Northern Michigan Vacation: The Basics of Camping for the Clueless

Northern Michigan: Want to camp but no idea how? Help is here.

Rent a ranger!

The Department of Natural Resources calls it the First-Time Camper Program. But a more accurate name would be Personal Camping Concierge, because that’s basically what you score when you book the $20, two-night package available to new visitors at one of 19 Michigan state parks. When you check in, a ranger with a wagon will haul a provided tent, stove, lantern, flashlight, even air mattress and lawn chairs to your roomy site, and then comes the fun—private lessons in setting up the tent, operating the stove, starting the perfect campfire.

Want a fishing pole? No problemo. Help putting the worm on the hook? That’s in the plan, if the park has a fishing pond and the camper a desire to try it out. Never roasted a marshmallow? Well, you get the idea.

The program’s goal is to expose the unaware to Michigan’s natural beauty by taking away every possible excuse for ‘not’ camping. If you end up hooked, you’ve got a packet of certificates good toward your own gear at Gander Mountain, a program sponsor. To book, go to Michigan.gov/dnr (click the camping or recreation link) or call 989.225.8573.

No tent, no problem

Taking an RV or tent camper for a trial run before (or instead of) a purchase is easier than ever with new rental options at many Michigan state parks and private campgrounds. No need, even, for a trailer hitch, with new RVs, tent campers and even yurts rented fully set up on site. (FYI: Pop-ups are the current “it” rental). New campers have been added to the rental pool at Hartwick Pines, Interlochen and other state parks. Book quickly to lock up a DNR staff favorite—the new four-person yurt at Craig Lake State Park, west of Marquette, $60 a night with rowboat on a forest-shrouded, 56-acre lake notable for loons, black bear and the occasional moose. Find camper rental options at gocampingamerica.com; state park options at Michigan.gov/dnr.

Gourmet Meals Outdoors?

Consider elevated camp cuisine a vacation insurance policy, says backcountry cooking expert and international paddling guide Michael Gray. Memories of delicious aromas in the wilderness overshadow even bad weather or a sore back. Or so he promises in Hey I’d Eat This at Home: A Fresh and Fearless Approach to Wilderness and Home Cooking. Gray’s cooking techniques have evolved over time, but his memorable camp cooking still relies mainly on forethought, he says. Consider spices your cooking first-aid kit. Opt for a silicone hot pad, which works even when wet, and buy double-duty gear like the Dutch oven Gray had specially forged (and now sells). It converts into a fry pan or a griddle.

From Gray’s book: Pan-Seared Pork Tenderloin in Cherry-Wine Peppercorn Sauce. At home, marinade 2 pounds pork tenderloin in ½ cup red wine; 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce; ½ cup dried cherries; 2 cloves garlic, diced; 1 tablespoon cracked peppercorns; and ½ teaspoon thyme. At camp, sear tenderloin, then cook 10 minutes on each side in a fry pan. Simmer marinade into a sauce consistency, adding cornstarch to thicken. Serves four. Savor. uncommonadv.com

This was a feature in the July 2012 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine, to order a copy click here!

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