The Freedom of Dispersed Camping: No Amenities, No Problem

August 22, 2023

Many adventurers pack and head to designated camping sites when driven to explore nature. Depending on the time of year, these campsites can become booked months in advance. If you’re interested in a last-minute trip or want to experience camping with fewer campground neighbors, dispersed camping might be the solution for you.

What is dispersed camping?

Dispersed camping is any camping done outside of a traditional campground and lacks facilities, such as clean water spigots and bathrooms. It is a great way to get away from weekend campground crowds and enjoy Michigan’s forests with just your group.

Where in Michigan can I dispersed camp?

Dispersed camping can be done on any state or national forest land in Michigan, unless otherwise posted. The three national forests are Huron-Manistee, Hiawatha, and Ottawa with Huron-Manistee being the closest to Southeast Michigan. The six state forests are Copper Country, Escanaba River, Lake Superior, Mackinaw, Pere Marquette, and Au Sable. The state forest nearest Detroit is the Au Sable State Forest. Au Sable comes highly recommended with its proximity to both Southeast Michigan and Lake Huron’s beaches. 

Choosing a dispersed camping site has some regulations, such as not being within a mile of an established campground or sleeping within 200 feet of a body of water. Additional considerations can be found on the National Forest Service website and the State of Michigan DNR website.

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What considerations should I take while dispersed camping?

First and foremost is going to be the location of your camp and the supplies you bring. Make a plan for bringing all the food and water you need with you, and be prepared to remove all trash and take care of all bathroom needs in a wilderness setting. As amenities aren’t available, you’ll have to prepare for each aspect of your adventure. 

When camping practice the 7 Leave No Trace™ principles to keep the wilderness pristine for creatures that call Michigan forests home and future visitors.

Leave No Trace™ 7 Principles

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Others

For more in-depth information about Leave No Trace™ Principles check out the Leave No Trace non-profit website. Additionally, some state forests require a registration card to be posted at your site. Make sure you check regulations in the area you plan to camp.

What gear should I bring?

Plan to bring all the gear you traditionally bring for car camping plus water and anything for your restroom needs. Make sure to check the weather report beforehand so you know what to expect during your trip. Also, you will likely be near a large body of water. Research the area and bring a bathing suit or kayak to take advantage of all the activities the space has to offer! If you have any gear questions, check out your local Moosejaw or REI and their retail staff will be happy to help. 

As you pack your Chevy to enjoy our beautiful state remember to put down your phone and soak in Michigan’s natural beauty!

This article has been updated to include new information. The original article was authored by Lauren Corbat.