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Upper Peninsula: Camping The Way Your Grandparents Did

Tent on a hill near sea
Tent on a hill near sea

Updated December 05th, 2018

My most memorable vacations weren't to luxury resorts or crowded theme and amusement parks. They didn't always involve notable landmarks like the Grand Canyon or the Golden Gate Bridge. The best part of these vacations was waking up in the near-dark to go fishing with my grandfather on a nearby river or lake. It was the delicious smell of bacon as my grandmother fried it over an open campfire. Michigan's Upper Peninsula camping thrilled me and my brothers with its sandstone cliffs and cherished camping sites. Upper Peninsula camping in the summer and fall instilled in us a love for nature and sharing it with the people we loved best—our family.

I've always adored outdoor living—swimming in creeks, exploring beaches, looking for constellations in the night sky from an old lawn chair. That's why I love to bring my family northwards to the Upper Peninsula state parks for camping. It's where my grandparents brought my parents and we grandchildren to camp. Upper Peninsula camping is where best memories are made.

Porcupine Mountains State Park

There's something magical about Upper Peninsula state parks like Porcupine Mountains State Park. When you're looking for a place to camp in the Western part of the peninsula, I recommend this park for its scenic camp sites and seemingly endless array of tree-filled acres. There are miles and miles of picturesque hiking trails. While you can bring your own tent, of course, you can also take advantage of the park's comfortable yurt lodging. There are both modern and more primitive types of lodging too. We love to view the waterfalls when we go Upper Peninsula Camping in the Porcupine Mountains.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

The dramatic upper falls of Tahquamenon Falls State Park aren't a great distance from the shore of Lake Superior. Visiting them is so worth the drive since they're visually arresting and one of the largest falls east of the Mississippi River. I don't mean to imply that the only highlight of the park are the waterfalls because the hiking is perfectly splendid, especially in fall when the foliage is putting on its bright copper and red displays. Whitefish Point is also nearby and we like to head there after viewing the falls. I make a point to visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum whenever we can spare the time and are enjoying Upper Peninsula camping in this area.

Keweenaw Peninsula

Projecting from the shores of Lake Superior, Keweenaw Peninsula is home to Copper Harbor and is famous for its copper deposits. There are a number of pleasant campgrounds. We favor Fort Wilkens Historic State Park because it's only a mile from Copper Harbor and its attractions. Named for the U.S. Army fort established there, this state park is home to Hays Point, also called the Copper Harbor Light. My kids took a group selfie there last time we visited. There are plenty of facilities at the park so even if you only bring your tent, you don't have to suffer too primitive an experience if you don't want to.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the shore of Lake Superior is my wife's favorite Upper Peninsula camping spot. It's not far from where she likes to sightsee on Grand Island and is home to waterfalls and sand dunes, which the kids always love to explore. The famed sandstone cliffs that the park area is named are beautiful but they can also be treacherous to canoes or other small craft that are used for fishing. I have never fished here, but I'm told the waters are rich so I'd really like to give it a try.

Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Soo Locks Campground of Sault Ste. Marie is another of our favorite Upper Peninsula camping destinations. I get to fish on the St. Marys River and my wife can relax knowing the camping sites here have access to showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities. There's even a camp store where the kids can pick up treats after a long day of hiking or fishing with me. I came here as a kid with my grandparents so I have a fondness for Sault Ste. Marie. I was wowed when I got to check out the famous Soo Locks and I also remember eating saltwater taffy while checking out the Point Iroquois Light Station.


Hiawatha National Forest

With shoreline on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, Hiawatha National Forest looks like a painted vision in the fall. We love to explore the national forests of this region like Round Island Wilderness, Mackinac Wilderness, and Horseshoe Bay Wilderness. The fishing at Wide Waters Campground has always been amazing in my opinion. It's a peaceful place to camp and the kids find the canoeing there to be a reliable thrill. On the other hand, my brother says that I should try the Island Lake Campground. He likes it because it's remote, but has great fishing, hiking, and canoeing. I'd like to camp there next time we visit Hiawatha.

Little Girls Point Campground

My boys didn't want to camp here because of its name, but they were positively thrilled when they found some natural agate near the shore of Lake Superior. I wouldn't describe myself as a rock hound, but my wife has a thing for rocks and minerals. I also camped here as a I kid. I remember how cold the lake was, but how refreshing too. There's a cliff I remember climbing there that had a tremendous view of the lake. The waves happened to be crashing that day and I remember my grandmother was too afraid for me to go into the water. I hiked to the clifftop with my brother and we chatted about all the shipwrecks that we knew had occurred on Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. Those were the good old days for sure!

From its national forests to its majestic blue lakes, the Upper Peninsula is surely one of the best places in the country to go camping. We have long loved the area for its excellent hiking trails—especially during the fall as well as its activities like paddling, swimming, and fishing. The that they're getting older, the kids want to check out the adventurous ATV trails or maybe visit in winter to try snowmobiling or cross-country skiing. Personally, I want to give ice fishing a try, but my wife isn't on board for that. She says I can book her a room at the Grand Hotel while I go freeze off my tackle. In any case, I highly recommend Michigan's Upper Peninsula for camping during the warm season. You won't regret the time you spend there. You might even make some treasured memories like I did.

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