By Mike Terrell
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kick-off to the camping season, and northwest lower Michigan is one of the top camping draws in the state, according to the DNR. Its no wonder when you consider what a bargain camping on state land offers.
State forest campgrounds in this region are located along lakes, rivers and floodings, said DNR Recreational Specialist Todd Neiss, located in the Cadillac office. Its a great source for area residents, and a real bargain. I dont know of a cheaper way to spend a night along a Northern Michigan body of water.
A state forest camp site is just $15 per night. A few newer campgrounds, large enough to accommodate campers and motor homes, are $20 per night, making up about a sixth of the state forest campgrounds available in northwest Lower Michigan. There are 60 state forest campgrounds located in the 16-county region, ranging in size from as few as five sites to more than 50. All offer vault toilets and water.
WHERE TO GO?
Camping in the Traverse City area seems to be more popular than anywhere else in the state, Neiss says. Guernsey Lake in the Sand Lakes Quiet Area, Lake Ann, Lake Dubonet and Arbutus Lake are all popular choices. Houghton Lake state forest campground, located on the shores of the states largest inland lake, is another popular choice.
They offer hiking and mountain biking trails, excellent fishing and boating opportunities. It gives individuals and families lots of choices for outdoor activities, he adds. A couple of popular camping choices for river activity are the Platte River Campground (west of Honor in Benzie County) and CCC Bridge Campground, located on the Manistee River near Sharon. Both are popular with fishers and paddle sport enthusiasts.
For those that like to camp in a motor home or pull a trailer instead of pitching a tent, there are always state parks at Hartwick Pines, Interlochen, Warren Mitchell, North and South Higgins Lake, Wilderness, Cheboygan, Burt Lake, Petoskey, Traverse City, and Fishermens Island in Charlevoix. If you like modern conveniences, electricity and flush toilets and scheduled activities and playgrounds to keep the kids busy, a state park is a good choice. They often work best for families, and all of those mentioned, except for Hartwick Pines, have wonderful beaches and lakes to play in. State parks vary in cost, but sites at these parks will typically run $21 to $28 per night. You also need an annual vehicle permit to enter any state park, which is $24.
QUIET OR LIVELY?
Personally, I prefer a nice, secluded state forest campground that I can hike to. You dont have to listen to the hum of generators or air conditioning units throughout the night. I prefer the night sounds of nature lulling me to sleep.
Camping involves making choices, which can be magnified if it includes such delicate matters as winning the open-air loyalty of young children, a new friend or spouse.
Its really pretty simple.
If you like seclusion where the only sounds are the murmur of quiet conversation, the burble of a brook or the occasional coyote wail, head for state forests. If you like neighbors, a place where you can put out a lawn chair and a hard-top shelter as a retreat when the first raindrop falls or insects appear, state campgrounds are your ideal outdoor hangout.
Happily, the Wolverine State offers plenty of choices for both types of campers. It has the most state parks and camping sites of any Great Lakes state. There are over 13,000 campsites scattered among 69 state parks and probably double that number of state forest campground and sites available throughout the state, according to DNR press secretary Mary Dettloff.
If state parks are your choice you need to plan ahead for reservations. Some of the more popular state parks will fill up well in advance of summertime holidays. State forest campground sites are available to who gets there first.
You can log onto www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails to access new color-coded maps of state park campgrounds that have been integrated into the DNR Campground Reservation System.
The new technology will immediately show campers accessing the website what sites are available for the dates they want to visit a particular state park, explained Dettloff. Michigan is at the forefront of such technology and one of the few states to offer customers such fast accessibility. Within just a few seconds they will know availability, and be able to reserve the site if available.
The maps also show features of the campground, including the newer 50-amp sites, restrooms and beaches. Theres even a link to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore DH Day and Platte River Campground.
State forest campgrounds dont have hosts like the state parks; theyre on the honor system. You have to put the fee in an envelope and drop it into a fee pipe.
For the most part, our campers are very loyal to the system and help care for the sites, added Neiss. They are good about paying the right amount. DNR Officers check the sites, but, obviously, not daily.
Beginning in October, Michigan residents will be able to purchase a Recreation Passport for $10 per registered vehicle. It replaces the annual vehicle sticker. The money will go towards upkeep of the states recreational facilities, which is much needed.