With scores of state parks and state forest campgrounds, there are plenty of amazing places to camp in Northern Michigan. Surrounded by towering trees, many Michigan campgrounds offer unique adventures from waterfront campsite kayaking to epic mountain biking trails.
Here are a few favorite Michigan camping recommendations from our Awesome Mitten team…
Onaway State Park
Onaway State Park description and pictures contributed by Heather Stern. Catch more of Heather’s beautiful photos at Heather Stern Photography.
A Family Favorite
We are a family of campers and have been visiting Onaway State Park since our children were very small – 3 months old for our first and 6 months old for our youngest!
Over the years, we have come to love the park more and more, especially for the unique camping spots right along the rocky shores of Black Lake. Mornings are often shared with families of ducks who swim and wade close by as they seem to be comfortable with most campers.
Waterfront Sites on Black Lake
When we camp at Onaway State Park, we prefer a waterfront site as we can start our mornings off by wading straight into the lake to kayak or paddleboard along the shoreline. The lake is a quiet one and so it feels both safe and relaxing to take a kayak and paddleboard trip at any time of day.
Our kids love bringing a bucket to catch crayfish – they are everywhere hiding in the rocks! They get to hang out in a water bucket for a few hours and then we of course release them back into the lake. If we are not enjoying water activities, we are hunting for fossils that are abundant in the rocks of the shoreline.
Nearby Ocqueoc Falls
Among the other activities that we love in the area is Ocqueoc Falls, the largest waterfall in the lower peninsula. There is ample parking for the falls and the trail to the falls is incredibly accessible and easy to navigate.
We love to pack a lunch and spend the day playing in the waters and swimming in the natural swimming hole created by the falls. Heading back to camp after a day at the falls always calls for ice cream at the corner store and gas station right outside of the entrance to the park.
Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness
Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness description and pictures contributed by Kristi Murphy. Read more about her adventures Backpacking with Kids.
Secluded Camping in the Dunes
Camping is a passion of mine- as it is for so many people. Over the years, it’s been challenging to find a spot that is tucked away. For me, part of the joy I receive from camping comes from the peace and quiet you can find along the trail, making your camping spot your own haven for a few days.
A few years ago, as state parks began to fill up quickly, we started taking our kids backpacking. Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness is simply one of a kind- it contains a gorgeous trail to hike along, the most beautiful shoreline to explore, and a forest that you can tuck away under.
Swimming in Lake Michigan, stargazing under the stars, and dune jumping are just a few of the built in activities you can find. The hiking trail runs along Lake Michigan with its turquoise water to one side and a canopy of trees to the other. You just can’t beat this combination.
All the Details About Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness
Location: Lake Michigan Recreation Area, between Manistee and Ludington
Parking: Plenty of parking at the trailhead- $5 a day permit is required for overnight camping
Reservation Info: No reservations are required. You can camp anywhere within the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness area, as long as you are 100 feet off the trail and 400 feet from the Lake Michigan Shoreline.
Setting Up Camp: After parking, follow the easy to read signs along the trail until you reach a desired camping location. We like to hike a few miles to secure a spot away from any day use crowds.
White Pine Backcountry Campground
White Pine Backcountry Camp description and pictures contributed by Kristi Murphy. Read more about her adventures Backpacking with Kids.
Backcountry Camping with Amenities
The past few years, we have been on a mission to find the best backcountry campsites. My husband and I were out hiking along one of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore trails, and we happened to discover the White Pine campground.
Nestled in the forest, with Lake Michigan only a quarter mile away, lies six established campsites. There are built in bear containers, a vault toilet, and fire rings throughout the sites. Every backpacker knows these amenities are luxuries!
Before camping, you will need to obtain a backcountry permit. Camping is only allowed in one of the six existing sites, so the permit guarantees you a spot.
Our family loved everything about this experience- the hike was a perfect two miles in, with varying trees lining the path and plenty of animals to observe. The lush and gorgeous sites were private and full of trees.
The lake provided our water source for the weekend, with the beach a perfect place to play games, have a bonfire, and take a skinny dip. This campground is definitely one of the best kept secrets of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.
All the Details About White Pine Backcountry Campground
Location: Honor, MI
Parking: You will park at the Platte Plains trailhead off of Trail’s End Road. Parking is plentiful and free, but you do need a lakeshore pass.
Reservation Information: Before embarking, you will need to obtain your permit at the Platte River Campground Ranger Station to ensure your spot at one of the six campsites. The hike in is exactly two miles. The first mile is fairly flat and easy, the second mile has a few more hills as you traverse the forest.
Haakwood State Forest Campground
Haakwood State Forest Campground description and photos contributed by Erin Fanning. Read more of her adventures at Northern Michigan Biyaking.
A Nature Lover’s Paradise
The current tugged my kayak around a bend in the Sturgeon River as gentle rapids splashed over
the bow of my boat. A gap in the dense trees revealed the takeout, Haakwood State Forest
Campground, my home for the next few days.
Sandwiched between the Sturgeon River and the non-motorized North Central State Trail
(NCST), Haakwood is the perfect base for exploring Northern Michigan’s biking and kayaking.
The campground sits almost midway between a 16-mile section of the Sturgeon, popular with
paddlers, that begins at Trowbridge Road and ends at Burt Lake.
