Michigan is home to some of the best camping in the Midwest.
Michigan is an outdoor lover's paradise, and it makes an excellent place for any camping trip. The state is surrounded on nearly all sides by any of the Great Lakes and stunning sand dunes. As if that was not enough water, the state is also home to literally thousands of inland lakes carved out by glaciers. It can be hard for fishermen, kayak, and boating enthusiasts to decide where to explore next.
Michigan is also home to dozens of well-maintained and family-friendly State Parks and National Forests filled with hundreds of miles of hiking trails and excellent campgrounds. Many of these are modern campgrounds which offer full hookups as well as dedicated quiet areas for tent camping.
Today we will look at some of the best Michigan campgrounds in both the lower and upper peninsula. No matter what style you prefer, campers are sure to find a place to add to their list of destination spots here.
Where can you go camping in Michigan?
The good news about Michigan is that it is not lacking in places to camp. There are literally hundreds of private RV parks scattered throughout the state and just as many state park and state forest campgrounds which are just nice, if not nicer.
There are also some areas where you can camp for free here in Michigan. The Michigan DNR allows dispersed camping on some state-owned lands, so long as it is not already a designated state park, game area, rustic state forest campground, or recreation area. Just make sure you have a camp registration card filled out and you are good to go.
While I have camped in that manner in Michigan before, I honestly prefer a dedicated campground if only for the facilities, picnic tables, and often prime locations close to wilderness adventure. Most major state parks have partial or full hookups for those using a camper or RV and they are usually a decent price too. Some even offer cabin and yurt rentals for those who are not quite ready to sleep on the ground.
What is the best time of year to camp in Michigan?
This is going to depend on who you talk to, but I personally love the late summer and early fall months because it is still somewhat warm, and the mosquitoes and other biting insects have died down a bit. The fall colors in some of the state campgrounds can be spectacular too. If you go in June or July, make sure to have some sort of insect repellent with you. Trust me on this one. If you are just looking for a place to set up while you hang out at the swimming beach, summer is for you.
Spring is a great time for the campers who are also into kayaking and fishing because the fish are biting and many of the rivers are at their highest flow levels, making for a much more pleasant experience. Spring is probably also the best time for people who enjoy nature trails and bird watching since the vegetation is not in full swing and the bugs are manageable.
For those who do not like crowds, winter is the way to go. Just be sure to bundle up and be ready to make a roaring fire. Michigan's winter is cold and the nights are long, especially if you are set up on a tent site!
What are the best Michigan campgrounds?
Today we are going to focus mostly on these state-owned camping sites since they are usually cheaper and better maintained than the private ones. The Michigan DNR has done an excellent job not just with building and maintaining these places, but also with their online reservation system, which makes it easy to pick and choose your site.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Paradise
We will start things off with one of the most spectacular sights in the Upper Peninsula. This park covers almost 50,000 acres, but the main attraction is the 50-foot high and 200-feet across upper falls that sees as much as 50,000 gallons a minute tumbling over the edge. Spring is probably the best time to visit here when the falls are at their heaviest. Do not miss seeing the lower falls either, they are just as spectacular, albeit in a different way. After you are done with the falls, check out the miles of hiking trails, or take a drive North to Whitefish Point and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum that is housed in a historic lighthouse. It is great for history buffs to learn about Lake Superior's most famous maritime disasters.
This state park has no less than six campgrounds including fully modern RV camping and three backcountry hike-in sites. The modern campgrounds have 20/30 and 50-amp sites and run from $28-$32 a night during peak season. In the offseason they are $20-$24. There is also a semi-modern campground that charges $20 for semi-modern sites and only $17 for rustic ones. Make reservations in advance, this place fills up quickly.
Port Crescent State Park, Port Austin
The sunset coast of Lake Michigan gets all the attention, which is what allows this hidden gem of a park near the tip of Michigan's "thumb" to fly under the radar a bit. Situated on the shore of Lake Huron, this modern campground offers up 142 modern sites for just $33 a night. They also have several cottages, cabins, and even some geodesic domes for rent. This place is wonderfully quiet, especially on weekdays if you can swing it. My visit was in the early fall and I had no one around me the entire weekend. The facilities were nice and clean, and there was almost no noise from campsite neighbors.
I even saw a bald eagle while photographing a beautiful sunset on the sandy beach. This place truly was one of the best camping experiences I have ever had. This is a great option for kayakers. Take a day to paddle your craft out to spectacular Turnip Rock out on Lake Huron. The nearby town of Port Austin is small, but quaint. This park is perfect for a quiet weekend getaway.
D.H. Day Campground, Glen Arbor
There are few places in the Lower Peninsula more spectacular than Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. D.H. Day is a federally owned campground that draws people year after year for one of the best tent and RV camping experiences you can get in Michigan. Spend the day exploring the Lake Michigan Shoreline and climbing the dunes before settling in for a nice campfire dinner in the evenings.
This campground has 81 sites. The only downside is that it does not have showers or electric hookups. However, visitors here can shower for free at Platte River Campground 17 miles south of the park. The other big plus is the price. For only $20 a night, it is hard to beat a place with such spectacular views of Lake Michigan.
