Michigan is a great state for camping. With millions of acres of national & state forests, 11,000 lakes, over 3000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, and 100 state parks, you’re sure to find a spot. Finding a free camping spot may take a bit more work, but if you are resourceful and willing to travel, you will likely be able to find something that suits you.
Free Camping in the Lower Peninsula
In the lower peninsula, the Huron-Manistee National Forest (the Huron on the east side of the state and the Manistee on the west) is a great place to start. With close to 1 million acres and hundreds of miles of rivers and streams, there are many inexpensive campsites to be found in addition to the countless dispersed campsites within the forests.
Among those that are free - on the Manistee side closest to Lake Michigan - look for Cooper Creek Road and Green Road near the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area. The Nordhouse Dunes are a great place to explore as well as camp. The National Forest Service has a helpful map and brochure that explains all the details. A great hike can be had from several approaches to the Big Sable Point Light House.
Despite the area having a remote feel, the Upper Hamlin Grocery Store on Nurnberg Road is a conveniently located stop for fresh water, a dump station, and supplies. The Lake Michigan National Recreation Area is just to the north and Ludington State Park to the south.
Further into the Manistee National Forest are a half dozen free campsites. In the north section, east of the town of Manistee, is the Marzinski Horse Trail Camp and Government Landing Campground on the Manistee River just upstream from the Tippy Dam. There are another half dozen mostly lakeside rustic camping areas further south in the forest.
Moving to the east side of the state and the Huron National Forest, there are 4 free camping areas along the Michigan Shore to Shore Horse Trail. While designed for horse trailers and riders, these camping areas can also accommodate campers (who like horses) - Luzerne Horse Trail Campground & Trailhead, McKinley Horse Trail Campground, Buttercup Campground, and the River Road Trail Camp & Trailhead. On the northern spur of the trail is Johnson’s Crossing Trail Camp.
Heading to the north end of the lower peninsula just before the Mackinaw Bridge is French Farm Lake Campground. While some reviewers didn’t find it worked for them, most found it worthy of 4-5 stars.
Free Camping in the Upper Peninsula
Camping in the upper peninsula of Michigan is amazing - with only a few major roads cutting east/west, north/south, it is surprisingly easy to move around to find a campsite to your liking. State Parks anchor the 5 corners of the UP (Copper Harbor SP in the north, the “Porky’s” Porcupine Mountains SP to the west, Tahquamenon Falls SP to the east, Straits SP in the southeast, and JW Wells SP near Wisconsin) but within that area are the two units of the Hiawatha National Forest (east and central) and the Ottawa National Forest to the west.
Raco Airfield, a former airplane landing strip and proving ground, is a curious start. To the north is Shelldrake Dam. While users report the campground is closed, there are still sites worth exploring and free camping to be had.
Moving to the center of the UP, this unit of the Hiawatha NF has two free camping areas. Hovey Lake Campground has gotten consistent 5-star reviews from Campendium users. Brownstone Boat Launch on the Lake Superior shore offers water access and great views. These have the advantage of being reasonably close to the Pictured Rocks National Seashore.