Stretching from the shores of Lake Michigan to those of Lake Huron, the Huron-Manistee National Forest is actually two large forests split by towns and private property. Holding over 978,000 acres of woodlands combined, these two large tracts of forest offer hundreds of miles of hiking trails, scenic lakes, and the two spectacular shore fronts on both great lakes.
The Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness area located in the larger Manistee portion of the National Forest is unique not only to Michigan but also one of the few wilderness areas in the United States containing a natural and large dune system. Some of the dunes are over 4,000 years old and tower 140-feet above the shores of Lake Michigan.
In the forests, jack pine dominates the sandy soil created from glacial outwash. A fern understory creates a picturesque open forest that boasts a multitude of wildlife from bear to numerous dear as well as grouse, porcupine, and squirrels. Rolling hills drop to lakes and marshes, creating a stunning landscape and numerous recreational opportunities, no matter if you are heading inland or to the shores of the great lakes.
With 34 potential campgrounds to access with your RV, you are sure to find a quiet spot for you and your camper whether you are seeking quiet woodlands or nearby beaches. This guide will provide details on featured camping spots to head.
Broken by multiple towns as well as private land, the two large sections of the Huron-Manistee National Forest offer easy access to most areas of the forest in your RV.
Just 50 miles north of Grand Rapids, the Manistee section of the National Forest is the larger of the two tracts and contains more recreational opportunities. Paved roads run the length of this section from north to south and east to west. Numerous well-maintained gravel, forest roads bisect the major roadways and often provide access to the campgrounds. Expect some hills, curves, and potholes on the gravel roads as well as some softer sand spots, but in general they are easily navigable for your campervan.
On the eastern side of the peninsula, the Huron section of the National Forest is located 100 miles north of Saginaw. This slightly smaller subset of the forest is bisected by several paved, state routes. Gravel forest roads journey off of these main roads and provide access to various parts of the forest, including several campgrounds. They are well-maintained but do have sandy spots as well as potholes and rough bumps. Be cautious when venturing off-pavement in a larger rig as turn-around spots can be hard to find.
With State Route 23 running along the shore of Lake Huron, the Huron section of the National Forest offers the easiest access to a great lake. Don’t let the size of the Manistee National Forest section turn you away, though. This large and scenic forest boasts lovely lakes and forested stops that you can access no matter the size of your camper as long as you take it slow.
Four loops offer 99 paved campsites in the Lake Michigan Recreation Area. There are no electric, sewage, or water hook-ups at the campground and no dump station. You'll find bathhouses with flush toilets and sinks, and a few latrines. No showers are available on site. Trash and water spigots are located within each campground loop.
The campsites are fairly large with paved pads and come with picnic tables and fire rings. They are open from May to October, and a 50-foot limit for RVs or trailers is posted. A few of the sites are significantly shorter than that, so it is best to call ahead before reserving a site. All sites are back-in.
The beach is a short walk from the campground, and there is a day use area with a fee that is just past the last campground loop. Access to the campground is from a paved forest road and is suitable for most campervans.
Sand Lake Campground offers the only public boat access on scenic Sand Lake as well as a wide beach from which to enjoy the shores of this shallow lake. The campground holds 43 reservable sites located beyond a gatehouse where you check-in. All sites are paved and have a 50-foot limit. Set amid the pine forest, the widely spaced and roomy campsites also come with fire rings and picnic tables.
This campground is considered primitive as it does not have electric, sewage, or water hookups, though water spigots are available in the campground as are trash stations. Bathhouses with flush toilets, sinks, and pay showers are located within the campground and in good shape, though well used.
The campground is open from mid-May to mid-September and is easily navigable on paved roads wide enough to accommodate a larger camper. All sites are back-in and if you are nervous about your rig length, it is best to call ahead.
Open May to September, Kneff Lake Campground sits on the shores of the deep waters of Kneff lake. Though the beach might tempt you to jump into the cool water for a swim, it is anglers who often flock to this lake with its stocked trout. Known for its fishing, you’ll quickly find this shady forest and cold lake a wonderful secluded spot for the summer.
Kneff Lake has 27 first-come, first-served campsites with a 25-foot length limit, so this one is best to visit with a smaller campervan. There are no electric, sewage, or water hookups, but a water spigot is available in the campground. The only toilets are latrine style without any showers on site.
Access to Kneff Lake is down several miles of dirt roads. Road surfaces can vary from soft sand to hard earth with potholes. Caution is recommended while navigating these roadways to this quiet campground. There is a boat launch on the lake next to the campground, but no motorized access is allowed, so bring your paddles for this quiet spot.
With numerous lakes as well as the wide Manistee River, numerous opportunities await the avid boater, whether you prefer a motorboat or a quiet paddle. Gravel boat launches are available from numerous campgrounds for launching motorized craft. If you prefer quieter waters, there are five designated and two candidate Wild and Scenic Rivers with the Huron-Manistee National Forest which do not allow motors. If you want a bit of white-water action, check out the Pine River which has the fastest waterflow in all of Michigan.
Over 200 miles of mountain biking trails run through the Huron-Manistee National Forest. Rising over the sandy soils and terrain of the glacial outwash, trails can range from easy to difficult as well as long and short. Over 125 miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail run through the Manistee section with an additional 15 miles of spur trails leading to interpretive sites and campgrounds. The shorter Eagle Run and Hungerford trails are also accessible from campgrounds.
If you want to head out with your horse, almost 200 miles of designated horse trails weave through the pine forest. Three major trails offer a variety of riding locations. On the Shore-to-Shore trail, you can cross the peninsula from Lake Michigan to Huron on an 85-mile trek. If you are looking for something less arduous, check out the Hungerford and Marzinksi Trails, which make easy and shorter loops from the campground and include numerous well-marked, flat trails for gentle rides.
Whether you want to take your ATV or prefer to tackle single-tracks with your off-highway motorcycle, you can find not just one but eleven trail options for OHVs in Huron-Manistee National Forest. Six trails are suitable for ATVs and offer fun terrain over the sandy hills of the pine forest. If you want to ride your dirt bike, there are five options specially classified for single track vehicles. There are also two ORV campgrounds to head to so you won’t have to trailer your vehicle to the trails as OHVs are not permitted on forest roads. All OHVs need to be registered before use.
Enjoy the quiet of the snow-covered pines of Huron-Manistee National Forest and head out on over 300 miles of cross-country ski trails. If you don’t mind breaking your own trail, or hoping someone ahead of you already did, there are ten trails ranging from just over half a mile to the 128 miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail for you to explore. If you want to take it easier on a groomed path, eight options ranging from eight miles to almost 40 will whisk you off into the magic of the winter forest.
From easy interpretive walks to short day hikes to multi-day treks, Huron-Manistee National Forest offers numerous hikes for all skill levels. Several campgrounds have easy, interpretive trails looping through the woods and shores including the Forest Discovery Trail and the Ruffled Grouse Walk. The North Country National Scenic Trail allows hiking for the 128 miles that venture through the National Forest. The Arrow Trail ventures along Lake Michigan from the Michigan Recreation Area and into the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness to traverse from the idyllic pine forests to the rolling and tall historic dunes on the shore.