Roughing it at Cleary Lake

Affordable camping, wilderness in a park setting.

Campsite  #13, despite its unlucky number, is the standout of the Basswood campground in Cleary Lake Regional Park

You’re feeling restless and just want to relax.  Does this oxymoron describe your present state of mind?  If it does, I feel you’re pain, I was there.

I, being from Green Bay, reside in a city of roughly 100,000 people, definitely not a sprawling metropolis, but there is traffic, and living in a small residential neighborhood leaves me feeling cramped.   I was raised in a rural setting and, although I’m a small jaunt from country roads,  sometimes I long for an open space and a vivid night sky void of light pollution.

That’s the reason I planned my trip, well one of my reasons.  I wanted some free space, a fire, maybe a little adventure.  My desire was to throw the kayak and mountain bike in the car and live out of a backpack for a few days.

I discovered the  Basswood campgrounds, a segment of Cleary Lake Regional Park of Minnesota’s Three Rivers  Park District, which is roughly 40 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, provided traffic is light.  If you live in the city and want a Hiatus from your current situation, maybe this is a solution.

Cleary Lake Regional Park is somewhat of a mixture of outdoor recreation.  Besides the Basswood Campgrounds, there is the red pines camp area, two RV sites, a beach, playground,  a nine hole golf course ,a  28 acre dog off leash area,   an event hall and a boat rental shack all intermingled in the metro area park.

The Beach and playground may be a bit small but they are well maintained, as is the rest of the park.    The event hall, which is set in the middle of the park area and right along the lake shore, is tastefully designed and fantastic.  I really can’t speak for the golf course except it attracted many golfers and looked lush and green.

If you’re looking for a little sight seeing and exercise, a paved 3.5 mile trail, which one can walk, run, roller blade or ride their bike on, curves through grasslands, wooded areas and waterscapes in the park.( Dogs are allowed on this trail)  Sprouting from this trail and other roads, I discovered little paths in the woods, perfect for mountain biking.  The climbs and descents were substantial and challenging.

If paddling is what your interested in, Cleary Lake is Ideal for an hour IMG_0061tour.  I have never happened  upon a lake its size that encompassed two Islands, as this one does.  Although there is no clear place to land your Kayak, the Islands are fun to navigate around and investigate.  There are two options for paddling, a private craft launch near the Basswood campground or a rental shed in the park area.  The shed rents Kayaks, paddle boards and canoes.

As for the camping, the Basswood Campground sites are hike in only, with no water or electricity.     Toilets, parking,  a pavilion and drinking water are all in a central location.  The hike to most sites is not a long journey, but it does give you a sense of living in the wilderness, as most sights are set apart from the others, insuring privacy and your own little piece of nature.  Each site is decent size and does have a picnic table and fire pit ,  The basic essentials.

Unfortunately, my last night camping of three nights was the only clear night, free from thunder storms.  That night was truly awesome.  Lightning bugs flitted in the dark as  wildlife sounded from the trees, leaving me guessing which creature made the last unidentifiable noise in an inland lake chorus.  A brave raccoon IMG_0069emanated from the woods, right into the curious beam of my flashlight,  to scavenge for food.  The sky was amazing to the point I removed the fly from my tent and slept underneath the stars.

If this sounds like a magical fairytale place, I’m afraid I over romanticized, there were down falls.  As I mentioned, the Basswood Campgrounds has a central water source.  That source is a drinking fountain that relinquished only a slow trickle from the spout, making it impossible to fill my water bottle.  I had to journey into the park area restrooms in order to fill the container.

The other downfall was the visitor center.  It lies near the Golf course and I sensed that it was geared for that purpose.  Although the youngsters working the counter were courteous and helpful, none of the items a camper would expect from a visitor center/store were there.  No lighter fluid, hot dog buns, or marshmallows- you know, typical things you might forget.  Fortunately, there is a grocery store ten minutes away to find those provisions.

My camping excursion was set during the middle of the week and there were plenty of available sites, being 15 in the campground.  I recommend two nights of camping.  The activities seem a bit redundant the second day, you can only ride your bike on 3.5 mile trail and kayak a small inland lake for so long.  A weekend would definitely be Ideal.

It’s quite affordable, provided you own camping gear.  A night stay  is a modest $16 a night with $7.50 reservation fee, reservations can be made online at their web site, or at the visitor center.  The visitor center sells a bundle of firewood for $7, and their definition of a bundle is quite generous versus other campgrounds I’ve visited.  Besides boat rentals and camping supplies, that’s the light financial burden of this get away.

2 responses to “Roughing it at Cleary Lake”

    • Hi, It’s been three years since I’ve camped at the Basswood Campground in Cleary Lake. When I was there, the site I had envied was 13. However, it was booked. Mine was set in the woods along a grassy trail. I wanted thirteen because it was right on the lake. I hope this is helpful.


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