Fall head over heels with Michigan camping and lodging

Man, woman and dog by campfire in fire pit at Muskallonge Lake State Park campground

Sept. 22, 2016

As the warmth of summer transitions into fall, many people may find themselves slowing down in sync with the changing of the seasons, daydreaming of their favorite jeans, buttoning up fall jackets, colorful foliage and warm comfort food.

However, many others are just gearing up for some cool fall camping to enjoy the colors, hiking, mountain biking, fall fishing or hunting, or just being outdoors with the sights, sounds and smells of autumn.

Since residents and visitors are never more than a half-hour away from a Michigan state park or recreation area, state forest rustic campground, state trail or waterway, there are plenty of opportunities to savor Michigan’s great outdoors this fall.

Fall camping can include everything from tent camping in state parks and recreation areas, traveling in a pop-up camper or RV and enjoying a rustic riverside campground experience to backpacking through state forests.

While camping is a traditional summertime pastime, fall camping has its own set of advantages.

“We find that camping reservations are much easier to find in the fall,” said Doug Barry, supervisor at Van Riper State Park in Marquette County. “Campers can reap the benefits of less crowded campgrounds and the beautiful colors of fall foliage, especially during weekdays.”

While camping, visitors can observe nature in a completely different way.

Hiking, biking and watching the sunset takes on a whole new feel with the sun setting earlier, the smell of dropping leaves and the cool, crisp (or warm) air. Visitors can also hit the road and enjoy a driving fall color tour.

Fall color is predicted to peak, depending on location, through the end of October. Travelers can use Pure Michigan’s fall travel peak season map to seek the best part of the state to visit.

In addition, many Michigan state parks and recreation areas are preparing their fall harvest festivals throughout September and October. More than 30 state parks and recreation areas offer these family-friendly “Harvest and Haunts” events, which include hayrides, pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating, costume contests, haunted trails, cider and donuts and, horse-drawn carriage rides.

A view of Lake Superior amid the splendor of autumn at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Ontonagon County. The fall season is nostalgic for many people of all ages. The changing leaf colors are the signature mark of fall, but there are so many other benefits.

According to a Michigan Department of Natural Resources online customer survey, campers reported that the following activities topped their lists of things to do while camping in Michigan state parks and recreation areas: resting and relaxing, outdoor cooking, visiting the beach, walking, swimming, bicycling, fishing, kayaking, birdwatching and attending free family-friendly events. Most of these outdoor activities can be taken advantage of throughout the year.

“The fall is such a special time to camp,” said Theresa Neal, an interpreter at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in northern Luce and Chippewa counties. “I love the smell of dry leaves and the sound of leaves that have fallen, dancing along a trail. It is the perfect time sip hot coffee in the morning or sit by a crackling campfire on a crisp evening.”

Many state parks now offer alternative lodging options. Camper cabins, yurts, cottages and lodges are available in select parks and offer a different camping or outdoor experience. There are even a handful of pop-up campers available.

Michigan has lots of wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities. The fall is a great time to spot ruffed grouse, American woodcock, wild turkey, waterfowl and deer, among other wildlife species.

Take advantage of the cooler temperatures by exercising in Michigan’s great outdoors. The fall weather lends itself to hiking, biking and trail running. In addition, there are a number of cardio, yoga, Pilates and strength training classes offered in parks.

There are also more than 130 state forest rustic campgrounds located throughout the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula. Most of these campgrounds are booked on a first-come, first-served basis.

State forest campgrounds provide a campsite, pit toilet, fire ring and water pump. A visitor takes a walk along on quiet Lake Superior beach at Brimley State Park near Sault Ste. Marie in Chippewa County.<

It is also a great time of the year to take advantage of angling opportunities. Many fish species are available throughout the year. However, fall can be an ideal time for trout and salmon, particularly steelhead.

“There are many outdoor enthusiasts that look for a more rustic outdoor experience,” said Ron Olson, DNR Parks and Recreation Division chief. “Each state forest campground is located on a river or lake, providing quick access to fishing, paddling and nearby trails.”

Visitors don’t necessarily have to camp to connect with the outdoors. Michigan’s 103 state parks and recreation areas are a great day trip. Visitors can explore hundreds of miles of scenic state trails, which are perfect for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding.

Michigan state parks, recreation areas, state forest campgrounds, trails and fee-based boat launches are funded through the Recreation Passport. For $11, vehicles registered in Michigan gain access to hundreds of outdoor recreation destinations throughout the four seasons. The passport has a different fee structure for out-of-state vehicles.

Camping fees are additional. For a relatively few dollars per night, travelers are hard-pressed to find a more affordable overnight options.

The Recreation Passport can be purchased by checking "yes" when renewing your license plate with the Michigan Secretary of State, at staffed state parks and online. The passport is valid until the next vehicle plate renewal date, which is typically a full year.

Autumn along the Lower Tahquamenon River provides a beautiful setting at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Chippewa County. Camping reservations can be booked up to six months in advance at Michigan state parks. Campers are encouraged to visit http://www.midnrreservations.com or call 1-800-44PARKS (1-800-447-2757) to check on availability. Remaining camping spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Get more information on camping in Michigan.

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