Go See Do Photography

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Best Campgrounds in Michigan for Tent Camping

Sunset at McLain State Park

Camping seems to be the thing to do this summer, to get away from the crowds and get into nature. With so many new campers, I thought now would be a good time to share my favorite places to get into nature in Michigan. It is important to note that many of these campgrounds fill up on summer weekends, so definitely try to make reservations early!

When looking for campgrounds for tent camping, I’m looking for:

  • Privacy: without a big RV to retreat to, I prefer to have some trees separating me from my neighbors
  • View: my favorite campsites in Michigan are usually near a body of water and being able to see it from your site is unbeatable
  • Location: we are not the kind of campers that hang around the campground all day. We like campgrounds with activities nearby, whether it be hiking, boating or a town to explore
  • Cleanliness: while I haven’t had an issue with any campground in Michigan being unhygienic, the ones that made this list are clean.
  • Rustic vs. modern: I don’t need electric service while camping. I have learned that everything I need to power (mainly charging phones and camera batteries) can be powered through the AC adapter in my car. Modern bathhouses and showers are a plus but I am not opposed to an outhouse. I haven’t been brave enough to try dispersed camping without an outhouse yet.

With those parameters in place, here are my favorite campgrounds in Michigan, in no particular order:

D.H. Day Campground

D.H. Day is located in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This campground only recently started taking reservations, before that people literally lined up early in the morning to get a site here and after camping here, I understand why. It is a rustic campground but campers do have access to the showers at Platte River (the modern campground in the park). The sites are big and very private and there is a nice beach located within the campground. When I booked, the only sites available were in the generator loop. With the rules about when generators can be run, it was pretty peaceful. Reservations are accepted from May to October. The rest of the year it is still first come, first served. With online reservations, D.H. Day books up early. You can book 6 months out at Recreation.gov.

Fisherman’s Island

Fisherman’s Island State Park is located near Charlevoix. The waterfront sites here are AMAZING and can fit a tent or small trailer. You basically have a small beach on Lake Michigan to yourself. This is a completely rustic campground but the setting is totally worth it! It is very quiet and it’s not too hard to get a site in peak season although the waterfront sites book up early. To book, visit midnrreservations.com.


Tahquamenon Falls – Rivermouth Pines

Like many Michigan State Parks, Tahquamenon Falls in the U.P. is a large park with many campgrounds throughout. My favorite has to be Rivermouth Pines. Located away from the falls where the Tahquamenon River meets Lake Superior, this area is off the beaten path and quiet. They are well spaced out and some of them are right on the water. The sites in this area are rustic but it is within walking distance to the Rivermouth campground where there is a modern bathhouse. To book visit, midnrreservations.com.

Hoeft State Park

Hoeft State Park, located near Rogers City, is really a hidden gem of the Michigan State Park system. It has a gorgeous Lake Huron beach and is near the Huron-Sunrise trail which is a popular biking destination. The sites are large and spread out with electric service and a modern bathhouse. One of the best things about this park is that is typically pretty easy to get a site and only really fills up on holiday weekends. Its still a good idea to reserve a site ahead of time at midrnreservations.com.

Straits State Park

Straits State Park in St. Ignace is the only campground that we routinely return to. It is very close to downtown St. Ignace so it’s very convenient if you are planning on visiting Mackinac Island. But what keeps me coming back to this park are the waterfront, bridge view sites. Even if you can’t get right on the water, both lower campgrounds have great views of the bridge and there is a little bench on the water where you can sit if you didn’t score a bridge-view site. The sites right on the water do not have electric service but Straits has the best showers in all of the state park system. The waterfront sites tend to fill up quickly but are easier to get during the week. To book, visit Midnrreservations.com.

Update after visiting 7/24/2020: Over the last few years the bridge view sites have opened up for the bigger rigs. What this means is that unless you can score one of those sites, you can’t really see the bridge from your site. Also, this makes the campground feel much more crowded than in the past. Some of that might just be that people are fleeing to nature this summer. Hopefully I’ll be able to get up there next summer and see if its calmed down at all. As of right now, I no longer recommend this campground for tents unless you can get one of those bridge view sites!

