Did you know that Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has one of the most underrated areas for outdoor adventure and secluded camping spots?
Michigan has more State Forest land than any other state in the eastern United States, with most of it located in the state’s northern peninsula.
That is, there are so many great places to get lost in the woods that you can visit in a matter of hours.
It’s very easy to get lost in the Upper Peninsula, so make sure you have a working 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 one of our favourites in the fall is northern Michigan.
This year, there are ten beautiful places to camp in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.
Bond Falls Waterfalls
Bond Falls Waterfalls is one of the most famous waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula for a good reason.
The falls are only a short walk from the car, and hiking trails extend into Ottawa National Forest. For information on camping, visit the visitor centre at the park’s entrance.
If you’re interested in SUPing or kayaking camping, there are several campsites scattered along the lakeshore, and some on small islands in the middle of the lake.
Little Presque Isle National Forest
This campground, which has a lot of shorefronts, has a lot of quiet spots. It’s secluded and off the beaten path — which, to be honest, applies to most of the UP — but this is a place to get away from it all, even if you’re only a short drive from refilling your growler at one of Marquette’s famous breweries.
Camping on Lake Michigan
The often-wild shoreline of Lake Michigan lies in the upper western reaches of Michigan’s “mitten,” where you can climb over dunes rimmed by forests bright with foliage or stroll the charming neighbourhoods of lakeside towns.
In this beautiful part of the state, you can find both full-service campgrounds and boondocks.
Spend a free night or two at Copper Creek Road or Green Road near the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness, which has plenty of lakeshore access and is crisscrossed with trails.
From there, drive north to Sleeping Bear Dunes before circumnavigating Grand Traverse Bay to the charming towns of Charlevoix and Petoskey, where American author Ernest Hemingway spent his childhood summers.
Camping at Copper Harbor
In spite of Copper Harbor’s location in the upper peninsula of Michigan, some may hesitate to make the trip, but it’s worth every mile under the tires.
Copper Harbor is a tiny outpost of a town whose fall colours are hard to beat. It is located at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, which juts deep into Lake Superior.
While there aren’t many camping options, Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, with partial hookups and a central location, should meet most people’s needs.
Other options include Fanny Hooe Resort & Campground and Trails End Campground, close to Lake Superior’s shoreline.
The colourful forest which stretches to the lake can be seen from Brockway Mountain Drive or by bike.
Consider taking a day trip to Copper Harbor while staying on the Keweenaw Peninsula, near Houghton, if you must work in your car or prefer cell service.
The City of Houghton RV Park, Lake Linden Village Campground, and Hancock Recreation Area Beach & Campground provide camping options close to Lake Linden.
Camping Near the Au Sable River
The breathtaking Au Sable River begins just north of Grayling, Michigan. The Au Sable River, which runs for 138 miles from Grayling to Lake Huron, is a designated National Wild and Scenic River that provides excellent canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and leaf-peeping opportunities as some great camping options.
Near Grayling, the Lake Margrethe State Forest Campground has level campsites and a few 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.
Au Sable River State Forest Campground & Canoe Camp and Burton’s Landing State Forest Campground are two other nearby State Forest campgrounds.
Michigan’s All-State Forest campgrounds require a Recreation Passport and charge $15 per night. While there are no hookups, there is a picnic table, a fire ring, and modern vault toilets.
The Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Hiking trails abound in Northern Michigan’s small but stunning mountains, including the Porkies.
You’ll find state-sanctioned cabins for rent and campgrounds to pitch your tent along Lake Superior’s southern shore, all with access to incredible hiking in the vast wilderness of the north woods.
Murray Bay Group Campsite
Take the ferry to Grand Island on Lake Superior’s southeastern tip for a one-of-a-kind experience, then hike or bike to the Murray Bay Group Campground.
This is a large group campsite that can accommodate up to 25 people and access the Grand Island National Recreation Area.
