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Home > Magazine > Adventure > Free Camping! --Dispersed Camping in Michigan

Free Camping! --Dispersed Camping in Michigan
September 23, 2013

Hopefully most other states have Dispersed Camping as well. I'm pretty sure that it's legal on all Federal Forest land.

If you're tired of paying RV-like rates to pitch your tent just head to state or federal lands that are more than a mile away from an established campground and camp as you please for free for up to two weeks.

I've been noticing non-electric non-hookup tent camping prices creeping up toward full-service rates. Maybe $15 is the lowest I've seen. And $20+ is common. KOA's seem to run $50+ these days. ...Might as well stay in a motel.

Skip all that and camp away from the noise, pavement and mowing. If you need a hot shower, think about that ahead of time and get yourself whatever rig you might need. It's not that hard. And do you really need a hot shower? Why not just boil up some water and have yourself a sponge bath. They're nice, too, and get you plenty clean. I mean, I'd gladly trade off such amenities to get away from howling neighbors 30 feet away.

Anyway, Michigan has what they call "Dispersed Camping." You need to print out (or get) and fill out then post a form on a tree at your camping place and then you're supposed to leave it when you go. But to me that's litter. If you know what you're doing and practice "leave no trace," well, I'll let you decide about that form. If you leave a well-marked and marked-up campsite behind (like after 2 weeks of horse-camping, say) then ya better leave that form and make sure you've followed all the exit rules. I'm sure there's a proper way to leave a well-used site.

Actually, the rule about posting is VERY confusing. I really can't figure it out. Here it is: "Post this card prominently at the campsite before making camp and leave posted upon departure when camping on State-owned land other than State Parks, Recreation Areas, State Forest Campgrounds or State Game Area Campgrounds." So you only leave it posted on land that's other than all those kinds? But those are ALL the kinds! Does it mean that you should NOT leave the card when you leave your site in a Forest or Game Area? But actually you can't even disperse-camp in Parks or Rec Areas!

Then right after that rule is this next rule: "Leave this card in campsite at departure." I guess that trumps the weird exception of "leave posted upon departure when camping on land other than..." Help?

There is another significant exception to this kind of camping in Michigan. But along with the exception comes opportunity. Dispersed Camping isn't allowed in Parks or Rec Areas (despite what that rule seems to say above), but it DOES include State Game Areas in addition to State Forests. And Game Areas tend to be closer to civilization in our downstate area than State Forests. Be careful of the "only if farther than one mile from a real campground" rule, though. Moreover, in Game Areas there's a season for such camping and it goes from Sept 15 > May 15.

I can only figure that during the summer they want to avoid fire hazard. I've read people spouting off that they want to force campers to pay at real campground during the busy summer but I kinda doubt that's the real reason. I've asked and haven't gotten a good official answer.

What I really like about dispersed camping is that you get to pick the very best possible campsite for your chunk of territory. Unless, I suppose, there are already other campers.

Anyway, here's the link for the Michigan rules and info about it: www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10365_58648-31303--,00.html

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