By: Jonathan Clemmer and Sara Sheehy
Now that the summer crowds are fading and the leaves on the trees are bursting out in brilliant reds and golds, you might be itching to take a fall road trip. While New England often gets all the fanfare for foliage, it certainly doesn’t have the only colorful scenery in the United States. There are many beautiful places to visit in the Great Lakes Region, but in the fall, northern Michigan is one of our favorites.
Here are three gorgeous spots to camp in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula this year.
Camping Near the Au Sable River
Originating just north of Grayling, Michigan, is the stunning Au Sable River. Running for 138 miles from Grayling to Lake Huron, the Au Sable is a designated National Wild and Scenic River that offers excellent canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and leaf-peeping opportunities, along with some great camping options.
Check out Lake Margrethe State Forest Campground just west of Grayling for level sites along with several tent-only sites. In the fall, the sites are first-come, first-served, but finding a spot wasn’t a problem during a recent mid-week stay. Other nearby State Forest campgrounds include Au Sable River State Forest Campground & Canoe Camp and Burton’s Landing State Forest Campground. All State Forest campgrounds in Michigan require a Recreation Passport and are $15 per night. While you won’t find hookups, you will find a picnic table, fire ring, and modern vault toilets.
If you need to plug in, head to Oscoda County Park in Mio, which offers partial hookup sites close to the Au Sable. They also have a dump and water fill station available for $5.
East of Mio, the Huron-Manistee National Forest has eight Forest Service campgrounds and over 100 dispersed primitive sites along 55 miles of the Au Sable River. Many of these are reservable and booked even in colder weather, so be sure to do a little research before heading out.
Camping on Lake Michigan
In the upper western reaches of Michigan’s “mitten” lies the often-wild shoreline of Lake Michigan, where you can climb over dunes rimmed by forests bright with foliage, or stroll the charming neighborhoods of lakeside towns. You’ll find both full-hookup campgrounds and boondocking in this pretty area of the state.
Spend a free night or two in the dispersed camping at Copper Creek Road or Green Road near the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness, which has plentiful lakeshore access and is crisscrossed with trails. From there, head north for a stop at Sleeping Bear Dunes before driving around Grand Traverse Bay to the charming towns of Charlevoix and Petoskey, where American author Ernest Hemingway spent his childhood summers.
Whether you like “Papa’s” writings or not, this shoreline of Lake Michigan is quaint and beautiful. Make your home base at Fisherman’s Island State Park in Charlevoix or full-hookup, waterfront Mangus Park Campground. If you’re looking for a bit more luxury, Petoskey RV Resort is a favorite.
Camping at Copper Harbor
Copper Harbor’s remote location on the Upper Peninsula may dissuade some from making the trek, but it’s worth every mile under the tires. Located at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, which juts deep into Lake Superior, Copper Harbor is a tiny outpost of a town whose gorgeous fall colors are hard to beat.
While there isn’t an overabundance of camping options, Fort Wilkins Historic State Park should meet most people’s needs with partial hookups and a central location. Other options include Fanny Hooe Resort & Campground and Trails End Campground; both located a short distance from the Lake Superior shoreline. Be sure to drive or bike Brockway Mountain Drive for panoramic views of the colorful forest as it stretches to the lake.
If you work while on the road or prefer to be in strong cell coverage, you’ll want to day trip to Copper Harbor but stay further south on the Keweenaw Peninsula, near Houghton. Choices include Lake Linden Village Campground, City of Houghton RV Park, and Hancock Recreation Area Beach & Campground.