9+ Best Places for Free Dispersed Camping in Michigan

Michigan is hands down the best state for free camping in the Midwest.

Not only are dispersed camping and boondocking readily abundant, but there are a heck of a lot of free developed campgrounds as well.

Here are my 9 favorite free campsites in Michigan (including dispersed campsites) to check out. 

Please always follow the Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping, especially packing out all of your trash, including human waste.

Best Free Campsites in Michigan

Jump down to the free campsite you want to learn more about:

Or, use our Michigan free camping map to find a free campsite near your destination.

My Favorite Free Campsites in Michigan

Whether you plan to explore the Lower Peninsula or the Upper Peninsula, my 9 favorite free campsites in Michigan are a great place to start planning your next trip. I also give a few extra recommendations!

Green Road (Lower Peninsula)

Manistee National Forest 

Green Road in the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area is easily one of the best places for dispersed camping in Lower Michigan.

Part of Manistee National Forest (managed jointly as Huron-Manistee National Forests), this stretch of dirt road is home to about a dozen spacious campsites and maybe a dozen additional small campsites suitable for vans and passenger vehicles only.

Boondocking is totally possible here, although I’d personally feel most confident in a rig no longer than about 25 feet max. However, I have seen a couple RVs and trailers pushing 30 feet or longer on previous visits. 

The road is relatively well-maintained and never too rough. Just keep an eye out for a handful of sandy sections. And, like any unpaved forest road, proceed with caution after heavy rains. 

* Dispersed camping isn’t allowed within 400 feet of the Lake Michigan shoreline or 200 feet of Nordhouse Lake.

What I Like:

Lots of campsites – and they’re spread far apart! Beautiful, quiet forest setting that’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to the beach, including Lake Michigan Recreation Area. Great spot for boondocking in all but the biggest RVs and trailers. 

What I Don’t Like:

Gets busy on summer weekends and holidays – so arrive early to snag a spot. Ticks, mosquitos, and other bugs galore in the summer months.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Manistee National Forest is filled to the brim with dispersed campsites as well as free campgrounds. 

In addition to the dispersed campsites along Green Road in Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness, take a look at the Upper Manistee River area, including the popular Government Landing.

If you prefer a free developed campground, start your search at Marzinksi Horse Campground, Sulak Campground, and Whelan Lake Campground.

More Info:

Green Road is part of Manistee National Forest.

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Cadillac/Manistee Ranger District: (231) 848-7090

GPS: 44.097148, -86.409929

McKinley Horse Camp (Lower Peninsula)

Huron National Forest

Make McKinley Horse Trail Campground your jumping off point for dispersed camping in Huron National Forest.

There are no designated campsites here. You’re welcome to set up camp anywhere. However, there are a handful of fire rings where most campers set up camp. 

This is a multi-use area and all campers are welcome, but keep in mind that it was created with equestrians in mind, so please respect their horses. In fact, the main parking area is restricted to horse trailers and the vehicles pulling them. 

Both McKinley Horse Camp and many of the nearby dispersed campsites accommodate trailers and RVs, although bigger rigs should stick to boondocking at the campground itself. 

What I Like:

Tons of room to spread out. Beautiful and peaceful forest setting. The main roads are unpaved, but in good condition. The campground has two vault toilets. 

What I Don’t Like:

Lots of ticks last time I was there in the summer. Some campsites and side roads are extremely sandy. OHV riding is popular in the area, so expect OHV noise during the daytime. 

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Although McKinley Horse Camp is very nice, I much prefer dispersed camping in the surrounding area. There’s a ton of room to spread out, but my favorite campsites are located just off South River Road (CR-F602) and its many side roads. 

More Info:

McKinley Horse Camp is part of Huron National Forest

Free camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Mio Ranger District: (989) 826-3252

GPS: 44.638573, -83.975341

Hovey Lake Campground (Upper Peninsula)

Hiawatha National Forest

Hovey Lake was my first experience with free camping in the Upper Peninsula.

It’s a small primitive campground with just four or five marked campsites. Each has a picnic table and a fire ring. There’s also a vault toilet and a pump for potable water (although I’d personally still treat it first).

The unpaved access road is somewhat tight and can be overgrown, but is usually very well-maintained. All but the largest RVs and trailers can fit here. However, there’s not a ton of room to turn around if all the campsites are full, so I recommend scouting ahead on foot first if you’re in a big rig.

