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Wilderness State Park Camping Guide (Michigan)

Wilderness State Park is more than just a Michigan State Park—some call it paradise.

Although the park’s history is peculiar, today the park is a peaceful place to relax on the beach, enjoy amazing sky views, and enjoy wilderness life. Camping at Wilderness State Park is quite the experience, too!

Read on to learn all about the best Wilderness State Park camping spots, fun activities at the park, and more!

A walking trail along Lake Michigan.

History of Wilderness State Park

The State of Michigan acquired Wilderness State Park’s land in 1896. Throughout the early twentieth century, the land functioned as the Emmet State Game Refuge, land set aside for breeding game birds and other animals.

In 1927, the land was placed under the Parks Division and officially became Wilderness State Park.

Camp Wilderness was home to a Civilian Conservation Corps camp between 1933 and 1937 during the Great Depression, then it was a minimum-security forest prison camp from 1949 until 1956 when the prison camp was moved to Pellston.

Today, Wilderness State Park operates as a family-friendly park, where vacationers come from all over Michigan and beyond to enjoy camping, water activities, and–of course–the wilderness.

What to Expect at Wilderness State Park

Waugoshance Lighthouse on Lake Michigan.
Waugoshance Lighthouse.

Wilderness State Park features 26 miles of breathtaking Lake Michigan shorelines with a designated swimming area and a pet-friendly beach. The park is 11 miles west of Mackinaw City and includes 20+ miles of trails across 10,512 acres.

The beach displays amazing sky views and unique perspectives of the Waugoshance Lighthouse, Straits of Mackinac, and Mackinac Bridge.

Spend the day or set up camp–Wilderness State Park camping is unique because of the many options available, including cabins.

A recreation passport is required for accessing all Michigan State Parks.

Wilderness State Park Camping

Make Wilderness State Park camping reservations online up to six months in advance through Michigan State Park & Harbor Reservations.

Camping Offered

Pines Campground

The Pines Loop (campsites #501-599), on the opposite of the country road from East and West Lakeshore Campground, are well-shaded Wilderness State Park camping spots and sized generously, and all sites offer 20- and 30-amp electrical hookups.

East Lakeshore Campground

The East Lakeshore Campground (campsites #301-365) offers a shoreline view. It includes a barrier-free, modern bathhouse. Bathrooms are available from mid-April through mid-October.

This campground was remodeled in 2022 and is scheduled to reopen in June 2023.

West Lakeshore Campground

The West Lakeshore Campground (campsites #401-471) was remodeled in 2019 and is located along the Lake Michigan shore with most sites being within view of the shoreline.

Campers have access to a modern bathroom and shower house from mid-May to mid-October, and all sites have 20- and 30-amp electrical services, with 19 also having 50-amp.

Backcountry Campsites

Wilderness State Park offers two backcountry campsites for wilderness campers. The names of these campsites are East Boundary and O’Neal Lake, and registration is required before camping.

Walk-in Campsites

There are 25 Wilderness State Park camping spaces (#101-125) for hikers to walk into. These spaces require a short walk to access the Lake Michigan shoreline. Two parking spaces are available per site.

Youth Campground

The state park offers 72 spaces for youth groups in a rustic campground. A picnic table, fire pit, and a hand pump are included with each site.

Rustic Cabins

Six rustic cabins are available throughout the park, and all have bunk beds:

  • Big Stone Bay Cabin: Four bunkbeds
  • Caps Cabin: Four bunkbeds
  • Nebo Cabin: Four bunk beds and one single bed
  • Station Point: Two bunkbeds
  • Sturgeon Bay Cabin: Two bunkbeds and one single bed
  • Waugoshance Cabin: Four bunkbeds


The Civilian Conservation Corps built three bunkhouses near Pines Campground in the late 1930s. These bunkhouses are available for rent all year round. Each one-room bunkhouse sleeps 24 people in 12 bunk beds.

Electricity is provided in each bunkhouse, but running water is not available; however, water is available at Pines Campground from May through mid-October.

Best Wilderness State Park Camping Spots

Make sure to reserve the following spots before leaving for your Wilderness State Park camping trip.

Drive-In and ADA Access

The newly remodeled East Lake Shore Campground includes four ADA-accessible sites (#330, #349, #350, and #356) with concrete pads allowing inclusive camping at Wilderness State Park.

Full Hook-up Sites

Wilderness State Park has 18 full hook-up spaces (#201-218). All sites have 20-, 30-, and 50-amp hookups, but no bathroom is in the vicinity. Campers’ units must be self-contained.


Two Lake Michigan access points to the lake are located at West Lakeshore Campground for small boats. They are between #441 and #444, and #431 and #433. A lake access point at East Lakeshore Campground is between sites #332 and #334.

A full-sized boat launch is ¼ mile from West Wilderness Park. During low water conditions, larger boats may be difficult to launch.

Lakeside Cabins

Big Shore Bay and Stone Point Cabins stand on the lakeshore, though all cabins are just a short walking distance from the water.

RV Lake Spots

West and East Lakeshore Campgrounds offer lakeside spots.

West Lakeshore lakeside spots include #417-#419, odd numbers from #421 to #441, #444, #446, and #448.

East Lakeshore lakeside spots include even numbers from #320 to #344.

Activities at the Park

A couple boating on a lake.

Twelve trails make hiking the most popular activity enjoyed by Wilderness State Park campers. Walk, bike, and enjoy the view. Snowmobiling is popular in the winter.

Campers enjoy beachcombing and metal detecting–who knows what you might find while camping at Wilderness State Park.

Boating is popular because it’s often too chilly to swim. View the nearby Mackinac Bridge from a unique vantage point by booking a historic cruise.

Make Sure to Bring

A dog on a camping trip. Wilderness State Park camping is pet-friendly!

Bring layered clothing–the park only has an average temperature of 68 in July during the day.

If you plan on swimming in the summer, you may want a thermal swim shirt for the cool breezy days on the lake and a wearable beach towel for warming up quickly.

Don’t leave your furry friends at home! Wilderness State Park is a pet-friendly campground. Read more about camping with pets for tips on how to enjoy camping with your cats and dogs).

Wrapping up the Wilderness State Park Camping Guide

Sunset over Lake Michigan.
Sunset over Lake Michigan

Wilderness State Park camping is a true gem of an experience. You’ll make good use of your Michigan State Recreation pass while you’re there.

If you’re interested in other great state parks to visit, check out the State Park Camping page on our website.