Camping in Michigan | Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness

Graham and I love to camp. We camped together at Fossil Creek in Arizona for the first time after just a few weeks of dating and we’ve been doing it ever since. When we lived in Phoenix we would often camp once a month or so, but we had yet to camp in the Midwest since moving to Chicago in March 2015. We finally got a chance to remedy that when Graham had three consecutive days off work for the first time in months. We packed up our things (and the pups!) and headed to Michigan to find dispersed camping.

We do not like crowded campsites, and we had heard that you can camp anywhere on public lands as long as there are no posted signs prohibiting it. We chose Manistee National Forest as our destination and set off from Chicago on a five-hour drive. Graham and I kept asking each other if we were in Costa Rica when we saw the lush forests along the highway. It reminded me of the greenery we saw on our trip.

When we arrived at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness, we didn’t immediately know where to camp. We drove around surveying the area before deciding to keep driving on the forest road. We drove north on 5356 until we found a spot near the Lake Michigan Recreation Area. While we had campers nearby, it was not on a developed campground and we had plenty of privacy.
We were so proud of ourselves for having out campsite set up so early in the day. When we camped in Arizona we had always rushed to beat the sunset. It was a nice change to have the entire day off and free to do whatever we wanted. We ate lunch and then set off to check out the Lake Michigan Recreation Area park. To park, you just need to pay $5 and deposit the fee into an envelope and drop it in the box. We walked over to check out the swimming area when we realized dogs aren’t allowed in the swimming area. We decided to walk up the stairs leading to the viewpoint instead. We later walked north from the park to a spot for a swim away from other people.

That night was spent relaxing and catching up. It seems as though I don’t see Graham a lot even though we live together because of our crazy schedules. I loved spending that quality time with no one else there besides the dogs. Dinner was our version of Mexican street corn plus black-bean burger patties on a bed of salad (from a bag) and topped with Colby-Monterrey cheese and salsa. We just hung out. I had limited to no service, so I was not distracted by social media at all. It was perfect.
The next day we drove to a nearby country store to get Graham his morning coffee, which was only 50 cents! We made egg burritos for breakfast and then set off for a hike at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area. This park is dog-friendly so Taylor and Capone could join us on a hike to the beach. Each way was about 2 miles. We chose a less-frequented trail than most people seemed to be doing, but we’re OK with that. It led us to a section of the beach that was not crowded at all, and we swam and played with the dogs for hours. The water was clear, cool and refreshing, and I could not believe the views.

Later that afternoon, we headed back on another trail that was on top of a hill. You can see impressive views of the lake and the forest and we did not see one person on that trail. It was even a little nerve-racking because we didn’t know where the trail was heading at first. We later discovered that it rejoins the main trail but was a more scenic route. What a wonderful surprise!

We finished that day back at Lake Michigan Recreation Area, where we made dinner. I had black bean and vegetable soup and Graham had canned pasta, and each had a quesadilla. We then watched the sunset from the top of a hill above the beach. After all, Graham says one of his goals in life is to watch the sunset over as many bodies of water as possible.

I was in awe of the fact that the sun sets around 9. I had forgotten that Michigan is an hour ahead of Chicago and thus has so much sunlight late in the evening. It was incredible. As a lifelong Arizonan who never had to observe daylight-saving time, that is new to me.
Sunday was spent relaxing and cleaning up before returning to Chicago. The drive back took a lot longer –6 hours — because of construction and accidents. We were exhausted, dirty and tired of being on the road, but we had a wonderful time in Michigan. I can’t wait to go back!

Watch a video of our Michigan camping trip!