Sunday, August 17, 2014

Campground Review: Hungerford Recreation Area Big Rapids Township, MI

The only National Forests in the lower peninsula, the Huron-Manistee National Forests spread out over a million acres of Michigan.  In the late 1800's logging was at it's peak in Michigan  and these forests were quickly cleared.  In 1909 Huron National Forest was created to rehabilitate and protect the forest and Manistee National Forest was created in 1938.  In 1945 the two forests were combined into the Huron-Manistee National Forest and working with the Michigan DNR the National Forest Service has changed the lands back into healthy forest again.  A website I frequently use to find camping opportunities, www.freecampsites.net identified a campground at Hungerford Lake which is located within the Huron-Manistee NF and seemed small but promising.  I drove the Tank there in early August to check Hungerford Lake out.

Hungerford Lake--seemed like a nice little lake with very warm water.
Freecampsites.net said there were 5 campsites along a road leading to the boat ramp by the lake but unfortunately the sites were very small and designed for tent campers, the Tank would have only fit into one of the sites and that site was occupied -- by a tent camper!  So I set up camp at this nearby trail-head.

Nice site, even some sun for the solar panels!
Somehow the rangers from the National Forest Service didn't feel that I should camp at a trail-head and relayed that opinion to me telling me I had to move (in a nice manner).  They gave me the option of going to an equestrian campground or to disperse camp at one of several sites along the main road into the National Forest.  The equestrian campground was $15 a night for no hookups and smelled like....well the stuff that comes out of the back ends of horses so dispersed camping it was!

The road into the NF that passes several dispersed camping sites.
What is dispersed camping?  Here's the National Forest Service definition:

"Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means no services; such as trash removal, and little or no facilities; such as tables and fire pits, are provided. Some popular dispersed camping areas may have toilets."

No toilets at the very nice site I selected but dispersed camping is free in National Forests that allow it.

I needed one with some sun for the Tank's solar panels--this one worked!
Hungerford Recreation Area itself is very nice.  Here's a data sheet on the equestrian campground where you probably wouldn't camp unless you owned a horse:


Hookups:                                 None
Fire ring:                                 Yes
Water Access:                         Less than a mile away
Fresh Water:                            Yes
Trash Service:                         Yes
Toilets:                                    Yes
Showers:                                 No
Dump station:                         No
WiFi:                                      No
Level sites:                             Yes
Laundry:                                 No
Store:                                      No
Pool:                                       No
Shade:                                    Yes
Verizon reception:                  3G, 1 bar if you use a booster
Millenicom reception:             1 bar with a booster
Cost:                                     $15 / night

 I used a cell signal booster during my stay at Huron-Manistee NF and it really made a difference!  I'll do a separate post on it later, you might want to get one.

Hungerford Recreation Area has 40 miles of horse paths and 11 miles of mountain bike trails that wind through the super tall trees of the National Forest.  Horses are not allowed on the mountain bike trails so you don't encounter any "surprises" left by a horse while you are biking.  Also there is the aforementioned Hungerford Lake for water sporting although I'm not sure the lake is big enough to water ski on unless you just drove in a big circle.  The main attraction to camping here was the giant trees!  They are so dense that much of the camping areas and trails are perpetually in the shade.  I was extremely fortunate to snag a site that got several hours of sun but that site was by far the exception.

For horse owner/enthusiasts the equestrian campground in the Recreation Area is a no-brainer.  I don't know of another National Forest with as many miles of horse trails and a dedicated campground.  Mountain bikers who can snag one of the non-equestrian  campsites will find Hungerford Recreation Area a fun bike.  I enjoyed my dispersed camping experience here and you sure can't beat the price!

Thanks for reading!