Northern Michigan is chock-full of spectacular campgrounds, many of which have campsites just a stone’s throw from the water. You can set up camp far enough inland to be safe from the coastal environment but so close you can hear the water lapping at night. Here are five terrific picks: Tahquamenon Falls in the Upper Peninsula; D. H. Day Campground in Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore; the Sand Lakes Quiet Area just outside Traverse City; Young State Park in Boyne City; and Orchard Beach State Park in Manistee. Wake up to sunlight on the water and the sound of a breeze in the trees!
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 inside Tahquamenon 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. $13 nightly, 906-293-3293.
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 Camp 33 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.
Sleeping Bear Bay
No reservations are needed (or accepted) for D.H. Day Campground, on the outskirts of Glen Arbor, so you’ll want to arrive early to get one of the 88 sites along serene Sleeping Bear Bay. This first-come, first-serve campground is the best way we (and everybody else) know to call Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore home for the night.
Tip: Primo real estate sits at sites 52 through 61, which are closest to the water (though still in the woods). $12 nightly, plus cost of National Park Pass.
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.
Young State Park
Perched on Horse Point at the east end of Lake Charlevoix, Young State Park offers five miles of hiking trails and three modern campgrounds (240 sites total), all spread across 560 acres. The park was opened in 1921, and the log house concession stand (built in the ’30s) rents kayaks and canoes, and sells coffee and snacks. The boat launch handles vessels up to 16 feet, and the beach is stellar. 800.447.2757
Orchard Beach State Park
A smaller park on a bluff facing Lake Michigan, Orchard Beach State Park offers 166 modern campsites and a 2.5-mile trail for hiking and cross-country skiing within its 201-acre realm. A staircase leads down to the beach, and a pavilion for rent that can fit 200 people. Just a mile north of Manistee. 231-723-7422.
More Waterfront Adventures:
Camp on Arbutus Lake and its Chain of Lakes
Wake Up to Water Views When you Hop the Ferry to South Manitou
Pitch a tent on Grand Isle, a Lake Superior Gem