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13 Amazing Destinations for Free Camping in Michigan

With countless stunning camping locations spread out between its Upper and Lower Peninsulas, Michigan is rapidly becoming more and more popular with campers every year! If you’re looking for some of the best free camping spots in Michigan, we’ve got you covered. Check out this roundup of our top picks for places you can enjoy the best of everything Michigan has to offer for camping…all without paying a dime!

Free Camping in Michigan: Upper Peninsula

Raco Airfield Dispersed Camping

Hiawatha National Forest, Free Camping in Michigan
Hiawatha National Forest

First up for free camping in Michigan is the very popular free camping option in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Raco Airfield! This location offers dispersed camping in the vicinity of Brimley, Michigan, which is located in beautiful Hiawatha National Forest near Lake Superior. This is a wonderful spot for free camping and a great launching point to explore the Upper Peninsula and the Sault Ste. Marie Locks, which can be found about twenty miles away.

This free campground is easy to access and a great choice for campers in RVs, providing space for RV campers up to forty-four feet long and housing up to ten RVs in total. Raco Airfield can be accessed by two roads both labeled USFS 3536; however, the easiest access is by the one that lies perpendicular to US 28. Amenities at Raco Airfield include a pet-friendly environment and an on-site recreation trail.

Shelldrake Dam

Lake Superior
Lake Superior

Located in the absolutely gorgeous area of Paradise, Michigan, Shelldrake Dam is a great free camping option for campers who are also lovers of the water! This spot is situated along the waterways of Lake Superior, at the end of a dirt road with no four-wheel-drive required to get in and out.

This is a top pick for folks who are interested in hiking during their camping excursion, as the area boasts several trail options and lots of picturesque beauty, including the waterways themselves and even some waterfalls nearby!

The Shelldrake Dam free camping area is particularly ideal for vans or smaller trailers under forty feet. Amenities include access to a boat ramp, water, and fishing, a recreation trail, and fire rings at each campsite. Pets are permitted at Shelldrake Dam, which makes it a great place for Michigan free camping for pet lovers!

Hovey Lake Dispersed Campground

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Next up on our list of free camping in Michigan is Hovet Lake! Situated roughly twelve miles south of the small town of Munising, which is known as the gateway to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Hovey Lake Dispersed Campground offers some of the most relaxing and gorgeous free camping in all of the Upper Peninsula!

When camping at Hovey Lake, you can kick back and bask in the comfortable breeze winding through the tree-shaded campsites themselves; not more than a few steps away, you have the option of trout fishing in either Hovey Lake or the Indian River. You can hop aboard an OHV for a ride through the forest trails, kayak or sunbathe at the beach, and so much more!

You’ll also find each of the campground’s five sites contains the amenities of a fire ring and picnic table, and vault restrooms are available for campers as well.

Boney Falls Basin Campground

Escanaba River, Free Camping in Michigan
Escanaba River

Located on the edge of a lake in the town of Cornell, Michigan, a short distance northwest of Escanaba, Boney Falls Basin Campground is a popular free camping location you won’t want to miss in your camping adventures!

Situated on the edge of a large basin created by the Escanaba River, Boney Falls houses eight campsites and boasts some truly breathtaking views. Amenities at this free campground include boat ramp access, fishing, water access, a recreation trail, picnic tables, vault restrooms, and a pet-friendly environment. Drinking water is also available as Boney Falls.

Perrault Lake

Copper Harbor
Copper Harbor

Located on a lakeside spot near Toivola, Michigan, the stunning Perrault Lake offers a fantastic Michigan free camping option for those in tents or larger rigs such as camper trailers and RVs! This gorgeous location houses five sites—however, these sites are not clearly marked out, which can lead to some crowding due to the popularity of this particular free camping spot.

Nevertheless, Perrault Lake’s free camping options make a great place to visit and it’s generally a serene location to stop through on your way to Copper Harbor and other scenic views along the northernmost stretch of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Sturgeon River Campground

Ottawa National Forest
Ottawa National Forest

Located in Watton in the Upper Peninsula, Sturgeon River Campground provides a free camping opportunity within the beautiful Ottawa National Forest, with nine campsites right along the river! This is a dry camping area, but it does provide vault toilets, and the direct access to the river, as well as other waterways, hiking opportunities, and wildlife encounters, makes this a very popular free camping option for folks in the Upper Peninsula!

Rhody Creek Trail

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan Free Camping
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

If you’re on the hunt for Michigan free camping options near Grand Marais, Michigan (not to be confused with the Minnesota town of the same name!), then Rhody Creek Trail is the place for you!

This free campground is easy to access from Highway 58, and though it’s generally more conducive to smaller trailer campers and vans, there is also room for large RVs to maneuver as well! At times, the sandy in-road can get soft in the rain, so a four-wheel-drive vehicle is optimal for traversing this spot in wet times.

A favorite due to its close proximity to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Rhody Creek Trail is a fantastic place to camp for free, drive, bike, or go for a walk, and experience all the natural beauty this scenic area has to offer!