There are a handful of dispersed campsites south of the lake if all the spots at the campground are full. However, there is some private property here, especially north of the lake, so please be mindful of that when selecting a campsite.

What I Like:

Short walk to the beautiful, peaceful lake. A lot of space between campsites with ample trees for plenty of privacy. Great fishing and paddling on the lake. Vault toilet and water pump.

What I Don’t Like:

Almost always full on summer weekends. Something of a local party spot. I recommend camping here on a summer weekday or, better yet, in the spring or fall.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Dispersed campsites are abundant in surrounding Hiawatha National Forest. However, the national forest is interspersed with private land, so make sure you’re actually on public land before setting up camp (the USFS land map layer on FreeRoam is great for this). 

More Info:

Hovey Lake Campsites are part of Hiawatha National Forest.

Free camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Munising Ranger District: (906) 387-2512

GPS: 46.289407, -86.700860

Haymeadow Creek Campsites (Upper Peninsula)

Hiawatha National Forest

Haymeadow Creek Campsites is another awesome spot for free camping in the Upper Peninsula.

Also part of Hiawatha National Forest, this primitive campground is about an hour south of the above-mentioned Hovey Lake Campground.

Like Hovey Lake, Haymeadow Creek Campground has just five marked campsites. Each has a picnic table and fire ring. The campground also has a vault toilet. Although some maps (including official ones for the USFS) show potable water, no water is actually available. 

The biggest reasons to camp here are the peace and quiet as well as the proximity to Lake Michigan. This is a fairly remote part of the Upper Peninsula yet Escanaba is just a half hour away. 

Smaller RVs and trailers (up to about 26 feet) are doable here, but it’s probably a good idea to boondock elsewhere if you’re in a bigger rig.

What I Like:

Quiet and peaceful. Lots of privacy between campsites. Haymeadow Creek and Haymeadow Creek Falls are beautiful. Lots of nearby hiking trails and great trout fishing.

What I Don’t Like:

Flies and mosquitos can be an issue in the summer. Something of a local party spot on summer weekends, but usually very mellow during the week. 

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Surrounding Hiawatha National Forest has numerous dispersed campsites, including a handful of campsites right off County Road 509 (the same road you take to access the campground).

More Info:

Haymeadow Creek Campsites are part of Hiawatha National Forest.

Free camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Rapid River/Manistique Ranger District: (906) 474-6442

GPS: 46.020859, -86.857145

Pearl Lake Natural Area (Lower Peninsula)  

Near Traverse City

Pearl Lake Natural Area is a great spot for free camping near Traverse City.

In my opinion, the best campsites here are those near Lime Lake. However, Lime Lake Road is often extremely muddy or flooded to the point of becoming impassable. 

Luckily, there’s an abundance of other dispersed campsites to choose from, including spots near Pearl Lake off of Rayle Road. 

Boondocking in small RVs and trailers is probably doable here. Just know that the unpaved access road is quite narrow with few spaces to turn around. I personally wouldn’t attempt to camp here in anything other than a van, passenger vehicle, or tent. 

If you do make it all the way to Lime Lake, you’re in for a real treat. It’s very quiet and peaceful here. It feels very remote despite the short distance to Traverse City.

What I Like:

Quiet and secluded with campsites right on the beautiful small lake. Decent amount of room to spread out and find privacy. Not very busy. Quick drive into Traverse City. Great fishing and paddling.

What I Don’t Like:

Road conditions can change drastically. Sometimes doable in any passenger vehicle, other times even those with high-clearance and 4WD will have a tough time. Lots of flies, mosquitos, and other bugs in the summer.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

I’m not aware of any other free campsites in the immediate vicinity of Pearl Lake, although Manistee National Forest is just an hour to the south.

More Info:

Pearl Lake Natural Area is managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Traverse City DNR Customer Service Center: (231) 922-5280

GPS: 44.753368, -85.926056

Shelldrake Lake Dam (Upper Peninsula)

Near Whitefish Point

Shelldrake Lake is another great spot for dispersed camping in the Upper Peninsula.

These free campsites are located just past Andrus Lake State Forest Campground ($20 per night) at the end of West Dam Road near the Shelldrake Lake Dam.