Massive sandstone cliffs rising 300 feet, 13,500 acres of forest with hiking and biking trails, fine sand beaches, winter ice caves, and historic buildings dating back to 2000 B.C. are all island features.
Soo Locks Campground
The campground at Soo Locks. This one is near the Canadian border in Sault Ste. Marie. It’s a good campground close to the water with great views of the ships coming and going.
The Soo Locks visitor’s centre is about 1.5 miles away, with easy access to food and shopping. There are 20 and 30-amp power and water hookups available, as well as WIFI.
With a picnic area, game room, playground, and rec hall, as well as laundry and showers, this is an excellent place to stay for a few days while planning your camping adventures in the UP.
They are made up of three dozen small islands just offshore that are ideal for fishing and exploring, especially by kayak, with quiet coves and sheltered bays beckoning the adventurer.
They run through Hessel and Cedarville’s waterfront communities, almost to the lake’s far eastern end, fed by the St. Mary’s River in Detour Village.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Tahquamenon Falls A spectacular waterfall drops nearly 50 feet in the Tahquamenon River halfway between Newberry and Paradise! The majority of the sites have 20, 30, and 50-amp hookups and standard amenities like picnic areas, a playground, showers or restrooms, and trails.
Pets are welcome. Investigate the upper and lower falls – each has its appeal. Rates range from $25 to $35 per night. This campground is also open in the winter, unlike most in the Upper Peninsula, which close for the season!
French Farm Lake Free Campground
Due to its convenient location near Mackinac Island, this popular Michigan free camping area fills up fast. You can also bike or walk to Headlands International Dark Sky Park and a public beach on Lake Michigan.
The six open campsites (six more are barricaded and marked as no camping) are located off a well-kept one-lane dirt path right on French Farm Lake.
Some fishermen may use the boat launch at the end of the dirt path, but there will be no swimming because the lake is too marshy.
It is large enough for everyone to share and distant enough from each other to provide plenty of privacy.
This free campsite has no amenities other than makeshift fire pits, making it a great place to experience Michigan’s primitive camping.
R.V.s that are much longer than 25 or 30 feet will most likely have difficulty levelling or even turning around.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources manages this free campsite, so you’ll need a copy of the DNR form.
Free Hiawatha National Forest Camping Near Munising
In Michigan, this is another free primitive camping area about 20 minutes from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. In the Hiawatha National Forest, it’s down a small two-track road.
This is one of those locations where we arrived late and left early the following day. We took the first open spot we saw because we needed cell service for work (amazing!).
The free campsite was tiny, overgrown, and lumpy during our stay, making it unsuitable for tent camping or taking a large RV to level quickly, but it did have a fire ring, which they had filled with garbage. So it’s not ideal, but it’s a free and legal place to sleep.
You may find better sites by exploring further down the road – the sites appear to be larger, more level, and clear based on satellite images.
To get there, exit 94/28 and take the first right when the road forks. Soon, you’ll notice cleared accessible camping areas.
Hovey Lake Dispersed Campground in the Hiawatha National Forest
The US Forest Service operates and maintains the Hovey Lake Dispersed Campground in the Hiawatha National Forest of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is about 30 minutes away.
Each of the five campsites is located on Hovey Lake and is separated by trees to provide some privacy. If you want to go fishing, you can launch a non-motorized boat at the non-motorized boat launch. Do not bring a swimsuit because Hovey Lake is not suited for swimming.
Each campsite at this primitive campground has a fire ring and a picnic table. There are pit toilets and hand pump water, which may or may not be potable. There’s a lodge with free WiFi a few miles back up Buckhorn/USFS 2254 if you need it.
This free campsite is located on Hovey Lake’s east side. The GPS coordinates are correct, but Google Maps will most likely direct you to take Blueberry Lane south.
Instead, take Hovey Lake Road/USFS 2473 south, only 14 miles east of Blueberry Lane. Drive for less than a mile before turning right onto USFS 2367, which will take you to the Hovey Lake Dispersed Campground.