Essential RV Michigan:
An Insider’s Guide to the Great Lakes State
by Lindsay Menting
If you've seen the Pure Michigan® ads, narrated by one of the great Michiganders, Tim Allen, you'll know what it's like to be enticed by this state's underappreciated coastal splendor. As its name suggests, you're never far from the water in the Great Lakes State and the stunning lakeshores, pristine beaches, and sandy dunes that characterize the landscape. Embarking on an RV trip to Michigan means you'll find every kind of attraction—from an Upper Peninsula tucked away in time and a vibrant city, trenched in automobile and music history to iconic college towns, scenic roads, ski slopes and sprawling vineyards. It's all too easy to soak up life's simplest pleasures here in Michigan, and we'll share some of the best places to do just that.
The magic of Mackinac Island is one of a kind. Its charm is infectious, drawing visitors to take a step back to a time filled with horse-drawn carriages and classic Victorian architecture. It’s important to note that motor vehicles have been outlawed since 1898. There is no need to panic though: there are ways to enjoy the island without dumping your RV in Lake Huron. Charmingly, when you exit the Mackinac Island ferry, transportation is covered by horse-drawn carriages and bicycles. Since the island is only 3.8 square miles and 80 percent of it is preserved by parkland, you'll easily be able to soak in the quiet beauty of a life of another era. You can meander through the quaintest of towns, filled with classic homes, shops and lots of fudge. (An astonishing 13 fudge shops litter this tiny island so be sure to make a stop into at least one for a tasty treat!) The Island is listed as a National Historic Landmark, making it an ideal destination for history buffs. Fort Mackinac was built by the British during the American Revolution and remained active between the British and Americans until 1895. You can visit, watch reenactments of the Revolutionary War and tour the original structures. Another large draw to the island is the stunning Grand Hotel (of Somewhere In Time fame). Since you can't park your RV here, we highly recommend treating yourself to a night. Built in 1887, the majestic hotel perches itself atop Mackinac's limestone bluffs and includes 400 rooms plus the world's longest porch! If you decide not to stay the night, you can purchase tickets to tour and spend the day.
Where to Stay
Since Mackinac Island is to the extreme north, much of the island shops and activities go into hibernation during the winter months. We recommend visiting between May and October. As we mentioned before, motor vehicles are not permitted on the island, but they are allowed in Mackinaw City, which sits just at the end of the spectacular Mackinac Bridge. Mackinac KOA is a great basecamp to explore all that's in the area, offering free shuttles to the island ferry.
One of the most picturesque towns in the Upper Peninsula is Munising, the gateway to a favorite destination: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The small town is nestled in the Hiawatha National Forest, making it a wonderful year-round destination—or as it’s often been called—a four-season playground. You'll find bright-colored fall foliage in autumn, beautiful sunshine in the summer and sparkling icicles in the winter. While nature is at the forefront, there is plenty of dining and even breweries, like the East Channel Brewing Company and ByGeorge Brewing, to liven up your stay.
The real gem, though, is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, America's first National Lakeshore. All around, you can take in the truly breathtaking sandstone cliffs and views that stretch as far as the eye can see. There are over 40 miles of beautifully pristine beaches on Lake Superior banks and 100 miles of nature-filled hiking trails. In the summer, you can bike, boat and enjoy the colorful wildflowers. When the snow falls, the fun doesn't stop—you can cross-country ski, snowmobile and ice fish. You can even mark your calendars for the Michigan Ice Fest, where nearly 1,000 ice climbers come to climb the stretching ice walls that cover the cliffs. That’s something you’ve likely never seen before!
Where to Stay
If you want to be close to Pictured Rocks, we recommend Twelvemile Beach Campground, with beautiful waterfront sites, or Bay Furnace campground. While both are more primitive (offering no hookups), you can't get a better view! Pictured Rocks/Munising KOA will place you closer to town, with all the amenities you can dream of.
