Everything You Need to Know About Camping in Michigan

There is no place more underrated for camping than Michigan. Those that are in-the-know seem to keep quiet about the magic of camping in Michigan. And this secrecy has helped maintain its beauty. 

When you camp in Michigan (especially if you target the west coast) you will be treated to sand dunes stretching along mighty Lake Michigan, you will feel the rush of pristine rivers, and you will experience the most jaw-dropping sunsets of your life.

Michigan Sunset
Sunsets overlooking mighty Lake Michigan are just something else!

You will also experience the serenity of slowing down to see the stars come out and light up the sky. The simple pleasure of a perfectly-roasted marshmallow. And the revitalization that comes after a good night’s sleep in that crisp, fresh air.

There’s a reason we call it “Pure Michigan.

Pure Michigan Camping
There is no better way to relax than camping in Pure Michigan!

Nature abounds here, and you’ll find options to suit all levels of camping proficiency.

From the first time I camped in Michigan nearly a decade ago, I was hooked! And I’ve been coming back nearly every year.

If you want to experience Pure Michigan camping (and are willing to risk being hooked as well), I’ve created this handy guide with everything you need to know to have an unforgettable trip, including:

  • How Much Should You Budget for Camping in Michigan
  • When Should You Go Camping in Michigan
  • Where Should You Go Camping in Michigan
  • How to Reserve a Campsite in Michigan

How Much Should You Budget for Camping in Michigan

How much you pay per night is largely dependent on the amenities and features that you want at your campground. 

If you’re willing to “rough it” you can pay as little as $15 / night. However, if you want some luxuries (like hot showers) or hookups for your RV, you can pay upwards of $40 / night. Still a steal in my opinion compared to staying at a hotel or vacation rental!

Michigan divides its campsite options into three general categories: Modern, Semi-Modern, and Rustic. These categories can vary by season (which I’ll address below in the “when you should go camping” section).

Let’s dive into each of these options…

Modern Campsites

Michigan Campgrounds

I’m going to out my lack of wilderness camping prowess right now by letting you know that I always choose modern campsites.

Although I love the idea of growing out my leg-hair and communing with nature on a deep level, I am realistic enough to admit that I enjoy nature most when I have access to things like hot running water and electricity.

For me, modern campsites are the best of both worlds: sleeping under the stars and taking a hot shower!

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, modern campsites typically have restrooms with hot showers, flush toilets, pressurized water spigots, sanitation stations (with water and sewer services for trailers and RVs), picnic tables, and fire pits. 

Modern campsites also have electrical outlets for those that have a hard time unplugging (see what I did there?).

Pro Tip: Modern campsites also have accessibility features like site elements meeting the Americans with Disabilities Access Guidelines for building and slope requirements. Access routes at these campsites are surfaced with concrete or blacktop material, making them handicap-accessible.

Modern sites range in price from around $22-30 / night at less popular state parks like Pontiac Lake and $30-40 / night at more popular state parks like Warren Dunes.

If you’d rather rent a cabin than pitch a tent, that’ll set you back around $50-100 / night depending on the cabin’s size and features.

You can check out site-specific pricing for 2020 here.

Semi-Modern Campsites

Semi-modern campsites are budget-friendly camping options if you don’t mind having to choose between electricity or a modern restroom.

If I had to choose, I would likely go for a modern restroom with proper toilets and showers over electrical outlets since I could always bring my own portable power station to charge my tech gadgets!

If you choose to have electricity, you’ll likely have a vault toilets (think porta potty) rather than of flush toilets at your campsite. Also, your drinking water may come out of a hand pump rather than a fountain.

Sanitation stations are not typically provided at semi-modern sites. If you’re camping in an RV or trailer, you will need to find other means of disposing wastewater.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “with these drawbacks, why would I choose a semi-modern campsite?

I can think of three key reasons why you may prefer a semi-modern campsite:

  • it site may be the only site available at a campground that you have your heart set on
  • it may be less busy than a modern campsite thereby giving you a truer “one with nature” experience
  • it is cheaper than a modern campsite
Hoffmaster Michigan
Whenever I peeked at semi-modern campsites, they appeared quite empty!

