At many Michigan state parks and recreation areas, winter campers have unique, cozy alternatives to tents

Yurt at Waterloo Recreation Area with snow on the ground, tree, campers outside by picnic table

Feb. 26, 2015

Most people consider camping at Michigan state parks and recreation areas a three-season activity. Who really wants to pitch a tent when there's a foot of snow on the ground and the thermometer reads well below freezing?

But folks who want to get away from it all in the winter have a plethora of options at numerous state parks and recreation areas that don't involve sleeping out in the elements.

Living room at Fayette State Park's Furnace Hill Lodge, with sofas, TV, tables, big windowsState parks and recreation areas across Michigan (managed by the Department of Natural Resources) offer lodges, cabins, mini-cabins or yurts that'll give you a warm place to spend the night when there aren't a lot of other campers around. There also is a wide variety of recreational opportunities available all winter long.

A total of 13 state parks feature lodges, though only 12 are available for rent in the winter. State park lodges all are unique; they vary in size, age, amenities and design, though all feature kitchens and bathrooms. Costs vary, too, depending on each lodge's location and accommodations.

The lodge at Grand Haven State Park, for instance, is 1,600 square feet, sleeps eight and boasts two bathrooms. It rents for $210 a night, $225 a night on weekends. The Furnace Hill Lodge at Fayette Historic Park was built in 1970, sleeps 10, and rent starts at $100 a night. Bass Lake Lodge at Highland Recreation Area features a foosball table and TV/DVD player, sleeps six, and rents for as little as $80.

Modern kitchen at Furnace Hill Lodge - refrigerator, microwave, stove, sink, cupboards, dining areaThe lodge at Hoeft State Park, which features three bedrooms and sleeps eight, is a 1920s-style Sears and Roebuck catalog home, and rents for $130 a night.

Other state parks with lodges that are open in winter include Cheboygan, Mears, Porcupine Mountains, Proud Lake, Tahquamenon Falls, Traverse City, Twin Lakes and Wells. Many offer views of the water with sunrises and sunsets that are spectacular over the ice.

"If you're looking for a getaway for a couple of families, lodges are perfect," said Maia Turek, a recreation programmer with the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. "In the winter, you can go to parks like Grand Haven that are booked up the rest of the year."

Rustic cabins, which sleep anywhere from two to 20 people, are available at 20 state parks and recreation areas, from Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park to Waterloo Recreation Area. Amenities vary. Some feature nearby restrooms with running water while others have simple outhouses.

Winter campers enjoy coffee outside around campfire at Green Lake Yurt at Waterloo Recreation Area.Some are quite unique. The cabin at Harrisville State Park, which overlooks Lake Huron, was built in 1952 and boasts a dining table and benches made of cherry wood from a tree in the park that was felled by a storm.

Rental rates vary for rustic cabins depending on the park, but expect to pay from $49 to $86 a night.

Modern cabins, with kitchens and bathrooms, are available at Holly Recreation Area (they're currently being refurbished) and Ionia Recreation Area.

Smaller, mini-cabins, which are less expensive, are available at many parks. They offer fewer amenities, but Turek said they do have "a heater, a microwave, a coffee maker and beds so you're not sleeping on the floor."

Mini-cabins are cozy, designed to sleep four on bunk beds with mattresses. Campers should bring their own bedding (or sleeping bags) and their own cooking utensils and dinnerware. Nightly rents begin at $39. Some 60 mini-cabins are available at 36 state parks and recreation areas.

Interior of a yurt, with bunk beds, futon, table and chairs, rug, windowA more unique option than a cabin or lodge is a yurt. Developed by the nomadic peoples of Central Asia, yurts are simple, tent-like round buildings. Think of a yurt as a less New Agey geodesic dome. They're built on wooden decks that get the structures off the ground.

"If you're looking for a winter adventure - if you want to do something unique and different - staying in a yurt is the way to go," Turek said.

"It's rustic, but there's a restroom nearby, though not all of them have running water," she said. "It's really just a warm place to rest. And you're not sleeping on the ground - they're equipped with bunk beds."

Yurts are available at Pinckney and Waterloo recreation areas and at Muskegon, Porcupine Mountains and Craig Lake state parks. The Muskegon State Park yurt is located near the winter sports complex, which includes Michigan's only luge run. Others are well off the beaten path, feature wood stoves and firewood, and are equipped with cooking and eating utensils.

"At Craig Lake State Park, you probably have to ski in or snowshoe in," Turek said. "It's a 16-foot-diameter yurt with bunk beds, mattresses, and an axe and a bow saw. If you want to get away from the world, that's where you would go."

Yurts rent for $60 or $65 a night.

The DNR Parks and Recreation Division is constantly reviewing user trends to make sure the facilities that campers want are available, Turek said. State parks and recreation areas are likely to build more yurts in the future, she said, as they become increasingly popular.

For more information on winter camping at state parks and recreation areas, visit www.michigan.gov/stateparks. To make reservations, visit www.midnrreservations.com or call 1-800-44PARKS, though reservations for lodges are made at individual parks.