Hartwick Pines State Park

Hartwick Pines State Park is located near Grayling. The park has one modern campground and even has a few full hookup sites for the big rigs. But even with all of that, the sites are private and the park was very quiet when I visited. It also has a recently renovated shower house with some of the nicest showers in the state park system. The park has many hiking trails, a logging museum, and a lake for paddling or fishing. This campground worked out well for us as the first stop on our UP road trip, allowing us to do some of the drive on Friday night. Sites can be reserved at midnrreservations.com.

 

McLain State Park

In the Keewenaw peninsula near Hancock, McLain wins the award for best campground view ever. Perched on a cliff overlooking Lake Superior, offers a stunning view of both the sunrise and sunset over Lake Superior! The sites are kind of close and don’t offer a lot of privacy, but they do have electric service. Since I’ve been there, they did a major refurbishment of the campground since some of the cliffs had eroded and they lost some of the sites. With the renovation a new bathhouse which was sorely needed. While this isn’t the most popular campground, its not a bad idea to book a site in advance at midnrreservations.com

Wilderness State Park

Wilderness State Park, located near Mackinaw City, is one of the biggest state parks in the lower peninsula and has several typical state park campgrounds. A few years ago they added these amazing waterfront tent sites (double letter sites AA, BB, etc). These sites are very private and quiet, except for the road noise you get because they are right at the entrance to the park. What is amazing about these sites is that they sit right on the water so each site essentially has its own private beach. These sites are rustic but there is a modern bathroom at the nearby entrance station. These sites are set slightly off from where the parking is so they are not accessible for any kind of trailer. There are only a handful of these sites so it is best to reserve them early on midnrreservations.com.

Bay Furnace Campground

Located in Christmas, Michigan not far from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Bay Furnace is a National Forest Service campground. It is completely rustic with outhouses but the sites are very private and the campground is very quiet. Of course, the park also has a beautiful, rocky beach on Lake Superior which is a great place to watch the sunset at the end of the day. Bay Furnace is one of the only campgrounds in the area that takes advanced reservations. The campgrounds at Pictured Rocks do now take reservations, but they are pretty small and fill up quickly so Bay Furnace is a great alternative. Reservations can be made at recreation.gov.

Due to high water levels in the great lakes, some of the best sites have been (hopefully only temporarily) lost to the lakes. Jack Pine campground at Ludington State Park is a hike in campground and one of my absolute favorite campgrounds in the state but it has been flooding lately. This has been a problem at Leelanau State Park as well as Tawas. Hopefully, water levels will go back down and these campgrounds will become accessible again.

Thanks for stopping by! What is your favorite campground in Michigan? Let me know in the comments! To read about some of our previous trips, click here. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.

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Essential Tent Camping Packing List

Camping at Straits State Park

With COVID-19 sticking around this summer, many people are opting for vacations away from the crowds and into nature. Campgrounds filled up fast and it is very difficult to get a last minute site anywhere! With all these new campers out there, I wanted to share my must-haves for tent camping.
I keep my gear organized in big Rubbermaid bins: one for the tent supplies and another for kitchen. We tend to be minimalists when we camp so you won’t see portable AC units, outdoor lighting, or Crockpots on this list. This list is in no way exhaustive and may not be right for every camper, but it should help to get you started.
Tent:
  • Tent, poles, stakes, rain fly
  • Mallet or hammer
  • Ground cover
  • Sleeping pad, cot, or air mattress and pump
  • Sleeping bag, pillow
  • Extra blankets/sheets
  • Mat or rug for tent entrance
  • Dust pan/broom
  • Extension Cord
  • Fan
Kitchen
  • Food and Water
  • Camp stove and fuel
  • Lighter or matches
  • Cooler and ice
  • Pot and/or pan
  • Utensils (tongs, serving spoon, spatula, can opener, knife)
  • Pot holder/oven mitt
  • Plates and/or bowls
  • Silverware
  • Cups, mugs
  • Cutting Board
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Cooking oil
  • Seasonings, condiments
  • Coffee maker (French press, Ready Set Joe)
  • Dishpan, biodegradable soap, and sponge
  • Paper Towel
  • Food storage container
  • Trash bags
  • Water bottles
  • Table Cloth
  • Dutch oven
  • Campfire grill
  • Pie iron/marshmallow roasting stick
  • Bottle opener/corkscrew
Other
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight/headlamp/lantern
  • Sunscreen and bug spray
  • Firewood
  • Fire starter
  • Folding chairs/hammock
  • Multi-tool or knife
  • Hatchet
  • Clothesline and clothespins
  • Bungee cord
  • Backpack
  • Canopy or screen tent
  • Rubbermaid tubs
  • Outdoor shower or toilet and privacy tent
  • Towels
  • Shower Shoes
  • Toothbrushes and toiletries
  • Clothes

