Friday, July 31, 2015

Campground Review: Paint River Forks Campground Ottawa National Forest

I've been staying at the U.S. Forestry Service's Paint River Forks Campground in the Ottawa National Forest which is in the westernmost part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula for the last five days and I'm not leaving until my water or food runs out!  It's that great of a camping experience and, as a plus, with the exception of one group of day picnickers I've had the campground completely to myself for five days now.

Pretty much right on the Michigan - Wisconsin border.
Comprising just under a million acres of forest, the Ottawa National Forest was sold by the Ojibwa tribe to the federal government in the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe.  The National Forest was created in 1931 by the US Government and is administered by the USDA's Forestry Service headquarters in Ironwood, MI.  The Paint River ranks as one of the Upper Peninsula’s most family-friendly rivers. An important tributary of the Menominee River, the Paint flows through remote forestland for much of its length, passing through patches of both Ottawa National Forest and Copper Country State Forest.

The Paint.  It's only about 18 inches deep by the campground.
The campground itself is tiny, comprising only four campsites, each with it's own picnic table and fire ring ---no hookups.  Here's the Paint River Forks Campground data sheet:

Hookups:                                 None
Fire ring:                                  Yes
Water Access:                         Yes
Fresh Water:                            No                              
Trash Service:                          No – pack it out
Toilets:                                    Yes - One vault toilet
Showers:                                 No
Dump station:                          No
WiFi:                                       No
Level sites:                              Yes
Laundry:                                  No
Store:                                       No
Pool:                                        No
Shade:                                     Yes
Verizon reception:                   None (2 bars of 4g with a booster)
Internet reception:                   None (2 bars with a booster)
Cost:                                     Free for up to 14 days
The actual "fork" the campground is named for.
After reading about the campground I drove to it on a Saturday fully expecting it to be full, imagine my surprise when, on a picture perfect weekend day, I pulled into a deserted campground!  I immediately copped one of the two sites that back right up to the river and settled in for a great five days.

Arrive early and snag a river site!
The Paint River is reputed to be one of the UP's premier trout fishing rivers so I busted out my Shakespeare travel spinning rod and could find no evidence that fish exist in the river.  O-fer.  In it's defense the water was pretty shallow around the campground and the trout probably live in it's deeper sections, at least according to my Dad.

The camp billboard--note the 14 day limit.
 If you had two cars with your group you could drive one downstream five miles to the Blockhouse Campground and leave it so you could float-canoe-kayak from the Paint River Forks boat launch to the Blockhouse, bring Deepwoods Off or Cutters as you're in the middle of a forest and deer flies seem ever present. 

Sign by the boat launch giving the Blockhouse as a canoe destination.
In a lot of my reviews I mention my intent to return to camp at the reviewed campground but sometimes I doubt I ever will.  I definitely am coming back to the Paint River Forks Campground!  If you plan to camp there remember to bring plenty of insect repellent and some large garbage bags as there is zero garbage service there, not uncommon with isolated Forest Service campgrounds.

Thanks for reading! 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Shots from along US 2

My time in the fantastic weather that is Michigan in July (low 80's days and high 50's nights) is shortening.  After a great three days with my Dad and brothers at the casino in Brimley, MI I spent one more day in Midland then headed back up to the U.P. traveling along scenic US 2 which follows the shore of Lake Michigan for long stretches.  Here's some pics.

Big Mac from a scenic turnout along US 2
Dunes and Lake Michigan from US 2
My Dad tees off while my brothers Jim and Jerry look on.
Having a blog means you get to embarrass your family! 
Lots of road work along US 2.
The Tank "casino camping" near St. Ignace.
Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mackinac Island St. Ignace, MI

I picked Becky up at Detroit Airport and we first went to my brother Jim's in Midland, MI where I had stored the detached camper in order to remount it on the pickup.  I figure it saved me a tank of gas in the improved mileage I got going down to West Bloomfield to visit my college buddies Gary and Steve and then picking her up the next morning.

Big Mac.  Gateway to the Upper Peninsula.
We stayed at a Straits State Park which is almost under the bridge and found it to be very cramped with campsites sardined right next to each other.  Nevertheless, it served as a good jumping off point to visit Mackinac Island, first time for Becky second for me.

Arch Rock.  I missed this attraction my first time through.
The round trip ferry boat ride from St. Ignace to the island costs $25 / person and takes about 20 minutes.  The ferry docks at the commercial docks in Mackinac Island and you are immediately faced with a crucial decision:  walk or rent bikes.  The island is 8.3 miles in circumference so most sane people go to one of the bike rental shops immediately off the pier and rent bikes.  Guess what we did?

Bikes?  We don't need no steenkin' bikes!
Becky had just bought a Fitbit activity wristband and wanted to make sure she "got her steps"....boy did she!
The village's "Main Drag".
Actual UPS "truck" kidding!

Coastline from the observation tower at Arch Rock.  Lake Huron.
Lake Huron seen through Arch Rock.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Campground Review: Seven Lakes State Park Holly, MI

My camping friend Becky and I visited Mackinaw Island and from there traveled south into the lower peninsula to Seven Lakes State Park near Holly, MI.  Becky had an extremely early flight home so our strategy was to spend her last two Michigan days camping within a reasonable drive of the Detroit Airport.

You camp at the Sand Lake Campground within Seven Lakes SP.
Sand Lakes was originally going to be a commercial development but the developers couldn't make a go of it and in 1969 sold the 1400 acres of forest and farm land to the State of Michigan.  The campground at the park is in a small bowl that contains a small lake (big pond?) that was actively utilized during our stay for swimming and kayaking. 