Semi-modern sites range in price from around $18-29 even at some of the most popular state parks like Ludington. And if you want to rent a cabin at a semi-modern site, it’ll cost around $40-68 / night depending on the cabin’s size and features.

Rustic Campsites

There is one huge advantage to choosing a rustic campsite over the other two options — solitude and serenity.

If you want to ditch the sight of RVs and trailers (heck, if you want to ditch most of humanity), then a rustic campsite may be for you!

Michigan has hundreds of rustic campsites with vault toilets, water pumps, picnic tables and fire pits. With some extra planning you can have a wonderful budget-friendly experience at a rustic campsite.

I have seen so many gorgeous rustic sites while researching Michigan camping options that I vow right now (with you as my witness) that I will forego electricity and a modern bathroom to try a rustic site one day!

Camping Tent
Next time I’m in Michigan, I’ll pitch my tent at a rustic campsite and I’ll report back!

Rustic sites range in price from around $15-22 / night. And for the quality of the sites available in Michigan, this is a true bargain!

Other Budgetary Considerations

When it comes to camping most budgeting boils down to site rental costs and food expenses. And just like with campsite rentals, you can also be budget-conscious or budget-busting with your camping meals.

If you want to save money, I highly recommend bringing a cooler with ice and filling it with groceries that you can use to make meals right at your campsite.

This will be significantly cheaper and more convenient than eating out (assuming that you enjoy cooking like I do). With a bit of meal-prep before your trip, it’ll be fairly easy to whip up delicious, nutritious meals at your campsite.

Vegan Camping
I cooked this delectable Beyond Meat vegan-dog right at my campsite!

Also, what’s better than eating alfresco at your cute picnic table? If you want to take the experience to the next level, get a fire going and make s’mores for dessert!

If you go the cooking-at-your-campsite route, I would estimate eating expenses at about $10-20 per adult per day. I would halve the cost for each child, and adjust up or down depending on age.

On the other hand, if you don’t mind spending more, you could drive out of the campgrounds in search of food at local restaurants.

Many campgrounds in Michigan are conveniently located next to towns with fantastic restaurant options.

Cherry Republic Restaurant
Like Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, Michigan which has some of the tastiest fish sandwiches and slaw!

If you’re a foodie who loves experiencing the local cuisine. If you hate cooking your own food. Or you just need a break from camping while camping. Going out to eat may be worth the added expense.

If you go the eating out route, I would estimate eating expenses at about $15-40 per adult per meal depending on the restaurants you choose. I would halve the cost for each child, and adjust up or down depending on age.

When I go camping in Michigan, I do a combination of the above two options. 

I love making meals at my campsite! It makes me feel like some kind of bad-*ass Davey Crockett-like chef. So I pack a cooler with enough supplies for about two meals a day (typically breakfast and lunch).

But I also love dining out and experiencing the local food scene. So I plan for one restaurant meal a day (or every other day depending the length of the drive to the nearest town).

In my experience, Michigan has tons of budget-friendly restaurants. Even when I’m dining out, I can usually get away with spending under $15 per person!

In addition to budgeting for meals, you should also budget for the Recreation Passport which is “required for vehicle entry into state parks and recreation areas, state boat launches, state forest campgrounds and state trail parking lots.”

Michigan Sleeping Bear Dunes
The Recreation Passport is so worth it for views like this at Sleeping Bear Dunes!

If you’re a Michigan resident, the Recreation Passport is just $12 when purchased with your license plate registration renewal through the Secretary of State. It’s $17 when purchased at state parks, DNR customer service centers, or at the Secretary of State outside your license plate registration renewal cycle.

If you’re not a Michigan resident, the Recreation Passport is $34 for the annual pass (valid through the end of the year) and $9 / day for the daily pass.

You can purchase the annual pass online or at any Michigan state parks and recreation areas. You can purchase the daily pass at any Michigan state parks or recreation areas (but not online).

