It is the ultimate in Northern Michigan camping, finding a site that offers coastal camping on Lake Michigan or a campsite on the water anywhere Up North.
D.H. Day Campground
Just over a low dune from Lake Michigan’s spectacular Sleeping Bear Bay, D.H. Day Campground presents a sublime playground for a September sleepout. Walk the beach forever, surf-cast for the returning salmon, swim in the still-warm waters. Cruise a couple of miles into Glen Arbor if you want somebody else to cook for you. Drive-in sites, water pump, outhouse; $12/night. No reservations. 231-326-5134 or nps.gov/slbe.
Fisherman’s Island State Park
Number of campsites: 75. Number of acres: 3,000. Nice ratio for serenity seekers. Even better, Fisherman’s Island, just south of Charlevoix, offers campsites smack on that endless beach—a rarity despite Michigan’s abundant shore mileage. Site No. 9 is particularly alluring, according to Russ Mikesell, summer ranger. “In one direction the nearest site is a quarter mile away and to the north there aren’t any.” Drive-up sites, hand water pump and outhouse. $12 a night.
Bonus: Five miles of park beach. Reservations: 800-447-2757 or Michigan.gov/dnr.
Wilderness State Park
Pop a tent beside the Straits of Mackinac and consider your place in history. Native Americans traveled these shores by foot and canoe for millennia, perhaps camping where you now sit with a marshmallow and a Pabst. Bonuses: Freighters and sailboats spice your evening water-gazing; 30-amp power for those who need juice. $27 per night; state park permit required. Reservations: 800-447-2757 or Michigan.gov/dnr.
Mouth of Two Hearted River State Forest Campground
The Two Hearted River’s name was irresistible to Ernest Hemingway, who stole it for a story title (he actually fished the nearby Fox River). But even more irresistible is the location of the namesake campground, right where the river pours into Lake Superior. Cast a line into the trout stream right from your campsite. Walk a short way for a September’s share of surf-casting, agate hunting and beach walking. Drive-in site, water pump and outhouse; $15/night. Reservations: 800-447-2757 or Michigan.gov/dnr.
White Pine Backcountry Camp, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
If you’ve been wanting to try backpacking, make this camp south of Empire your first attempt: easy effort, big payoff. A flat two miles of walking off Trails End Road, and you arrive at six well-spaced campsites set in a forest behind a dune. Beyond said dune is the watery prize of Lake Michigan fringed by a lovely arc of unspoiled shore—one that lacks people. Outhouse, yes. Water pump, no—so pack water for an overnight or plan to purify (filter, boil, tablets). Experienced backpackers? You’ll love White Pine, too. $5/night—you gotta do it. Reservations: 877-444-6777 or recreation.gov. General info: nps.gov/slbe.
Modern campers might prefer the suburbia-like style of the 180 close-knit sites (and hot showers and flush toilets) at the two Lower Falls Campgrounds insideTahquamenon Falls State Park ($16+, plus $6 daily motor vehicle permit; 800-44-Parks). But rustic renegades will find a more secluded setting just north of the park and the town of Paradise at Andrus Lake State Forest Campground, where 25 sites spread out in the woods and along the otherwise uninhabited sandy lakeshore. Expect great swimming and fishing, a boat launch, plus fire pits, a water pump and vault toilets. $15 NIGHTLY. 906-293-3293,MICHIGAN.GOV/DNR
Go with the Flow: The best way to see Tahquamenon’s fabulous falls is to hike the four-mile riverside trail from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls. If you can handle a few hardy hills, you’ll be rewarded: The Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub waits at trail’s end. The in-park pub not only serves up ever-changing and brilliant beer concoctions (we fell in love with the lightly fruity Lumberjack Lager) and lip-smacking pasties, it boasts a mighty good menu, an outdoor deck complete with fireplace and rocking chairs, and it sits inches from the stop for the shuttle that totes your tired butt back to the Lower Falls. 906-492-3300,SUPERIOR SIGHTS.COM/TAHQFALLSBREW.
Sand Lakes Quiet Area
Ten motor-free miles of trails, five lakes and 3,000 wooded acres right on the edge of Traverse City in Williamsburg. The only thing missing inside Sand Lakes Quiet Area? You and your tent, both parked just about anywhere you darn well please—provided you’ve first nabbed a free camp card from the Michigan Department of Natural Resource’s Traverse City Field Office. 231-922-5280,MICHIGAN.GOV/DNR.