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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 bridgeview 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.

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 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.

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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Camping Sleeping Bear: D. H. Day

I have always heard people talking about the D. H. Day campground at Sleeping Bear Dunes, but it has always been first come first served. I have heard stories of people lining up for hours just waiting for someone to leave. So, when I heard that National Park Service announced that they were going to begin accepting reservations for this popular campground, I began checking weekly to see if the website was up. After several months of delays, the website was up and I was able to secure a campsite for a weekend in August.

D.H. Day is the rustic campground at Sleeping Bear Dunes. There is no electricity and there are outhouses instead of bathrooms (just as camping should be, in my opinion). Because of when I booked, all of the loops were full, except the generator loop, meaning campers are allowed to use generators in camp during the day. Since we don’t spend a lot of time at our campsite during the day, this wasn’t a problem for us, but I did notice this seemed to be the loop with the bigger rigs.

Our site at D.H. Day

After camping at D. H. Day, I totally understand the hype. It is a gorgeous campground, right in the heart of Sleeping Bear Dunes. The sites are good sized and have a separated from each other. The campground also has a beautiful beach (top). My only complaint is that our site was very close to the outhouse (left) and it did not appear that way on the map, or I wouldn’t have booked it. If you are a camper, I highly recommend D.H. Day campground as a home base for exploring Sleeping Bear and all the Leelanau Peninsula has to offer! If you are thinking about camping at D.H. Day, I highly recommend booking in advance at recreation.gov because sites do fill up fast!

Thanks for stopping by! 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.

100 Years of Michigan State Parks

Sauguatuck Dunes State Park

Last month, the Michigan State Park System celebrated its 100th anniversary. With 103 parks, there are a lot of places in the state to enjoy natural Michigan. From Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the Western Upper Peninsula to Belle Isle in the Detroit River, Michigan State Parks encompass miles of freshwater shoreline, hills, waterfalls, and forests. There is a state park for whatever type of recreation you are looking for.

Tawas State Park

Mackinac Island was actually the first Michigan State Park as a gift from the Federal Government after a brief stint as the second National Park in the country and became the nation’s first state park (wiki). In 1917, the state of Michigan purchased land to make Interlochen State Park the second state park. By 1919, the Michigan State Park commission was created to “oversee, acquire, and maintain” state parks for the enjoyment of the people. Up until that point, many of the beauties of the state were privately owned and there weren’t places for the average person to go visit in their new automobile (govdelivery.com).

Seven Lakes State Park

I love how forward thinking the state of Michigan was back in the early 20th century. What else was happening around the country at that time? In 1919, the Grand Canyon became a National Park. Isle Royal, the only National Park in the state, didn’t become a National Park until 1940. Other state park systems didn’t exist until the 1930s.

McLain State Park

Back in 2012, I set a goal to visit every Michigan State Park. By my estimation, I have visited 49 so far and I have many more parks to explore! Through my explorations, I have seen some pretty amazing places! Of course, I have shared on here my absolute love of Ludington State Park. I probably visit Ludington more often then some parks which are closer to home. I’ve seen the unique beauty of the big spring at Palms Book State Park. I have witnessed the history of Fort Wilkins and Fort Michilimackinac. Just this past weekend, I camped along the shores of Lake Michigan at Fisherman’s Island State Park. I greatly appreciate the experiences I have had at these wonderful parks and I look forward to many more!

Silver Lake State Park

Thanks for stopping by! 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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Off Season Camping

Autumn at Tahquamenon Falls

Now is the time of year where people start clamoring to get the perfect summer campsite. Michigan State Parks 6 month reservation window is open now for summer and all over the internet, campers are posting about the difficulties of getting their favorite spot. All this hype makes it really hard to get into the popular campgrounds especially over the busy weekends. There is one way sure fire way to avoid all this hassle: camp in the off season. Camping in Michigan outside of the summer, you practically have the campgrounds to yourself.

The slowest season for camping is definitely winter. Winter brings less options as some campgrounds close completely while others limit availability. Many campgrounds that remain open close the bath houses in winter as well. Of course, winter camping brings lower temperatures and snow (although not much of that yet this year) so you need to be prepared with a quality tent and sleeping bag rated for the cold. Bring your snowshoes or cross country skis and take to the trails during the daylight. If you are prepared for it, camping in the winter is a unique experience.

