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State Forest Campgrounds Are Your Gateway to Explore Wild, Rustic Michigan

April 30, 2009

Spring makes us anxious to go outdoors and enjoy recreating in Michigan's woods and waters. Camping is the preferred choice for most, usually beginning with the Memorial Day weekend, the official start to the summer outdoor recreation season.

If you are looking for a rustic camping experience in northern Michigan, with plenty of space between campsites, in a peaceful setting, then a state forest campground is the place for you to spend a weekend or longer respite.

The Department of Natural Resources operates 136 state forest campgrounds, all in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula. These campgrounds contain more than 3,000 choice campsites spread over the nearly four million acres of the state forest.

State forest campgrounds have anywhere from five to 50 campsites. These rustic campgrounds offer campers a first-come, first-served service. All you have to do is show up and select a vacant site. But getting to the campgrounds require some planning, because some are so remote they can only be reached by a determined hike through the forest or by paddling down a scenic river.

Help for finding your way around in our state forests is available at a nearby DNR district or field office.

According to Ron Yesney, DNR forest recreation specialist for the western Upper Peninsula, Deer Lake State Forest Campground, located 18 miles north of Crystal Falls and nine miles east of Amasa, is the most secluded state forest campground in his part of the state.

"This is a nice 12-site campground that is a bit off the beaten path," said Yesney. "It's a beautiful area with hundreds of square miles of public land perfect for hiking, biking, ORV riding and exploring. Deer Lake offers good fishing and fly-fishing enthusiasts will find excellent trout fishing in nearby rivers."

Another special feature of the Deer Lake campground is the presence of moose in the area. "I see moose sign there each time I visit," Yesney said.

All state forest campgrounds provide basic rustic camping needs, such as good drinking water from hand pumps and vault toilets. Each campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring. One of the best features offered in campgrounds is that they are all located on a body of water, creating multiple water-based recreation opportunities. Bring your canoe or kayak for a paddle or to enjoy the fishing. There usually is a boating access site in the campground providing either a developed ramp or as a walk-in facility.

There also are 880 miles of state forest pathways available for non-motorized trail recreation, such as hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding or to enjoy nature in the north woods. These pathways usually have their trailhead in the campgrounds, so they are easily accessed from your campsite. Many people have their favorite pathways where they can enjoy berry picking, mushroom hunting and exploring the unique landscapes of Michigan.

"If you are looking for one of those 'jewels of the North' in the eastern U.P., look no further than the Blind Sucker campgrounds, which are about 35 miles northwest of Newberry," said DNR Recreation Specialist Dan Moore. "Located on the 400-plus-acre Blind Sucker Wildlife Flooding, these two campgrounds offer 13 and 32 campsites respectively, excellent fishing and a nice 7.3-mile pathway that runs between them."

One of the handful of state forest campgrounds that caters directly to the off-road vehicle enthusiast is the Carrieville State Forest Campground, which is located three miles west of Luther in Lake County.

"This campground connects directly to the Little Manistee Motorcycle Trail and Route, both north and south," said Todd Neiss, DNR forest recreation specialist based in Cadillac. "It's also adjacent to the Little Manistee River, which has good fishing opportunities."

Another undiscovered gem in northwest Missaukee County, Neiss said, is the Hopkins Creek (Lower Bowl) State Forest Campground, located 5.5 miles north of Arlene.

"This small, seven site, campground was renovated in 2007," Neiss said. "It's directly adjacent to picturesque Hopkins Creek, which is a good trout stream. It also is located next to an equestrian campground and trail camp that's part of the Michigan Shore-to-Shore Riding and Hiking Trail."

Two other campgrounds that recently have received improvements are the Tomahawk Creek Flooding East Unit, located 13 miles north of Atlanta, and the Pickerel Lake State Forest Campground in the Pigeon River Country State Forest 10 miles northeast of Vanderbilt.

"Both of these campgrounds were improved through a grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund," said Robin Pearson, DNR forest recreation specialist in Gaylord. "If it were me, I'd love to be one of the first to experience these two newly refurbished campgrounds which are both adjacent to a water body and hiking trails."

To keep the camping experience enjoyable for everyone, campers need to abide by a few simple rules of courtesy. Some campers are tempted to "stake their claim" on a campsite in advance of their camping stay, however campers are subject to a ticket if they leave a campsite unoccupied for 24 hours. You can camp on one site for no more than 15 consecutive days.

Everyone comes to the forest to camp to enjoy the quiet, so radios, generators and other amplified devices can't be used in a manner that creates excessive noise. There are designated quiet hours from 10 p.m. until 8 a.m., meaning that peace and quiet must prevail during that time. Also, always keep pets on a leash and don't leave them unattended in the campsite at any time.

Camping fees are posted at the information station at the entrance to every state forest campground. Most campgrounds are $15 a night, with some posted at a higher rate of $20. The fee pipe is nearby to deposit the completed camping fee envelope. There is no motor vehicle fee required to camp or access any of the state forest recreation facilities.

So, this year, promise yourself to go north, camp, and enjoy the beautiful woods and waters found in Michigan state forests.

For more information, visit the DNR Web site at and look for "Recreation, Camping & Boating" section to search for a state forest campground.

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