There are 101 state parks and over 14,000 camping sites in Michigan. From dense forest and towering sand dunes to stunning lakes and hidden beaches, Michigan offers a wide selection of incredible hiking trails and camping grounds, making it the most popular camping destination in the United States. And while you could get your fill of the outdoors playing wilderness-themed online slots, nothing beats the real thing.
Whether you’re going on a solo adventure or a family trip, gear up with our essential camping packing list.
If you’re front-country camping, you have a few options: bring your own tent, come in your RV or rent a basic cabin. In most Michigan camping sites, you can choose your level of luxury:
- Modern campsites: Have restrooms with hot showers, modern toilets, sanitation stations (with water and sewer services for trailers and RVs,) picnic tables and fire pits. They also have electrical outlets. Depending on the campsite, these range from $20–$40 per night and are the most popular campsites as they boast a social atmosphere.
- Semi-modern campsites: Budget-friendly options where you can choose between modern restrooms without electrical outlets or electric outlets with vault toilets. These range from $18–$29 per night.
- Rustic campsites: The full camping experience – no modern restrooms or electrical outlets. These range from $15–$22 per night and provide seclusion and serenity.
For those backcountry camping, you’ll need to choose a lightweight tent you can carry along with your backpack.
Pillow, Mattress and Sleeping Bag
Again, you’ll get to choose your level of comfort here. From foam mattresses that roll up to air mattresses, choose something that gives you the experience you’re looking for. Because of Michigan’s unpredictable weather, you might experience a hot and humid night followed by a cool, damp morning. As such, it’s best to choose a sleeping bag that allows you to add and remove layers so that you’ll always be able to sleep comfortably.
Most campsites come with fire pits so be sure to bring all your cooking gear. Remember matches and firelighters, pots and pans, crockery and cutlery, cooking utensils and a sharp knife.
Lantern and Flashlight
The lack of light pollution when camping makes for incredible stargazing and a lovely atmosphere around the fire. Still, it gets very dark after sunset, which is usually around 10 p.m. mid-summer, and there’ll be times you need to access the bathroom in the middle of the night, so be sure to pack a good flashlight and a few lanterns for the campsite.
Secure Food Storage
If you’re backcountry camping, there will be bears. To stop them from getting into your food, it’s best to invest in a bear bag – a bag that holds your food and hangs from a branch 10–15 feet off the ground.
Camping naturally involves a lot of walking. Even if you’re not the hiking type, there’ll be trips to the restroom, to go buy wood, to the beaches and more. For this reason, you’ll want to bring along a good pair of hiking boots or sturdy trail shoes to get to your campsite and another pair of comfortable shoes to wear around camp. These will help you to avoid blisters and other potential damage.
The weather in Michigan is notoriously unpredictable, especially near the Great Lakes. Hence the common saying in Michigan, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. It’ll change.” You can go from sunshine to downpour within a matter of minutes, so a good rain jacket and pants are a must. You’ll also want to ensure your tent doesn’t have any leaks in it and that it has a good rainfly.
One of the allures of camping is being out of reach, so plan ahead in case of signal loss. To avoid getting lost on a remote beach or deep in a forest, be sure to carry a few paper road and trail maps so that you can navigate. A compass would be helpful too. Cell phone coverage is unreliable in parts of Northern Michigan and non-existent in much of the Upper Peninsula, so plan ahead to avoid unwanted situations.
Whether you’re going for an overnight trip or a longer summer vacation, be sure to pack all the basic toiletries you need – in travel-friendly/sized containers – such as soap, toilet paper, lip balm, toothbrush and toothpaste, etc. Michigan’s variety of flora and fauna, as well as its large bodies of water, make it the ideal vacation spot but it also means that you’ll run into all sorts of insects, including mosquitos and ticks, so be sure to pack sufficient insect repellent. For the most effective protection, use a product that contains 20% DEET. Finally, don’t – do not – forget the sunscreen. Even if you’re up north, the Michigan sun is strong and you’ll be spending much of your time in it. An effective after-sun lotion will be a good addition, too.
From damaged backpack straps to holes in your tent, duct tape is an absolute essential when camping. Multiple layers of strong tape can be a temporary fix for a number of common issues you may run into, so keep it safe and carry a roll or two with you.
Layered Clothing and a Swimsuit
Chilly mornings and evenings and humid afternoons make it essential to layer your clothing to keep comfortable throughout the day. If you’re hiking, it’s also important to remember that temperatures at the shores of the Great Lakes can be up to 10 degrees cooler than inland locations just a few miles away.
You’ll also want to take a dip in the Great Lakes and play under waterfalls whenever you get the chance, so a swimsuit is an absolute must when camping in Michigan.
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