Are you looking for your next epic adventure camping in Northern Michigan? These 13 amazing spots for camping are sure to blow you away. From rustic to modern campgrounds, and backcountry tenting to luxurious cabins, northern Michigan offers a wide variety when it comes to outdoor adventure accommodations.
Come along as we explore some of the best spots for camping in the region!
Whether you’re looking for popular campgrounds or rustic cabins, modern restrooms or vault toilets, sandy beaches, or miles of hiking trails, you’ll find the perfect spot for camping in northern Michigan.
These are our favorites. But first, let’s settle on what we’ve included.
Where Is Northern Michigan?
While there may be some different definitions of what area is actually “northern Michigan,” we’re going to set our boundaries for what is included here.
Northern Michigan encompasses a vast and stunningly beautiful area that includes the Upper Peninsula and the fingertips of the mitten. This area is bordered by three of the Great Lakes: Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior.
This part of Michigan boasts some of the most spectacular scenic beauty in the country, with forests, lakes, and sand dunes. The area is home to several major cities, including Traverse City and Mackinaw City.
Visitors to northern Michigan can enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities, from hiking and biking to fishing, boating, off-roading, and camping.
Best Camping in Northern Michigan
Northern Michigan is a top destination for outdoor enthusiasts who love camping and exploring the great outdoors. The region offers a diverse range of landscapes, including sandy beaches, inland lakes, sandstone cliffs, and dense forests, making it an ideal place for camping.
Whether you’re a seasoned camper or new to the activity, there are plenty of options to choose from throughout the area, including rustic campgrounds, modern campsites with all the amenities, and even cabins.
While we’re focusing on the campsites where you’ll need to bring your own shelter, like a tent or a camper, just know that there are ways for everyone to get outdoors in the upper part of Michigan. So, if you’re looking for the best camping experiences in northern Michigan, here are our top choices!
1. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
If you’re planning a camping trip in northern Michigan, but don’t want to cross the Mackinac Bridge, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore should be at the top of your list. With its stunning natural features and variety of camping options, Sleeping Bear Dunes is the perfect spot to begin exploring the outdoors.
Camping options within the park range from rustic, riverside campgrounds with flush toilets and modern restrooms to reservable group sites on South Manitou Island accessible only by ferry. No matter which campsite you choose, you’ll wake up not far from breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding sand dunes.
We especially loved our walk-in tent campsite at the Platte River Campground. Nestled in a wooded area, there was plenty of shade cover. While you can still see other tents and campsites, it feels a little more secluded. You’re still close to running water for cooking and restrooms, though, at the parking lot! There is also a short trail behind the bathhouse leading to a beautiful Lake Michigan beach where you can watch a sunset.
Camping options at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore include:
- Platte River Campground: Modern sites, Tent Sites, Walk-in Sites, Modern Restrooms
- D.H. Day Campground: Rustic Sites, Vault Toilets
- White Pine Backcountry Camp: 2-mile Hike to 6 Campsites, Backcountry Permit Required
- South Manitou Island: Camp only at 1 of 3 designated Campgrounds (Bay Campground, Weatherstation Campground, or Popple Campground) Which are Varying Distances from the Dock
- North Manitou Island: 1 Small Tent Campground, Backcountry Camping Also Permitted
The major attractions of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are the miles of sandy beaches and towering dunes where you can hike in the lakeshore. Make sure to spend some time soaking up the sun and swimming in the crystal-clear waters of Lake Michigan.
2. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Nestled along the shores of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore stands out for its unique and stunning natural features. The area is adorned with colorful sandstone cliffs, clear beaches, and dense forests, making it a must-visit spot for nature lovers.
For those looking to explore the area, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers multiple camping accommodations, including three rustic drive-in car campgrounds and some backcountry camping options for backpackers. The drive-in car campgrounds, which are open from mid-May to mid-October, provide visitors with a range of very basic amenities, such as fire pits, picnic tables, and pit toilets.
Rustic campgrounds within Pictured Rocks include:
- Little Beaver Lake Campground (8 sites)
- Twelvemile Beach Campground (36 sites)
- Hurricane River Campground (21 sites)
These campgrounds aren’t suggested for large campers and RVs. The sites aren’t the biggest and the roads to reach them can be narrow and winding. Our favorite, though, is Twelvemile Beach. Some of the sites have views overlooking Lake Superior, and the sounds of the lake’s waves will lull you to sleep at night!
