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Camping On State Land In Michigan

Best Kept Secrets: Michigan State Parks

Dispersed Camping Michigan

Because there are a plethora of state parks in Michigan, some are simply overlooked. If you are in search of a campground with amenities available, then one of these paid campgrounds might be for you.

F.J McLain State Park is certainly one place to camp. There are a variety of other activities available to keep you busy throughout the day, like windsurfing and berry picking. There are stunning views of the lighthouse and Lake Superior to enthrall you.

Port Crescent State Park is perfect for beach bums, with three miles of Lake Huron shoreline available for tanning, splashing, and maybe even some reading. There is a modern campground and various activities available, from fishing to birding to canoeing.

Having been established in 1921, Harrisville State Park amounts to one of Michigans oldest state parks. Some of the campsites in this park overlook Lake Huron. It is within walking distance to town, in case you need anything.

Twin Lakes State Park is home to a 175-acre modern campground near Lake Roland, one of the warmest inland lakes. Its a great site if you want to explore the Keweenaw Peninsula or the Porcupine Mountains.

Wilson State Park was initially the site of the Wilson Brothers Sawmill and Company Store of the late 1800s. There is a modern campground and opportunities for swimming, fishing, and paddle sports. There is a sandy beach area, which is part of Budd Lake.

Oak Grove Campground/chippewa Landing

This private campground is located in the Northwestern region of the lower peninsula. Two big sites exist to which you can paddle up in a canoe up to your chosen spot, or you can drive in and hook up to electricity and plumbing.

There is WiFi, and they do allow pets in the park, something a lot of state parks refrain from doing. Essentially whatever you can do on the nearby river, including tubing and fishing, are the available activities.

Its a very quiet and peaceful spot, and loud noises are discouraged so that all campers can enjoy the sounds of the surrounding woods and the bubbling sounds of the river.

Camping is typically by membership only, so you do have to purchase a season pass or membership to camp here.

Dispersed Camping In The Forests Of Michigan

Dispersed Camping in Michigan National Forests

There are three National Forests in Michigan that are supervised by the United States Forest Service. One of these is located on the states Lower Peninsula and the other two are situated on the Upper Peninsula .

The one that is located on the Lower Peninsula of Michigan Huron-Manistee is actually not contiguous. As its name suggests, it is comprised of two separate forests. The Manistee National Forest is located in western Michigan, while the Huron Forest can be found in the eastern part of the state.

In my opinion, those wishing to engage in dispersed camping in the state of Michigan should prioritize these National Forests above other areas. Speaking generally, all three of these forests have regulations and rules that are quite similar and they all allow some form of dispersed camping.

However, the rules do vary a bit from one National Forest to another, which is precisely why I recommend doing a bit of online research before actually heading to any of these places. You can, of course, also contact the local field offices for the most up-to-date info.

Heres a list of National Forests in Michigan, together with links to guidelines regarding dispersed camping in each of these forests:

  • Escanaba State Forest
  • Copper Country State Forest

Those wishing to pitch their tents in one of these forests are required to follow these rules:

If you need a tent recommendation, check out our Coleman tent review.

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Lime Lake/pearl Lake Natural Recreation Area

Restrooms: NoMap

Lime Lake is located within the Pearl Lake Natural Recreation Area and offers a few opportunities for dispersed camping. The road around the lake itself has several good campsites, although recently it has been hit or miss if the road is open. Dont fret if you arrive and it is closed, as there are more dispersed campsite available if you continue north along Rayle Road as it winds its way around Pearl Lake.

The Pearl Lake area is a great example of dispersed camping in Michigan that is not on federally owned property. Pearl Lake is part of a State Forest and is managed by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy which you can learn more about here.

Please make sure to property dispose of your waste at Lime and Pearl Lake and practice Leave No Trace camping. This is a beautiful area that is maintained by a non-profit, so it is all of our responsibility to ensure it remains open and protected for generations to come.

Our final Michigan dispersed camping spot is also one of the most secluded. Robbins Pond is a designated dispersed campground with just three campsites located in Ottawa National Forest just north of the Wisconsin border with the Upper Peninsula. This is a beautiful place to camp right on Robbins Pond with nothing but National Forest for miles surrounding the campsite.

Looking to find more dispersed campsites? Check out The Dyrt PRO to get campsite reviews, offline maps, and the best map layers for finding public dispersed camping!

Tips For Dispersed Camping On State Forest Lands

Camping On State Land In Michigan

Posted by: 50 Campfires in Camping Tips

With tens of millions of acres of state forest land spread across the country, its almost a sure thing theres some very near to your home. Throwing a minimal amount of gear in the car and heading out for a couple of nights of impromptu camping on state forest lands is a great way to counter the kids complaints, Theres nothing to do!

