For the most part, we do very little advance planning for this trip. While we have been working from a loose idea of the route we wanted to take throughout the US – actual stops, where we camp, what we do has been a bit more spontaneous. Florida is one of our proudest examples of this working out. Everywhere we had read that you must book your RV spots in Florida months and months ahead for winter and early spring because it’s so busy/crowded. We spent the entire month of March in Florida, we made a camping reservation ONCE for a single night. This was at a campground near Cape Canaveral when we attempted to watch a SpaceX launch. Unfortunately, the launch date got changed a 100 times, we couldn’t cancel our super expensive and crappy camping reservation – so we had to stay there anyway with no launch. We made the best of it though (swimming, cruise ship watching, day drinking, etc.). Not having reservations gives us a lot of freedom to go where the wind takes us. It also can be stress inducing. Overall though, it’s really been the best for us.
The northern part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) has been the exception to this rule. I first learned about the UP from a co-worker in the last few months prior to leaving. I did a quick Google search, saw amazing pictures of orange, sandy, cliffs coming out of a crystal aqua colored lake, forests for days, people kayaking and hiking, and quickly added it to our list of potential stops. As we got closer to Michigan, we did a quick campground search to get an idea of camping options and confirmed that there were TONS of places. It wasn’t until we were already in the UP happily enjoying our stay at the best low-key, rustic, family fishing camp near St. Ignace that I started reading a bit more that the campgrounds up near Pictured Rocks (northern UP) were typically packed during summer. I also read and we experienced that UP forests are notoriously mucky and BUGGY. This meant that our typical backwoods, forest, boondocking type spot would be more risky and probably not an option. The last thing we want is to get stuck out in the woods somewhere and have to figure a way to get towed out. But knowing that there were so many campgrounds up that way, we still felt like something would work out like it mostly has for us this past year on the road. We were so wrong. We spent an entire afternoon, evening, and the next morning driving back and forth through this area looking for any available campsite. NOTHING. NADA. NOT A SINGLE ONE. Oh and I forgot to mention, it was pouring rain (flash flood warnings) and intense thunder and lightning. And by the way, absolutely NO CELL SERVICE. NO DATA. It was getting dark, we were tired and hungry, and desperately wanted to stop driving in this weather. Thankfully we got a tip from a local about a Snowmobile parking lot in the National Park area where we could likely get away with staying the night. Even more fortunate, it was just a few miles down the road. We were there in no time, tucked Merlin and Smarty in the back behind some trees (to keep us less visible from the main road) and settled in for the night.
Feeling a bit defeated by the northern UP, we came close to giving up on this area all together, leaving, and driving straight to Wisconsin. Thankfully though, another casino came to our rescue! The Kewadin Casinos here in the UP are amazing. We have benefited from them several times already: free dump and water fill in St. Ignace, free several night stay (w/ FREE 20-amp power) in Manistique, and now 2 free nights with 30-amp power in the land of no available campsites! It may not be everyone’s dream to camp in a casino parking lot, but they have come in quite handy for us and it’s also a lot of fun to have penny slots and a bar right outside your door.
So what about my fantastic dreams of a summer in the UP full of kayaking alongside those gorgeous cliffs, doing backstrokes in Lake Superior, and hiking every trail I could find??? Uh, not so much. What those beautiful pictures failed to share with me and what I didn’t learn because we don’t plan-ahead is that Lake Superior is f**king HUGE – like ocean big. I mean I kind of knew this because it is a Great Lake and all – but what I didn’t account for is that kayaking in a body of water like this is at an entirely other level from what I’m used to or have ever done. There are very strong recommendations that you use only sea kayaks, wear a wetsuit, and have mad-skills. This type of kayaking isn’t for beginner/novices like me and usually you need to do it with a guide (this means shelling out the big bucks which we aren’t in the position to do). Plus that charming storm I told you about made water conditions even worse – kayaking and swimming were not to be. While we did do a little bit of hiking, the mosquito situation here is FIERCE. Like it’s so bad that they call the mosquito this area’s official “bird”. And even though there is not a single available campsite to be found, and the area is pretty packed with tourists, many of the trails we attempted were super overgrown with a lot of nasty plants that we didn’t want to tangle with. So my hiking dreams didn’t come together either. Even with the camping, hiking, swimming, and kayaking fails that I mentioned, we did get to enjoy some parts of this area. Pictured Rocks and Lake Superior are INCREDIBLE. We did an awesome short beach walk along the lake and between the crazy pretty rocks while picking and snacking on wild blueberries growing on the side of the path and had the trail completely to ourselves! We found a lake access area off the beaten path and had lunch at Grand Sable Lake totally alone. These were fun and made us really glad we came all the way up the UP. Plus they make bomb-ass pasties here and we really can’t get enough of them.
Does this mean that we’re going to change our ways and start planning more? Nope, absolutely not. Except, of course, if we ever come back to the UP.
PS: We have given this some thought and think we may have figured it out. We were able to find ample spots in a full Florida because we are open to non-traditional camping spots – we’ll camp off grid, we’ll rough it. The folks that flock to Florida for winter and spring generally aren’t the “roughing-it” type. They want the posh, fancy camp resorts, with full hookups, amenities, and close proximity to Disney World. This meant that the rougher spots were free for the taking and taking we did!
Northern Michigan, on the other hand, is harsh and wild – especially the UP! The folks up here are rugged – they live through some of the most severe winters one can experience. Roughing it is their way of life. Mud, muck, bugs, and rain is simply what they do. They’re outdoorsy. And, I bet this explains why every campground is filled, no matter how rustic or primitive – no matter how crappy the weather. Michiganers know how to camp and they do it in great numbers.
What we were up to in Michigan:
Wayne County Fairgrounds – Belleville, MI
Day trips to Ann Arbor, Royal Oak, & Detroit
Rose Valley Winery – Rose City, MI
Sampled crazy-good wine
Reddman’s Sleepy Hollow Campground, St. Ignace, MI (UP)
Day trip to downtown St. Ignace, Techquaninom Falls, & Sault St. Marie
Enjoyed camping virtually alone just steps from Lake Huron
Savored our first pair of UP pasties at a long-time local spot, Lehto’s
Kewadin Casino – Manistique, MI (UP)
Did our laundry and had a few beers at the dive bar next door (for the WIN!)
Walked the boardwalk and saw a lighthouse
Seney National Wildlife Refuge – Seney, MI
On our way further north into the UP, we did an afternoon stop here
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Snowmobile Parking Lot, Munising, MI (UP)
Recovered from a stressful few hours of campground hunting in a nasty storm
Kewadin Casino – Christmas, MI (UP)
Explored some parts of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Walmart – Escanaba, MI
Waited out heavy rain most of the day and left later in the evening. Made it to the Walmart parking lot right when the sky opened up again and it poured! We were so grateful to have made it there safely.