Chapel Beach Campground, Munising
There are several campgrounds in and around Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, but Chapel Beach has almost universally positive reviews from anyone who has stayed there. This is a small, backcountry campground that requires a hike of a little over two to three miles. This is perfect for anyone that wants to combine some hiking with their camping experience. The rate is only about $5 a night, but you will need a backcountry camping permit and a reservation to use this location.
Those who stay at this location will be treated to a spectacular beach and views of Lake Michigan. It also gives the chance to get up close and personal with awesome natural features like Chapel Rock that most tourists only see from one of the guided cruises past the formations.
Ludington State Park, Ludington
When it comes to Michigan State Parks, this one might be the most popular. Situated perfectly between Manistee and Ludington, this place offers a plethora of outdoor activities that will appeal to almost everyone. Biking, hiking, kayaking, fishing, and more are all available close. This is a good option if you just want to sit on the beach and take in the views too. If you are looking for some fun ATV action on the sand, just south of the park, between Ludington and Muskegon is the Silver Lake sand dunes area.
Ludington offers four campgrounds offering the full range of experiences. There is something here for everyone. Ludington Beechwood, Ludington Cedar, and Ludington Pines all offer a semi-modern experience with 20/30 amp and 50-amp services. Price Range from $25-$33 and $25-$29 in the offseason. There is also Ludington Rustic which offers a walk-in experience for only $20 in peak season and $17 in the offseason.
Wilderness State Park, Carp Lake
This one is a hidden gem for anyone who wants to explore the Straits area of Northern Michigan. Located about 11 miles from Mackinaw City, you can take the Mackinac Bridge across the straits to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Or you can hop a ferry to explore Mackinac Island for a day. The nice thing about Wilderness is that it is far away from the highway and all the traffic noise you will hear closer to Mackinaw City and the bridge that connects the two halves of the state.
Within the park there is 26 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan, and it is also a dark sky preserve offering some of the best views of the stars that you will get in Michigan. There are also plenty of hiking trails. The smallmouth bass fishing is excellent. This park offers a great mix of rustic cabin rentals and a handful of walk-in backcountry sites. For RV enthusiasts there are hundreds of 20/30 amp and 50-amp hookups available for only $33-$37 a night in peak season.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Ontonagon
For generations, a trip to the Porcupine Mountains has been a staple of camping tradition during the Michigan summers. The terrain here is unlike anything you will find anywhere else in the state and there are miles of hiking trails that will take you to secluded waterfalls and views of beautiful waters like Lake of the Clouds. It can get a little busy here in the summer, but if you are planning a spring or fall trip, this place is hard to beat for views.
Consider Presque Isle Campground for 50 rustic sites on the river. If you are looking for a light walk-in experience, consider one of the six sites they have overlooking Lake Superior. If you want something more secluded, consider the Lost Creek Outpost Campground or White Pine Extension Outpost. Both are walk-in experiences that offer plenty of peace and quiet.
Fisherman's Island State Park
Another gem that goes largely unnoticed by the crowds that swarm Traverse City to the south is this park near Charlevoix. This is a smaller park, but it offers miles of beautiful shoreline on Lake Michigan where you can just get away from it all. It is a great place to walk the beach and search for Petoskey stones.
The campground is rustic, so no WiFi, but it is tucked away into the woods and you might forget you have neighbors in this park. If you can make do without power or water, it makes for one of the best RV experiences on the Lake Michigan coastline. There are 50 sites, and the fees are a modest $17 a night.
South Higgins Lake State Park, Roscommon
This lake campground gets overlooked a bit due to the proximity to Houghton Lake. However, Higgins Lake is a gorgeous park, and is a great middle of the Northern Lower Peninsula destination for anyone who likes fishing or boating. It is also a great destination for anyone who wants to ride around exploring the nearby two-tracks and ORV trails. While we do love camp food, make sure you also stop into Roscommon at Matt's Lake Street Grill & Pizzeria. No lie, in my opinion, it is the best pizza in Michigan. They make an awesome breakfast too!
South Higgins has a mini cabin for rent for only $52 a night and the campground has both semi-modern and full hookup sites available. The rates are $33 for 20/30 amp, $37 for 50-amp, and $45 for a full hookup.
Sleepy Hollow State Park, Laingsburg
Located only about an hour and a half from Detroit and 20 minutes from Lansing, Sleepy Hollow is located conveniently off Highway 127. It has miles and miles of hiking trails, many of them hilly and challenging. This is a popular park with birders for the plethora of species that call their home around Lake Ovid. The waters also provide some fine fishing opportunities. In the winter months, the area sees a lot of cross country skiers and snowshoeing. This park even offers mountain biking, and horseback riding trails and disc golfing opportunities. What more could you want?
Sleepy Hollow has both a rustic and a modern cabin available for rent. The modern one goes for $101 a night while the rustic one rents for $68. For campers, the park has 181 modern sites that rent for just $25 a night.