Campground from the top of the bowl, lake in the background.
After carrying the kayak all the way from Houston it was fun to be able to get it off the roof of the Tank and actually use it!

Ahoy from on Dickinson Lake!
Here's the Seven Lakes State Park data sheet:

Hookups:                                 20 amp, 30 amp
Fire ring:                                  Yes
Water Access:                         Yes
Fresh Water:                            Yes
Trash Service:                          Yes
Toilets:                                    Yes
Showers:                                 Yes
Dump station:                          Yes
WiFi:                                       No
Level sites:                              Yes
Laundry:                                  No
Store:                                       No
Pool:                                        No
Shade:                                     Not at the campground                      
Verizon reception:                   4G, 2 Bars
Internet reception:                   2 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                      $22 / night

There was a lot to do at Seven Lakes.  Activities included hiking along the approximate 5 miles of trails, fishing in one of the lakes, kayaking and swimming in Lake Dickinson, geocaching (we found one) and campfires being just some.

Most of the Park's trails weren't this pristine, but they were fun.
Although the Park consists mostly of forest the campground itself takes a little ding for not really having any shade.  For the first time in a long while we found it necessary to put up my camping cover to make our own shade.

If there's no shade you have to make your own.
The park was quiet to camp in, maybe because of the bowl like structure the campground resides in.  No street or road noise with just an occasional distant train.  We heard this distant rumbling once and it turned into...

This guy got his balloon within a few feet of the water then took off.
Theres's a decent sand beach and marked off swimming area (no lifeguard) on Lake Dickinson and the kids seemed to really enjoy it based on Marco Polo games played.

The swimming beach with the boat launch in the foreground.
For a park in the more developed portion of Michigan's lower peninsula Seven Lakes State Park gives off a more rustic vibe.  If I had been brought there blindfolded I would have guessed we were much further north than Holly, MI.  The rangers at the park are really helpful and friendly and the camping experience is enjoyable as long as you have a way to generate shade and some insect spray for when you hike the trails.  Bring a canoe or kayak and you'll have a great time!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Campground Review: Lake Michigan Recreation Area Manistee, MI

I "casino camped" across Michigan's Upper Peninsula and then traveled to my home town of Midland, MI in the center of the Lower Peninsula to spend time with my Dad for Father's Day.  I wanted to do some true boondocking for the July 4th holiday and I consulted once again to find a good spot in Michigan.  I settled on the Lake Michigan Recreation Area which is just south of the coastal town of Manistee and part of the Manistee National Forest.  Usually the "National Forest" part of the area's name means free camping in designated areas for up to 14 days and the Lake Michigan Recreation Area is no exception.

Manistee National Forest is one of only two Michigan National Forests. 
The designated camping area (besides the pay-site full service campground near the beach) is along a single lane dirt road called Green Road as it runs north and south of West Forest Trail Drive, which is the main east-west road through the Recreation Area.

The Tank's campsite with Green Rd in the background. 
Most of the campsites are readily apparent as you drive south along Green Road and there's a sign that advises that camping is only permitted along the left side of the road.  Green Road is a little tricky to find and I found it by having Google Maps open as I drove down the main east/west drag, the app identified Green Road on the map as I approached it.  Most sites are nicely shaded which didn't work for a RV equipped with solar panels so I quickly snatched one of the few campsites with open view of the sky.

Green Road, facing south, camping permitted on the left.

Here's the Rec Area's data sheet:

Hookups:                                             None
Fire ring:                                              No (fires are permitted)
Water Access:                                     No (Lake Michigan beach is 2 miles away)
Fresh Water:                                        No
Trash Service:                                      No (pack it in / pack it out)
Toilets:                                                No
Showers:                                             No
Dump station:                                      No
WiFi:                                                   No
Level sites:                                          Yes
Laundry:                                              No
Store:                                                  No
Pool:                                                   No
Shade:                                                 Yes
Verizon reception:                                4G, 1 bar
Internet reception:                                1 bar
Cost:                                                    Free camping for up to 14 days

Anticipating a land rush for the best campsites on Thursday July 2nd prior to the actual beginning of the holiday I pulled in on July 1 and snagged one of the few open to the sun campsites available.  The next morning I shivered awake and the Tank's internal thermometer recorded this:

46 degrees F. in July!  It was 5 degrees cooler outside.
When you camp in Michigan in the summer you wear two changes of clothes, jeans and sweatshirts in the morning and shorts and tee shirts in the afternoon when it often got above 80 degrees...your basic 35 degree shift in five or six hours!  The cool overnight temperature may have been responsible for the relatively light mosquito presence which was extremely welcome and unexpected.

Of course the main attraction in the Rec Area is it's namesake, Lake Michigan, which is about two miles distant from the boondocking area.  

The sand dunes, narrow beach, and a calm Lake Michigan.
The lake is approached through very sandy lightly grassed dunes down to a narrow but very nice sandy beach, the water felt too cold for swimming the morning I was there but in the afternoon with 85 degrees I might have been coaxed in.

The dunes, dude. 
There is an immense wooden stairway that climbs a really steep hill that leads to an observation deck.

The observation deck after about 2000 of those steps!
Where you observe.....

Surprise!!!  Lake Michigan.
For someone looking for a quiet boondocking experience for up to 14 days the Lake Michigan Recreation Area fits the bill.  My only slight disappointment was the lack of extensive hiking trails you kind of take for granted in state parks.  The Manistee National Forest is virgin forest so there really aren't hiking paths through it, I found some foot paths but these truncated fairly soon so I had to settle for getting my steps in by walking Green Road while keeping wary for vehicles approaching along the single lane road.  Just a minor complaint though, I'll definitely camp there again in the future.

Thanks for reading!