Highland State Recreation area has some very nice Tentrr campsites.
The summer months are finally here, and it is time to head out and spend some much-needed time in the great outdoors. As a Michigan resident, it is hard to beat a good camping trip to one of the many DNR-managed properties here in the state. The Department of Natural Resources does a good job making an extremely pleasant camping experience at one of their many properties.
Recently, I had the opportunity to check out a Tentrr Campsite at the state's Highland State Recreation Area. These private campsites are unlike what you will find at most of the state parks and rec areas.
I ended up spending two nights in one of the canvas tents at the park, and it ended up being an extremely fun experience.
What is Tentrr?
If this is the first time you have ever heard of Tentrr, you are not alone. I had never heard of them before either. They are a New York based startup that wanted to make it easier for anyone to camp regardless of skill level in the outdoors. After all, more and more people are starting to look to camping as an outdoor activity. Especially after last year's coronavirus pandemic made many people put their usual plans for the summer on hold.
A few days in one of the Michigan DNR's properties sounded like the ideal getaway to me, so when the offer came through, I had to take it. Especially when the Tentrr site offered is in a park I had never visited previously. What better way to get to know a new area than through camping? The unique thing about Tentrr is that they offer the chance for property owners to list a campsite on their property. However, they also work with some state parks and wildlife agencies too.
Tentrr offers a "glamping" experience that is the perfect introduction for someone who has never camped before. For a fee, the company will deliver and install a "Tentrr Signature" sites on private property. People then pay to stay there with approximately 80% of the fees going to the private landowner. These sites have a canvas tent on a permanent wooden deck standard. Inside, you will find a Queen-size bed, or air mattress, propane, or wood stove, and a five-person pop-up tent.
They also include an outdoor camp toilet for areas with no other facility access. Sun showers provide a place for guests to clean up. There are also two Adirondack chairs on the deck, a water container, picnic table, and a place to store your food during your stay. The metal fire pit has a grill to prepare meals. Basically, it is everything you need to go camping, without bringing anything yourself.
Tentrr has been called the AirBnB of camping, and the experience of booking is rather similar. Once you book, they give you a confirmation number and the contact of the person who oversees the site. These people are known as "campkeepers." My campkeeper for this trip was Lisa Austin, and she was extremely prompt on getting back to me once booking was complete. She quickly responded to my email with a long list of local businesses, maps, and other information relevant to my stay. I really cannot say enough about her work during my visit. She really went above and beyond to find the answers to the questions I had. She also was extremely knowledgeable of the area and gave some great recommendations for things to check out there.
After I made the two-hour drive over from the other side of the state, she was there to greet me at the campsite, per the time we had arranged in the email ahead of time. The entire process was extremely easy. I arrived to find she was just finishing up a bit of spring cleaning of the tent, which was site K. This site was located just off the parking lot of one of the picnic areas, away from the main campground.
Unfortunately, Michigan State Parks do not allow some of the standard Tentrr Signature Site features that you will find on private land sites. My tent did not have a wood-burning stove inside, which was just find considering how hot it was that weekend. Lisa explained that the Michigan DNR also does not allow sun showers for some odd reason. I ended up driving to another nearby state park to use their facilities the following day. Honestly, it does not bother me all that much. It still made for a highly simplified camping experience.
And in the end, it was nice not having to bring my own tent along. I just threw a couple of pillows and a sleeping bag on the bed, and I was set to go. It really does take a lot of the hassle out of camping. Campers looking to experience the outdoors in an easier way will likely enjoy the simplicity of a few nights in Tentrr site.
The Tentrr Experience
If you are like me, you probably never considered yourself a "glamping" guy. I'm not a huge backcountry camper either, but I do usually keep things simple without the need for a ton of creature comforts when I'm sleeping outside. That said, staying with Tentrr is not bad at all. My first night there it rained the entire time, which made for optimal sleeping weather. Which was accompanied with the joy in knowing that I would not have to air out a tent before I left. It kept me nice and dry the whole night. It has been a while since I slept that well while camping.
Bright and early the next morning, I woke and grabbed my pack to check out some of the hiking trails. Highland State Recreation Area is a 5,900-acre parcel about 15 miles outside of Pontiac. If you are up on your auto history, you know this place used to be the estate of Henry Ford's only son, Edsel. That gives the land ties to the booming auto industry.
When Edsel was not busy with his duties with Ford Motor Company during the roaring 20s, he liked to spend time in the rolling hills. Highland was his place of escape for fishing the areas four lakes, horseback, riding, swimming and more. He even built a swimming pool and tennis courts.
Today, the property is crisscrossed with miles and miles of hiking trails. As an avid geocacher, I decided to combine my daily rucking hike with a search for some of the many caches people have hidden in the area. Highland is filled with rolling hills that are popular not just with hikers, but also cross country skiers in the winter, and mountain bikers, and horseback riders during the warmer months.
It did not take me long to get a few miles back on the winding trails. The stands of old growth trees brought exactly the peace and tranquility I had been hoping for when this trip was first proposed. A few hours later, I finally circled back to my vehicle with nearly 18,000 steps and seven miles of hiking recorded by my GPS and phone.
A little later in the evening, I headed down to the beach front area of Teeple Lake just down the road from my campsite. The area was loaded with families taking advantage of the extremely nice swimming area, or kayaking out further in the lake. I spent a little bit of time here just taking in the beauty of the lake from a large dock built out onto the lake.
I did not sleep as well the second night. Mostly just because a wedding reception or something was going on in the shelter a few hundred yards away. Honestly, it did not bother me that much. Most of the noise had piped down by 10 p.m., and by then, I was out anyway after all my hiking.
The next morning, before I left, I went on another nice hike up to the spot where the old Ford Estate used to stand. Unfortunately, it burned down sometime in the 90s. A victim of arson as Lisa told me the day before. The old carriage house and the foundations are still there though. As are some informational signs about Edsel and his former estate.
I should add that most of southern Michigan is flat. However, the Ford estate is basically situated atop one of the largest hills in the rec area. The area obviously carved out hundreds of thousands of years ago by slow-moving glaciers. It gave exactly the workout I was looking for that morning.
Tentrr offers an easier way to camp.
While I am not sure I will become a regular "glamper," the ease of staying at a Tentrr site is appealing. I had to pack very little for this weekend in the woods. All I had to do was sit back, relax, and take in the sights and sounds of nature. Everything else was provided. Even with the restrictions Michigan State Parks have on Tentrr, it is still a rather convenient experience.
It may also be the ideal way to introduce someone to camping who may be a little reluctant on the full backcountry experience just yet. For more information, see the Tentrr website.
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