Those who want a backpacking experience can enjoy stunning views along the length of the North Country Trail through Pictured Rocks. You will need a backcountry permit and reservation to stay at designated backcountry campsites. These sites are dispersed every few miles along the trail, and you really can’t beat the views!
3. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is a stunning destination that, because it’s a state park, doesn’t get quite as much attention as the nearby national parklands. Situated on the beautiful shores of Lake Superior on the western side of the UP, this expansive park covers over 60,000 acres of pristine wilderness and offers a variety of camping options.
For those seeking a traditional camping experience, the park offers multiple rustic campgrounds with tent sites that are nestled among the forests and valleys of the Porcupine Mountains, some not far from the shores of Lake Superior. Some campsites have basic amenities such as vault toilets and picnic tables, which provide a truly back-to-nature experience.
In contrast, modern campsites at the Union Bay Modern Campground are also available, offering flush toilets, hot showers, and electrical hookups for RVs.
Backpacking is also popular in “The Porkies.”
In addition to traditional camping options, the park offers unique accommodations such as yurts and cabins that are ideal for those who want a more comfortable camping experience or for those who are traveling with larger groups.
One of the major highlights of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is undoubtedly the Lake of the Clouds, which is one of the most photographed natural wonders in Michigan. Miles of hiking trails are also available for those who want to explore the park’s diverse habitats in the hills and along the Lake Superior shoreline.
4. Huron-Manistee National Forest
While this is one location not all would consider northern Michigan, we just couldn’t leave this beautiful spot off the list. Sometimes, you just need to get away without having to drive for hours to do it!
Located mostly in western Michigan, the Manistee National Forest covers over 540,000 acres, providing endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. The forest is home to numerous campgrounds, each offering a unique set of amenities that cater to a variety of camping preferences. Whether you prefer the rustic charm of dispersed camping or the comfort of camping cabins, the Huron-Manistee National Forest has something to suit your needs.
With 17 designated campgrounds, there are lots of options to choose from. Our favorites are the Pines Point Campground, which is small and rustic with no cell phone reception but features river access, and the Lake Michigan at Manistee camp, where sites are within walking distance of Lake Michigan.
If you’re a hiking enthusiast, the North Country National Scenic Trail and Manistee River Trail are two must-visit destinations within the forest. These long-distance trails offer views of the forest’s diverse habitats and are perfect for backpackers seeking a multi-day adventure with plenty of campsites along the way.
For those who prefer a more secluded camping experience, the Manistee National Forest offers dispersed camping, which allows visitors to camp anywhere within the forest’s boundaries without designated campsites. This option is perfect for those seeking a more primitive experience and a chance to immerse themselves in nature.
Additionally, numerous camping cabins are available throughout the forest, ranging from rustic to modern, with amenities such as electricity, heat, and kitchenettes. These cabins offer a perfect blend of convenience and comfort, making them a great option for families or groups of friends.
While camping in the Manistee National Forest, be sure to check out the Nordhouse Dunes, a section of sand dunes that offer stunning views and a unique environment to explore. Another must-see spot is Briar Hill, a lookout tower that provides panoramic views of the forest and surrounding areas. The Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary is a unique must-visit spot while you’re in the area. It’s a one-of-a-kind type of location for the National Forest system.
5. Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is located on the eastern side of the Upper Peninsula and is an absolute must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts. Spanning more than 46,000 acres, and featuring numerous hiking trails, inland lakes, and two breathtaking waterfalls, this park is a great destination any time of year.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park offers multiple camping options for visitors to choose from, each with its own unique charm. The Lower Falls Modern Campground offers a few extra amenities, including hot showers, flush toilets, and electrical hookups for RVs, making it a good option for those who want a comfortable camping experience.
The Tahquamenon Falls Rivermouth Pines Unit, on the other hand, is more rustic but offers plenty of beautiful campsites tucked away in the woods. It’s also located near Whitefish Bay, which offers great opportunities for fishing.
There is also a Rivermouth Modern Campground and visitors from the Pines are free to use those showers and facilities.
Those who want to be close to the action of the waterfalls should choose the Lower Falls Modern Campground. If you do choose this camping option, just know that it is typically the busiest of any in the area. There aren’t any waterfall views from your campsites, either.
