Civilization is pretty great — electricity, life expectancy over 30, and it seems like you’re never more than three hundred feet from a McDonald’s at any given time. Sometimes, though, you need to just get away from your comfortable and safe existence and experience something a little more… primal. Well, we’ve got you covered. Well, us, with some help from Jim Wills (webmaster for campinginmichigan.com) and Matt Forster (author of Best Tent Camping: Michigan) — two experts on this kind of stuff.
First, you’re gonna need to prepare. A tent would be a good start, along with a sleeping bag, cookware, lawn chairs and a cooler. A first aid kit is never a bad idea, either. You’ll also want to bring a travel bag with some soap and toothpaste, plus a firestarter kit. Letting someone know where you’ll be is a good idea too, as is bringing a map marked with nearby ranger stations just in case trouble finds you. As for food, Forster has a few choice words on your food stocks.
“Food can be as simple or as elaborate as you like, but remember: the larger the prep mess, the more hassle it is to clean up," he said. “Even in areas without bears, other wildlife will be attracted to camp by dirty dishes and trash. That means raccoons, porcupines and skunks. Not always the best campmates.”
Since you probably don’t have all of this stuff laying around, you’ll need to procure it. Luckily, there are a bunch of camping stores in the area that can help you out: The Outpost of Holland, Foot Outfitters (“A good pair of hiking boots that are waterproof, comfortable, broken in and have good ankle support are invaluable when venturing into the woods,” Wills said.), Bill and Paul’s Sporthaus and many more.
But where should you take all of your shiny new gear? Well, as far as rustic camping goes, Lincoln Bridge State Forest Campground in Luther is pretty hardcore. You’ll have plenty of time to break in your new equipment while using the graciously provided pit toilets on the way to and from the water pump.
For some beachfront action, check out the Ludington-Jack Pine Hike In Sites. If you’ve ever wanted to bathe in a lake, now is your chance. Conveniently located just minutes away from the town of Ludington, in case you don't want to get too far from civilization.
If you’re looking for a somewhat less hardcore experience, than you might want to look into Leelanau State Park. This campground is much less cut off from the world. The beach is a stone’s throw away and the Grand Traverse Lighthouse is just down the road.
Interlochen State Park is another fine option for a rough experience that offers some distractions from the smell of the pit toilets. Located on the shores of Green Lake (a primo fishing spot) and twenty-odd minutes from Traverse City, it's one of the oldest pine stands in the U.S. Looking for something really primeval? Look no further.
In addition to these suggested areas, Wills and Forster have some favorites they’ve shared with us. For all you hikers out there, Wills prefers the Upper Peninsula.
“The section of the North Country Trail that runs along Lake Superior is awesome," he said. "You will find many rustic campsites along the way and plenty of blueberries if they are in season.”
If hiking isn’t your bag, then Forster has a couple of other options you might be interested in.
“Pines Point National Forest Campground near Hesperia is a favorite of mine, but I also like Tubbs Lake Island State Forest Campground east of Big Rapids,” he said, adding he prefers state and national forests for their bare-bones amenities.
Once you're ready to head out into the unforgiving wilderness, Wills has some advice for first-timers.
“Make sure you are up to the task and that you will not overextend yourself. Don't rely on technology or mechanical things. Always let someone know where you will be hiking and your time-frame. I always take a compass for backup.”
Similarly, Forster offers up the most common mistake when roughing it.
“Not being prepared. And it's easy to do. Nothing is more miserable than shivering all night in a tent because the forecast you saw was wrong about a late-season ice storm. If you are prepared for a handful of possibilities, your trip is more likely to be a positive memory than something you'd rather forget.”