Five Must-Camp Places in Michigan This Summer
Updated: January 25, 2020
Summer months in The Mitten are considered sacred. We patiently wait from November to April for the weather to break, the lakes to become swimmable, and the camping nights comfortable. Each year we each make a list of places to visit, but somehow at the end of each August, we realize those weekends we waited so long for have suddenly disappeared, and the list we wrote remains filled with forgotten items.
It's easy to make excuses to stay home on your day off. You're tired, you need to run errands, you need to catch up on housework, you are unprepared.
Stop making excuses. Get up and go. Make the most of the time you've waited for during those seven long and cold months. Get out and camp in these five incredible Michigan locations.
1. Grand Island
Located in Lake Superior just off the coast of Munising, Grand Island is home to an enchanting wilderness dotted with primitive campsites, incredible pebble-stone beaches, and even black bears. There are cabins for rent and multiple campgrounds on the island. Wild or "free camping" is even permitted, which means you can set up a tent wherever the prettiest view lies. There are no cars on the island, but campers are
welcome to bring bikes or kayaks.
Make sure you check the ferry schedule before your trip. The charge is $15/adult.
2. South Manitou Island
Also extremely primitive, South Manitou Island is a part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Both North and South Manitou Islands include camping, and the same ferry goes to each. If planning to go here you need to be prepared. There is only one spot on the 8 square mile island for water, located just off the ferry dock. Don't expect running showers, easy access in case of an emergency, or even electricity. However, there are shipwrecks for snorkeling, empty beaches for miles, and some of the oldest and biggest trees in Michigan.
Make sure you book your ferry ticket in advance (made that mistake once). Ferry's only run twice a day, and are often sold out in advance.
3. Warren Dunes State Park
In the southwest corner of Michigan sits Warren Dunes State Park. Often overlooked due to the northern neighbors Grand Haven, Saugatuck, and Holland, it remains less busy during the summer season with the same great view of Lake Michigan. There are also two hundred foot tall dunes to climb, perfect for a birds-eye view of the lakeshore.
Because of the State Park, the campground is well-maintained and offers electricity hookups and showers. So don't expect to be roughing it too hard.
But, if you plan on visiting in early spring, keep a lookout for something called a Superior Mirage. Back in 2015, Josh and I witnessed an incredible spectacle here: the upside down Chicago skyline hovering over the lake. Even though Chicago was nearly 60 miles across the water, the rare event occurred because of a temperature inversion which bent the line of sight and flipped the reflection (whoa, science). It was so weird, in fact, our story made the Detroit Free Press and Chicago Tribune. If anywhere near the Great Lakes on an oddly-warm spring day, keep an eye out for hovering freighters, sailboats, and even skylines.
4. Hog Island Campground
Along US-2 in the Upper Peninsula, a thick forest hides Hog Island Campground a few miles west of Epoufette. If you don't camp here, good luck finding a closer campsite to Lake Michigan. The campsites are primitive with no hook-ups, but also have spaces big enough for RVs. Depending on where you decide to camp, it is common for the lakeshore to be just steps away from your tent. And even during summer weekends, there are usually multiple campsites open (I hope this post doesn't change that).
If staying, make sure to pay the camping fee at the entrance. There is no camp office or store but located just a few more miles down the road sits the Hog Island Convenience Store. Small, but will provide the basics.
5. Les Cheneaux Islands
I haven't been to the Les Cheneaux Islands for years, so this tops my list. The series of thirty-some islands dot the coast of the Upper Peninsula not far east of the Mackinac Bridge. They are perfect for kayaking, renting cabins, and camping under the stars. Take a weekend to get away from it all while feasting on BBQ. Also, don't miss the stars here. The area has very little light pollution, which means you could spend all night gazing at the Milky Way. And who knows, you might even catch a glimpse of the northern lights.
Bonus Tip: Free Camping Resource
Free camping in Michigan is actually quite common, specifically in National Forests. Referred to as "dispersed camping" this cost-effective camping method is allowed in all Michigan state forests. There are limitations you must abide by, of course.
- The campsite must be located in a state forest and not within one mile of a state forest campground.
- You must register and post a camp registration card at your campsite
- Specific longevity rules vary, but in most locations, you are limited to 14 days
- PACK IT IN and PACK IT OUT. Dispersed camping is a great free camping solution in Michigan. However, there are no trash cans or bathrooms. Respect our Michigan land and please pack out all trash and sanitary items.
Camping and free camping in Michigan is a sacred thing. There are few places so remote, so simple, so beautiful. Few moments compare to waking up and making coffee on the beach, or star-gazing and seeing a million stars in the sky above. Camp Michigan. You'll be glad you did.
At any given moment, Shalee is either lost, hunting for ice cream, or obsessively planning her next adventure.
Born and raised in rural Michigan, she began exploring the shores of Great Lakes as a teen, often sleeping in her car to save money. Eventually, her urge to explore pushed beyond her Midwest borders. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure and outdoor tourism. Her pack now includes two spunky hiking cats and her partner, Josh. Learn more about her here.