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A Guide to Michigan State Parks Camping

With 140 state campgrounds to choose from, you could camp at a different one every night for four months and still not see them all!

Michigan is a unique state geographically, just begging to be explored and enjoyed. There are rolling plains, dense forests, and miles and miles of shoreline.

With so many campgrounds and so much to do and see, it’s important to know what to expect and make a plan for a trip you’ll love.

Read on to learn more about your next Michigan state parks camping trip, including what to pack, the necessary fees, and some of the amazing activities found at different parks.

Fall color in Michigan's upper peninsula. Michigan State Parks Camping Guide.
Fall color in Michigan.

What to Expect On a Michigan State Parks Camping Trip

We want to make sure you’re completely prepared for a Michigan state parks camping trip.

Peak Season

It’s no secret that winters in Michigan are long, cold, and intense. That makes summers there that much more enjoyable!

Because of that, July-September is the peak season for Michigan state parks camping.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go if you want to enjoy the enchanting Michigan summer, it just means you need to book your trip far in advance to ensure a site and plan for it to be crowded.

If you’re hoping to beat the crowds and still enjoy warm days and cool nights, plan a trip in either May or June or wait until the first part of October.

Sunset over Lake Michigan. Michigan state parks camping.
Sunset over Lake Michigan.

Park Fees

Instead of individual park fees, Michigan has a Recreation Passport available to both residents and non-resident visitors. For up to date prices and information, visit the Recreation Passport website.


For residents, the purchase of a Recreation Passport could not be simpler.

When the time comes to renew your license plate, you can simply click a box to include your annual Recreation Passport and you’re good to go! The Passport will be active for a full year following your renewal date.

Prices vary depending on whether it’s for a vehicle or a motorcycle.

There’s a small convenience fee if you don’t get a passport when you renew your license and choose to get one in person on your next Michigan state parks camping trip.


While an annual Recreation Passport may seem unnecessary if you’re just visiting Michigan, it actually ends up saving money if your trip is several days long.

Just like the residents, non-residents pay for their Passport depending on the type of vehicle they’re in.

Annual passes expire on December 31 the year they were purchased.


Your furry family member is welcome to join you on your next Michigan state parks camping trip. There are a few rules that need to be followed.

  • Every pet must be kept on a six-foot leash at all times. They’ve also got to be under your control. You can’t put them on six-foot lead and walk away from them.
  • Don’t leave behind any pet mess. Always have a pet waste bag handy.
  • To be a good camp neighbor, don’t leave your dogs unattended in your tent or camper. It helps keep disruptive barking at a minimum.
  • Don’t let your pets interact with any wildlife. Keep the wild things wild.
  • No pets are allowed in any state buildings.

Diversity of Michigan State Parks Camping

As previously stated, Michigan offers many unique state park experiences.

Warren Dunes State Park sits on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, allowing campers to camp on a beach in the middle of North America.

Campers could also camp in the middle of an old-growth forest in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, also known as “The Porkies,” in the upper peninsula.

Outdoor adventure enthusiasts can immerse themselves in the great outdoors at Wilderness State Park. There, they can explore meadows, hills, forests, and shorelines, all in the same state park!

A walking trail along Lake Michigan.
Shoreline at Wilderness State Park.

Whether you’re hoping your Michigan state parks camping experience has you sunbathing on a beach or hiking through the forest, there’s a park for you to enjoy.

Making Reservations

Making reservations for your Michigan state park camping trip is a piece of cake thanks to their reservation system.

Their system search can be as detailed or as general as you’d like it to be. If you know exactly where you want to go, you can choose the specific campground, or just do a search of the dates you’re wanting to camp and see what campgrounds are available statewide.

The only thing that must be specific is your camping equipment selection. Different campsites will be able to host different equipment. This is especially important if you’re planning on camping in an RV as some sites may not be accessible to larger RVs.

Reservations for campsites can be made up to six months in advance. Reservations for lodging can be made up to a year in advance.

Plants and Wildlife

There are diverse and beautiful ecosystems for you to explore on your Michigan state park camping trip.


There are 23 different types of trees across the state of Michigan. There are nice shade trees like oak and tulip poplars, large, old trees like pines and hemlock, and even “Christmas” trees like firs and cedars.

Parks with meadows, like Picture Rocks State Park, also feature a huge variety of wildflowers. The flowers visitors see will change based on the time of year, but they’ll always be beautiful.

Along with the beauty, there are also plants to watch out for. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are all around in the forest. If you plan to hike, bring boots and long pants to limit your exposure.


A large bull moose.

There are so many interesting animals to discover in Michigan state parks!

If you plan on fishing, you may catch over 20 species of fish, depending on where you’re fishing. You may find all kinds of bass, trout, salmon, perch, and more.

