Lake Carlos State Park
Guide

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. Originally established in 1937, inside one of Minnesota’s summer resorts, the park features tamarack bog, marshes, meadows, hilly lakes, and woodlands featuring maple-basswood. Lake Carlos State Park lies within a transition zone between Minnesota’s prominent prairie landscape and tall coniferous forests.

The park is named after Lake Carlos, which also serves as a hub of water recreation for activities like boating, swimming, and fishing. Other recreational offerings at the park include hiking, birdwatching, wildlife viewing, picnicking, and sightseeing. The park also is home to nature programs, interpretive exhibits, park tours, and winter recreation. There is so much to see and do no matter what time of the year you visit!

Camping, especially RV camping, is excellent at Lake Carlos with three different campgrounds for you to choose from. The Upper and Lower campgrounds accommodate RV and tent campers, but you can also stay at the equestrian campground if you are traveling with your horses. Sites with electric hookups and many other camping amenities are provided in the campgrounds, and winter campers will like that the Upper Campground operates year-round. Peak season at Lake Carlos State Park runs from mid-May to mid-October.

RV Rentals in Lake Carlos State Park

Transportation

Driving

Located on County Road 38 around 10 miles away from Alexandria, Lake Carlos State Park is an easily accessible destination in Douglas County, Minnesota. There are two entrances to the park. One entry is located in the north end of the park, and the other is in the east. Both are accessible off of County Road 38. Once you arrive, the park roads are generally well-paved and wide enough for trouble-free driving, so you shouldn't have any problems maneuvering your RV in and around the park.

There are plenty of places nearby to stop and pick up supplies for your adventure. These include Alexandria (around 10 miles away), Garfield (approximately 12 miles away), and Parkers Prairie (about 12 miles away). The closest major city to the park is Fargo, North Dakota, which is 110 miles to the northeast. While the park is easy to navigate during the peak season, in the wintertime, it can be a different story depending on snowfall. If you plan to visit the park during this time, we recommend calling ahead to the park office to make sure that you will be able to have road access.

The park features parking near the entrance, at the campgrounds, along the beach, and in the picnic areas. Towed parking is conveniently available as well. The park’s Lower Campground alone comprises five parking lots. For those just visiting for the day, you can look on the park map for the nearest parking options near your day activities.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Lake Carlos State Park

Campsites in Lake Carlos State Park

Reservations camping

Lower Campground

The Lower Campground at Lake Carlos State Park is the perfect camping destination for visitors who want to be close to the water. The campground overlooks the sandy shores of Lake Carlos and consists of 75 campsites for both RV and tent camping. Fifty-nine of these sites feature electric hookups, but there are no water or sewer hookups. The campground is regarded as being kept in good condition, and you can expect fairly large and shady sites that will accommodate rigs up to 50 feet in length. Other amenities within the campground include water collection points, showers, a dump station.

We recommend reserving a site on the water if you plan your trip in advance so you can make the most of the beautiful campground location. A wheelchair friendly electric site is also available, and leashed pets are allowed in the campground. Reservations can be made year-round, but typically the campground is shut down during the offseason. Amenities like water, showers, and dump stations are also not available during this time.

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 in the north of the park and will provide you with some fantastic amenities to make your stay as enjoyable as it can be. There are a total of seven campsites in the Equestrian Campground, all of which feature hitching rails for your horse. Four of the sites also feature electricity, so you won't have to worry about going off-grid here.

Rigs up to 50 feet will be permitted inside the campground. Up to 30 people can be accommodated in the campground at any given time. No sanitation facilities are provided, so campers are advised to use nearby Upper Campground for sanitation. We recommend you make your reservation in advance since the campground is quite small, but please note that the Equestrian Campground closes during the winter months.

Upper Campground

The Upper Campground at Carlos State Park is perfect for travelers wanting to stay away from the crowds of the lake and camp in the forest. Here you will find a well-shaded campground that is comprised of 47 RV campsites. Twenty-two of these 47 campsites also feature electric hookups, but like the Lower Campground, there are no water or sewer hookups. The Upper Campground is situated towards the northeastern end of the park near the park office and offers some great amenities. These include water collection points, showers, toilets, and a dump station.

During the off-season, most of the facilities will not be available; however, there are vault toilets that are open year-round. The RV size limit is the same throughout the park, so rigs 50 feet or smaller can stay here. The Upper Campground is pet-friendly, and you should be able to get phone reception on all of the major networks. Reservations are highly recommended if you are visiting in peak season since it can get busy during the summertime. During the wintertime, the campground usually stays open, but if the weather is especially bad, it can close at any given time.

Seasonal activities in Lake Carlos State Park

Off-Season

Fishing

The waters of Lake Carlos contain many of the fish that anglers love to try and catch. Many people visit the park to cast out a line, and fishers will be astounded at the numerous species of fishing waiting for you underneath the surface of the water. These include brown bullhead, black bullhead, yellow bullhead, green sunfish, northern pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, and rock bass. Fishing can be done from the banks of the lake, boats, or from the boat ramps. If you don't have your own fishing tackle, you can rent it from the park office.

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 the nine miles of horseback trails. The trails are scenic, thanks to the beauty of the wildflowers, rare bird species, and the thickly forested regions. Riders can access the park’s horseback trails from the equestrian campground. A horse pass is mandatory to use the park’s equine trails, so you will have to obtain one if you would like to ride your horse during your visit.

Winter Recreation

The outdoor fun doesn't stop during the wintertime at Lake Carlos State Park as 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 for cross-country skiing on the specially-groomed skiing trails. If you are lucky, you might be visiting during the Candlelight Snowshoe and Ski Event, which is an annual winter festival.

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 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 features two self-guided nature trails: Maple-Basswood and Wetland Overlook. A variety of animals and birds can be sighted along these trails, so 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.

In-Season

Boating

If you are more interested in exploring what is on top of the lake rather than what lies below, you will be pleased to note that boating is allowed on Lake Carlos. There are two wooden boat ramps available for you to use during your visit, but you will have to bring your own boat as there are none for rent from the park. Boating is most comfortable during the summer months before the cold weather kicks in, so visiting during peak season is your best bet if you want to get out on the water.

Swimming

One of the best ways to enjoy the warmer months at Lake Carlos State Park is to put on your bathing suit and head to the lake. Here you will find a cozy, sandy beach that is perfect for swimming at or relaxing on. Lifeguards do not supervise the beach, so make sure that you swim to your abilities. Swimmers itch may also occur in the waters of the lake, so we recommend checking with the park office to see if there have been any reported cases before you jump in.

Picnicking

Are you looking to spend a relaxing afternoon in the park? Lake Carlos also serves as a great picnic destination. RV campers wanting to picnic with friends and families can claim picnic tables at various sites in the park beside the sandy beach. The park authorities have also 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 located on the northern side of the park.

Sightseeing and Naturalist Programs

There is much to see and explore at the park, including historical 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. 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. Make sure to check the interpretive program schedule before you arrive so you don't miss out on all of the fun.

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