However, so youre ready when the mood strikes, you need to check out the regulations and availability ahead of time. Follow these tips for dispersed camping on state forest lands and use these links to ensure a hassle-free, close-to-home adventure:

Tips For Dispersed Camping

Tips for dispersed camping

1. Conduct a little research on state forest lands or contact your state forestry agency for information before hitting the road. Some states dont have state forest lands open to camping or other recreation.

2. Find out who manages the land where you want to camp. In some states, state forests are managed by different agencies such as the state department of natural resources or even conservation groups.

3. Ask what types of camping are allowed and where its permitted. Dispersed camping is not permitted on many lands. Campers must camp only in designated areas. To give you an idea of what might be expected, look at Michigans State Forest dispersed camping rules.

4. Determine if a permit must be obtained or fees paid for camping.

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What Is Dispersed Camping In Michigan

Dispersed camping is camping on public lands away from developed, paid campsites. Much of the public land in the United States offers dispersed camping for us to use and enjoy.

These sites are completely free and unmarked. They are dry camping areas, meaning there are no amenities like that of a paid campsite. In addition, you cannot reserve these sites, and theyre available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Warren Dunes State Park Sawyer

If you have never been to Lake Michigan during the winter and seen it frozen, this is a must do to add to your bucket list! Warren Dunes State Park is the perfect place to visit the frozen Lake Michigan. On 1,952 acres of land, this beautiful park is very popular in the summer because of its dunes and stunning shoreline. The park boasts an equally amazing beauty in the winter that cant be missed, giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy the impressive dunes, excellent shoreline, great hiking and cross country skiing.

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Acres State Land With River

Tranquil property located across from 100 acres of state land. Enjoy fishing, kayaking, nature walks and much more.

Crystal Mountain Resort is just minutes up the road! Enjoy the crystal clear beaches of Michigan in as little as a 30 minute drive. Are you a hunter? There are 100 acres across the road to hunt on!

Fall asleep to the most gorgeous starry sky you’ve

Tranquil property located across from 100 acres of state land. Enjoy fishing, kayaking, nature walks and much more.

Crystal Mountain Resort is just minutes up the road! Enjoy the crystal clear beaches of Michigan in as little as a 30 minute drive. Are you a hunter? There are 100 acres across the road to hunt on!

Fall asleep to the most gorgeous starry sky you’ve ever seen.

What Should I Pack For Dispersed Camping In Michigan

Dispersed Camping in Michigan’s National Forests

Like all other outdoor activities, dispersed camping whether its done in Michigan or anywhere else requires the use of proper gear. Im pretty sure you already have the basics, like the tent or sleeping bag, but here are some other items you may want to consider packing:

Read our post on wild camping essentials and checklist for more information.

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Camp Registration Card For Dispersed Camping In Michigan

As Ive said above, camping in one of the State Forests of Michigan cannot be done without a camp registration card. What is more, this card has to be prominently posted at your campsite as long as youre staying in it.

Fortunately, this is a very simple form to fill out. You will, however, have to fill it out in advance, print it, and then take it with you to the campsite, where youll have to post it in a visible spot. You can download the camp registration card on this website.

French Farm Lake Free Campground

GPS Coordinates: 45.759058, -84.766928

This popular free camping area in Michigan fills up rather quickly, probably because its convenient camping near Mackinac Island. You can also bike or walk to Headlands International Dark Sky Park and a Lake Michigan public beach access.

The 6 open campsites are off a well maintained one-lane dirt path and right on French Farm Lake. You might see some fishermen using the boat launch at the end of the dirt path, but you wont see anyone swimming here as the lake is too marshy.

The sites are large enough to share if desired, and are spaced far apart from each other, providing plenty of privacy.

Outside of makeshift fire pits, there are no amenities provided at this free campsite, making it a great place to experience primitive camping in Michigan. Likely, RVs much longer than 25 or 30 feet would have a difficult time leveling or even turning around.

This free campsite in Michigan is maintained by the Department of Natural Resources, so youll need to have a copy of the DNR form to post at your site.

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What You Need To Know About Dispersed Camping In Michigan

Michigan does not have BLM land but plenty of forest service land. Most of these public lands are located in the northern half of the lower peninsula and through the upper peninsula. If you are really looking to get away from it all look in the upper peninsula as it is very remote.

Youll need to follow a few rules to preserve the land around you when dispersed camping in Michigan. Theres usually a limit to how many days you can stay in the same area within a month for public lands. Another general rule is to camp at least one mile away from campgrounds, 100 feet from any stream, and 150 feet from a roadway.