Fish, Bike, Hike or Kayak in Northern Michigan
The NCST, a 75-mile rail-trail, runs in front of the campground, allowing cyclists to pedal 8.5 miles north to Indian River or 2.5 miles south to Wolverine. While the larger Indian River offers more amenities, both locations boast a laidback charm, practically begging visitors to slow down and float the Sturgeon, one of Michigan’s fastest rivers.
The campground also reflects the area’s appeal with 18 rustic campsites, many hugging the
Sturgeon’s shoreline. Anglers can fish from some campsites, which are a mixture of open,
grassy areas and thick woods.
On my last day at Haakwood, I pedaled along the NCST as it rambled through an open meadow.
Deer foraged through tall grasses, and a bald eagle soared high overhead. I paused on a bridge
crossing over the Sturgeon River. The water sparkled as vividly as jewels, and in a sense, as
valuable, another one of Michigan’s priceless gems: the Haakwood, Sturgeon, and NCST Trio.
Pigeon River State Forest Campground
Pigeon River State Forest Campground description and photos contributed by Erin Fanning. Read more of her adventures at Northern Michigan Biyaking.
Thrilling Adventures in the “Big Wild”
My bicycle’s tires bumped over tree roots on the narrow, dirt High Country Pathway (HCP).
Rolling downhill, my bike and I gathered speed as we coasted into the Pigeon River State Forest
Campground, breaking at my campsite. In front of me, the Pigeon River rushed by, promising a
kayaking adventure for the next day.
The Pigeon River Country State Forest is home to some of the most rugged and pristine woods in
Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, earning itself the nickname “Big Wild.” It bursts with recreational
opportunities from hiking at Green Timbers to fishing and paddling on the Pigeon River to
mountain biking the HCP, an 80-mile singletrack loop.
Kayaking the Pigeon River
And the Pigeon River Campground is an excellent headquarters for exploring all the forest has to
offer. Perched along the river, it hosts 19 rustic sites with the HCP and Shingle Mill Pathway
running through the campground.
Morel hunting, blueberry picking, and trout fishing are also popular campground activities but, for me, the Pigeon River itself is the main attraction. Kayaking the Pigeon is almost always an adventure with rippling water and endless wildlife from a local elk herd to jewelwing damselflies to beavers constructing elaborate dams.
Each year the river changes, keeping it mysterious, which is part of its charm. Nothing will ever tame the Pigeon River Forest Campground, making the 21st century seem far away and giving one a true appreciation for the “Big Wild.”
Tawas Point State Park
Tawas Point State Park description and photos contributed by Erin Fanning. Read more of her adventures at Northern Michigan Biyaking.
Cape Cod of the Midwest
The kite boarder rushed across Lake Huron. He jumped a whitecap as his blue kite climbed
higher into the sky. Sunbathers watched from the beach while swimmers splashed in the shallow,
warm water and children concentrated on building sandcastles.
A spit jutting into Lake Huron, Tawas Point State Park’s unique geography has earned it the
nickname, Cape Cod of the Midwest. The 183-acre park boasts hundreds of birds during spring
and fall migrations, and its consistent wind makes it a favorite location for sailing.
Explore Along Lake Huron
The campground allows visitors to immerse themselves in the park’s activities, offering more
than 200 sites with electric hookups. A short trail leads from the campground to both the beach
and Tawas Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1876.
Walkers and bikers can also hike or pedal into East Tawas on a paved, nonmotorized pathway,
extending for about 16 miles and following Lake Huron while rolling past numerous shops and
restaurants. On a June morning, my husband and I biked into town for lunch, watching sailboats
play in the wind and kayakers ride Lake Huron waves.
Our outing ended back at the Tawas Point Beach, where the day dissolved into a lazy hike across
the sand while a lone kiteboarder sped across the waves. It occurred to me, not for the first time,
that Tawas Point encapsulates the best of Michigan: the Great Lakes blending with beaches, sun,
Tiki RV Park
Tiki RV Park description and photos contributed by Erin Fanning. Read more of her adventures at Northern Michigan Biyaking.
Camp Near the Mackinac Bridge
Hundreds of seagulls protested our presence as my husband and I paddled around tiny Green
Island in Lake Michigan, just outside of St. Ignace. Bobbing in the waves, we watched a stream
of cars cross the Mackinac Bridge, and a ferry, leaving Mackinac Island, threw a rooster tail of
Best of all, our home for the next few days, Tiki RV Park, waited only a few miles away. Located
in St. Ignace, Tiki offers campers a basecamp for exploring the Straits of Mackinac with ferries,
shops, and restaurants nearby.
All the Amenities at Tiki RV Park
The campground features all the amenities of a full-service RV park, as well as “Tiki Hut Yurts”
for those interested in glamping. The yurts include queen beds, firewood, and Adirondack chairs,
among other highlights.
The adventurous will also find a seemingly endless list of activities within a short bike ride or
drive, from island paddling to hiking to mountain and road biking. One morning, we found
ourselves pedaling the short trail to the top of Silver Mountain, feeling as if we had been
transported to one of the West’s mountainous states.
From the top, Lakes Michigan and Huron stretched around us, and the Mackinac Bridge gleamed
white in the midday sun. As we began the rollicking ride to the bottom, we agreed that we’d be
back, once again camping at Tiki, the perfect location for combining outdoor recreation with
Plan Your Next Michigan Camping Trip
As you explore more places to camp in Northern Michigan, keep these lesser-known campground treasures in mind for your next trip!