Pro Tip: If you really love camping in Michigan, but you’re a non-resident, it may make sense to get the annual pass. Just do the daily vs. annual calculation when you know approximately how many days you’ll be camping in Michigan to make sure that you’re making the right choice.

When Should You Go Camping in Michigan

So you’ve figured out your budget and your campsite preference, but which months are best for camping in Michigan?

This largely depends on the weather that you enjoy most when spending time outdoors.

Do you like crisp fall days? Hot summer days? Or do you enjoy being surprised by the weather in the springtime?

Warm Weather Camping in Michigan

My personal preference is for the tail end of spring or summer. Late May and June and late August and September are my favorite timeframes for camping in Michigan.

Michigan Camping Summer
There’s something special about camping in the warm glow of summertime in Michigan!

I love it when the days are warm enough to go swimming in Lake Michigan and the nights are cool enough to get cozy in a warm sleeping bag.

There’s nothing better than getting a fire roaring just as the temperatures are dropping in the evening. Then warming yourself next to it while telling stories and making memories.

Michigan Campfire
What’s cozier than relaxing next to a campfire?

I have camped in late June and early July, and I enjoyed the hot summer weather. But I have a high tolerance for heat!

In Michigan, you may get lucky in mid-summer and the days may not be too hot (especially the further north you go), or you may get unlucky and find yourself trying to survive blazing temperatures without air conditioning!

If you’re not a fan of cocooning in a sleeping bag, warm, mid-summer camping may be for you. In late June through August, the nights are typically warm enough that you won’t need a sleeping bag (though I bring one just in case anyways).

Even if you love hot weather, you should consider the fact that campgrounds are likely to be much busier in June, July, and August. You may arrive at your campsite ready to commune with nature only to find hoards of people.

By camping slightly off season, you will have a greater selection of campsites and will find less people when you arrive.

Michigan Camping Spring
I love the shoulder seasons of early May and late September for camping in Michigan; just bring some layers and you’ll be good to go!

Cold Weather Camping in Michigan

Now you may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned winter camping. And that’s because I haven’t been brave enough to try it!

I am a warm weather kind of gal and trying to avoid frostbite doesn’t sound like my kind of relaxing camping trip.

However, if you love the being outside in cold temperatures and are able to invest in the right gear, I hear that Michigan is absolutely gorgeous for winter camping.

Plus, many campsites that may be sold out in high season will be practically deserted in the winter so you can take full advantage of the peace and solitude.

Pro Tip: Make sure that the campground you want is open in the winter as not all of them are!

Where Should You Go Camping in Michigan

Once you know when you want to camp in Michigan and how much you want to spend, you’ll be confronted with many beautiful campgrounds to choose from.

And with more than 1,000 campgrounds statewide, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the options! While planning my first camping trip in Michigan I felt like there were so many campgrounds and so many factors to consider that I suffered from decision fatigue.

That’s why I’m highlighting three of my favorite Michigan campgrounds for you below. All three are fantastic for first-time or seasoned campers.

Platte River Campground 

Platte River Campground is camping-heaven and is situated in Honor, Michigan within the stunning Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. 

Platte River Campground

This campground is open year-round with flush toilets and hot showers. There are 179 sites to suit a wide variety of camping styles — back-in and pull-through sites for RV’s, (including electrical hookups); beautiful tent sites; walk-in sites; and group sites (hike-in, tents only) accommodating up to 25 people. 

According to the National Park Servicethere is even a nearby backcountry campground for those who enjoy a great backpacking experience […].”

Platte River Campground also has some of the nicest, cleanest bathrooms and showers I’ve ever experienced while camping. If you’ve been terrorized by the conditions in some campground bathrooms, you’ll know how magical it is to use a pristine one!

I also love that Platte River Campground has so many campsites that feel private even when the campground is busy. I think this is due to the generous amount of foliage separating sites.