Once you find your ideal location, use in satellite view to check your route. Have a hard copy map of the area, and arrive during the daytime since your spot wont be marked.

Read on for additional rules to follow.

Where Is Dispersed Camping Typically Found In Michigan

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You can find dispersed camping areas on public lands, like the Bureau of Land Management . The U.S. Forest Service manages national forests and national grasslands that are also great options. According to a Congressional Research Service report, the BLM manages 244 million acres while the USFS manages 192 million acres.

The Wildlife Management Areas offers some dispersed camping, as does the Department of Natural Resources state-owned land. Finally, youll find additional dispersed camping options at some county parks and city parks, too.

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Where In Michigan Is Dispersed Camping Allowed

In Michigan, one can freely engage in dispersed camping on any public land that is supervised by the USFS United States Forest Service. On these lands, dispersed camping is broadly allowed, with the exception of areas where this kind of activity is explicitly forbidden.

To put it simply, you can freely pitch your tent in any of the three National Forests located in this U.S. state .

You can either contact the Ranger District Office responsible for the area youre planning to spend time in and inquire with them directly or simply find a nice camping spot on your own by driving along the Forest Service roads in these zones.

Besides these USFS-managed lands, there is also a network of State Forests in Michigan, and dispersed camping is allowed in these as well. However, the rules for pitching a tent in these forests are somewhat different than the ones concerning the aforementioned Forest Service lands.

I will provide some additional information on Michigan State Forests and dispersed camping you can do in them down below.

Free Camping In The Upper Peninsula

Camping in the upper peninsula of Michigan is amazing – with only a few major roads cutting east/west, north/south, it is surprisingly easy to move around to find a campsite to your liking. State Parks anchor the 5 corners of the UP but within that area are the two units of the Hiawatha National Forest and the Ottawa National Forest to the west.

Raco Airfield, a former airplane landing strip and proving ground, is a curious start. To the north is Shelldrake Dam. While users report the campground is closed, there are still sites worth exploring and free camping to be had.

Moving to the center of the UP, this unit of the Hiawatha NF has two free camping areas. Hovey Lake Campground has gotten consistent 5-star reviews from Campendium users. Brownstone Boat Launch on the Lake Superior shore offers water access and great views. These have the advantage of being reasonably close to the Pictured Rocks National Seashore.

Rounding out the UP are 3 sites in the Ottawa National Forest, Burned Dam Campground, Sparrow Rapids Campground, and Sturgeon River Campground.

Unlock pro campendium features

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How Do I Find Dispersed Camping Areas In Michigan

Speaking generally, those who know how to read USFS maps, have some experience in navigating woodland roads, as well as the gut feeling of knowing where to look should have no trouble with finding a myriad of dispersed campsites in the Great Lake State.

The fact that Michigan isnt even as nearly as popular as the western states when it comes to dispersed camping is actually a good thing. In the aforementioned State and National Forests of Michigan, you will find far fewer campers than you would in the Rockies.

For finding dispersed camping areas in Michigan, I would recommend using a combination of USFS maps, online websites, and smartphone apps. Here are some of my favorite resources for finding amazing camping spots in this part of the United States:

  • Campendium An app and a website, Campendium lets outdoor enthusiasts check out user reviews for hundreds of camping areas everywhere across the country.
  • The Dyrt This app, on the other hand, will allow you to easily find free campsites in Michigan by using the integrated filter. You can also download the maps on your phone, although youll have to buy the Pro version for that.
  • This simple website is my go-to resource when it comes to finding free camping zones in the United States. Using it is as simple as entering your destination and filtering the provided results.

How To Find Dispersed Camping In Michigan

Deer Camp 21 | Michigan | Public Land Hunting

In general, with a little knowledge of where to look, experience navigating forest service roads, reading USFS maps, and camping in remote locations, you should be able to find plenty of dispersed campsites in Michigan. Although the state isnt as well known for its free camping as some of the Western States, youll find far fewer campers in Michigans National and State Forests.

We recommend using a combination of online apps/websites and USFS maps to find dispersed campsites. Our favorite resources for Michigan dispersed camping are below:

  • Our go to resource for finding free camping in the US. Simply enter your desired location and filter through the results.

Leave No Trace Principles & Dispersed Camping

One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping is to follow Leave No Trace principles. This will minimize your impact and ensure your campsite can be enjoyed by future visitors. Here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping:

Green Road is located within the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, which is part of Huron-Manistee National Forest. This dispersed camping area gets great reviews for its proximity to Lake Michigan, privacy of the sites, and relatively easy access for most vehicles. There is a small fee for the Nordhouse Dunes area when dispersed camping, but we think this is well worth it for access to this beautiful area.

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