Hidden Gem Camping Spots in the Upper Peninsula
| 4 min read
Camping is something special to many people in Michigan. It can mean hiking forested trails before breakfast. Squeezing in a full day of swimming, biking and games in the campground before arranging chairs around a campfire, s’more supplies at the ready. Whether you’re a fan of tent camping, prefer pop-ups or the convenience of an RV, Michigan has a big selection of public and private campgrounds where you can get your outdoor fix. For those heading farther north – over the Mackinac Bridge and into the Upper Peninsula – you’re in for a real treat. Michigan’s upper half is known for its wild beauty and there are lots of hidden gem camping spots to be enjoyed.
There has been a big surge in camping interest across the state in the last few years. Michigan Department of Natural Resources staff said most state park campgrounds have been about 95% full on holidays like the Fourth of July, Labor Day and Memorial Day, according to the Bridge news site. In 2021, state park campsite reservations increased by 25% compared to the previous year.
Upper Peninsula campgrounds are seeing that same uptick in popularity, but they have a decidedly different feel. The region’s natural features feel bigger, more rustic and even more majestic. Waterfalls abound. The night sky is a stargazer’s paradise. The U.P. is bookended by the Porcupine Mountains on the western end and favorites like Pictured Rocks and Drummond Island marking the northern and eastern edges. In between, you’ll find incredible spots like Tahquamenon Falls and the curve of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Here are several U.P. campgrounds we like to think of as Up North gems:
- Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Ontonagon. If you want to leave the modern world behind, this is the spot. This is Michigan’s largest state park at 60,000 acres. It has a big mix of camping options, some overlooking Lake Superior. These include a modern campground, backcountry camping, rustic and group sites and other lodging options like cabins and yurts. Visiting the famous Lake of the Clouds is a must-do.
- Straits State Park, St. Ignace. How many campgrounds can say they boast views of the Mackinac Bridge and the Straits of Mackinac? Straits State Park is a fan favorite. It’s got a waterfront border along Lake Huron and it’s also very close to town. It is just minutes from the bridge, making it a great first stop on a U.P. adventure. This park is also a hot spot for birding enthusiasts in the spring and fall when migratory birds travel over the Straits.
- Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, Copper Harbor. This modern campground has a lot going on. First, the water views are incredible. It is rimmed by Lake Superior on one side and Lake Fanny Hooe on the other. But it’s also a great find for history buffs. The park offers a glimpse into northern frontier life, featuring a restored military outpost the way it would have looked in 1844. There are also two lighthouses and interpretive programming. The location is amazing, too, at the very tip of the Michigan mainland’s northernmost peninsula.
- Tahquamenon Falls, Paradise. This huge two-tiered waterfall is popular with campers and daytrippers alike, but camping here also ensures you’ll have time to check out the cool trails. The Upper Falls is the park’s largest waterfall, measuring over 200 feet across and featuring a 50-foot drop. The Lower Falls now has an accessible pedestrian bridge so people can reach an island there – a journey that used to take a boat trip. Feeling adventurous? Take the 4-mile trail along the tannin-stained river to trek between the Upper and Lower falls.
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising. A sprawling national park, Pictured Rocks draws its name from the colored sandstone cliffs that rise out of Lake Superior. The park hugs the lake’s shoreline for more than 40 miles and includes several natural features that draw hikers year-round. Pictured Rocks has three drive-in campgrounds that require reservations.
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