The Best Camping at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Nature’s graffiti drapes the cliffs lining Lake Superior. Sand dunes and woodlands fall into the backdrop. Busy tourists making the most of their summertime moments snatch up souvenir t-shirts and koozies. These are the life and times of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Pictured Rocks is one of now three national lakeshores (Indiana Dunes National Park was recently elevated from lakeshore to park status), and thanks to the fact that it wears features found in all of the others, but which none of the other seashores all have to themselves, makes it perhaps the best of them all.
Firstly, it’s relatively far away from civilization. Small towns with populations that wouldn’t fill a cruise ship speckle its shores and the nearest thriving strip mall is a couple of hours drive. Which is a key ingredient in any real summer camping adventure, and is increasingly difficult to find on the eastern side of the country.
Like Apostle National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks has caves and open access to the largest of the Great Lakes. Like Sleeping Bear Dunes, Pictured Rocks has massive sand dunes which leave many a downhill hiker regretting the choice on the way back up. All of them, of course, have access to the Great Lakes. Unlike the others, though, Pictured Rocks’ is home to dramatically colored sandstone cliffs where shades of reds and blue-grays reflect against the lake as waterfalls make the plunge into Superior all the while.
Free Camping near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
It’s also the only national lakeshore with nearby free camping.
Hovey Lake, 30 miles south of Munising–which serves as the main access to Pictured Rocks–is a national forest campground, complete with picnic tables, fire rings and vault toilets, which is absolutely free for the camping.
That still places you at least half an hour from the shores of Lake Superior, though, but if you’re looking for something a little closer to the water, but farther from nature, Kewadin Casino offers free camping in its parking lot, which even includes electricity. The casino is in the town of Christmas, Michigan, where Santa apparently keeps all of his knickknacks and excess decorations when things fill up at the North Pole. While not technically in the national part of the lakeshore (which ends just east of Munising), Christmas is still on Superior and only the sternest of critics would disagree that its just as beautiful.
Incidentally, though basically a roadside parking lot squeezed between the casino and a Sunoco station, Campendium reviewers currently rank it higher than any other place to camp based on the number and quality of reviews.
The Best RV Camping near Pictured Rocks National Lakehore
Kewadin aside, there are some beautiful places to camp that will still float your pontoon within and just outside of Pictured Rocks proper.
The premier place to drop your jackstands along the lakeshore is Twelvemile Beach. RVs carefully tucked into the trees, many with partial views of Superior, backdrop happy campers roasting mallows and swatting mosquitos. A wooden staircase makes the climb back up the dunes from the beach to your campsite a bit more enjoyable, too.
Nearby Hurricane River provides a similar experience, near a lighthouse and–like Twelvemile–ideal for tenters and rigs on the smaller side.
Back in Munising, a national forest campground snuggles up to the beach with waterfront sites that are hard to get, but worth the effort. While Bay Furnace Campground isn’t technically part of the national lakeshore, it’s still heaping helpings of visual splendor with a side of being close to Munising and a dash of salt over the shoulder away from Christmas, Michigan. Munising Tourist Park Park Campground, a city park that tends to fill up faster than the gas tank on an electric car, provides similar views and access to amenities.
If Munising is the anchor that keeps Pictured Rocks in place, Grand Marais–on the west side of the lakeshore–is the dinghy rowing out to freedom. This town of some 300 people is the only place you can camp both on the lake and not in a casino parking lot, while still being within walking distance to a town. That said, the occasional shady practices required to get a spot at the busy Woodland Park Campground often leave campers feeling less than beachy. Luckily, most of the campgrounds managed by Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are nearby, and if those fill up, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources runs Kingston Lake Campground, which is practically within the boundaries as well.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in general, grows abundant with traditional-style camping and extra chunky fun for the whole family. From the taffy-strewn shops of St. Ignace to eager tent campers lining up on the docks of Copper Harbor, bound for Isle Royal National Park, there is an abundance to see and do, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s lapping waves make for the perfect centerpiece.