With plenty of scenic spots to choose from, traveling RV-style to your favorite destinations is a breeze and retirees are taking notice. After a lifetime of planning and saving, this demographic has been purchasing campers for permanent or longer-stay ventures and here’s what they’ve got planned, plus 6 of the best spots to RV in Northern Michigan.
It’s no secret that RVing went big during the pandemic. People everywhere took to the outdoors—and the social distancing of camping—with joy and relief. It was one of the last few “safe” places to go. And go they did. Shopping for RVs was a game of finding and buying almost the same day—inventory was gone that quickly.
But the joy of RVing is one thing that most seniors already know. Some spend weekends around the campfire with their grandkids, while others have planned their entire lives to travel the country in an RV during their later years.
For Nikki and Tim McClure of Roscommon, they knew they wanted to retire as early as possible and hit the road traveling as much as they could. In 2013, they did just that. The McClures now spend about a third of the year on the road in their RV—a travel van they outfitted themselves.
“We wanted to do an upgrade from tent camping upon our retirement,” says Tim, 62, a former high school art teacher. “We started seeing travel vans on our excursions and asked the folks driving them if we could take a look. After viewing several versions and countless YouTube videos, we decided we could do it ourselves and came up with a design. It is not super fancy, but fills our simple needs.”
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The McClures have traveled to every state, except Rhode Island. “Traveling on the road allows us time to smell the roses along our way,” says Nikki, 61, a retired physical therapist assistant. “We don’t plan too much out. We are just moving. This allows us to stop where we like: a fish boil in Maine, an indigenous celebration in Alaska, a dinosaur dig in Utah, a raft trip in Idaho, and so on.”
They travel about 12,000-15,000 miles a year and average about 18-22 mpg. “When coworkers would ask me if I thought I was too young to retire and if I was worried if I could afford it or not, my answer was, ‘It’s not about money, it’s about time,’” Tim says. “We wanted to be able to do all the things we wanted to do, while we were still young enough to do them.”
Derek Watson, the owner of Nature & Me RV in Traverse City, says more and more retirees are buying RVs these days and about 35-40 percent of their clients are in that retirement age of 55 and older.
The majority in that age range are purchasing as couples, and are using the camper for more permanent, longer-stay ventures,” Derek says. “The 55+ range purchasers are usually well-versed in the particular unit they are looking for. The actual purchase process is usually streamlined, as this age group already has a plan for the funding and use of the purchase.”
He adds that there’s a wide range of choices that retirees favor—from extremely small, basically sleep-only units, to high-end luxury models. “The price range can be $18,000 to $25,000, all the way up to $120,000 for some luxury models,” he says.
Derek says they see everyone, from brand-new campers to very experienced ones in retirement. “This age range is enjoyable to work with,” he says. “These clients are excited during the process, due to the fact, for some, this has been a lifetime of planning and saving to be able to enjoy themselves at this point in their life, and camping is the activity they have decided on!”
Joe and Tina Cooper, owners of Kalkaska RV Park and Campground say they love their senior campers, too. “A large number of our favorite campers fall into this age range,” Joe says. “They tend to be repeat guests that complement the park and notice when we upgrade something. They are excited to come back, they fill us in on what has been going on in their personal lives and they ask about ours. Overall, they are pleasant to chit-chat with.”
He says they are usually in nicer rigs, and sometimes that comes with a little trouble—getting there! “Lugging those big RVs isn’t always a fun experience,” he says. “But once that stress is over, and they are settled into their site, then you get to meet the wonderful campers inside.”
Tina adds that the retired group tends to be a little more self-sufficient and early to bed. “With the retired age group, you see fewer late nights, less noise, fewer fires but more touristy outings,” she says. “They tend to ask a lot of questions about the area and things to do. Then they will sometimes come in and tell you new things they discovered, so we can tell others as well!”
The McClures offer these tips for retirees thinking of making camping more of a lifestyle, versus a weekend outing: “To those who would like to live a similar lifestyle, our advice would be, just get in the van and go!” Tim says. “We make it affordable by living rather simple lives in between trips. Traveling around without an agenda is nice. We can stop and enjoy as long as we want.”
Nikki offers this advice: “Many of my older patients told me not to take time for granted, [so I wouldn’t] end up in their position where they waited too long to retire and now were unable to do the things they wanted, due to their physical condition. Don’t wait!”
6 Places to RV or Tent Camp in Northern Michigan
TIMBER RIDGE RESORT
Timber Ridge Resort is an all-season, family and pet-friendly resort featuring an RV park, cabins, banquet facility, lodge and miles of wooded trails. Guests can rent one of the four-season cabins or yurts or set up in their own tent or RV. All sites offer full hook-ups. Enjoy their heated pool, playground, dodgeball court, swimming pond with jump pad and outdoor laser tag course. This is truly an oasis in the woods just minutes from Grand Traverse Bay.
KALKASKA RV PARK AND CAMPGROUND
Kalkaska RV Park and Campground is a family-owned establishment run by Joe and Tina Cooper along with their daughter, Jessica. Enjoy their outdoor heated swimming pool, nature trails and fun bike rentals at $5 each. Set up a tent or your RV in the wooded campground, or rent a private log cabin if you don’t have your own rig. This park offers an out-of-the-chaos kind of spot to enjoy Northern Michigan’s playground.
CHANDLER HILL CAMPGROUND
This Boyne Falls campground is complete with full hook-up sites, a fenced dog park, an 8-acre youth ORV track, ATV rentals, two playgrounds (one for younger kids, one for older), a heated outdoor pool, basketball and volleyball courts, yurts to rent and on-site propane and gasoline. Ideal for a family with gearheads!
YOGI BEAR’S JELLYSTONE PARK CAMP-RESORT
This campground gives you the chance to pass on the age-old tradition of talking like Yogi Bear to the kids! Enjoy visits with Yogi and Boo Boo, arts and crafts, wagon rides and nightly cartoons. You can also catch one of their themed weekends, like “Pumpkin Patch” the first two weekends of October. Enjoy their 18-hole mini-golf course, basketball court, jumping pillow, pedal karts for rent and the GaGa Ball Pit. A perfect place for multi-generational camping groups.
BETSIE RIVER CAMPSITE
While the name implies otherwise, this campground is not, in fact, on the river. But it has a rustic, cozy, old-time feel that’s even harder to come by. Most sites have room for four folks, a camper or tent and a boat. The campground has a tiny café, a small playground, a fish station, warm showers and bike and kayak rentals. You can hop on the Betsie Valley Trail for a three-mile adventure to ice cream, beaches and shops. And they also rent out vintage glampers from the 1950s and ‘60s.
BRENGMAN BROTHERS WINERY
Brengman Brothers Winery and its 45-acre Crain Hill Vineyards make for a scenic overnight stay for RVers who take part in the Harvest Host program. (Harvest Host is a network of more than 2,100 wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms and venues nationwide that invite RVers to camp at their sites. A $99 yearly fee gives members unlimited access to stay overnight at any location.) Brengman Brothers aims to produce high-quality wine that expresses the terroir of the soil, the sun and the wind. Visit their tasting room or gift shop to sample their wines, all grown and bottled on site.
Want More from Northern Michigan Camping?
From adventure ideas to campgrounds and some of our favorite camping cooking recipes, visit our Northern Michigan Camping page to start planning your trip!