For those who are not that hearty, spring and fall are less busy than the summer, but more comfortable than winter. And if you are able to go during the week, you might not have many neighbors. Last May we took an impromptu one night camping trip at Holly Rec just to get out of the house. There were a few other campers around, but it was much calmer than the summer and we were able to walk right in and get a spot without booking months in advance.

Of course, camping in Michigan in the fall adds a whole other layer to the experience. The trees put on a show that dress up the campgrounds. I love going up to the Upper Peninsula in the fall. The colors really add another layer to an already beautiful wilderness. We camped at Tahquamenon Falls a few years ago in the fall and there were only a handful of other campers around after the weekend. Of course, it gets chilly up there in the fall so you need to be prepared for it, but the views make it worth it!

Thank you for stopping by! If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! 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.

Hiking Hocking Hills: Ash Cave

Ash Cave

The Ash Cave Gorge Trail is probably the easiest hike at Hocking Hills State Park. The quarter mile, ADA accessible trail takes you almost all the way to the falls. The accessibility of this trail makes it a popular site as can be seen from the above photo. Of course, this spot wouldn’t be so popular if it wasn’t stunning. At 700 feet from end to end and the rim rising 90 feet from the ground, Ash Cave is the largest recessed cave in the state of Ohio. Of course, there are more challenging ways to explore Ash Cave as well. Climb 64 steps on the Rim Trail for get a view of the cave from above. (HockingHills.com)

It was forecast to rain the whole time we were in Hocking Hills. When we woke up on our first full day in the park and the rain hadn’t started, we quickly got ready and headed to the trails. Our plan was to see as much as we could before the rain

Ash Cavestarted and then head back to camp. I had learned since our time at Port Crescent last summer and I brought things to do in the tent to occupy us during the rain. Miraculously, it didn’t rain at all that day and we were able to explore everything we had hoped. What is my point? Don’t look at the weather forecast and cancel your plans! According to the meteorologists there was a 100% chance of rain that day and it didn’t actually start until after the sun went down. We could have cancelled the trip and stayed home but we would have missed these cool sites and some beautiful weather. Of course, that’s not always the case so you need to have a plan for rain. That can be tough tent camping, but some books, a pack of cards, and a rain coat should keep you occupied for a bit.

To plan your trip to Hocking Hills, visit HockingHills.com.  Read more in my Hiking Hocking Hills Series: Camping & Hiking Hocking HillsCedar Falls, Conkle’s Hollow, Rock House and Old Man’s Cave (coming soon). If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! 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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Camping and Hiking Hocking Hills

Cave Waterfall

Hocking Hills State Park is a geological gem in southeast Ohio. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time in Ohio over the years, this area does not feel like Ohio. It felt like a cross between the Pictured Rocks area in the Upper Peninsula and Natural Bridge in Kentucky. Paths and hiking trails weave through sandstone rock formations and around waterfalls to stunning, sometimes otherworldly, vistas. The park is full of towering sandstone cliffs, caves, and amazing waterfalls.

There is an experience at Hocking Hills for all abilities and interests from a leisurely stroll to a more rigorous hike. The trails to Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, and Conkle’s Hollow are easy, paved, and have rewarding views at the end. Old Man’s Cave (featured above) is a little more difficult with some beautiful bridges to cross and carved sandstone steps. We hiked Old Man’s Cave during a drizzle and it felt all encompassing and surreal. Rock House was the most challenging hike we did. It involved climbing narrow, boulder-like steps to an amazing cave-like rock formation that once was a hideaway for bandits. If you are even more adventurous, Cantwell Cliffs and The Hemlock Bridge Trail are more longer, more challenging trails with many steps leading to unique locations in the park. If you are looking to make a full day out of hiking, the Grandma Gatewood Trail connects a lot of the sites so you don’t even need a car to see them all.

During our time in Hocking Hills, we stayed in the Old Man’s Cave Family Campground Hike-in Sites. The hike-in sites are outside of the main campground at the mountain bike trailhead. The sites are fairly well spread out and most of them have a good deal of privacy. The four sites closest to the parking lot are first come first serve and the farthest site back is a good .8 mile walk from the parking lot with many sites in between. The path to the hike-in sites is gravel and a wagon is an easy way to transport your gear to your site. Even though the hike-in sites are separate from the main campground, hke-in campers are given main campground privileges such as use of the shower house and pool. I would definitely recommend the hike-in sites to tent campers that don’t require an electrical hookup because the sites at the main campground are very close together and lack privacy.

