Most people aren’t likely to travel about as north as you can get in the United States for camping, but those people are forgetting the Great Lakes. These northern states are known for their harsh winters, but once you visit during the summer months, you’ll realize that summer camping doesn’t get any better.
Whether you want a ton of adventure, a relaxing trip alone or with your family, or maybe a bit of both, you can find it all at the Great Lakes.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
Not only is this a cool place to pitch your tent, but the story behind the name is just as clever as you’d think. The name depicts a Native American legend about a sleeping mother bear that was turned into a sand dune. Located just west of Traverse City on Lake Michigan, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore gives amazing camping opportunities for people who love to be outdoors, regardless of their levels and abilities. Whether you’re bringing your RV with you or you want to experience a simple campground near the lake, Sleeping Bear is all you’ll need.
Most of the amenities are at the Platte River Campground. You know, RV hookups, hot showers, cool restrooms, tent sites, walk-in sites and even an awesome backcountry campground. If you want a more rustic and natural experience, the D.H. Day Campground near the shores might be what you’re looking for. It has vault toilets and not very many amenities, but it’s only about a mile from the Dune Climb, a trek up to a huge sand dune.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
If you’re looking for outdoor activities along with great views and waterfalls, check out Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Located on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, there are three campgrounds to choose from.
If you want to be close to the beach, the Twelvemile Beach Campground is your best bet. Surrounded by white birch trees, this destination is close to two trails: the two-mile White Birch Interpretive Trail and a section of the long distance North Country National Scenic Trail.
Keep going and you’ll reach the Hurricane River Campground, which you’ll like if you’re looking for more privacy. The North Country Scenic Trail runs through the campsite, and if you go for about 1.5 miles, you’ll see ruins of shipwrecks and historic Au Sable Light Station, which is awesome if you have kids with you!
To get ultimate peace and quiet, stay at one of the high campsites at the Little Beaver Lake Campground. It’s right next to an inland lake and is only a 1.5 mile walk from Lake Superior.
South Manitou Island
South Manitou Island is a place you won’t forget after seeing its awesome sand dune formations, 500-year-old white cedars and miles upon miles of lovely pebble beaches. This destination is only reachable by a private boat or their passenger ferry ran by Manitou Island Transit, which makes it even more elite and special. Once you arrive, you’ll have three different campgrounds to choose from.
The Bay Campground is the most popular because it’s closest to the ferry dock. 25 individual sites and three group sites don’t make it the quietest, but the short walk to the lake makes it worth while. The Weather Station Campground is next, just 1.3 miles from the huge lighthouse. This site has 20 individual sites and three group sites that overlook Lake Michigan and offer more privacy. The Popple Campground is located 3.5 miles from the dock and only has seven campsites. It’s located at the northern tip of the island and you’ll have amazing views of sunrises and sunsets during the summer months.
Another spot that is only reachable by boat, the Isle Royale National Park is the best place to go for wilderness camping. To be comfortable camping here requires a certain amount of familiarity with the backcountry. You can only reach the 36 campgrounds by hiking or boat and while all offer a water source and outhouse, they don’t offer much else. Each site is about 2-12 miles from the others and the island is 40 miles in length. Expect to see tons of wildlife here, like 1,300 moose and two wolves that were once part of a large pack.
Fires are not allowed here at Isle Royale, and you’ll need a permit to camp on any of the sites. Campsites are first come, first served. This place takes a bit of planning, but it is most definitely worth it.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Another hidden gem of backcountry camping, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore offers breathtaking views of sunrises and sunsets and incredible stargazing. This place is the best of both worlds! You get a rustic, rugged camping experience all while having the sites be accessible to anyone. The campgrounds consist of 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland exploration.
There is camping on 19 of the 21 islands, both with primitive and backcountry camping. There’s also more than 50 miles of trials on the island, offering campers the chance to see those amazing rock formations, take in views of Lake Superior and explore the wilderness.