While we all love exploring our beautiful state parks throughout summer, the crispness and color of fall makes for an amazing time to stay at one of Michigan’s 103 state forest campgrounds (a total of 13,496 park campsites!). And, if you happen to want internet connection so you can work and play during your travels, a growing number of state parks offer WiFi. (We all love — and need — to unplug, but sometimes a little connectivity is nice, right?)
Whether you’re looking to pitch a tent or use your pop-up camper, or you prefer staying in a yurt, cabin, even a teepee, our state park campgrounds have plenty of options for an outdoor autumn adventure. A couple of years ago, Joe and I decided to visit a few of our favorite U.P. camping spots in October and even extended our trip beyond a long weekend into mid-week because we’d found a park with WiFi — this allowed for some remote work during our travels.
Read on to learn about our fall camping trip. I also share four tips and some insight for making the most of your traveling-while-working adventures at northern Michigan state parks.
Our fall camping trip to the U.P.
It’s late—11 p.m. late—and we’re those campers. The ones pitching their tent after quiet hours, when most everyone else has tucked in for the night save for the few still huddling around their crackling fires. We move as quickly and noiselessly as we can, so as not to disrupt our sleeping neighbors, though we’re tired from the end-of-work-day three-hour drive north and, yes, a tad testy with each other because, well, we’re tired … and assembling our tent in near darkness. Why didn’t we leave earlier in the day, I wonder to myself—not for the first time.
Still, we get it done, close the zipper, snuggle in—it’s downright cold on this mid-October night—and remind ourselves how great it is to be away, just the two of us, and during the workweek no less. This several-day getaway to the Yoop is part-21-year-anniversary escape and part-remote-work excursion. A silver lining of these interesting times: The ability to work literally anywhere. Or as my friend Maia Turek, resource development specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, describes it, “working from ‘here’”—wherever ‘here’ may be for each of us. From our home, from our car, even from a campsite.
As we planned this autumn trek to the Upper Peninsula, it’s Maia who tells me that midweek camping at state parks across Michigan is on the rise—maybe not a big surprise, given the pandemic and our increased interest in getting outdoors to stay healthy (and sane), but we’re talking a BIG uptick: 52% in 2020 compared to 2019, she says. It’s part of a trend the DNR and Michigan travel leaders expect to see continue (and grow) with more of us working remotely and our kids learning virtually.
Camping and exploring our great state provide learning opportunities, for school-age kids and really for all of us. We see new-to-us places, all the nooks and crannies of Michigan that we’ve been thinking about checking out, someday.
And when staying at our beautiful state parks, some of which provide WiFi and cool amenities like kayak and camping gear rentals, combining work and play becomes a pretty awesome experience. During our four days of state park exploring—we started at Tahquamenon Falls State Park near Paradise and ended in Baraga State Park at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula—we visited a few of our fave spots and discovered new gems.
1. Find Your Midwest State Park
A simple way to secure your midweek camping spot, given the increased numbers of people visiting state parks, is to check the handy DNR campground maps showing availability. This is a newer tool from the DNR and helps locate available sites on shorter notice. Check out the Northern Michigan map here. Follow the DNR’s Facebook page and sign up to receive a weekly newsletter with updates at the DNR’s website.
WiFi is available at these Upper Peninsula state parks:
- Baraga State Park in Baraga: Overlooks scenic Keweenaw Bay on the Lake Superior shoreline.
- Fayette Historic State Park: Set in the historic town of Fayette, the state park is on Big Bay de Noc of Lake Michigan, on the southern side of the Upper Peninsula.
- Fort Wilkins Historic State Park in Copper Harbor: This park, nestled one mile from Copper Harbor, houses both an 1844 military outpost with costumed interpreters for reenactments and one of the first Lake Superior lighthouses.
- Muskallonge Lake State Park in Newberry: Situated between the shores of Lake Superior and Muskallonge Lake, this region is filled with lakes, streams and stunning forests.
- Van Riper State Park in Champion: This park has 1.5 miles of waterfront along Lake Michigamme and 1.5 miles of frontage along the Peshekee River.
- Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Ontonagon: Experience one of the few last big swaths of wilderness in the Midwest. Waterfalls, sweeping vistas and beautiful trails all offer the perfect break in your workday.
2. Consider Your Lodging Options
While we decided this trip would be tent-camping all the way, we’ve stayed in cabins and campers during past state park vacations. Lodging options keep expanding at state parks, so if pitching a tent, especially during the colder months, isn’t your thing, no problem. There are many overnight options available in state parks and recreation areas, from cabins, yurts and safari-style tents, to lodges, cottages and pop-up campers—some with many of the amenities of home. Even tepees are available. Check out a list of lodging and locations. And on Mackinac Island, at least two hotels—Mission Point Resort and the Grand Hotel—started offering field trip/family outing getaways that involve educational lessons connected to the state parks.
3. Ask Some Questions Ahead of Time
Maia with the DNR suggests calling your desired destination ahead of time to confirm that WiFi is available. You may also want to inquire about the best spots for accessing the WiFi, too, and how great the cell reception is in that area.
4. Mix It Up and Soak Up the Sights—All of ‘em
You can also, of course, find your I’m-off-the-grid bliss in non-WiFi parks, too. Maybe mix it up, like we did. We had zero cell service at Tahquamenon Falls State Park; we knew that ahead of time and enjoyed our time spent “out of range.” But when we headed to Baraga State Park we did so knowing there would be WiFi and we’d be able to connect and work. The common thread? Gorgeous places to explore.
I can’t count how many times we’d driven by Baraga State Park before we stopped and stayed for a few nights this time around. I’m so glad we did. Located across from Lake Superior along a stretch of M-41 about a half-hour south of Houghton, it not only had WiFi, but it also was not far from Michigan Tech, where our daughter Emma was in her final year. The park’s proximity to the highway meant we had some louder traffic sounds during the night, but the brilliant fall colors, a delicious hot breakfast at the Hilltop Restaurant in L’Anse (home to the famous one-pound cinnamon roll) and the peaceful trail winding through the woods at the back edge of the campground were even more memorable.
Emma also suggested we explore nearby Canyon Falls, another treasure I couldn’t believe we hadn’t spent time at as a family before. What appears to be just another roadside park along the highway between Marquette and Houghton is actually so much more. A rugged yet any-level-hiker-friendly trail from this park along the picturesque Sturgeon River leads to the stunning Canyon Falls and Gorge.
Taking our time exploring the trails—blue blazes along the way indicated we were on the North Country Trail—and climbing down twisty, root-filled paths and over slab rocks to views of the rushing falls and gorge, the “Grand Canyon of the U.P.,” was the perfect way to spend an afternoon not far from our campsite.
This trip, even with work time woven in, felt like a true Northern Michigan vacation—one of those escapes you look forward to and which you realize along the way was even more needed than you’d initially thought. Maybe it was the culmination of home-office fatigue and the ongoing uncertainty we all were experiencing at the time of our trip in fall 2020 and as the pandemic carried on. Or maybe it was just the magic that is time spent outside, breathing in the fresh air, experiencing new places and believing that all is going to be just fine.
Have you camped in the fall at one of our Michigan state parks? Do you have a favorite state park for autumn exploring? Tell us about your adventure!