Rustic Campsites in Michigan

MLive’s 25 of Michigan’s must-visit rustic campgrounds is great, except for one thing. In a state as big as ours, location matters. So I mapped the campsites on that list.

It’s pretty clear that almost all the rustic campsites are within a few hours of the Mackinac Bridge (the bridge that connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas). It would be nice to find some more rustic camping options closer to home. Still, a good bucket list to have around for inspiration.

Colophon: This post was proudly created in Gutenberg, however the map embedding was done with a Custom HTML block and the iframe from Google. There are a couple plugins that allow for embedding maps, but I chose not to fiddle with them.

Pictured Rocks Backpacking Trip Report

I had a blast on my first backpacking trip ever with 2 of my brothers and one of my nephews. We flew into Marquette, then did 3 days on the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore trail before flying back to Detroit. Marquette and Pictured Rocks are both in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which is basically a different state. 3% of Michigan’s population, 30% of its area.

Day 1

Breakfast was at a diner in Marquette. I got a local sausage called Cudighi. We got a ride from Charles’ friend out to the the Logslide, our departure point in Munising.  Logslide is an enormously steep dune, hundreds of feet tall. Legend has it that when they used to slide logs down it into Lake Superior, the logs would catch fire from the friction.

We made good time to Au Sable Point Lighthouse, a great first waypoint. “Making good time” was a theme of the trip. I guess when you have tall guys and an energetic youth you can go pretty fast. Or maybe I’ve just acclimated to hiking with toddlers. I tend to have some schedule anxiety when I know I need to be somewhere by a certain time, but not on this trip.

Lunch was a charcuterie of summer sausage, hard cheese, and trail mix. “Charcuterie” is the fancy way of saying “we ate whatever we didn’t need to cook.” As we ate, we swatted at black flies biting our legs. Fly bites are another theme of the trip.

I had been watching the forecast chance of rain in the lead-up to the trip, and sent more than one screenshot of the Dark Sky forecast to the group message. I had heard the forecasts could be a bit inaccurate up north so I erred on the side of caution. When the sky started to drizzle then rain I was glad I had brought my rain gear – a rain jacket and pack cover.

We made it to Sevenmile Beach and set up camp in the rain. There was one other tent in the campsite. Charles’ hammock tarp converted into a shared shelter with the help of some hiking poles and we were able to crack open some trail beers (Blackrocks Pilsner). My camp chair was worth it carry weight as we waited for the rain to clear. Once it had, we ate dinner and checked out the beach. Beautiful, but more flies.

After sunset my brother and I taught the other brother and nephew how to play Euchre. I’m being deliberately vague about which brother didn’t know how to play Euchre, despite growing up in Michigan.

Day 2

Breakfast and break camp. We hadn’t seen anyone go in or out of that other tent in the campsite, so we checked on it to make sure no one was in the tent needing help. No one inside. It was a cheap, heavy tent with a heavy air mattress. Our theory is that someone got tired of carrying it on their last day and left it. Not cool.

The trail kept us close to the shore, with gorgeous lake views. Lake Superior was a cool, clear blue. The flies seemed to enjoy the sandy shores too. When we went further inland they seemed to diminish.

After 11 miles, we reached the Chapel Beach campsite. This time the campsite was full. The lake was still chilly, but Chapel Creek was much warmer. Charles and I realized we could lay at the base of the creek and the water would hit our shoulders like a shower massage. It felt great after carrying a pack for over 11 miles.

We had dinner and more camp beers (still worth the weight!). Sunset on Chapel Beach was gorgeous, but the flies were biting something fierce.

The sun was up around 6:00AM and down around 10:00PM, so there wasn’t a lot of dark sky time. I slept with the rain fly off my tent and saw a few stars before I passed out. Growing up, I had only camped in ancient Boy Scout tents which were solid canvas. Sleeping under an open sky (while still protected from mosquitoes) was freeing.

Day 3

My final breakfast was supposed to be a freeze-dried egg and sausage meal but I woke up pretty full, so breakfast was just a Clif bar with peanut butter on top.  The package says “Best by Feb 2048” so I’ll have to make sure I eat it by then. “Siri, remind me in January of 2048 to eat that Mountain House meal.”

We filled up our water bottles and set out on our final 9 miles.

The hike was along the top of the Painted Rocks and had some really great views. Harold had hiked this trail West-to-East before, and said he liked our East-to-West path better. The beautiful views become the payoff for your long hike.

When we stopped for a water break, I couldn’t reach my water bottles in their pockets. I asked Charles to grab them for me, and he gave me a “you’re joking, right?”

Which, of course, I thought was his joke .Nope, my water bottles had fallen out.

I had read in the reviews for my pack that the water bottle pockets were an issue, so I had tried to be mindful of them. I was water poor the third day, sharing water with Charles. I had been using SmartWater bottles, I’m going to try some stouter bottles like Nalgenes or Gatorade bottles. Or maybe I’ll just make use of REI’s return policy to get a better pack.

We made it to Miner’s Beach and took a break to refill our water (those of us that had water bottles, or in my case borrowed them) and take a lake bath before our trip home. The final 2 miles after that felt like the longest.

We made it back to Miner’s Castle where Charles’ girlfriend Amanda was going to pick us up. We located the car, but no Amanda. However, there were some UP pasties, which we downed. We met up with Amanda and headed home.

Gear

  • REI Flash 65 backpack: Great price ($99!) for a reasonably comfortable backpack. The big drawback, as noted above, is the design of the water bottle pockets. It seems like a pretty big flaw and I imagine that’s why they are on clearance.
  • REI Half Dome 2+ tent: Not ultralight, but a solid backpacking tent. I got the footprint too and am really impressed with the whole system. Very easy to set up and tear down.
  • Kelty Cosmic 20 sleeping bag: Probably too warm for the weather, but it’s small, light, and a good investment for spring/fall camping.
  • Jetboil Stove: that thing boils water fast! I had originally planned on drinking my coffee out of it, but I wound up borrowing a mug from Charles. Next time I’ll have a separate mug. We still had fuel left after cooking water for 9 meals and 4 mugs of coffee (Mount Hagen, thanks Charles and Wirecutter).
  • Moonlence camping chair: 2 lbs, but so nice to be able to lean back into at the end of the day. It’s only $35 and works as well as the $100 ones. You can see it in the pictures above, it’s black and orange.
  • Cascade Mountain Tech Hiking poles: Maybe I looked like a dork, but they saved me a couple times. And they were handy for hitting the back of my pack. I’ll be bringing them hiking again.
  • Permethrin: Another Wirecutter recommendation, I just learned about this stuff. It kills mosquitoes and ticks on contact, which is amazing. The downside was that I procrastinated on applying it until the night before I flew out. It was really humid that night and it didn’t completely dry. Next time I’ll be on top of things. I’ll probably get a big bottle of concentrate to keep my outdoors clothes bug resistant.
  • Sawyer Squeeze water filter: Really happy with this, Lake Superior water tastes great.

What I’d Change

  • Pack or water bottles: Losing your water bottles sucks. If you aren’t with generous family it can be dangerous. I’ll try some different bottles and possibly return my pack.
  • Black flies: I just learned about Picaridin as a non-DEET insect repellent that works on mosquitoes and black flies! I would try that out, as well as maybe bringing some long sleeves.
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Backyard Camping

I went “camping” in the backyard with our 3 year old. She loved the campfire of course. She was so thrilled to sleep in a tent that she insisted on going to bed early.

Two hours later she was inside in her bed.

I’d still say it’s a success. If she didn’t have the escape hatch of a nearby house I think she could have made it the whole night. Time will tell.