Free Camping in Michigan: Lower Peninsula

Green Road Dispersed

Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan

First up for Michigan free camping in the Lower Peninsula is Green Road. Located at the end of a sandy, two-track road in Free Soil, Michigan, you’ll find Green Road Dispersed Camping; this is a great, free option for all your camping needs. Located southeast of Manistee and northeast of Ludington, the location of this dispersed campsite affords easy access to everything that each of these popular, gorgeous Lake Michigan coastal towns has to offer.

This is an ideal spot for camper vans and small travel trailers, though it’s advised to come prepared for tight turnarounds in the small campground as well as for a challenge navigating the sandy road during wet times. This campground allows pets.

Whelan Lake Campground

Pere Marquette River
Pere Marquette River

Boasting beautiful views of the thirteen-acre Whelan Lake, Whelan Lake Campground is a popular site located at the end of a rugged road. Though it can be difficult to reach this campground—particularly when the road is wet—without the use of four-wheel drive, this spot is well worth the effort!

Offering level sites for tent camping and a few pull-through options for larger RVs, Whelan Lake Campground is a great free camping spot with easy access to the nearby Pere Marquette River for fishing, as well as to Ludington if you’re interested in visiting the local shops, restaurants, and beaches.

Amenities at Whelan Lake Campground include a boat ramp, fishing opportunities, and a recreation trail, a fire ring, vault toilets, and a pet-friendly atmosphere.

French Farm Lake Campground

The Mackinac Bridge
The Mackinac Bridge

At the end of a one-lane dirt road that can be a bit tricky to navigate when wet, you’ll find French Farm Lake Campground. Located in Mackinaw City, Michigan, this fantastic Michigan free camping spot contains seven numbered campsites allowing for tent camping and RV camping with rigs up to thirty feet long. Nearby, you’ll find a public city beach, as well as plenty of amenities to enjoy within the campground itself including access to a boat ramp, fishing opportunities, water access, and a pet-friendly atmosphere.

(Note: Although camping at French Farm Lake Campground is free, you must obtain a permit before camping here, which you can get at a Department of Natural Resources office.)

Michigan State Forest

Located on state land, the Michigan State Forest allows for dispersed camping but requires a state pass and dispersed camping permit—both of which can be obtained for free. A stay of up to two weeks is allowed in the Michigan State Forest, with great opportunities for relaxation, wildlife viewing, and even some off-roading, which is a popular pastime for visitors and locals alike, during your visit to this Michigan free camping destination.

(NOTE: It is recommended to come with bug spray handy, as the Michigan State Forest does have copious insect activity during camping season.)

Shady Brook Park

Located on a paved road in Bloomingdale, MI, Shady Brook Park is available for free camping in Michigan from April through October, with four open sites and a maximum RV length of fifteen feet. Tent camping is also allowed, with a maximum number of five consecutive camping days permitted at Shady Brook Park.

Amenities at this campground include a fire ring, playground, trashcans, a payphone, picnic tables, and restrooms, all located near water. Activities at Shady Brook Park include biking, hiking, and wildlife viewing.

Huron-Manistee National Forest

Manistee River
Manistee River

Perhaps the most popular Michigan free camping spot in the Lower Peninsula, with close to a million acres of forest and hundreds of miles of waterways within, the Huron-Manistee National Forest has an abundance of free and dispersed camping options!

Among the most popular within this national forest are those near the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, which is a fantastic spot for exploration, recreation, and free camping, with access to Big Sable Point Light House and countless hiking options! One of the most popular free campground spots here is Cooper Creek; for additional information on dispersed and free campsites in the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, a map and brochure provided by the National Forest Service contains all the necessary details.

Located in the Manistee portion of the National Forest, you’ll find roughly half a dozen free campsites. In the northern section of the forest, to the east of the town of Manistee itself, you have your pick of the Marzinski Horse Trail Camp and the Government Landing Campground, which lies along the Manistee River slightly upstream of the Tippy Dam. Here you can find another six or so rustic camping areas, most of them lakeside and others spreading further south into the forest.

Located in the Huron portion of the National Forest, you’ll find four free camping areas extending from the Michigan Shore to Shore Horse Trail—including Luzerne Horse Trail Campground and Trailhead and McKinley Horse Trail Campground, which are aimed more toward horse trailers and equestrians, but can also accommodate campers who don’t mind sharing their space with horses and their riders!

In addition, there are free camping options at Buttercup Campground and River Road Trail Camp and Trailhead, as well as Johnson’s Crossing Trail Camp, situated on the northern spur of the trail.

Any one of these campsites dispersed throughout Huron-Manistee National Forest makes a great pick for your free camping needs!

Wrapping Up Free Camping in Michigan

Ready to dive into your Michigan free camping adventure? Explore the rest of our site to learn about some of the best gearfood, and camping hacks for games, camping with kids, survival, and more, to ensure you make the most of your Michigan free camping experience!

Looking for more Michigan camping? Check out our list of 33 of the Best Places to Go Camping in Michigan!

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