The most northern town in Michigan is Copper Harbor, making the drive to get there longer but oh so worth it. Their website boasts that “it's where the road ends and the adventure begins.” Since the idyllic village is so small, the whole town is mom-and-pop owned. Not only can you appreciate the quaint shops and restaurants, but you can also get to know the locals. Virtually steps away is Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, a top destination in the area. Here you can check out a military outpost and lighthouse from 1844, as well as the old copper Delaware Mine. The main attraction is really the abundance of nature, teeming with wildlife and the chance of so many outdoor activities to explore it all. The Brockway Mountain Drive is a popular scenic road that offers stunning vistas of Lake Superior. The Estivant Pines are also a great destination to take in the last remaining old-growth white pines in Michigan, grove after grove of gorgeous trees that have remained untouched for over 600 years. You can also hike the dense forest with trails like Cathedral Trail Loop and Memorial Trail Loop.
Where to Stay
Wilderness Resort is one of our favorite places to park your rig, featuring full hookups and a stunning forest setting. Lake Fanny Hooe Campground is another excellent choice, with a friendly atmosphere and fun amenities.
Situated much closer to Wisconsin than Michigan (the advantages of the Upper Peninsula!) lies the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. At about 60,000 acres, it's Michigan's largest state park and is the perfect place to unplug in more untouched old-growth wilderness. There are 87 miles of hiking trails reaching panoramic views at high peaks. Nestled within this emerald green valley is Lake of the Clouds, a beautiful freshwater destination known for its bass fishing. You can also check out the more than 90 waterfalls that grace the forest: two of our favorite picks are Bond Falls and Agate Falls.
Where to Stay
Union Rivers Big Bear Campground is our top pick, putting you right outside the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness. It has spacious sites with full hookups, surrounded. by peaceful wilderness.
Traverse City is a treasured Michigan getaway on the edge of Grand Traverse Bay, oozing with charm, bursting with cherries (everywhere it seems) and abounding with wine…lots and lots of wine. Resting on the 45th parallel, Traverse City is on the same latitude as Bordeaux's famous French wine region. It makes perfect sense then that this town is home to dozens of beautiful wineries. There are two “wine trails,” one on the Leelanau Peninsula, the other on the Old Mission Peninsula. You can do no wrong choosing either path, but some of the most popular stops are the Chateau Grand Traverse, Chateau Chantal, Black Star Farms, and 45 North Vineyard and Winery. A fan favorite? Cherry wine—since Traverse City is also known as the Cherry Capital of the World. In July, you can visit the National Cherry Festival where you'll find something for the whole family, including plenty of food tastings. You'll also find incredible scenery, with cruising down Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive being one of the best day trips. This seven-mile route will take you past a number of overlooks, providing panoramic views of Lake Michigan and towering sand dunes. After strolling through the quaint downtown, where you'll find a unique range of things to do and food to try, a must-stop is Moomers Ice Cream. The shop overlooks its own dairy farm, and you can choose from over 160 flavors. From boats to nightlife, golf courses to spas, the spot is a great getaway with something for everyone.
Where to Stay
Our top pick in Traverse City is Timber Ridge RV and Recreation Resort. The fun, family-friendly destination has rave reviews and plenty of accommodations. At the Holiday Park Campground, you can park your rig right on the water at Silver Lake, and you'll have access to full hookups at your site.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a must-see when it comes to state and national parks in Michigan. Stretching across 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline are sun-drenched beaches, glistening lakes, lush forests and, of course, those incredible sand dunes. Constructed by the Ice Age's glaciers, the towering dunes stand 300 to 450 feet tall—and, once you scamper your way to the top, the views are breathtaking. You can even sled down them in the winter! Looking to hike? Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail weaves along the lakeshore. You can finish your day by visiting the Maritime Museum and the Glen Haven Historical Village.
Where to Stay
Indigo Bluffs RV Park is a great spot that puts you close to the dunes, and you'll have a blast at their resort, featuring numerous choices for accommodations. You can camp directly in the National Lakeshore as well, so check out their site to find a campground that suits your needs.
