If you’ve never tried your hand at dispersed camping, Michigan is a great place to start. Michigan is one of the top locations in the world for outdoor enthusiasts. The waterfalls, the dunes, the 11,000 inland lakes, and the 19 million acres of forest–what’s not to love?
Explore the Great Lakes State through dispersed camping! We’ll show you a few of our favorite places to park and enjoy!
What Is Dispersed Camping in Michigan?
Dispersed camping is camping on public lands away from developed, paid campsites. Much of the public land in the United States offers dispersed camping for us to use and enjoy.
These sites are completely free and unmarked. They are dry camping areas, meaning there are no amenities like that of a paid campsite. In addition, you cannot reserve these sites, and they’re available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Where Is Dispersed Camping Typically Found in Michigan?
You can find dispersed camping areas on public lands, like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) manages national forests and national grasslands that are also great options. According to a Congressional Research Service report, the BLM manages 244 million acres while the USFS manages 192 million acres.
The Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) offers some dispersed camping, as does the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) state-owned land. Finally, you’ll find additional dispersed camping options at some county parks and city parks, too.
How to Find Great Dispersed Camping in Michigan
Over 22 percent of Michigan’s land is public land or land that the state and national governments own. With such ample space, you can find many good options for dispersed camping in Michigan.
These areas can be more challenging to find, but no worries–we’ve compiled a list of the top ways to find dispersed camping.
Campendium is a simple and effective way to find dispersed camping. It lets you filter by public land, review all the free options, search by elevation and RV length, and see reported cell coverage. Users leave reviews of the sites, so you know more about the area before arriving.
You can access this website on any device. There’s also a dedicated free app for iOS mobile devices.
A nonprofit project, iOverlander is a crowdsourced option to find free camping sites. Its users continuously leave reviews with pictures, available amenities, and GPS coordinates.
You can access iOverlander online or by downloading a free app in the App or Play store.
The Dyrt is a free app that makes it easy to find dispersed camping in Michigan and to read reviews on the locations. You can filter by dispersed sites, access routes, vehicle lengths, and even air quality.
If you buy The Dyrt Pro membership, you can find free camping even when you’re offline. You can use filters with this paid option to search for specific land types like BLM and USFS.
Ultimate US Public Campgrounds App
The Ultimate US Public Campgrounds App features public camping locations, paid campsites, and dispersed camping options. Site types are color-coded. And, you can filter your site preference, nearby activities, and elevation.
The app will remember your commonly-used filters, and you can add sites to a favorites list.
You can download this app on Android and Apple mobile devices. Or, you can access their website map to look for dispersed camping locations online.
The Allstays Camp & RV app lets you search for dispersed camping sites. You can filter out forests, public lands, wildlife areas, and more. Additionally, you can further separate dispersed camping areas by filtering for free sites.
This app shows you dump stations and places for filling up on water and propane. You can find low clearance points, road grades, and you’ll have quick access to road conditions, emergencies, and state laws.
The app is only available in the App Store for iPad and iPhones. But, you can access allstays.com on your desktop for free to use their features. Or, you can pay for Allstays Pro, which is browser-based and comes with even more features.
Freecampsites.net is a website that lets you search for free and paid camping options. Their focus is on public lands, like BLM and USFS areas. You can filter out sites by access road type, nearby activities, and amenities.
The website includes reviews, photos, and reported cell service from its members. Plus, you’ll find GPS coordinates and directions.
There’s even a trip-planning function where you can see dispersed camping areas along your route.
Michigan’s Local Forest Service Websites Show Dispersed Camping Options
Three Michigan USFS parks offer dispersed camping. Through this site, you’ll find fire alerts, local policies, dispersed camping options, and more.
Michigan also features dispersed camping in their state forests in areas at least one mile from a state forest campground. They have a few additional rules for you to follow as well.
Local Ranger Stations
There are more than 600 ranger districts across the country. To find ranger stations in Michigan, head to Michigan’s national forest dispersed camping page.
You can visit the closest DNR office for state forests to inquire about the best places for dispersed camping. Park officials are also an excellent resource to update you on regulations and current alerts.
Pro Tip: Don’t know what to do while in Michigan? Check out our article on Guardians of the Great Lakes: An Exploration of Michigan’s Best Lighthouses and add these spots to your itinerary!
What You Need to Know About Dispersed Camping in Michigan
Michigan does not have BLM land but plenty of forest service land. Most of these public lands are located in the northern half of the lower peninsula and through the upper peninsula. If you are really looking to get away from it all look in the upper peninsula (the UP) as it is very remote.
You’ll need to follow a few rules to preserve the land around you when dispersed camping in Michigan. There’s usually a limit to how many days you can stay in the same area within a month for public lands. Another general rule is to camp at least one mile away from campgrounds, 100 feet from any stream, and 150 feet from a roadway.
Once you find your ideal location, use Google Maps in satellite view to check your route. Have a hard copy map of the area, and arrive during the daytime since your spot won’t be marked.
Read on for additional rules to follow.
Pack It In, Pack It Out
If you bring something in, it goes out with you. And of course, leave your site cleaner than it was when you arrived. Research Leave No Trace principles to learn how to best care for the area. Simply put, respect the land, wildlife, and any other campers.
Also, try to camp in sites that already look like they’ve been used as campsites. This limits damage to even more natural land. And be sure to leave what you find. Look into specific rules about what you should not touch or remove so you can preserve the natural area.
Must Be Self-Contained
You won’t have many of the amenities that come with paid campsites, like toilets, sinks, or potable water. There won’t be any hook-ups, and you likely won’t find a dump station nearby. Therefore, you’ll have to provide these yourself.
Bring your own drinking water source and storage for gray and black water. Plus, bring a source of power to run whatever you’ll need.
Read Reviews to Learn About Road Conditions, Cell Reception, and More
Learn tips on where to set up camp and how to get to your location. You can find reviews on places like Campendium, iOverlander, The Dyrt, and FreeCampsites.net. Look to online forums and Facebook groups for information, too.
These reviews can help you verify cell reception and where to find nearby dump stations. They’re also invaluable to find out how accessible the land and route will be for your RV.
Be Aware of Local Fire Ban Status
Before arriving, check for local regulations like fire bans and area closures. The nearest ranger station or park office will be a good resource for this. It might also be a good time to check for any other restrictions, like the use of explosives, fireworks, or other potentially hazardous materials.
If you stay on USFS land, you can review fire ban status and restrictions on their website. To learn about local wildfires, check InciWeb through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.
Michigan Has Plenty of Dispersed Camping Opportunities
Ultimately, staying in dispersed camping territory connects you with nature on a new level. It’s just you and the big outdoors out there. If you’re ready to try your hand at dispersed camping, Michigan offers plenty of opportunities.
Get ready for the adventure to start!
Prefer to stay at campgrounds? Check out these 10 Great Places to Go Beach Camping in Michigan.
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