It’s not summertime in Northern Michigan without a family camping trip! That is, camping without hassles. Whether you’re planning a trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore or heading up the Lake Michigan coastline to Mackinaw City, these tips for camping with kids will help your whole family have a stress-free adventure. 

Tip #1: Pack Like a Pro

If sitting around the campfire with a cocktail in hand while your kids are roasting s’mores is the epitome of relaxation for you (I mean, isn’t that a camping activity we all look forward to?!)—we bet that packing is not. Worrying about forgetting the necessities can be stressful, so a list of must-haves is absolutely essential.

Add these items to your camping packing list:

  • An extra tarp. Don’t let the rain get you down, a tarp can save the day (and the tent).
  • An assortment of quiet toys. Keep the kids happy with a few quick-and-easy, go-to toys. (Along with campers in your neighboring lots.) Water pen coloring books are not only long-lasting, but they’re reusable. Card games are perfect to wind down after a long day or to keep the kids occupied while a storm passes through. You can also break out the Uno cards for some competitive family fun. Even the littlest participants can practice their numbers and colors!
  • Toys that get the energy out. Keep them moving and the energy flowing! Got room for bikes, scooters or rollerblades? Pack ‘em up. Zooming through the campground will help them catch ZZZs later on.
  • Buckets, buckets, buckets. Trust me, you’ll want them! From gathering Petoskey stones and hauling dirty toys down to the lake, to washing off feet before piling into the tent—the bucket will come in handy all day long.
  • Layers. You can never be too prepared for Michigan’s unpredictable weather.
  • Essential skincare items. Don’t forget your bug spray, sunscreen and aloe lotion.
  • A first aid kit. Just in case. Fingers crossed you won’t need it, but if scraped knees are common at home, they’ll probably be common camping, too.
  • Clear tubs. You’ve probably packed in bulk with tubs before. But have you tried clear tubs for camping? Make it easy on yourself to find what you need, when you need it.
  • Baby wipes. They’re not just for infants! Baby wipes are the solve-all for any mess while you’re on the road. Have them handy to clean your kids, your hands or your space.

Read: 10 Best Northern Michigan Campgrounds

Tip #2: Plan Ahead

Have your Plan A ready? It doesn’t hurt to have a Plan B. And probably Plan C, too. Don’t let a bump in the road ruin your trip. What kind of back-up plans do you need? Imagine what weather phenomenon may travel over Big Blue. Don’t let the rain send you packing. Be prepared to move your sleeping bags into the back of your SUV. Crisis. Averted. And what happens if the rain carries over into the next day? Look into local kids museums, indoor waterparks and movie theaters—just in case. 

Tip #3: Be Nighttime Safety Ready

Keep everyone safe and in sight by perfecting nighttime safety. Always keep a lantern on hand and lit—after the last embers burn on your fire, you’re going to need to find your way around somehow.

And don’t forget your dollar store glow sticks either. It’s not only safe—but fun—to make glow stick necklaces for the whole family. Need an energy-burning activity before bedtime? Glow sticks in a water bottle make for great bowling pins! Lastly, glow-in-the-dark tent stakes can keep everyone injury-free while navigating during the evening hours.

Tip #4: Snacks, Snacks, Snacks!

Pre-plan all your meals, snacks and drinks before your getaway begins to ensure “hangry” doesn’t happen. 

Here’s a tip to keep your cooler cool: Fill up jugs of water ¾ full and freeze them so when they melt you’re left with ice-cold drinking water. They’ll double duty as ice packs before they melt. 

Make use of that campfire you have going. These Dutch oven enchiladas are easy, filling and healthy. 

Tip #5: Do Your Research

Cell phone service is never guaranteed in the great outdoors. Have your plans (and back-up plans) drawn up ahead of time. Include your older kiddos in the planning process to get them extra excited about the upcoming vacation. Knowing local trails, necessary phone numbers and route before you leave home will take out the hassle of figuring it out in the moment in the woods. 

Family-Friendly & Low-Cost #NoMI Campgrounds

North Higgins Lake State Park & South Higgins Lake State Park

Beautiful Higgins Lake is the home of two Michigan State Parks—both of which are only a 15-minute drive to downtown Grayling and the Village of Roscommon for off-site exploring.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Paradise

No one can get bored when you have waterfalls to play in, trails to hike, fishing to do and canoeing to try in the U.P.

Northern Exposure Campground/RV & Recreational Park, Mesick

Enjoy your time at an Up North campground that offers frequent family-fun activities and rentable water toys in Mesick. 

Tee Pee Campground, Mackinaw City

Your family can experience and easily access all of the treasures Mackinaw offers from the comfort of your campground. Bonus: Waking up to views of the Mackinac Bridge.

Timber Ridge Resort, Traverse City

Talk about family activities! Traverse City’s Timber Ridge offers outdoor laser tag, a jump pad, bubble soccer, water wars and so much more.

Photo(s) by Taylor Brown