The Petoskey Area sits at the northern tip of Michigan’s mainland, featuring several lakeside towns that are perfect for a getaway in any season. You can check out one of the three major ski resorts in the colder weather months with over 160 slopes to choose from. You can also head out to ice skate, snowmobile or sled. In the summertime, you can hit the beach or even take the chairlift up Boyne Mountain to enjoy some spectacular views. There are scenic drives in the autumn, enabling you to take in all the fall foliage and brilliant colors. You can also make your way through the historic Gaslight Shopping District in any season, perfect for the less outdoorsy types.
Another great spot, just outside of Harbor Springs, is the Thorne Swift Nature Preserve, a 30-acre wildlife sanctuary featuring a sandy beach, hiking trails and tons of activities, including the chance to observe aquatic creatures and get hands-on with nature.
Where to Stay
Detroit anchors the state of Michigan and should anchor your RV trip! The American car's birthplace (forever known as Motor City) is an energetic metropolis, filled with entertainment options to suit anyone’s interests. Located right on the edge of the Canadian-U.S. border, you can actually see our True North neighbors on the Detroit Riverwalk! Detroit is also filled with history, authentically Michigan neighborhoods, rich cuisine and abundant shopping and museums. The logical place to start is with a visit to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, the muse of Motor City. The exciting museum takes you well beyond auto production, allowing you to step into the famous bus ridden by Rosa Parks, or take flight in the Wright Brothers’ flight simulator. You can also check out more automotive heritage at the Automotive Hall of Fame, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant/Model T Automotive Heritage Complex and the Detroit Historical Museum. Affectionately known as Motown, Detroit offers the best of soul music. You can visit that legacy, brought to life at Hitsville USA or the Motown Museum. A great way to get an overview of downtown Detroit is on the People Mover—the automated railway—or a riverboat cruise on the Detroit Princess. Have kids in tow? The Detroit Zoo and the Legoland Discovery Center are family-friendly and so much fun. Explore Detroit's Eastern Market, the state's oldest farmer’s market with 150 years of history and plenty of goodies to browse in the open air. And, since Detroit loves its hockey, it's only right to hit a Red Wings game if you happen to find yourself there during the NHL season.
Where to Stay
Though Detroit is an urban area, there are plenty of RV campgrounds in the city's outskirts. Harbortown RV Resort is our top pick, with tons of fun activities and well-maintained amenities. Haas Lake Park RV Campground and Camp Dearborn are other popular picks with full hookups.
Ann Arbor has a new opportunity for fun around every corner: trust us when we say you won't be bored here. Visiting the home of the University of Michigan Wolverines is a must, offering plenty of sports, culture, food and entertainment. Check out an exciting college football game in the fall (the Big House can't be beat!), or a basketball game in the spring. Those with a flair for culture will find plenty of it in the city’s many museums. The University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History and Planetarium and the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum are all great options. Explore the vibrant Main Street and State Street areas for local restaurants, outdoor cafes, small boutiques, galleries and plenty of nightlife. The Huron River Water Trail is a fantastic 104-mile opportunity to get out and paddleboard or kayak. Trust us when we say you don't need to be a college student to have an incredible time in Ann Arbor!
Where to Stay
Ann Arbor and Detroit are only 35 miles apart, so you can easily set up camp in between and make your visits to both areas. A favorite pick closer to Ann Arbor is Detroit Greenfield RV Park with full hookups and plenty of space to spread out.
The Blue Water Area is Michigan's sparkling Thumbcoast (you know, the part that looks like the thumb). Some 140 miles of waterfront on Lake Huron and the St. Clair River make for an incredible coastal getaway. While the towns are intimately quiet, there is an incredible small-town charm, maritime history and outdoor adventure. Hitting the water first, you can cruise Bay City on BaySail's Appledore Tall Ships, or canoe or kayak on the Island Loop Route National Water Trail. Looking for some history? You can check out the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum or the International Gateway of Port Huron to watch the freights come into the Great Lakes Maritime Center. There are also six fascinating lighthouses to climb, tour and simply admire. If you're looking for land adventures, there are plenty of opportunities for hiking and biking at Albert E. Sleeper State Park and Port Crescent State Park—or cross the stunning Bridge to Bay Trail (the Blue Water Bridge is iconic!). After all this, you might be a bit hungry, so head to Caseville, where you can find some of the best burgers…and even a burger festival in August.
