The Lower Peninsula boasts the higher population, and Michiganders make short work of enjoying camping along the area’s sandy beaches and natural reserves. Hiking trails are generous along the shores of the Great Lakes, offering a genuine chance for solitude just a few short hours from bustling cities. The higher you go, the quieter it gets, and locals tend to call anything higher than the central Lower Peninsula “Up North”. If you’re looking to get farther off grid, you’ll want to cross into the Upper Peninsula, where locals refer to themselves as “yoopers” and the rocky shoreline and mountainous terrain are a siren call to outdoor adventurers.
Up North certainly gets the most air time when you’re talking camping in Michigan, but sometimes city dwellers just want to stay a little closer to home. Michigan’s west coast offers spectacular sandy beaches along the state’s southwestern shore. At Grand Haven State Park, you can swim, play volleyball or photograph the adorable bright red lighthouse – or head to quiet Saugatuck Dunes State Park for thickly wooded dune trails and exquisite solitude.
Every August, the National Blueberry Festival takes place, wooing campers with blueberry pancakes and wine tastings. Nearby in Holland, don’t miss Windmill Island Gardens, a gorgeous landscape with an authentic 18th-century Dutch windmill. In the evening, catch a moonrise over Lake Huron; or head to Michigan’s newest International Dark Sky Park at Dr. T.K. Lawless Park, an 860-acre nature park with dreamy stargazing possibilities.
Camping in Northern Michigan, the upper half of the Lower Peninsula, is about as classic as it gets. The resort towns that line Lake Michigan offer sandy beaches and popular tourist towns; and some of the state’s most stunning – and not so touristy – beaches lie between Oscoda and Ossineke along Lake Huron.
The otherworldly Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, deemed “the most beautiful place in the United States” by Good Morning America, is tucked along the northern coastline of the Lower Peninsula. Tranquil Otter Creek is a must-see; as is the towering Lake Michigan Overlook, one of many jaw-dropping stops along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (replete with adorable covered bridges).
If you’re really itching to get back to nature, it’s hard to top camping in the Upper Peninsula. The stars seem to triple up here, blanketing the inky night sky and sending lucky campers back to a magical time when electricity and light pollution didn’t rule the nighttime. By day, you can peep the largest falls east of the Mississippi River at Tahquamenon Falls, then compare notes on the 50-foot drop at Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub.
The Upper Peninsula (or UP, for short) is also home to Les Cheneaux, a stretch of 36 islands with cute historic port towns in Cedarville and Hessel. Hop a sunset ecotour to wind your way through the channels as night falls.
Don’t leave the area without a stop by Brown Fisheries Fish House in Paradise. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the house lake trout basket, likely caught that very morning, is a thing of legend.