There are about a half dozen main campsites (with handmade rock fire rings) near the boat launch, but a handful of large grassy areas offer additional spots to set up camp.

The access road is fairly well-maintained and the campsites are spacious making Shelldrake Lake ideal for boondocking in RVs and trailers, including big rigs. 

But the real highlight of camping here is the tranquil forest setting with easy access to the lake and all the recreational opportunities that entails.  

What I Like:

Very remote and secluded. Excellent birding, boating, and fishing. Never very busy with a lot of room to spread out. Good for RVs and trailers of all sizes.

What I Don’t Like:

Kind of wide open so not much privacy between campsites if you do have neighbors. Lots of mosquitos in the summertime.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

I believe dispersed camping is allowed around most of Shelldrake Lake, not just near the dam. I plan to explore this area more in the near future and will provide additional details then.

More Info:

Shelldrake Lake is managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Newberry DNR Customer Service Center: (906) 293-5131

GPS: 46.712580, -85.064360

Bond Falls Flowage (Upper Peninsula)

Ottawa National Forest

You certainly can’t go wrong camping at Bond Falls Flowage.

Although it’s surrounded by Ottawa National Forest, the waterfalls, lake, and campsites are actually owned and managed by the Upper Peninsula Power Company as Bond Falls Park. 

The campsites here are sort of a mixture between a primitive campground and designated dispersed campsites. Two or three dozen are scattered on the lake’s west and north shores. 

Each campsite has a fire ring and picnic table. There are a handful of vault toilets and water pumps (not sure if the water is potable or not) in the area. All of the campsites are first-come, first-served. 

Aside from a handful, most campsites are not suitable for RVs and trailers. You’re probably okay in a small RV or trailer, but big rigs will have difficulty finding an accessible campsite. 

Camping at Bond Falls Park is free with a free permit. I don’t believe there is any way to self-register, so just select a campsite and the manager will follow up either later that day or the next morning. 

What I Like:

Easy access to the lake with some campsites just steps away. Quiet and peaceful. The beautiful Bond Falls Waterfalls (one of the most popular waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula) are just a short drive away. Tons of recreational opportunities, including swimming, fishing, and hiking.

What I Don’t Like:

Not much to complain about here, aside from bugs. The registration process is a little confusing (the signage was outdated on my last visit), but just select a campsite and someone will be along to give you a permit shortly. 

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Ample dispersed camping can be found in surrounding Ottawa National Forest. There are also several free campgrounds nearby, including Blockhouse Campground, Burned Dam Campground, Paint River Forks Campground, Robbins Pond Campground, and Sparrow Rapids Campground.

More Info:

Bond Falls Park is managed by the Upper Peninsula Power Company.

Free camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

I’m not aware of a contact phone number for UPPCO for camping and recreational queries. 

GPS: 46.399199, -89.134527

French Farm Lake (Lower Peninsula)

Near Mackinaw City

French Farm Lake is hit or miss when it comes to camping. 

Although it used to be one of the best free campsites in Northern Lower Michigan, it’s been plagued with heavy use, lots of trash, and poorly maintained access roads for the past several years. 

That said, with limited free camping options near Mackinaw City, French Farm Lake is still worth a visit, especially if you stay on a weekday. It’s a beautiful little lake that’s a short drive to both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. 

I believe there are just 5 to 7 designated dispersed campsites here. However, people often crowd in and set up camp elsewhere, especially on those busy summer weekends mentioned above.

Don’t attempt to camp here in an RV or trailer. The access road is narrow with low-hanging branches and is often seriously muddy and rutted. Most passenger vehicles can make the drive, although high-clearance is helpful. 

Google Maps often gives funky directions, so either use our GPS coordinates below or set your destination to “North Country Trail Trailhead” to get to the right spot. 

What I Like:

Beautiful lake. The actual marked campsites are quite private, although people tend to camp in unmarked campsites as well. Mackinaw City is just as short drive away as are Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Great fishing and paddling opportunities. 

What I Don’t Like:

Very busy, especially on summer weekends. Lots (and I mean lots!) of trash, including used toilet paper. Very rough access road, especially when muddy.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

Free camping is sparse near Mackinaw City. I’ve stayed overnight in the parking lot of the Cheboygan Walmart before with no issues, but please call ahead to confirm this is still allowed if you plan to do so.