Where to Stay
Since the Blue Water Area is home to many different communities, we recommend checking out their website. You can explore various campgrounds and find the one best suited for you, whichever area you choose to set up your basecamp.
South of Saginaw Bay is the distinctly German village of Frankenmuth. The well-known tourist town was created to replicate a Bavarian village, owning its character and architecture to the immigrants who settled here in 1845. Start by learning about the town's history at the Historical Museum and then head to the Lager Mill Brewery Museum, where it's only right to honor the German heritage with a beer. At the Bavarian Inn, you can taste a famous chicken dinner. You can take it outdoors with the Bavarian Belle Riverboat or the Frankenmuth FunShips Tasting and Tours. But the most coveted stop of all, in any season, must be the world-famous Christmas Wonderland store. You'll be feeling festive no matter what season you're visiting in.
Where to Stay
In Frankenmuth, head to the Frankenmuth Jellystone Park, where you'll find plenty of family fun and amenities to enjoy right in town. Another great option is Pine Ridge RV Campground, just a little further south.
When you visit Holland, Michigan, you might feel like you're…well…really in Holland. The town embraces its Dutch heritage wholeheartedly and makes for a one-of-a-kind destination. You can visit the Dutch Village, where a five-story Dutch windmill stands tall as the only operating one of its kind in the nation. There's also a hand-painted carousel, a children's garden, and the Windmill Island Gardens. During the holiday season, the town is decked out in tributes to Dutch holiday traditions, complete with roaming carolers and a European-style, open-air Christmas market called Kerstmarkt. In the spring, you can visit the famous Tulip Time Festival. You can tiptoe through the millions of blooming tulips and experience festive parades, Dutch dancing and live music—all celebrating the season.
Holland State Park sits on Lake Michigan banks and features gorgeous beaches to soak up the sun. You can swim or participate in a number of watersports, or visit the large pier, known for its fishing and sunset watching opportunities. A favorite around the corner from the park is the Big Red Lighthouse, built in 1872 and featured in several Michigan photographs.
Where to Stay
Once in Grand Rapids, you'll find activities on every corner, from dining to fishing to music. The city is known for tapping into the trendier pulse of the music and food scene. Home to more than 80 craft breweries, Grand Rapids has been called Beer City USA, so visiting one will make for a fun afternoon filled with brews. You can even go on a hard cider tasting. If you're looking to head outdoors, you're never far from a state park or scenic view. You can even paddle your way down the Grand River Heritage Trail. You can stroll your way through the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, a great way to combine nature and art or visit the animals at the John Ball Zoo. History buffs can check out the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum or stroll the historic Heritage Hill.
Where to Stay
The Bazan Baldwin Campground is an ideal spot between Holland and Grand Rapids, perfect if you’re looking to visit both destinations. Other options with full hookups in the area are the Steamboat Park Campground, West Grand Rapids KOA, and Woodchip Campground.
Lansing stands as the second pillar of college towns in Michigan—the intense rivalry between the Wolverines in Ann Arbor and the Spartans is a testament to the two powerhouses. As the state's capital, there's even more to enjoy in Lansing than just college sports. Start by exploring downtown and checking out the Michigan State Capitol Building. Impression 5 Science Center, Michigan Historical Museum and the R.E. Old’s Transport Museum provide for fascinating tours. The Lansing River Trail is a gorgeous spot to stroll and take in the beautiful scenery, or just stop for a cup of coffee. Head over to campus at Michigan State University where you can stroll to the looming Beaumont Tower and explore the lush campus trails. Depending on the time of year, you can definitely take advantage of cheering on the Spartans.
Where to Stay
The family-owned and operated Cottonwood Campground is a clean and friendly place to stay in Lansing. It features lakeside sites, as well as 11 full hookup sites and 89 water and electric sites.