The Great Lakes State provides a spectacular backdrop for some of the most scenic campgrounds in the country. But do you know which campgrounds offer the most privacy? Which are the best for first-time campers? Matt Forster traversed the entire statefrom the grassy dunes overlooking Lake Michigan to a quiet lake that serves as a portal to the Sylvania Wildernessand compiled the most up-to-date research to steer you to the perfect spot!
Best Tent Camping: Michigan presents 50 national park, state park, national forest, and state forest campgrounds, organized into five distinct regions. Selections are based on location, topography, size, and overall appeal, and every site is rated for beauty, privacy, spaciousness, safety and security, and cleanlinessso you’ll always know what to expect. The new full-color edition of this proven guidebook provides everything you need to know, with detailed maps of each campground and key information such as fees, restrictions, dates of operation, and facilities, as well as driving directions and GPS coordinates.
Whether you seek a quiet campground near a fish-filled stream or a family campground with all the amenities, grab Best Tent Camping: Michigan. It’s an escape for all who wish to find those special locales that recharge the mind, body, and spirit. This guide is a keeper.
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Waterloo Recreation Area: Green Lake Campground
Beauty: 4; Privacy: 3; Spaciousness: 5; Quiet: 5; Security: 4; Cleanliness: 5
- Contact: Michigan DNR–Waterloo Recreation Area, 734-475-8307; michigan.gov/waterloo
- Open: March–December
- Sites: 25
- Each site has: Picnic table and fire pit
- Assignment: Reservations can be made online at midnrreservations.com and by calling 800-447-2757
- Registration: Self-register at campground
- Amenities: Water and vault toilets
- Parking: At sites only
- Fee: $12
- Elevation: 965'
- Pets: On leash only
- Fires: Fire pits only
- Alcohol: Permitted
- Vehicles: Michigan Recreation Passport required
- Other: 15-day stay limit
Part of the experience, of course, is engaging with nature, and there’s no better way to immerse yourself in the heart of Waterloo than to pitch camp in the park’s rustic Green Lake Campground.
The 20,000 acres of Waterloo Recreation Area make it the largest state park in the Lower Peninsula. The park features the Gerald E. Eddy Discovery Center, where people come to learn about the local ecology, and the Waterloo Farm Museum, which is operated by the Waterloo Area Historical Society. Though the park shares many traits with the neighboring Pinckney Recreation Areait has two modern campgrounds (to Pinckney’s one), a swimming beach, and trails for hiking, biking, and horseback ridingWaterloo places more of an emphasis on interpreting the region’s natural and human history for visitors.
Part of the experience, of course, is engaging with nature, and there’s no better way to immerse yourself in the heart of Waterloo than to pitch camp in the park’s rustic Green Lake Campground, which consists of 25 sites on a small loop. Sites overlook the lake on one side and back up to wetlands on the other. Encircling a small grassy knoll, many of the sites on the inside are out in the open, exposed both to the elements and to the eyes of nearby campers. Sites on the outside of the loop, however, are nestled in the trees and offer a little more privacy.
Site 8 offers the most privacy. Surrounded by trees, right on the water, the site is downhill from the main road that runs through the campground. Sites 5 and 6 also sit on the water. The wide, grassy lots have nice overhead coverage from the sun but little privacy. Sites 2 and 4, which sit across from these, also enjoy plenty of shade, but when someone decides to crank open a pop-up between you and the water, it will most certainly block the view of the lake.
Waterloo boasts a 5-mile mountain-bike loop, but trail planners overlapped the trail with a longer bridle path, and in the past this has made the track unridable. Your best bet is to take your mountain bike next door. The miles of maintained single-track at Pinckney will not disappoint.
Campers looking for a nice hike in the woods, or through a meadow or around a lake, are in for better luck. A network of nature hikes14 miles of trails divvied up into seven loops ranging from 0.8 to 5.3 milesall lead out from the Discovery Center. The Discovery Center draws thousands of visitors every year, including busloads of students. Run as a joint project by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Waterloo Natural History Association, the center sheds light on the region’s unique geology and ecology. With its hands-on exhibits and displays and a full complement of programs for kids and families, you’ll come away with a head full of knowledge about local birds and their plumage; the hive building of bees; ice ages, glaciers, and mammoths; Waterloo’s trees and flowers; and even a little astronomy.
Among the area’s geological peculiarities are its kettle lakes and bogs, part of the glacial influence on southeast Michigan. The bogs here are home to some of the most exotic plants in the state, in particular carnivorous pitcher plants and sundews, as well as wild irises. You might spot some of these when hiking the Bog Trail. Much of this path is on an elevated wooden walkwayno need to worry about returning with wet shoes.