And when it comes to location, you really can’t beat this campground. You’re next to several beautiful beaches along Lake Michigan to the west. You can either do a ~0.8 mile hike from your campsite or take a super quick drive to the nearest beach.

Michigan Beaches
Stake out a spot with your beach umbrella, and this slice of heaven is all yours!

You’re also close to Platte Lake to the east if you want a more intimate lake option. Plus you have several entry points onto Platte River for excellent canoeing, kayaking, and tubing!

If you’re into hiking, the dune-hiking here is unlike anywhere else. Head to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (an easy, 20 min. drive north) to experience a landscape that will make you feel like you’re in the Sahara Desert!

Michigan Dune Hiking
Michigan Dunes
The golden dunes contrasting with that deep blue water — stunning!

It’s no wonder that so many reviewers consider Platte River Campground the best campground in the lower peninsula!

Pro Tip: Loops 1-3 have electricity. However, Loop 4 campsites do not so keep that in mind when choosing your site!

P.J. Hoffmaster Campground

P.J. Hoffmaster Campground is nestled inside P.J. Hoffmaster State Park’s sprawling  1200 acres of forests, dunes, and beaches in Muskegon, Michigan. The park abuts over three miles of Lake Michigan shoreline!

The P.J. Hoffmaster campground is open year-round and offers 297 modern campsites with hot showers and flush toilets on site. This is the campground for those that like their creature comforts.

Michigan Camping Hoffmaster
Isn’t this a heavenly spot to set up your tent and do some yoga in the mornings?

Like Platte River, P.J. Hoffmaster has access to some of Michigan’s best dune-hikes with views over Lake Michigan. The Gillette Visitor Center just south of the campground offers tons of valuable information about the trails.

Pro Tip: Don’t miss the nature programs offered by the Gillette Visitor Center. They are a family-favorite for kids young and old! Also, check out the Dune Climb Stairway leading to an observation deck at the top of a tall sand dune with panoramic views of the dunes and Lake Michigan!

Michigan Dune Climb Stairway
Don’t miss the Dune Climb Stairway while camping at P.J. Hoffmaster!

Even more than Platte River Campground, I felt like I was one-with-the-woods while at P.J. Hoffmaster. The sites are brimming with plant-life and giant trees. All that nature gives the sites maximum privacy!

And if you need to get back to civilization for a bit, P.J. Hoffmaster is just a 20 minute drive from downtown Muskegon. 

Muskegon is emblematic of “Pure Michigan” with quaint coffee shops, delicious restaurants, and one of my favorite lighthouses — the majestic Muskegon South Pierhead Lighthouse! The latter is particularly gorgeous at sunset.

Muskegon Lighthouse

Silver Lake State Park Campground

Located in Mears, Michigan, Silver Lake State Park Campground is situated within the park’s 3,000 acres with nearly 2,000 acres of sand dunes and more than 4 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.

This campground has 200 campsites with electricity and a modern restrooms, and the entire area is really well-maintained.

Silver Lake Campground Michigan
Aren’t these trees just perfect for a hammock? Note to self: get a hammock!

I have been obsessed with Silver Lake State Park Campground for quite some time. Although I make it my mission to try a new campground every time I go camping, I’ve been back to this campground to relive the magic!

The area’s claim to fame is the off-roading dune area where those driving ORVs (off road vehicles) can zip up and down the dunes.

Fun fact: people come from all over to ride the sand dunes here; they’re the only ones open for off-roading east of the Mississippi River.

ORV Michigan

I went to the ORV area at sunset, parked my beach chair in the sand, and feasted my eyes on a Pure Michigan sunset with ORVs dotting the skyline. Absolutely M-A-G-I-C-A-L!

And don’t think that I forgot about the beaches. You are spoiled for choice here. You can walk from your campsite to the lovely beach at Silver Lake, or you can take a short drive to the Michigan coast.

Michigan Beach

Pro Tip: Take a dune ride with Mac Wood’s Dune Rides. It’s like a (mostly) calm roller coaster through the sand. Such great fun!

