5 Tips (and the Best Spots) for Winter Camping in Michigan

By Jessica Lee

January 5, 2023

MICHIGAN—Casual campers may shudder at the idea of camping during the winter months, especially with the amount of snow that falls every year in Michigan. But for the braver outdoor enthusiasts, snowy season in the Mitten presents a truly unmatched camping experience. It just takes a bit more preparation.  

Ready to pack up your sleeping bag? We have some advice before you hit the road.

Dress in multiple layers. 

(Courtesy/Simon Berger via Unsplash)

It’s easy to get the biggest, bulkiest, warmest parka to stay warm from the winter weather. But it’s underneath the parka that really matters. If you get too warm, you’ll get sweaty. If you get too sweaty, you’ll be sopping wet. And being wet in the winter months means you’ll get cold—dangerously cold. 

Avoid the sweaty mess by dressing in fabrics that wick away moisture. Cotton often traps moisture, so it’s usually best to start out with another type of snug-fitting base layer, such as polypropylene long johns. Insulate with another layer of fleece or wool, and then add an outer layer to block the snow and wind.

Always keep your feet warm and dry. 

Wet clothing will drastically lower your body temperature. And since your feet will be trudging through plenty of snow and slush, it’s paramount to keep them toasty warm during your trip. Bring several pairs of socks, and be sure to find some quality waterproof boots. Snowshoes will help with heavier snowfall.

Pack the right sleeping gear. 

(Courtesy/Nathan Karsgaard via Unsplash)

Sundown can be the riskiest part of winter camping if you’re unprepared—because you’ll definitely need more than a campfire to stay warm. Find a sleeping bag that’s specifically rated for freezing temperatures, or pick up an extra liner to convert your summer gear for the cold weather. Air mattresses, cots and hammocks can help keep you warm by putting some space between your body and the frozen ground. 

Pro Tip: Put your clothing and battery-operated items inside your sleeping bag at night. It’ll help protect electronics from the cold, and it’ll make changing clothes in the morning so much more comfortable.

Find the right campsite. 

Location is everything when it comes to winter camping. Avoid the bottom of hills because cold-air troughs that form there can make them extra chilly. Bluffs and hilltops should also be avoided because of the wind exposure. Instead, opt for a flat campsite—ideally near a group of trees to protect from the wind.

Stomp around on the ground to compress the snow beneath your tent. And always pitch your tent so the door is perpendicular to the wind flow. It’ll help stop flurries and cold air from blowing straight inside.

First-time winter campers should consider staying at a state park, where Michigan Department of Natural Resources officers are always around to help those who might run into trouble during their snowy stay. Reservations are available online. Travelers can expect to pay $20-30 per night, depending on the park. 

The DNR recommends: 

  • Algonac State Park 
  • Bay City State Recreation Area
  • Brighton Recreation Area
  • Fort Custer Recreation Area
  • Ludington State Park
  • Muskegon State Park
  • Tahquamenon Falls State Park
  • Tippy Dam and Waterloo State Parks

Skip the tent altogether. 

(Courtesy/David Kenyon via Michigan DNR)

Still not keen on the idea of sleeping in a tent during the winter? You still don’t have to miss out on winter camping thanks to a selection of rental cabins and yurts across Michigan’s state parks and recreation areas. They’re sturdy, warm and great for those who want to get close to nature—just not too close.  


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