Covering a diversity of ecosystems and terrain, Au Sable State Forest in Michigan offers two National Natural Landmarks, as well as beautiful pine forests that stretch to the sandy shores of Lake Huron. This State Forest is broken by private and town lands across most of the north-central lower peninsula, which makes navigating its patchwork of forests easy on paved roadways between the different sections.
Higgins Lake, Lake St. Helens, and Houghton Lake all have shoreland that is adjacent to the forest and invite RV campers to their scenic waters. Fishermen and paddlers enjoy the waterways of the forest, while birders try to spot the endangered Kirkland’s Warbler, whose rare habitat is protected with this State Forest.
A history of over logging led portions of this forest to be sold for subsistence farming, which was often reclaimed by the state for unpaid taxes. This led to a mish mash of land holdings that spread across the peninsula, creating pockets that have been dedicated to protection unique features such as the Dead Stream Swamp, which is a large northern white cedar fresh water swamp. You'll also find areas of wildlife management and protections, such as the Mason Tract, which is directed to protect fishing waters of the south branch of the Au Sable River. All sorts of outdoor recreation, from hiking to cross-country skiing, await you during your RV trip to the beautiful forests of Michigan.
Spread across the peninsula as small pockets of forests with a few large tracts, traveling through the Au Sable State Forest is easily accomplished on state maintained roads. The paved roads traverse hilly uplands interspersed with lowlands containing lakes, rivers, and freshwater cedar swamps. Five towns are interspersed within the forest, so you’ll find the main roads are well maintained and shouldn’t cause any problems for you and your trailer.
A few gravel roads lead deeper into the forest, especially in the large southern Roscommon State Forest area. These meandering dirt roads contain pockets of soft sand that can be difficult to traverse in your camper when conditions are wet. Watch for potholes and deep puddles as well. It is best to take the dirt roads slow in your rig and watch for overhanging branches. In longer rigs, check ahead for road conditions as turn around spots are few.
It doesn’t get much better than at the Sault Ste Marie KOA. This 74-acre landscaped resort is nestled among tall shade trees and features big rig sites with pull-throughs and back-ins. Though conveniently located just a quarter of a mile from the Trans-Canada highway, the Sault Ste Marie KOA still feels like a beautiful rural environment. The campground features miniature golf, rental bikes, a seasonal pool, and nature trails. Kamp K-9 is a great place for your furry friends and even features a self-serve dog grooming area. Dog walking services are also available. Cable TV is included in your stay, and the campground provides access to Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, an RV wash station, and a camping kitchen on-site.
Located on the main branch of the Au Sable River, the Au Sable State Forest Campground and Canoe Camp offers water access as well as quiet, naturally-surfaced spots for your smaller RV and trailer.
There are 15 first-come, first-served campsites suitable with a few additional located by the water for those who are arriving by boat instead of camper. This campground is considered primitive and does not offer any water, electric, or sewer hookups. Come with your water tanks full and holding tank empty to avoid a long trip with your RV to dump facilities.
Latrine style toilets are available as well as a water spigot and trash cans. Each of the widely spaced sites situated in the pine forest contains a fire ring and picnic table. A registration kiosk with a fee envelope is located at the entrance.
The access road to the campground is dirt and is known to have a few potholes so take the drive to this quiet camping spot slowly in your rig, especially if bringing along a canoe trailer.
Located in the Mason Tract of Au Sable State Forest and along the idyllic southern branch of the Au Sable River, Canoe Harbor State Forest Campground is the only designated state campground in this section of the forest.
The river is known for its fishing as well as its canoeing, so be sure to bring your boat and a rod. Located just over two miles south from paved route 72, the short gravel access road is in fairly good condition but should be taken with caution especially after wet weather.
The campground features two loops containing 41 first-come, first-served sites with additional canoe-in sites by the river. A registration kiosk is available at the campground entrance. Pick up a fee envelope before heading along the campground road to check out available sites.
There are no sewer, water, or electric hook-ups at this campground, so it is best to arrive with your holding tanks empty and water topped off. A water spigot is available in the campground as well as latrine style toilets and trash.
The sites are widely spaced but fairly shallow so a smaller campervan or trailer is best for this campground. All sites contain fire rings and picnic tables. A short walk will take you to the shores of the river and for longer hikes, check out the Mason Tract Pathway that wanders along the river.
With access to three lakes, Au Sable State Forest will bring out the boater in you. If you have your motorboat on a trailer behind your rig, head to Higgins Lake, Lake St. Helens, and Houghton Lake to drop your boat in the water. Higgins Lake is especially known for its deep clear waters. If you are seeking a quiet paddle, the south branch of the Au Sable River winds through the forest and is loved for its idyllic canoeing.
From fly fishing to ice fishing, there are recreational opportunities for the avid angler throughout Au Sable State Forest. The three lakes boast species such as bass, walleye, pickerel, and perch. Higgins Lake with its pristine and deep waters is renowned among fishermen. Meanwhile, the Mason track along the south branch of the Au Sable River was designated to protect the quality fishing of the area. Dip your line into this beautiful river for trout and other cold stream species.
The variety of habitats spread throughout Au Sable State Forest offer opportunities to view numerous bird species. The endangered Kirkland’s Warbler nests within the forest. Ask local rangers for recent sightings for your best chance to spot this rare species. Visit the National Natural Landmark of Dead Stream Swamp to visit a unique freshwater cedar swamp for a chance to spot waterfowl as well as unusual species.
There are a variety of hiking opportunities within Au Sable State Forest, so leave your campervan behind to stretch your legs. Easy routes such as the 3.3-mile Ogemaw Hills North Loop will get you into the pine forest for a chance to spot wildlife. If you want a chance to enjoy views of the scenic south branch of the Au Sable River, head out on the nearly ten-mile Mason Tract Pathway and enjoy the sounds of the stream and forest.
A variety of trails are open to snowmobiles in Au Sable State Forest once the snow flies. Many of the former logging roads are still maintained for winter use, so head out and enjoy the beauty of the snow capped pines. Snowmobile trails marked with orange signs traverse the hills of the forest over logging roads and some sections may be plowed due to logging activities. If you come to a plowed section, slow down and look for machinery. Make sure your snowmobile is registered before heading out.
Once the snow falls, many of the hiking trails are open to cross-country skiing. In most cases, trails are not groomed so be prepared to break a trail after fresh snowfall. The flatter Mason Tract Pathway along the south branch of the Au Sable River is a popular cross-country ski route for its views of the ice crusted river and scenic snow topped pines. This isn’t a loop trail though, so have a vehicle at both ends to avoid an additional ten miles to your route.