The Upper and Lower Falls are the park’s major attractions, drawing visitors from all over the state and beyond. It’s also an easy drive from Tahquamenon Falls State Park to Pictured Rocks if you’re planning an Upper Peninsula road trip adventure and want to camp along the way.
6. Traverse City State Park
Nestled on the outskirts of northern Michigan’s beautiful Traverse City, lies the Traverse City State Park – a camping enthusiast’s paradise, ideal for enjoying the outdoors while sticking close to town. This park is the perfect destination for campers seeking an escape while still enjoying urban activities, too.
The park offers a wide range of amenities, including modern restrooms, hot showers, and an on-site camp store. With over 300 campsites and RV hookups available, it can feel a little crowded sometimes, but the sites are wooded to allow a little privacy.
One of the park’s highlights is its short walk to Grand Traverse Bay, where campers can enjoy a swim in the clear blue waters and a beautiful sandy beach. The bay’s cool water offers an opportunity for recreational activities like swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding, and even fishing.
With easy access to the paved Traverse Area Recreation Trail, you’ll want to make sure you bring your bicycle so you can explore a wider area in Traverse City without needing your vehicle.
An especially beautiful area in the fall, Traverse City State Park is well-equipped to cater to camping and recreation needs. Head out on a wine tour of one of the peninsulas north of Traverse City or take a day trip over to Sleeping Bear Dunes while you visit.
7. Mackinaw City/Mackinac Island KOA
The Mackinaw KOA is strategically located at the northernmost tip of the Lower Peninsula, offering easy access to the nearby Mackinaw City and the ferry terminals, which makes it an ideal base camp for exploring the surrounding islands.
This is a perfect spot to camp and explore the Upper Peninsula if you don’t want to take your big rig across the Mackinac Bridge. You can’t camp much closer!
Mackinaw City/Mackinac Island KOA, like many KOA campgrounds, has a wide range of camping options, whether you prefer sleeping under the stars in a grassy tent site, or the cozy comfort of a camping cabin. RVers will also love the assortment of full-utility RV sites that are available.
One unique feature of this campground is the heated pool, which offers a refreshing break after a long day of outdoor activities. In addition, there is a walking/bicycling trail that connects to Mackinaw City, making it convenient for campers to explore the area on foot or bike.
If you plan to head over to Mackinac Island, the KOA offers a free shuttle arrangement to get you to the ferry docks. They’ve really thought of everything that could make exploring the area more convenient at this campground.
8. Hiawatha National Forest
If you’re looking to truly disconnect from everyday life and reconnect with nature, the Hiawatha National Forest in the Upper Peninsula is the perfect spot for your next camping trip. With nearly 900,000 acres of land, the forest is one of the wildest stretches in the area. Whether you prefer the amenities of modern campgrounds or seek complete seclusion from others, Hiawatha National Forest has got you covered.
The national forest is divided into four separate regions, so you can more easily locate available sites when booking. Most of the camping options in this region of northern Michigan are tailored more for tents. Large campers and RVs will not fit in many of the sites.
For those wanting a more traditional camping experience, there are several modern campgrounds available throughout the forest. However, if you’re looking for something more off-the-beaten-path, dispersed camping is the way to go and you’ll have more options to choose from. Hiawatha National Forest offers a variety of dispersed camping options, from secluded clearings to beachside sites, all at no cost to campers.
Two of the most popular dispersed camping sites are at Bear Lake Dispersed Campsite and on Grand Island. Bear Lake offers seclusion, with easy access to several nearby hiking trails.
If you’re looking for complete seclusion, dispersed camping is the perfect option for you. Find your own private patch of woods and stay there for a few nights undisturbed. Just be sure to Leave No Trace! With no upfront fees, this option is perfect for those on a tight budget or simply seeking a more immersive and adventurous camping experience.
Be sure to stop by and experience the beautiful Kitch-iti-kipi freshwater spring while you visit the Hiawatha National Forest!
9. Wilderness State Park
Located at the tip-top of the Lower Peninsula, just west of Mackinaw City, Wilderness State Park is one of the best camping spots in northern Michigan for stargazing and lake views. With over 26 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, this state park offers stunning views of the lake and is also an officially designated dark sky preserve.
At the heart of the park, there are 3 distinct campgrounds, a separate collection of full hookup sites, and areas for walk-in tenting, making it an ideal destination with all options available. Whether you prefer tent camping or RV camping, there’s really something for every type of camper.
The park offers a combination of rustic and modern campsites, giving campers the option to choose what they prefer.