More Info:

French Farm Lake is managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Free camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Gaylord DNR Customer Service Center: (989) 732-3541

GPS: 45.764032, -84.768459

Perrault Lake (Upper Peninsula)

Near Houghton

Perrault Lake is my favorite place for free camping on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Just 15 minutes from Houghton, this small primitive camping area is located just off Highway 26 set right on the scenic shores of the titular lake. 

Because of its proximity to the highway and its quick access to Houghton, the campsites at Perrault Lake fill up quickly. Although there are five or six campsites with fire rings, the main camping area is little more than a large dirt parking lot.

For a little more privacy, there are some campsites on the far side of the lake (opposite the highway). However, the dirt access road to reach these is very rough. Don’t attempt it if you don’t have high-clearance and 4WD, especially if the road is wet and muddy.

The main parking area is ideal for boondocking in RVs and trailers of all sizes. Just don’t expect a whole lot of privacy if you set up camp here. 

What I Like:

Quick and easy access to the Keweenaw Peninsula (one of my favorite places in the Upper Peninsula). Very beautiful little lake with great fishing and paddling. Great short hiking trail around the entire lake complete with rustic footbridges. 

What I Don’t Like:

Extremely busy in the summer, especially on weekends. Shoulder seasons (spring and fall) are much quieter. Expect a lot of locals, although this isn’t really a party destination. Mosquitos and other bugs can be bad in the summer.

Other Free Campsites Nearby:

A stretch of campsites along Mandan Road and High Rock Bay Road past Copper Harbor are the only other dispersed campsites I know about on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Although I’ve never visited this area myself, I know that both unpaved roads (Mandan Road turns into High Rock Bay Road) are extremely rough and little more than 4×4 trails. Don’t attempt the drive in anything but a 4WD vehicle with high-clearance and avoid the area altogether after heavy rains. 

If you do make it to the end (or opt to hike in instead of driving), you’re in for fantastic views of Lake Superior at one of the most scenic free campsites in the Upper Peninsula.

More Info:

Perrault Lake is managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Free camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Baraga DNR Customer Service Center: (906) 353-6651

GPS: 47.029407, -88.731407

How to Find Even More Free Camping in Michigan

Shoreline in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan at sunset.

Michigan has so much more to offer in terms of free campsites than just my 9 favorites outlined above. Here’s how to find even more great spots: 

  • Online Maps – Maps for mobile phones, like Gaia GPS and Avenza Maps, are super helpful to find potential dispersed campsites, especially when utilizing offline maps in the field.
  • Rangers – Call ahead or visit the nearest ranger station in person for the most up-to-date information on road conditions, closures, and more. Rangers are usually happy to give specific dispersed camping recommendations as well.

Even more ideas for free camping in Michigan include overnight parking in store parking lots (like Walmart), casino camping, and stealth camping

Related Post: Best Apps to Find Free Campsites 

Michigan Dispersed Camping Rules and Regulations 

View of Pictured Rocks shoreline in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.

Following the Leave No Trace principles is the number one rule for dispersed camping in Michigan – or anywhere else.

Remember that dispersed camping is primitive with few, if any, amenities – so please prepare to pack out all your trash (including food waste) and also properly dispose of human waste.

When it comes to human waste disposal, the national forests in Michigan still allow you to bury it in a cat hole, although I always strongly recommend packing it out or using a portable camping toilet. 

Aside from that, please abide by all area rules, including respecting campfire bans and maximum stay limits (usually 14 days on public lands in Michigan). 

Set up camp in previously-used campsites whenever possible, never feed wildlife, and treat any other nearby campers with respect (i.e. monitoring your noise levels). 

As dispersed camping continues to grow in popularity, it’s more important than ever before for us all to respect our public lands to ensure they remain open to all long in the future. 

Related Post: Best Free Campsites in Minnesota

Let Us Know If You Have Questions!

Still have questions about free camping in Michigan?

Whether you want clarity on a specific campsite recommended above, need additional suggestions, or just have a question about dispersed camping in general, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!

More Help: jake@campnado.com

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Post written by Jake Heller, the founder of Campnado. Read all Jake's posts. Or reach out to him directly: jake@campnado.com

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