Michigan's Upper Peninsula is one of the best kept secrets in North America for outdoor adventure. It is a vast, forested region surrounded on three sides by Great Lakes and sharing roughly 200 miles of borderland with Wisconsin. It is sparsely populated by humans and full of natural wonders, including moose and wolves. There is an abundance of hiking trails, glimmering waterfalls, inland lakes, and gorgeous picnic areas on the Great Lakes to soak in the beautiful sunsets.
Driving "up north" from the lower peninsula is a tradition for residents. The vacation truly begins once you cross the Mackinac (pronounced mack-ih-naw) Bridge, lose cell phone or WiFi signal, and head for a favorite recreation area.
The list below rounds up some of the best camping experiences to be had in the UP.
Fayette State Historic Park
This is a great option for history buffs as this campground is located on the Garden Peninsula just a short drive from Manistique and Escanaba, Fayette was the site of an iron mining town from 1867 to 1891. And many of the original buildings are still in this ghost town. The campground is small, quiet, and quaint. The Michigan state park website has it still labeled as rustic, but it has modern restrooms, showers, and electrical hook-ups. This is also a great place to spot wildlife. Whitetail deer often roam nearby. This campground also has some beautiful spots for sunset gazing over Lake Michigan.
Important note: visitors need a Recreation Passport to access Michigan's state parks. This can usually be purchased at the park's visitor center, but check with the state's website for more information.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Located about an hour from St. Ignace, and only about 20 minutes from Paradise, Michigan, Tahquamenon Falls is a classic. The big highlight at Tahquamenon is the Upper Falls, which drop nearly 50 feet and stretch 200 feet across. The Lower Falls aren't quite as flashy but are still spectacular. The Lower Falls are actually a series of five smaller falls cascading around an island. The falls can be viewed from the river bank or from the island, which can be reached by rowboat rented from a park concession.
Tahquamenon is accessible to all via the park's track chair, which helps visitors explore areas of the park where traditional wheelchairs might not. These off-road, electronic chairs can easily handle trails, snow, sand and up to 8 inches of water. Track chairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis at no cost.
The park is home to multiple campgrounds including the modern campground at the lower falls that is perfect for RV camping (some campsites have 50 amp service) and a handful of backcountry sites. Tahquamenon offers a year-round camping experience. Come in the fall for the spectacular colors and the winter for the peace and tranquility found only away from the big crowds.
Twelvemile Beach Campground
This campground is part of the gorgeous Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and is a perfect place to set up a base for exploring the greater Grand Marais and Munising areas. This rustic campground has 36 campsites, including two handicap accessible sites, located high above beautiful Twelvemile Beach on Lake Superior. Note that the National Park Service recommends RVs no longer than 36 feet and vehicles and trailers no longer than 42 feet combined due to limited places to turn around. While this campground has water, there is no electricity. Restroom facilities consist of vault toilets.
Sylvania Wilderness in Ottawa National Forest
For a true backcountry experience consider heading into the Sylvania Wilderness. Not far from the Wisconsin border, the 50 rustic sites of this area are not organized all in one location. That is part of the appeal of staying in Sylvania, which is filled with old growth forest and pristine lakes. The 19,000-acre wilderness area contains 34 named lakes with campsites scattered throughout. This wilderness area offers canoe and kayak camping, plus 30 miles of hiking trails. Car camping is also available at Clark Lake.
The U.S. Forest Service does not allow motorized boat traffic onto the lakes which helps keep the nearly million-acre wilderness area as quiet as possible. The sites have fire rings and wilderness latrines but are otherwise primitive.
DeTour State Forest Campground
This rustic campground is a good option for a base camp to explore Drummond Island in the eastern part of the UP. The sites will only accommodate vehicles up to 40 feet in length. They do offer fire rings. While there are no modern restroom facilities, it does have potable water available via hand pump. The sites are shady and secluded from one another, offering easy access to a sandy beach on Lake Huron. Online user reviews rave about the night sky views. The only downside to this one is sites are doled out on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is a chance the 21 sites may be filled up when you get there. It might pay to call ahead of time to Brimley State Park, which manages the campground, to check on availability.
Union Bay Campground
This one is in the extremely picturesque Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park about 15 miles outside of Ontonagon. Union Bay is a fully modern campground with full hookups and a dump station. There is also a camp store for needed supplies while you explore the scenery of the Porkies. Just a few miles down the road is the scenic Lake of the Clouds overlook. The campground itself is extremely picturesque being situated on Lake Superior. Many of the sites are directly on the lake where you can watch the sunset as the waves crash on the rocks. This is one of my personal favorites in the entire Upper Peninsula.
Fort Wilkins Historic State Park
Located up near the Northern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula near Copper Harbor, Fort Wilkins is another fully modern campground with 50-amp services and mini rental cabins. This park will give the kids a lifetime memory and a great learning opportunity. The park features a restored 1844 military outpost complete with costumed actors who serve as history interpreters. The place is a showcase of what life was like in the mid-19th century.
The Fort Wilkins campsites all have easy access to Lake Fanny Hooe which offers excellent paddling and fishing. There are 30- and 50-amp sites, one cabin, and a group site. The campground has a dump station and water fill sites. While Fort Wilkins may not offer as much privacy as some other parks on this list, it is extremely quiet. Keep a lookout for friendly deer wandering the park.
F.J. McLain State Park
F.J. McLain State Park, located right in the center of the Keweenaw Peninsula, has 135 tent and trailer camping sites. All sites are equipped with electrical hookup and water pumps are located throughout the park.
McLain offers modern restroom facilities, a dump station, and a camp store, 2 miles of sand beach on Lake Superior, and a spectacular lighthouse view.
On top of that, McLain offers seven mini cabins with electricity, microwave, mini fridge, and hot plate. There are also numerous miles of hiking trails to explore. Visitors report that McLain is an excellent spot to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Straits State Park
Some of the best views of the Mackinac Bridge can be found at Straits State Park, located on the shore of Lake Huron. Some of the sites at this park come with their own bridge view. Imagine cooking dinner and enjoying drinks while watching a sunset over the bridge.
In total, the park has 274 sites with three main areas—the Upper Loop, the West Loop, and the East Loop. Each loop has modern bathhouses, with vault toilets located throughout the park. There are also two mini cabins located in the East Loop featuring electricity and bunk beds.
Straits has 50-amp electrical services and a dump station. Even if you do not get a site on the lake, it is an extremely short walk from all the sites to the beach. If you want to spend several days exploring the straits or checking out nearby Mackinac Island, this is the place to set up shop.
Muskallonge Lake State Park
This one is a little out of the way when compared to some of the other parks, but that is perfect for people wanting to get away from it all. Muskallonge hosts both 20-, 30-, and 50-amp sites in its modern campground and the park has boat ramps so you can go straight to fishing Muskallonge Lake every morning. The waters there hold some truly giant northern pike. Despite the remote location, this state park has extremely nice modern restroom facilities that rival some of the best private RV parks out there. Muskallonge Lake State Park is available for camping from April 15 through Oct. 30.
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