In addition to camping, there are plenty of recreational activities offered here. Swimming, hiking, biking, and fishing are just a few of the many outdoor activities that campers can engage in. The campgrounds are just a short distance from beaches on Lake Michigan.
It’s also not far from Mackinaw City, so you could easily take a day trip to Mackinac Island, spend some time exploring the areas around the bridge, or head over to Lake Huron for sunrise!
10. Fisherman’s Island State Park
If you’re looking to camp in northern Michigan, Fisherman’s Island State Park should definitely be on your list. Located on the shoreline of Lake Michigan, this park is a natural paradise with rolling dunes, cedar bogs, and woodland forests providing the perfect backdrop for your camping trip.
The rustic campground at Fisherman’s Island State Park offers campers the opportunity to enjoy some time among the wooded terrain, with also about 15 campsites that are located among the sandy dunes.
With 80 campsites available, some with water views, reserving a spot early is recommended for the ultimate Fisherman’s Island State Park experience.
Despite its name, Fisherman’s Island State Park is not actually an island. The park spans 2,678 acres, but the “island” is now a peninsula instead due to lower lake water levels. The undeveloped sandy beaches along the Lake Michigan shoreline are perfect for a day of relaxation.
This park is located about halfway between Traverse City and Mackinaw City, so with a little driving, you’ll have plenty of option for things to do in every direction.
11. Leelanau State Park
Nestled on the tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula lies the breathtaking Leelanau State Park, a true gem of northern Michigan. This pristine 1,300-acre park at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula boasts a stunning location along the shores of Lake Michigan, providing visitors with access to a beautiful sandy beach, a picnic area, and a vast trail system that meanders through the park’s forests and scenic vistas.
For those looking to spend the night, the rustic campground at Leelanau State Park is the perfect spot. With 50+ rustic campsites and a few mini cabins available for rent, visitors can have a truly fun getaway in this Michigan state park.
The mini cabins are equipped with electricity and offer a somewhat more comfortable option for those who don’t want to pitch a tent. And with the stars shining bright above, campers can enjoy the park’s dark sky preserve designation.
One of the main attractions around Leelanau State Park is the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum. This historic structure, first illuminated in 1852, has been lovingly restored and now offers visitors a glimpse into the maritime history of the area. The museum features exhibits and artifacts from the lighthouse’s past, and an onsite gift shop offers souvenirs to remember your trip by.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing day at the beach, an invigorating hike, or a bit of history at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum, Leelanau State Park is a fantastic place to visit from sunrise to sunset.
12. Muskallonge Lake State Park
Muskallonge Lake State Park, located along the shores of Lake Superior and Muskallonge Lake, is the ideal camping destination for those seeking a retreat. With plenty of sites available for tent and trailer camping, visitors can relax and unwind amidst the natural beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Each campsite is equipped with electricity and water pumps, ensuring a comfortable stay for campers. The park also provides vault toilets, fire rings, and modern restrooms for the convenience of visitors.
For those who love water sports, boat ramps are readily available to launch your craft. Hiking trails lead directly from the campsite to the shores of Lake Superior, where visitors can enjoy spectacular views.
Muskallonge Lake State Park is also conveniently close to the town of Grand Marais and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This makes it the perfect location for day trips filled with outdoor adventure ranging from hiking and camping to kayaking and fishing.
With its prime location and excellent facilities, Muskallonge Lake State Park is the ultimate choice for those seeking a peaceful and relaxing camping experience amidst the natural beauty of Lake Superior and Muskallonge Lake.
13. Isle Royale National Park
If you’re looking for the ultimate camping adventure in northern Michigan, you’re in luck.
One of the top destinations for the most remote camping in northern Michigan is Isle Royale National Park. This park is located on an island in the middle of Lake Superior and can only be reached by seaplane, boat, or ferry.
It’s a unique and beautiful location that offers a very primitive camping experience. All of the campgrounds must be hiked to, although the distances from the docks vary.
If you’re up for a bit of adventure and want to truly get away, Isle Royale National Park is definitely worth checking out. You might even get lucky and spot some of the resident moose on the island.
This is definitely one of our favorite spots for camping in northern Michigan. Whether you want to socialize with other adventurers at the Daisy Farm Campground or enjoy some seclusion at Lake Desor or Chickenbone, you’ll be unplugged and immersed in some fantastic landscape on Isle Royale.