Honorable Mention: Ludington State Park Campground

As an added bonus, I’m including Ludington State Park Campground. This campground was one of my first Michigan camping experiences, and I couldn’t have picked a better starter-campground.

There are a whopping 360 campsites to choose from here! These sites are split into three modern camping areas between Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan. 

With access to both lakes, you’ll enjoy miles of shoreline. You can hike, fish, canoe, kayak or just laze on the beach. You can be as active or as chill as you’d like. 

Pro Tip: Ludington State Park Campground has 10 remote tent sites along a 1 mile trail in the Jack Pine Hike-In-Only Campground for those that want to get away from it all!

How to Reserve a Campsite in Michigan

The Michigan camping reservations system has come a long way since I first started camping in Michigan!

But there are still some tips and tricks that will make navigating the online portal and snagging the best campsite way easier.

You can start by searching for the campgrounds that I’ve recommended in the “where to camp” section, or do some googling to find other options that suit you. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources also has a handy “Recreation Search” page that you can use to explore potential campgrounds!

Once you have your “options list,” head to the Michigan State Park reservation portal.

There, select your preferred campground in the drop-down menu, enter your dates, select the equipment you’ll have with you (tent, truck camper, or a trailer/RV), and enter the number of people in your party.

When you hit “search,” you’ll get a map of campsite availability. I like to play around with the map view so I can see where the available campsites are located relative to others and relative to points of interest like Lake Michigan or other nearby lakes.

Michigan Campground Reservation
Here’s an example of the color-coded map view (when searching for Ludington State Park).

When looking at the availability map, you’ll see different-colored circles — green means that a site is available and red means that it is booked. While searching, I make a mental note of all the red dots since they’re a good indicator of how busy that campground is likely to be when I’m there!

In the zoomed-in view, each circle has a corresponding number. That is an individual campsite. When you click on a numbered circle, you will see a description pop up letting you know what types of vehicles / tents are allowed at the site and the maximum number of people.

The details area sometimes has a photo of the campsite as well. This is super-handy so you can see whether the setup is to your liking. I look for sites that have some privacy and foliage. If they seem spacious, all the better.

Michigan Campsites
See the photo icon in the “Details” area? This will give you a preview of your potential campsite!

You can choose to “view more details” and you’ll get additional information like “site shade,” (how much sun / shade the campsite gets), “distance to the restroom,” “electrical service,” “ground cover” (type of ground you’ll be setting your tent on if you are tent-camping), and “site conditions” (whether the site is level or is on a slope).

Repeat this process of looking up campgrounds and sites until you find your best option. When you’re ready to reserve just click the “reserve” button and check out!

If you’ve never created an account, you’ll be asked to do so at this point. It’s really simple, and you’ll get your reservation confirmation emailed to you at the email you provide.

Pro Tip: Most campsites can be reserved 6 mo. in advance, and some of the most popular campgrounds sell out on the day their reservations open! I have booked some sites 6 mo. in advance to make sure I got the campground and site that I wanted.

And there you have it! You are now armed with everything you need to know to have a magical time camping in Michigan.

A few key takeaways: (1) determine your camping style and budget, (2) figure out which season(s) you want to camp during, (3) do some campground research and make a list of your 3-5 favorites, and (4) try to book in advance to snag the best option!

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Also let me know if you want me to do a camping packing guide. It may turn into another giant article, but I’d be happy to do it for you!

And if you want more ideas for a fun, local-travel option from Chicago, but you want to leave the tent behind in favor of hotels, check out my guide to the coolest attractions along Route 66 from Chicago to St. Louis!


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2 thoughts on “Everything You Need to Know About Camping in Michigan”

  1. This is such a detailed and informative post, Alana! It makes me want to head to Michigan right now for some camping… and I don’t usually camp! If I ever give it a try, I’d definitely be in the modern camping sites with showers and flush toilets.

    Reply
    • Thanks for taking the time to check it out Becky! I think you’d love MI camping and hiking; it’s a great state to try camping for the first time 🙂

      Reply

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