Camping Michigan by Geoffrey Holstad
Once you cross the Mackinac Bridge north joining Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas, the change in scenery is apparent immediately. The couple small towns hugging the bridge promise the “Best Pasties” in the U.P. but don’t trust them. The terrain becomes rockier, more remote and vast as you move across the peninsula towards the emerald green waters of Lake Superior. Vacant cabins and rusted out Airstream’s line the straight, two-lane highway north, framed by tall pines and the (very) occasional service station. Hemingway wrote of this same land in Big Two Hearted River after spending a couple weeks camping out in the U.P. backcountry. If you ever find yourself in the Midwest, make it to all of these following places
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Fifteen miles of sandstone cliffs line the never-been-warm-enough Lake Superior on the tip-top of Michigan’s upper peninsula. A 42-mile section of the North Country Trail spans the lakeshore, on it’s way to North Dakota. Northern Lights. Swimming in Caves. Sand-papered toes. Waterfall ice climbing. Sand filled sleeping bag. Coves, cliffs, and kayaking.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Of Sufjan Steven’s fame on “Greetings from Michigan”, these Root Beer Falls are divided between the upper and lower falls, water stained from the tannins leached from the cedar swamps which the Tahquamenon River drain. Holy mosquitoes.
Isle Royale National Park
Decidedly the most remote place in Michigan, accessible by only boat or seaplane. Hop the ferry for 5 hours from Houghton, MI in the center of the Keweenaw Peninsula (the thumb of the U.P.). Double up on sweaters. Kiss your loved ones goodbye. Fewer visitors in one year than the Smokies get in a day. Wolves + Moose.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Named by the native Ojibwa for their Porcupine-like silhouette, these mountains (though topping out at only 1,958 ft.) are rugged and remote, and Michigan’s only mountains. Located in the extreme western part of the U.P. (almost Wisconsin). Lake of the Clouds. 87 miles of the NCT. Moose, coyotes, black bears, porcupines, lynx. Stop checking your cell phone for reception. That air is straight from Canada.
Manistee National Forest
Forty minutes north of my apartment in Grand Rapids, this is the go-to for a weekend out ‘n back. Probably the most scenic and heavily forested section of the NCT in the lower peninsula. Stop and camp here on your way to the U.P. And bring me with you.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
The spot to be in the Lower Peninsula. Do the dune climb. Pack some water. Find some Petoskey stones. Kayak or take a ferry to the South and North Manitou Islands (the bear cubs). Swim out to the shipwreck. Get sunburned. Shake the sand out of your boots.
Editor’s Note: Geoffrey Holstad is the editor of So Sweaty, read more from him here.