What Is Special About Camping in Northern Michigan?
Northern Michigan is a region unlike any other, boasting natural scenery that is both breathtaking and diverse. From crystal-clear lakes to towering sand dunes and rugged cliffs, this area is perfect for those seeking an outdoor adventure.
One of the defining characteristics of northern Michigan is its rich fishing heritage. The area is home to some of the best fishing spots in the country, including prime locations for trout, perch, and bass. Visitors to the region can also take advantage of popular boating opportunities and scenic ATV and horseback riding trails, all while taking in the stunning natural surroundings.
Northern Michigan is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. The region offers a diverse array of activities to choose from, including hiking, mountain biking, and winter sports like skiing and snowmobiling. With hundreds of miles of trails and acres of wilderness to explore, adventurers are sure to find the perfect outdoor activity for them to enjoy.
With so much to do, you’ll want to stay as close as possible to your favorite activities. With such beautiful scenery and outdoor fun, why wouldn’t you want to go camping in northern Michigan?
When Is the Best Time for Camping in Northern Michigan?
Northern Michigan is a picturesque camping destination that is known for its diverse landscape, including inland lakes, sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, and dense forests. If you’re planning a camping trip, choosing the right time of year can make all the difference.
So, when is the best time for camping in northern Michigan?
The answer depends on your preferences and the type of camping experience you’re seeking. However, there are two ideal seasons for camping in Northern Michigan: late summer and early fall.
August is considered the peak season for camping in Northern Michigan due to its warm and dry weather. With temperatures ranging from 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s the perfect time to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities like fishing, boating, and hiking.
Most campgrounds in the region are open during this month, providing an array of options for camping enthusiasts. Just bring plenty of insect repellent with you. The bugs can be relentless!
However, if you’re looking for a more colorful camping experience, the fall season is an excellent time to visit northern Michigan. The weather is a little bit cooler, and the autumnal foliage transitions to extravagant shades of red, yellow, and gold, creating breathtakingly picturesque views.
While the summer crowds have dispersed, you most likely still will not be alone at many of the bigger, more popular campgrounds. Camping in northern Michigan from mid-September through October is an excellent opportunity to enjoy the region’s natural beauty, especially when cooler temperatures help tame those pesky insects.
What Campgrounds in Michigan have Full Hookups?
If you’re looking for a convenient and comfortable camping option in Michigan, campgrounds that offer full hook-ups are the answer. Full hook-ups provide access to sewer, water, and electricity, allowing campers to enjoy all the amenities of home while still being in the great outdoors.
There are not many Michigan state parks with full hookups at their campsite. The only one we’ve included is Wilderness State Park. Almost all of these parks have campsites with electric hookups.
The Mackinaw City KOA also has plenty of full hookup sites available to reserve.
Can you Camp Anywhere in Michigan for Free?
Michigan boasts many picturesque settings that are perfect for camping enthusiasts, and the good news is that you can camp for free in some places. Here are some of the top free campsites in Michigan, although many are only suitable for tents.
First off, it is important to note that most of these campsites are secluded and remote and do not offer any amenities or facilities, making them ideal for those who prefer secluded, dispersed camping. Due to the lack of amenities, you’ll want to be prepared with all the necessary supplies and safety measures.
To find free Michigan campsites, one must know where to look. A great resource for locating these sites is Campendium. They have an extensive list of free campsites searchable on an interactive map.
A good place to start when considering free camping is in the state and national forests. You typically will have to pay for a reservation, but there are also first-come, first-served campsites that can be used for free.
The best free campsites we’ve found require a little bit of a hike to reach. You’ll have to pack everything that you need, but these sites offer an unparalleled off-the-grid experience.
Michigan offers plenty of options for those who want to camp for free. Remember, most free Michigan campsites are primitive and don’t offer any facilities or amenities, so it’s crucial to be prepared and take extra safety measures. If you arrive at your site prepared, you’re sure to have an unforgettable camping experience.
Northern Michigan offers some of the best camping experiences in the Midwest. With its stunning natural scenery, wildlife spotting opportunities, and endless outdoor activities, it’s no wonder why so many people choose to visit this region every year.
Whether you’re looking for a rustic backcountry adventure or a more comfortable RV park, there are plenty of options to choose from. So pack your tent, hook up your camper, or fuel up your RV and head up north!
Now all you have to do is choose your destination and enjoy your next northern Michigan camping trip.