Boondocking in Michigan

Last updated on May 25th, 2021 at 09:40 am. Originally published on April 21st, 2021

Michigan is one of the best-kept secrets for RV travelers in the United States — with 3,288 miles of freshwater coastline, millions of acres of pristine forests, and some of the best fall colors in the Midwest, the Great Lakes State is a camping paradise. Pull your RV into remote campsites by the rocky Lake Superior shore, or sleep next to the white-sand beaches of Lake Michigan. Go deep in the dense evergreen forests of the Upper Peninsula, or wake up to colorful sunrise over the rolling farmlands in Lower Michigan. Everywhere you go, you’ll be met by friendly, welcoming people and a rich cultural heritage. Boondocking in Michigan often requires a long drive, but the remarkable natural beauty and endless outdoor adventures are sure to keep you coming back again and again.

Green trees sit on top of a rocky cliff overlooking a clear turquoise lake with large rocks visible under the water

Boondocking Sites in Michigan

Gratiot River County Park

Gratiot River County Park is located on a long, bumpy 5-mile drive from the tiny community of Ahmeek. Located on the remote northern shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula, it’s the perfect destination for adventurous campers. The park consists of little more than a gravel parking area, and a few primitive campsites tucked into the pines, but it’s one of the best spots for boondocking Michigan. Relax to the sound of the waves, explore the rocky beach, and, if you’re brave enough, take a dip in the cold waters of Lake Superior.

French Farm Lake Campground

If you’re exploring the area near the Mackinac Bridge and Mackinaw City, the French Farm Lake Campground is a great place to camp for the night. The sites are small, and the roads are narrow, so this spot is best for RVs up to about 25 feet long; if you’re unsure, scout it out on foot before you drive in. With just six spots tucked into the trees, this is a beautiful and peaceful spot for free camping in Michigan. The lake itself is ideal for boating, and a public Lake Michigan beach sits a few minutes west.

Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area

Enjoy year-round free camping at the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, which sits a few miles north of Ludington on the western side of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. You’ll find a selection of free campsites along Green Road; the road conditions in the camping area can be very rough, so make sure to check them out before you come in with an RV. These boondocking sites are best suited to smaller RVs and travel trailers. Nearby, you’ll find beautiful forest hikes and lovely dunes along the Lake Michigan shore.

Red Bridge River Access Site

Camp near the Manistee River at the Red Bridge River Access Site. There are just a few drive-up sites in the area; they’re free, but you’ll need to reserve them in advance online. Book early because this campground is very popular. The closest sizable town is Cadillac, which sits about 27 miles east.

Hovey Lake Dispersed Campground

Enjoy the shaded, breezy campsites in the trees at the Hovey Lake Dispersed Campground in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A few steps away, you can fish for trout in Hovey Lake or the Indian River, ride an OHV through the forest trails, or launch a kayak from the beach. The small town of Munising, which is the gateway to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, sits about 12 miles north.

Where to Boondock in Michigan

As you’re searching for where to boondock in Michigan, the Upper Peninsula is your best bet. Much of the peninsula is covered with thick forests and dotted with inland lakes. The Hiawatha National Forest offers some of the best free camping — you can camp or free on most of the forest land, as long as you’re at least 50 feet from any body of water. If you want to explore the Lower Peninsula, the many state forests are a good place to start. Camping is free as long as you’re more than 1 mile from the nearest state park campground. Before you go, visit the Michigan DNR website to download and to print the camp registration card; you must post it at your campsite and leave it there for the entirety of your stay.

Free Camping in Michigan

When preparing for your boondocking trip, consider travel times in Michigan. The state consists of two large peninsulas, and it’s 600 miles from Detroit to Copper Harbor, which sits in the northern tip of the Upper Peninsula. Allow plenty of drive time to account for the many small towns and remote roads you’ll need to pass through en route to Michigan’s free campsites.

Michigan is surrounded by lakes, which means that the weather can change quickly. This is particularly true in the Keweenaw Peninsula — the lake-effect weather of the mercurial Lake Superior can bring unexpected winds, rainstorms, blizzards, and cold weather. Make sure you bring plenty of layers for the cool evenings and unpredictable conditions. In the winter, the northern shore of Upper Michigan gets a great deal of snow, making RV camping all but impossible. If you want to boondock in the winter, camp along the Lake Michigan shore, and take day trips up north. Lower Michigan tends to be warmer and more humid in the summer with winters that are cold but not snowy.

If you’re prepared for the weather, boondocking in Michigan is a joy. The forests are pristine, and the many inland lakes offer excellent fishing and boating. Each Great Lake has its own character, so you can choose to sunbathe on white-sand beaches or explore remarkable cliffs and windswept, rocky shores. Big cities are few and far between, but an endless string of small towns offers exceptional craft breweries, friendly people, and visitor centers that provide excellent local tips. Before you head out on your trip, check out our blog for all you need to know about boondocking.

When it comes to free camping, Michigan offers some of the best options in the upper Midwest. If you’re ready to explore this lightly trafficked outdoor paradise, an RV rental is a great way to maximize your time. With RVshare, you can choose an RV near your destination — that way, you can start enjoying Michigan’s natural beauty quickly.

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