towed parking is conveniently available as well. The park’s Lower Campground alone comprises five parking lots. You can look for the nearest parking options on the map whenever you need to park your camper anywhere. Park roads are generally well-paved and wide enough for trouble-free driving. Do not park or drive on the grass. Also, do not bring your vehicles on trails groomed for skiing and snowmobiling. Drivers are instructed to drive on a speed limit of five miles per hour when inside any campground. Equestrians must take care when bringing their horses on equine trails in winter as trails may be too wet. Most of the park roads get covered in snow creating difficulties for drivers. The park may also close a few roads due to extreme weather.

Parking

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Lake Carlos State Park

Campsites in Lake Carlos State Park

Reservations camping

Equestrian Campground

If your beloved horse must accompany you on your RV camping trip, you can choose to stay in the park’s equestrian campground. The equestrian campground is located on the north of the park. The campground offers seven campsites, all featuring hitching rails. Four of the sites also feature electricity. Up to 30 people can be accommodated in the campground. No sanitation facilities are provided in this campground. Campers are advised to use nearby Upper Campground for sanitation. 50 feet is the maximum RV length.

Lower Campground

Lower Campground overlooks the sandy shores of Lake Carlos. The campground consists of 75 campsites for both RV and tent camping, 59 of which also feature electric hookups. The park’s interpretive center and amphitheater can be found nearby. Only one RV or one trailer is allowed per campsite. RVs must not be larger than 50 feet. No Wi-Fi is available. Generator use is not allowed between 10 pm to 6 am. It is highly recommended to reserve campsites before arrival. Reservations are made year-round, but typically the campground is shut down during the off season. Amenities like water, showers, and dump stations are also kept closed. A wheelchair friendly electric site is also available. Leashed pets are allowed in the campground. There are no pull-through sites.

Upper Campground

The Upper Campground is a well-shaded campground in a thickly forested region comprising 47 RV campsites. The sites can also be used for pitching a tent. 22 out of these 47 campsites also feature electric hookups. The Upper Campground is situated towards the northeastern end of the park and the park office is nearby. Only two camping units are allowed per site in the form of two tents or one RV and one tent. The maximum RV length for each campsite is 50 feet. Parking RVs on a grassy surface within the campground is prohibited. The speed limit within the campgrounds is set as five miles per hour. No Wi-Fi is available. No generator use is allowed between quiet hours lasting from 10 pm to 6 am.

Reservations are highly recommended. The entire campground or a few sites can be closed anytime for camping during winters. Drinking water, running water, showers, restrooms, and dumping stations are also kept closed during the off-season. Vault toilets are available year-round. The park is typically pet-friendly, but pet owners are advised to keep their pets on a leash. A wheelchair friendly campsite with an electric hookup is also available in the campground. No pull-through sites are available.

First-come first-served

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Lake Carlos State Park

In-Season

Horseback Riding

Lake Carlos State Park is a haven for horse lovers. If you are planning an RV trip to the park and don’t want to leave your horse behind, you can take advantage of the park’s equestrian campground as well as nine miles of horseback trails. Equestrians would love riding their horses on these scenic trails covered in the beauty of wildflowers, rare bird species, and thickly forested regions. The park’s horseback trails can be directly accessed from the equestrian campground. A horse pass is mandatory to use the park’s equine trails.

Picnicking

Lake Carlos also serves as a great picnic destination inside Lake Carlos State Park. RV campers wanting to picnic with friends and families can claim picnic tables at various sites in the park beside the sandy beach of Lake Carlos. The park authorities have laid out picnic tables in the park’s multiple campgrounds including the Pioneer Group Camp. An open picnic shelter, for up to 50 people, can be found in the Lakeview Group Camp. Electricity and water are also available. Another picnic shelter named Pioneer Group Campsite accommodates up to 50 people and is found in the northern side of the park.

Recreation at Lake Carlos

Lake Carlos is the fanciest spot within the entire park. The gorgeous lake features a sandy beach, excellent for swimming or relaxing in the summer, and two wooden ramps used for launching boats and fishing. Anglers can try their luck for species like Brown bullhead, Black bullhead, Yellow bullhead, Green sunfish, Northern pike, Largemouth bass, Smallmouth bass, Bluegill, and Rock bass in the lake. The lake also features on-site parking, a great plus for RV campers.

Off-Season

Hiking and Wildlife Viewing

RV campers and visitors alike will enjoy every bit of their visit to the park, all thanks to the natural wonders spread all over the park’s more than 1,000 acres. The park’s 14 miles of hiking trails are the best way to experience all the brilliance of nature there is to discover. The park also features two self-guided nature trails: Maple-Basswood and Wetland Overlook. A variety of animals and birds can be sighted on these trails. Don’t forget to bring along your binoculars, RV campers, because you are in for a treat. Animals and birds that are frequently sighted include beaver, loons, grebes, herons, and deer.

Sightseeing and Naturalist Programs

There is much to see and explore at the park including historic sites and natural exhibits. Make sure you do not miss out on any points of interest during your RV camping trip. The park features five buildings constructed by the Works Progress Administration. These historical exhibits include a mess hall and crafts building inside a group campsite, a bathhouse, a water tower, and a sanitation building.

Also, do take out some time to witness the park’s diverse natural landscape consisting of marshes, meadows, woodlands, and lakes. The park’s scenery is incredibly beautiful, truly ideal for nature photography. The park arranges naturalist programs and guided park tours all year long. These tours and programs are a guaranteed way to discover all the incredible features of the park.

Winter Recreation

If you are planning to RV camp in Lake Carlos State Park, you don’t need to worry about the recreational facilities at all. The park offers as many opportunities for winter recreation as it does for the summer specific activities. Visitors and campers can enjoy riding a snowmobile on groomed trails or renting snowshoes at the park office. Also, there are opportunities of cross-country skiing on the park’s trails specially groomed for the purpose. “Candlelight Snowshoe and Ski Event,” an annual winter festival, will also make sure you are thoroughly entertained during your winter visit.

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