Keep an eye on the sky to see if you can spot some of Michigan’s many birds, such as the red-tailed hawk, great horned owl, and red-headed woodpecker.

Moose, wolves, and cougars should be watched for and never interfered with. All could be dangerous if approached.

Friendly critters like rabbits and squirrels fill the parks as well.

How to Prepare for Michigan State Parks Camping

What to Pack

There are several categories of items you need to pack for your next Michigan state park camping trip.


The temperatures can swing up to 30° a day, especially near the lakes.

Most mornings start chilly, the middle of the day is blazing hot, and it gets much cooler after the sun goes down.

Packing and wearing layers will keep you comfortable, no matter what the weather brings.

Make sure one of those layers is a rain jacket, especially by a Great Lake. A sunny day can turn into a rainy one with little to no notice, so being prepared is key.

A swimsuit is also a must-bring. Even if you’re not camping on a shoreline, many of the state parks have fresh water you can play and swim in.


A wooded campsite near a lake.

As a culture, we regularly rely on our phones to provide us with maps and directions. In the deep woods on your Michigan state parks camping trip, that’s not always possible. It’s wise to bring or purchase a paper map of the state park you’re visiting to guarantee you don’t get lost hiking. A compass is also helpful.

Remote campsites are fully remote, meaning no lights. A flashlight or headlamp is necessary for late-night bathroom trips or locating something around the site.

An adjustable sleeping bag is also a good idea. The North Face Dolomite One Sleeping Bag comes with three layers you can add or take away to sleep soundly, no matter the temperate outside.


Don’t skip the bug spray! Different state parks will bring different bugs, but all of them can be pests. For the most effective insect repellent, make sure you get some with at least 20% deet. Repel Sportsman Formula will deter mosquitoes, biting flies, chiggers, and much more.

Just because you’re up north doesn’t mean the sun doesn’t still have harmful rays. Bring plenty of sunscreen for your Michigan state park camping adventures. A water-resistant sunscreen means fewer applications and is worth a couple of extra bucks.

What to Do While Camping at Michigan State Parks

Different parks offer different activities! Here are some parks to consider based on what you’re hoping to do on your next Michigan state parks camping trip.

Fossilized stones at Petoskey State Park.
Petoskey State Park.


Tahquamenon Falls State Park is one of the state’s most popular hiking locations. Explore the 35 miles of trails and make sure you go visit the falls! The Upper Falls is 200 feet wide and one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River.

Old Growth Forest Trail in Hartwik Pines State Park is a 1.25-mile paved trail that any visitor can safely enjoy.

Lighthouse Trail in Ludington State Park will weave you among sand dunes and woods, ending at Big Sable Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse is open daily for tours and exploring from May to October.

And finally, if hiking is a top priority of your Michigan state park camping trip, visit Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. There are over 90 miles of trails to be explored. The trails range from a simple day hike, all the way to a 17-mile hike along Lake Superior Trail.

Water Activities

While nearly any Michigan state park near water will have water activities available, there are a few standouts to take note of.

Clear Lake State Park gets its name honestly. The pristine waters make it a hotspot for all kinds of water fun. Bring your paddleboard, kayak, or canoe and take to the water. Rentals are also available. There’s a designated space to swim, too.

A canoe near a body of water in a wooded setting.

If you want to feel like you’re on the coast while still in Michigan, visit Holland State Park. There’s a quarter-mile of sugar sand beach to enjoy along Lake Michigan, as well as another quarter-mile of shoreline on Lake Macatawa. Swim, boat, paddleboard, or just sit back, relax, and enjoy the sound of the water lapping against the shore.


For bass fishing enthusiasts, take a trip to Seven Lakes State Park. Use a boat, or stay on the pier for shore fishing.

If you’re wanting to catch something a little harder to find, head to Otsego Lake State Park and fish for a sturgeon. This is one of only a few places in the state they can be found.

Laid-back fishers may enjoy slow-trolling fishing in Sleepy Hollow State Park due to its shallow depth.

Wherever you end up, make sure everyone 17 years and older has a valid fishing license.

Other Activities

There are many other activities to enjoy on Michigan state parks camping trips.

If you venture out in the winter, you can snowmobile, snowshoe, or cross-country ski at most parks.

There are also many places for bird watching, metal detecting, and horseback riding.

Wrapping Up Michigan State Parks Camping

Trees and sky reflected in water at Palms Book State Park in Michigan.
Palms Book State Park.

No single Michigan state park camping trip will be like another. Soak up the sun on the shore one weekend, then travel further north the next and hike through dense forests. There are so many places to explore and things to do and see that the opportunities are almost endless!

To help narrow down the location of your next trip, check out more posts on Camping in Michigan.