Winter camping: Stay warm at these hot spots

Most folks think of camping as a three-season activity in Michigan: It’s a fine excursion in spring, summer and fall, but crazy in winter. Who wants to pitch a tent when the thermometer reads below freezing or there’s a foot of snow on the ground? 
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Most folks think of camping as a three-season activity in Michigan: It’s a fine excursion in spring, summer and fall, but crazy in winter. Who wants to pitch a tent when the thermometer reads below freezing or there’s a foot of snow on the ground? 

But folks who want to get away from it all for a bit during the winter months have plenty of options at Michigan state parks and recreation areas that don’t involve sleeping out in the elements.

The Department of Natural Resources’ state parks and recreation areas across Michigan offer lodges, cabins, mini-cabins or yurts that provide a warm place to spend the night at a time when there are not a lot of other campers around. They range from primitive facilities way off the beaten track to more upscale digs just a short drive from major population centers.

Twelve state properties feature lodges that can be rented in the winter. Rustic cabins, which sleep from two to 20 people, are available at 20 state parks and recreation areas. Mini-cabins are cozy and designed to sleep four — on bunk beds with mattresses — and can be found at 36 state properties. And the latest craze in winter camping, yurts (round, tent-like structures that were developed by the nomadic peoples of Asia but in Michigan are built on decks) are at three parks and two recreation areas.

Where to go depends on what you want to do there, how much work you want to put into getting there, and how much you care to spend. Here are five great options:

ice hockey players
Courtesy Michigan DNR David Kenyon

Muskegon State Park: This 1,200-acre area features habitat as diverse as Lake Michigan beach and forested dunes. The park has two mini-cabins and one yurt near the park’s Winter Sports Complex. The complex boasts three outdoor ice-skating rinks and a skating trail through the woods, 5 miles of lighted and groomed cross-country ski trails, 2.5 miles of trails for snowshoeing, a sledding hill and a luge track.

kids in a winter tent
Courtesy Michigan DNR David Kenyon

Highland State Recreation Area: The 5,900 acres of forest, marshes and lakes in the rolling hills of Oakland County offer a full range of winter activities, but there’s plenty to do if you want to stay indoors: Bass Lake Lodge features a foosball table and TV/DVD player and sleeps six, and rents for as little as $80 a night.

children enjoying winter camping
Courtesy Michigan DNR David Kenyon

Hoeft State Park: One of the 14 original state parks in Michigan, this 300-acre area in Presque Isle County with a mile of Lake Huron shoreline is popular with winter visitors. The park features a modern lodge — a 1920’s-style Sears, Roebuck & Co. home — that sleeps up to 12 people. A mini-cabin sleeps four.

tahquamenon falls during winter
Tahquamenon Falls – Photography by Greg Kretovic

Tahquamenon Falls State Park: This 50,000-acre eastern Upper Peninsula park boasts the most spectacular waterfalls this side of Niagara. A fully furnished, modern lodge located about halfway between the upper end and lower falls sleeps eight and offers access to plenty of snowmobile, cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails. As a bonus, there’s a privately operated brew pub at the lower falls.

Winter Camping in Yurt
Courtesy Michigan DNR David Kenyon

Craig Lake State Park: If you’re looking for a hard-core adventure getaway, this is the place. The most remote park in Michigan’s system, this 8,500-acre area in Baraga County boasts a yurt you’ll have to ski or snowshoe about 5 miles to reach. The 16-foot diameter structure has bunk beds with mattresses and tools for cutting firewood, but you’ll have to pack in your own sleeping bag. “If you want to get away from the world, that’s where you would go,” says DNR recreational planner Maia Turek.

For more information on winter camping at state parks and recreation areas, visit michigan.gov/stateparks.

Bob Gwizdz is an award-winning outdoor writer who works for the Department of Natural Resources.

Photography Courtesy Michigan DNR/David Kenyon

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