Fall Camping Trips Offer Open Spaces and Colorful Scenery

By: Karen Dybis | October 14, 2020

Michigan is the ideal spot for camping with its wide-open spaces, great public and private campgrounds as well as weather that provides a bevy of conditions that are ideal for getting outside with kids and family.

One camper in particular hopes that Michigan residents get out this fall to experience the Great Outdoors and all that the state has to offer. Mark S. Wedel, a freelance writer, author and Michigan native, is known for his adventures as a bicyclist not only on long rides but also as a means to camp around the Great Lakes over the past few decades. 

“I’ve pedaled all over much of Michigan, rode along the Mississippi near New Orleans, saw much of the Lake Huron shore on the other side in Ontario, and went from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. A bicycle lets you see everything low and slow, an immersive experience. It feels like freedom,” Wedel said. 

Wedel said Michigan makes for a perfect camping destination. 

“I grew up in Michigan. Sometimes a spot — anywhere on the shores of our Great Lakes, for sure — will make me feel nostalgic for childhood trips,” Wedel said. “Other times, I’m surprised, like on this summer’s bike camping experience, when I discovered that the Manistee National Forest around the Mesick area seems as forested and hilly as Appalachia. From the UP on down to New Buffalo, we’ve got an amazingly varied landscape.”

To go camping with only your bicycle in tow, you need to have the right accessories, pack the proper equipment and think ahead about the trail and conditions in front of you, Wedel said. 

“If on a bicycle, you need to be choosy. Too much weight and you will curse yourself going up every hill,” Wedel said.

He said his favorite item is a Jetboil — a burner, small propane can, small mug/pot, that boils water quickly for coffee or dehydrated camping foods. His second favorite is the Klymit, an inflatable mattress, which Wedel said is easy to blow up even after being winded from a 60-mile ride.

“I dug my Marmot one-person tent, very easy to set up, though maybe I could’ve carried the few ounces more a two-person tent would weigh,” Wedel added. “I developed a love/hate relationship with my Burley Coho XC bike trailer — it can carry a lot of stuff, so I put a lot of stuff in it, so there was some cursing towing it up hills. And, of course, the Surly Troll, a bicycle that can go anywhere, though it did meet its match on a few sandy logging roads.”

Getting out there on the road will change your life, Wedel said. 

“I was once a pudgy middle-aged man, a freelance journalist sitting sedentary at my Mac all day, before I decided to ride a bike every day in 2011. Now I’m older, a little less pudgy, and am a little obsessed with my bicycleI love a nice cheap motel room after riding all day, but camping makes you feel truly self-sufficient, like a cowboy or explorer traveling through the wilderness,” Wedel said. 

Here are some of Wedel’s recommendations for where to go camping this fall across Michigan. 

Mackinac Island

This northern Michigan mainstay is ideally seen through a bike ride around the Island. Camping isn’t allowed here, but Mackinac Island itself — which goes free from car traffic to focus on horses and slower experiences — is still great to enjoy for a day trip. This is “where I learned the joy of travel by bike as a child, even though it was just the nine-mile road around the island,” Wedel said.

Kal-Haven Trail

Wedel described this area as a near 40-mile ride from Kalamazoo to Lake Michigan “that made me obsessed with bike travel as an adult.” There are many places along the route to settle down for the night with permission. 

Sleeping Bear Dunes

This national park truly is a treasure for all to visit, especially in the fall with the changing leaf colors. Wedel called this area and its dunes “a stunning sight after climbing the hills of M-22, but get reservations early because the secret’s out on that spot.”

Hiawatha National Forest

This Upper Peninsula forest is large and largely unpopulated but has many beautiful spots to hike and camp. This is “where I felt like the only human in the UP, and was startled by a giant bald eagle that flew over my bike,” Wedel said. 

Upper Peninsula

One special location to Wedel is the state’s largest lake. He likes to camp “just about anywhere on the shores of Lake Superior, but the Copper Harbor area and trails going to the end of the Keweenaw Peninsula is ruggedly amazing.”