For a printable version of this list, click here.

Thanks for stopping by! Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments! To read about some of our previous trips, click here. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.

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Chris Corner #12: The Tent Shot with the Mackinac Bridge

Tent at the Mackinac Bridge by Christopher Mowers on 500px.com

From the moment I knew we were going to stay at Straits State Park in St. Ignace, and that we would have a campsite right on the water, I knew that I wanted to take a photo of my illuminated tent with the Mackinac Bridge in the background. This post will walk through the process I took to come out with this image.

Planning:
I took the photo during late blue hour because I wanted a relatively even exposure between the lights on the bridge and the illuminated tent. I considered using my speedlight in the tent, and that may have yielded a better illumination, but in the end I decided to use a few LED flashlights, as I didn’t want to be obnoxious in the campsite with a flashing tent. I walked around the site to get the best composition, and then set up my tripod.

Shooting:
It would be very easy to get all of this (and more) in frame with a lens on the wider end of the spectrum. This was my first instinct; however, my first peek in the viewfinder reminded me of a very real issue: when shooting below approximately 50 mm, background objects appear increasingly smaller as compared to how they are viewed by the human eye. In other words, at 18mm, everything is in frame, but there is a huge tent and a tiny bridge. This is no good.

The solution to this problem is to go telephoto. Above 50mm or so, objects in the background appear larger than they do to the human eye, and the greater the focal length, the closer one will get to a point where background and foreground are nearly identical in perceived size.

The telephoto presents a second issue though, and that is that I could not back up far enough to get everything in frame. We have a technological solution to this though, and a relatively easy one to execute since I was on a tripod. I started on the left and took an exposure, then I panned until I had about 2/3 of the frame as new stuff and I took another exposure. I repeated this process until I had everything covered, with a decent amount on either side in case I had to crop due to my technique not being perfect.

My exposures were at f/11, ISO 400, for 30 seconds.

The Lightroom Editing:
The first step was to stitch everything together, which is easily accomplished in Lightroom. Then I cropped, and made simple exposure and contrast adjustments, as well as some color corrections.

The Photoshop Edit:
This was the time consuming bit of the edit. I’m just going to list everything that I did.

  • Using content aware fill, I removed the branding from the tent
  • Using luminosity masks, I did the following
    • Corrected some exposure issues in the bridge and water
    • Brushed noise reduction into the shadows
  • Using a high pass filter, cloned and emphasized texture in the tent
  • Using the camera raw filter, I added vignette and other minor finishing touches

 

So that’s how I got the shot. It’s not perfect, but I think it tells a great story and I learned a lot. I am confident that the next time I am in this kind of situation I can come out with something even better.

Date Taken:
June 26, 2016

Thank you for reading. You can see my best work on 500px and can also find pictures of the “trying my hardest to be good at this” type on Flickr or Pixoto.

Also, be sure to like the Go See Do Facebook Page, and follow Ashleigh on Instagram and Flickr! Check out our Gear page to see inside our camera bag!

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