Hikers looking for more than an afternoon stroll, however, will want to take note of the 36-mile Waterloo-Pinckney Trail, which connects the Pinckney Recreation Area (to the east, between Pinckney and Dexter) with the Waterloo Recreation Area (to the west, between Waterloo and Chelsea). The trail was designed to offer backpackers a multiday hike in southeast Michigan. Backpackers typically follow the trail west to east, beginning the trek at the modern Portage Lake campground. A day of hiking brings them to the park’s other modern campground at Sugarloaf Lake. Ten miles farther, just before entering the Pinckney portion of the trail, hikers will often spend the night at the Green Lake Campground.
The portion of the trail that passes through the Waterloo Recreation Area is quite stunning, and I would recommend taking some time to hike a piece. Along the way, the path passes through woods and marsh as well as fields, which in the summer are covered with wildflowers. It climbs some interesting terrain and comes close to nearly a dozen lakes and ponds. The trail can be especially arresting in the fall, when the foliage begins to change color.
For an appreciation of what it must have been like to come to this area as a settler, head over to the Waterloo Farm Museum. In 1844, Johannes and Fredericka Ruehle moved their children into a log house here, and the museum tells the story of this family and their progeny. For more than a hundred years, the Realy familyRealy is the Americanized spelling of Ruehlefarmed this land, and their story sheds light on what life was like for many families across Michigan. From the farmhouse to the bakehouse and plenty of other structures in between, this is a great place to spend a few hours.
The campground is on the eastern edge of the park. The entrance is off M 52, 5.5 miles north of I-94 (Exit 159).
GPS Coordinates: N42° 21.846' W84° 04.218'
Table of Contents
Michigan Campground Locator Map opposite page
Map Legend vii
Best Campgrounds x
Southeast Michigan 10
1 Holly Recreation Area: McGinnis Lake Campground 11
2 Lake Hudson Recreation Area Campground 14
3 Pinckney Recreation Area; Crooked Lake and Blind Lake Campgrounds 17
4 Port Crescent State Park Campground 21
5 Waterloo Recreation Area: Green Lake Campground 24
Southwest Michigan 27
6 Fort Custer State Recreation Area Campground 28
7 Highbank Lake National Forest Campground 31
8 Muskegon State Park: South Channel Campground 34
9 Pines Point National Forest Campground 37
20 P. J. Hoifmaster State Park Campground 40
11 Tubbs Lake State Forest Campgrounds 43
12 Warren Dunes State Park; Rustic Campground 47
13 Yankee Springs State Recreation Area: Deep Lake Rustic Campground 50
14 Arbutus Lake No. 4 State Forest Campground 54
15 CCC Bridge State Forest Campground 57
16 Fisherman's Island State Park Campgrounds 60
27 Graves Crossing State Forest Campground 63
18 Lake Dubonnet State Forest Campground 66
19 Ludington State Park: Jack Pine Walk-In Campground 69
20 Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area: Dispersed Campground 72
21 Peterson Bridge South National Forest Campground 76
22 Silver Creek State Forest Campground 79
23 Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: D. H. Day Campground 82
24 Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: South Manitou Island, Weather Station Campground 86
25 Wilderness State Park: Lakeshore Campground 89
Northeast Michigan 92
26 Canoe Harbor State Forest Campground 93
27 Jones Lake State Forest Campground 96
28 Ocqueoc Falls State Forest Campground 99
29 Ossineke State Forest Campground 102
30 Pigeon River State Forest Campground 105
31 Rifle River State Recreation Area: Spruce Campground 108
32 Sawmill Point Primitive Campsites 111
33 Tomahawk Creek Flooding State Forest Campground 114
Upper Peninsula 117
34 Bay View National Forest Campground 118
35 Bewabic State Park Campground 121
36 Big Knob State Forest Campground 124
37 Black River Harbor National Forest Campground 127
38 Bond Falls Flowage Campground 130
39 Brevoort Lake National Forest Campground 133
40 Carney Lake State Forest Campground 136
41 Courtney Lake National Forest Campground 139
42 Henry Lake National Forest Campground 142
43 Monocle Lake National Forest Campground 145
44 Petes Lake National Forest Campground 148
45 Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Twelvemile Beach Campground 151
46 Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park: Presque Isle Campground 154
47 Portage Bay State Forest Campground 157
48 Pretty Lake State Forest Campground 160
49 Sylvania Wilderness and Recreation Area: Clark Lake Campground 163
50 Tahquamenon Falls State Park: Rivermouth Pines Campground 166
Appendix A Camping Equipment Checklist 169
Appendix B Sources of Information 170
About the Author 178