Did you know that one of the most underrated places for outdoor adventure and secluded camping spots is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan?
Michigan has more State Forest land than any other state in the eastern U.S., most of which is in the state’s northern peninsula.
Meaning: there are so many good woodland places to get lost in that you can get to in a mere few hours.
Getting lost in the Upper Peninsula is very easy, so you may want to make sure you have a functioning compass or at least check in with your spirit animal before embarking on any of these UP camping trips.
There are many beautiful places to visit in the Great Lakes Region, but northern Michigan is one of our favorites in the fall.
Here are ten gorgeous spots to camp in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula this year.
Bond Falls Waterfalls
Bond Falls Waterfalls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the UP, for a good reason.
The falls are a short walk from the car, and there are hiking trails that extend into the surrounding Ottawa National Forest. Check out the visitor’s center at the entrance to the park for information on camping.
There are campsites scattered around the lakeshore and even some sites on small islands in the middle of the lake if you want to go SUP or kayak camping.
Little Presque Isle National Forest
You can find your quiet corner in this campground which is not lacking on the shorefront. It’s secluded and off the beaten path — which goes for most of the UP, to be honest –, but this is a place to go to get away from it all, even if you are just a short trip from refilling your growler at one of Marquette’s famous breweries.
Camping on Lake Michigan
In the upper western reaches of Michigan’s “mitten” lies the often-wild shoreline of Lake Michigan, where you can climb over dunes rimmed by forests bright with foliage or stroll the charming neighborhoods of lakeside towns.
You’ll find both full-hookup campgrounds and boondocking in this pretty area of the state.
Spend a free night or two in the dispersed camping at Copper Creek Road or Green Road near the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness, which has plentiful lakeshore access and is crisscrossed with trails.
From there, head north for a stop at Sleeping Bear Dunes before driving around Grand Traverse Bay to the charming towns of Charlevoix and Petoskey, where American author Ernest Hemingway spent his childhood summers.
Camping at Copper Harbor
Copper Harbor’s remote location on the Upper Peninsula may dissuade some from making the trek, but it’s worth every mile under the tires.
Located at the Keweenaw Peninsula’s tip, which juts deep into Lake Superior, Copper Harbor is a tiny outpost of a town whose gorgeous fall colors are hard to beat.
While there isn’t an overabundance of camping options, Fort Wilkins Historic State Park should meet most people’s needs with partial hook-ups and a central location.
Other options include Fanny Hooe Resort & Campground and Trails End Campground, both located a short distance from the Lake Superior shoreline.
Be sure to drive or bike Brockway Mountain Drive for panoramic views of the colorful forest as it stretches to the lake.
If you work while on the road or prefer to be in strong cell coverage, you’ll want to day trip to Copper Harbor but stay further south on the Keweenaw Peninsula, near Houghton.
Choices include Lake Linden Village Campground, City of Houghton RV Park, and Hancock Recreation Area Beach & Campground.
Camping Near the Au Sable River
Originating just north of Grayling, Michigan, is the stunning Au Sable River. Running for 138 miles from Grayling to Lake Huron, the Au Sable is a designated National Wild and Scenic River that offers excellent canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and leaf-peeping opportunities, along with some great camping options.
Check out Lake Margrethe State Forest Campground just west of Grayling for level sites along with several tent-only sites.
The sites are first-come, first-served in the fall, but finding a spot wasn’t a problem during a recent mid-week stay.
Other nearby State Forest campgrounds include Au Sable River State Forest Campground & Canoe Camp and Burton’s Landing State Forest Campground.
All-State Forest campgrounds in Michigan require a Recreation Passport and are $15 per night. While you won’t find hook-ups, you will find a picnic table, fire ring, and modern vault toilets.
The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
The Porkies are filled with hiking trails in Northern Michigan’s small but beautiful mountains.
Along the southern shore of Lake Superior, you’ll find state-sanctioned cabins for rent and campgrounds to pitch your tent on, all with access to incredible hiking in the vast wilderness of the north woods.
