Northern Michigan has few offerings in the way of free camping (also known as dry camping or boon docking). That being said, French Farm Lake was a gem and we highly recommend it.
Here’s what we loved our free-camping excursion at French Farm Lake in upper Michigan:
- As it’s on public lands, it was very pristine (except for the large windmill across the lake, but at least that’s quiet too).
- The camp sites were spacious and far apart with trees and sand dunes between them. Except for a little road traffic going by, we never saw or heard our neighbors. The sites are also very near the lake. Our site was within 50 yards of the lake.
- The sites have campfire rings (Although I did have to clean ours up a bit)
- You can kayak the lake, but there’s also a rustic boat launch.
- You can fish the lake. In fact, it seems to be a popular place for locals. Here’s the Division of Natural Resources Map for French Farm Lake.
- The park that the campsites sit on is part of the North Country Trail. (A hiking trail, similar to the Appalachian Trail, but that runs from New York to North Dakota.)
- The camp sites are only about a mile walk (or drive) westward on Trail’s End (the main road) to a lovely little free state park with a beach on Lake Michigan.
- The camp sites are also only about a 4 mile drive (east) to Mackinaw City and Lake Huron. Mackinaw City’s a very small tourist town, but is quaint. If you want ice cream, fudge, pasties, or a t-shirt, you’re set there. There’s one tiny grocery store for necessities. There’s one fast food place (Burger King) that usually has wifi. There’s a post office in the downtown area.
There are several free town parks around that are perfect for picnicking on Lake Huron. Just drive the outskirts of town along the lake and you’ll find them.
There are several ferries that depart from Mackinaw City for Mackinac Island. (However, the tickets are a bit pricey (~$26 per person round trip. A local told us that there’s a merger in process that will have all the ferry companies there owned by the same parent company.)
- There’s a plethora of state parks and light house parks around the area also.
And, of course, the Mackinac Bridge is right there at Mackinaw City also. (There is a toll to cross the bridge.)
A few additional notes that might be helpful as you prepare for your free camping in northern Michigan:
- There are only 6 camp sites at French Farm Lake (Michigan). Your chance of getting one of the sites in the height of the season probably aren’t great. But it’s worth a try. There were no signs indicating that a reservation or fee was required. However, we did find an old “camp registration card” on the campsite. So, it sounds like it’s possible to reserve a site through http://www.michigan.gov/dnre. If you do show up and aren’t able to find a site, there are other options close by. You’ll have passed a KOA on the way to the turn for French Farm Lake. There are other private campground options in the near area, as well as at the state parks nearby. They won’t be free or as quiet and pristine, but at least you’ll have a place to camp.
- If you scout around, you can find some other free camping available up in the Upper Peninsula (across the Mackinac Bridge).
- The nearest Walmart is in Cheboygan, about a half an hour or so away.
- Showering when you’re camping for free is always a trick. We found that the KOA just up the road (if you ask nicely and they’re not super busy) will let you shower there for $5 a shower.
- (Likewise, disposing of your trash when free camping is a challenge.) We found that the gas station right off the freeway exit (Exit 337) will let you dispose of your trash there, if you discretely and politely ask the attendant (and slip him a tip).
Generally speaking, we found the people in northern Michigan to be very nice, personable, and helpful. We had a little car trouble about 2 hours drive south of our exit. The folks in that town were amazingly nice. We had so many people stop and ask if they could help us. It was refreshing and helped restore hope in humanity!
Also, if you do go camp at French Farm Lake in Michigan, please remember that it is dry camping. That means there are no facilities. You will not have access to running water, latrines, or a dumpster. Please plan accordingly. Whatever you pack in, pack it back out. Please be courteous and don’t leave it a mess for the next person.