Read more in my Hiking Hocking Hills Series: Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, Conkle’s Hollow, Rock House and Old Man’s Cave (coming soon). For more information about the Hocking Hills Area visit HockingHills,com. Thanks for stopping by! If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! 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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Early Season Camping

Spring is in the Air

Trees at Crosswinds Marsh

This past weekend, we made our inaugural camping trip of the season. The weather was beautiful and I just had the itch to get out and sleep under the stars. We drove to Holly Recreation Area just in time to set up camp in daylight and have a campfire. One of the nice things about camping near home is the reduced travel time gives you more time in camp. Since we don’t typically camp just to camp but to explore, we don’t usually stay overnight at our local parks. This was my first time at Holly Recreation Area and it was very quiet this early in the season. I look forward to returning in the future, maybe for another low key camping trip. Who knows?

If you are ever doing a spur of the moment camping trip like this, I have a few little tips for you. I would recommend checking availability online before you leave. We were planning on going to Highland Recreation Area but after looking on the website, we discovered that to camp there in April and May you have to bring a horse. I was very glad I checked this before we left and we didn’t drive all the way out there before learning that. And of course, you could get all the way out to a campground only to find out that they are full and that wouldn’t be good either. So, I suggest that you check the website before you leave, but do not book a last minute trip online. Most campground reservation systems charge you a processing fee, but if you book at the campground they do not. By booking at the park, we saved some money and it didn’t take any additional time to check in.

Just for clarification, the above photo is from Crosswinds Marsh not Holly Recreation Area. We weren’t really at the park long enough to explore and take pictures. Maybe we will come back another time to capture it and share it here.

If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! 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.

Spring is in the Air!

Big Pink Flower

I think it may finally be spring here in Michigan, although there is snow in the 10 day forecast, but I’m just going to pretend I don’t see that and hope it goes away. The longer days and warmer weather mean its time to start planning our summer trips! So far, I have a cruise on the calendar towards the end of summer. In July, I’ve booked a weekend camping trip at Straits State Park in St. Ignace. I am so excited to sit around the campfire under the lights of the Mackinac Bridge again!

We are also talking about heading down to the Hocking Hills in June. I have seen beautiful photos of the scenery there and I would really like to capture it! The park in southern Ohio is full of stunning waterfalls, unique rock formations, and miles of hiking trails.

The final trip of the summer that I am planning is a camping trip in the Porcupine Mountains in the western Upper Peninsula. I have heard so much about the area but the seven hour plus drive is a real deterrent. I am hoping this summer to finally overcome that obstacle and experience Lake of the Clouds and Bond Falls myself.

Where are you planning to visit this summer? Let me know in the comments! If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page. For information about our new Guided Photography Tours, visit GuidedPhoto.com.

Mackinaw City

Old Mackinac Point

For Labor Day this year we camped at Wilderness State Park near Mackinaw City. There is a lot to see and do in that area and I was excited to spend a long weekend exploring it! We stayed for three nights and I realized that with two summer road trips, three nights was the longest we had stayed in one place on a trip since our cruise in 2015. That is, if you count a cruise as staying in one place. If not, you would have to go back to our Disney World trip in 2014. Obviously, we prefer to move when we travel.

I really enjoyed our stay at Wilderness State Park. We stayed in one of the new tent sites that are right on Lake Huron. It was like having our very own beach! We had a great long weekend and Wilderness was quickly added to our list of favorite campgrounds!

The above photo was taken at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. Its a picturesque lighthouse that sits right near the base of the Mackinac Bridge in Michilimackinac State Park. If you are in the area, I recommend that you visit the park and the fort there, but I wouldn’t recommend spending your money visiting the lighthouse, and this is coming from someone who LOVES Michigan lighthouses. The thing that threw me about visiting the lighthouse is that climbing the lighthouse is not guaranteed with admission. Luckily, we got to climb but the way they do tours, it was so crowded at the top, it was hard to take pictures and by the time the whole group got up there, I just wanted to go back down. If you are a lighthouse fan like me, go to Michilimackinac State Park and photograph the lighthouse from outside the fence, and if you want to climb a lighthouse, head two miles out of the city to McGulpin Point Lighthouse, which I will review in a later post! Be sure to check back later so you don’t miss it!

Thanks for stopping by! For more information about Wildnerness State Park visit the DNR. To plan your trip to Michilimackinac State Park, visit MackinacParks.com. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page, follow me on Instagram, and Flickr! 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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