Murray Bay Group Campsite
For a unique experience, take the ferry over to Grand Island on Lake Superior’s southeastern tip and hike or bike over to the Murray Bay Group Campground.
This is one large group site that sleeps up to 25 people and gives access to the Grand Island National Recreation Area.
The island boasts massive 300-foot wave-cut sandstone cliffs, 13,500 acres of lush forest with miles of hiking and biking trails, beaches of fine sand, winter ice caves, and historic buildings and artifacts dating back as far as 2000 B.C.
Soo Locks Campground
Soo Locks Campground. This one is in Sault Ste. Marie, near the Canadian border. It’s a quality campground near the water, with great views of the ships coming and going.
It is about 1.5 miles to the Soo Locks visitor’s center, convenient access to food and shopping. There are 20 and 30-amp and water hook-ups available – and also WIFI.
With a picnic area, game room, playground, and rec hall, as well as laundry and showers, this is a great place to stay for several days as you plan your camping in the UP adventures.
They consist of three dozen small islands located just offshore, islands perfect for fishing and exploring, especially by kayak, where quiet coves and sheltered bays beckon the adventurer.
They stretch through Hessel and Cedarville’s waterfront communities, almost to the far eastern end of the lake, where it is fed by the St. Mary’s River in Detour Village.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Tahquamenon Falls. Located in the Tahquamenon River halfway between Newberry and Paradise is a spectacular waterfall that drops nearly 50 feet! Most of the sites offer 20, 30, and 50-amp hook-ups, with your normal facilities such as picnic areas, a playground, shower or restrooms, and trails.
Pets are allowed. Explore the upper and lower falls – each has its appeal. Rates are $25-35 per night. This campground is also open in winter, unlike most campgrounds in the UP, which close fr the season!
French Farm Lake Free Campground
This popular free camping area in Michigan fills up rather quickly, probably because it’s 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 six open campsites (6 more are barricaded and marked as no camping) 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 won’t 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, R.V.s much longer than 25 or 30 feet would have difficulty leveling or even turning around.
The Department of Natural Resources maintains this free campsite in Michigan, so you’ll need to have a copy of the DNR form.
Free Hiawatha National Forest Camping Near Munising
This is another free primitive camping area about 20 minutes away from Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s down a little two-track road in the Hiawatha National Forest.
This is one of those sites that we pulled into late in the day and left early the next morning. We took the first cleared spot we saw because we had cell service (amazing!) for work.
The free camping spot we stayed in was small, overgrown, would have been too lumpy for tent camping or a large R.V. to easily level, but did have a fire ring, although they filled it with garbage. So not the best, but still a free and legal place to sleep.
You may find better sites by exploring further down the road – based on satellite images, the sites look to be larger, more level, and clear.
To get there, turn off 94/28, and when the road immediately forks – go to the right. You’ll start seeing cleared free camping spots soon.
Hovey Lake Dispersed Campground in the Hiawatha National Forest
Hovey Lake Dispersed Campground is a free campsite in the Hiawatha National Forest of the Upper Peninsula and is operated and maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. It’s about 30 minutes away from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Each of the five campsites is located on Hovey Lake and spaced apart with trees for some privacy. Don’t pack your swimsuit as Hovey Lake isn’t good for swimming, but there is a non-motorized boat launch if you want to do any fishing.
As far as amenities at this primitive campground, each site has a fire ring and picnic table. There are pit toilets, and hand pump water is available, although it may not be potable. A few miles back up Buckhorn/USFS 2254, there’s a lodge with free WiFi if you need it.
This free campsite is located on the east side of Hovey Lake. The GPS coordinates are correct, but Google Maps will likely direct you to turn south down Blueberry Lane.
Instead of that, turn south down Hovey Lake Road/USFS 2473, which is only ¼ mile east of Blueberry Lane. Drive for less than a mile before turning right onto USFS 2367 towards Hovey Lake Dispersed Campground.