Located along the western half of the lower peninsula of Michigan, Kalkaska State Forest is part of the larger Pere Marquette State Forest and consists of a scattering of scenic pine woodlands set amid idyllic lake shores. Adjacent to, and at times encompassed by the larger Huron-Manistee National Forest, this quiet section along the shores of Lake Michigan boasts a wealth of recreation and camping opportunities.
For those wishing to stretch their legs, numerous trails meander through the forested glacial outwash plains, offering a day’s adventure from your RV. Nearby OHV trails provide a bit more adrenaline for those bringing along an ATV or off-highway motorcycle on a trailer. The lakes host boating adventures along scenic shores and entice anglers to cast a line. If you are seeking solitude amid a unique natural feature, the nearby historic sand dunes which are over 3,500 years old and rise to heights of 140 feet above dazzling Lake Michigan offer amazing views worth the climb up their sandy flanks.
Quiet campgrounds entice you to sit back by your campfire while listening for owls before heading to sleep in the comfort of your camper. Nearby quaint towns provide amble opportunity for supply runs or a day spent exploring something other than the pine forest hills of the state forest.
Located only 100 miles north of Grand Rapids and not far from Traverse City, Kalaska and Pere Marquette State Forest offer a quiet refuge from the busyness of Detroit located to the south. Numerous paved state roads traverse this pine filled State Forest, especially in the northern sections where the State Forest is broken into a multitude of small parcels. This makes visits to Kalkaska and Pere Marquette State Forest an easy drive in your camper. Most roadways wind through the forest, traversing a few hills that are the remains of glacial outwash as well as navigate through some curved section. However, all turns are well marked and as long as you stay within posted speed limits, your RV will handle the main thoroughfares well.
Some gravel forest roads bisect the paved sections and provide access to remote lakes and the campgrounds. These tend to be well-maintained, but may cross areas of soft sand or stony ground with potholes. Be cautious of sandy mud after wet weather and take rough sections at a slow place to avoid wear on your rig’s shocks or stored items. If venturing down some of the narrower roads, use caution and check ahead if traveling in a larger camper as turn around spots are difficult to find.
Trailheads and boat ramps offer parking as well as those available at the State Forest campgrounds. In addition, with the forest so interspersed with National Forest, as well as town and private land, parking is readily available in municipal parks, and nearby businesses.
Tucked on the shores of tiny and quite Pickerel Lake, Pikerel Lake State Forest Campground offers a rustic wilderness experience far at odds to the nearby towns of Trowbridge and Vanderbilt less than ten miles away. Access to the campground is off of the paved E Sturgeon Valley Road for a five-mile meandering dirt road to access the small campground, which is open from April to October.
Thirteen first-come, first-served sites are located on the lake shore next to a nearby gravel boat launch. Due to the road and tight turns in the campground, RV length is limited to 20 feet. This campground is considered primitive, offering a water pump, latrine style toilets, and sites with a natural surface and without any electrical, water, or sewage hookups.
A registration kiosk is located at the campground entrance. Be sure to pick up a fee envelope before heading into the campground to take your choice of the wooded spots to set up camp in your rig.
Located less than half a mile from paved Route 72, the Manistee River Bridge Campground is easy to access on its well-used gravel campground road. The close location to roadways and the nearby towns of Grayling, as well as the larger Traverse City, means this campground is also a bit busier than most you’ll find in a State Forest.
However, the location on the scenic Manistee River is worth taking the trip to pick up one of the 23 first-come, first-served campsites located on four loops. Shallow campsites and tight turns limit the trailer and rig length to 20 feet. Be sure to arrive with your water tanks topped up and holding tanks empty as this campground is considered primitive with no sewage, electric, or water hookups. However, facilities are located less than five miles away in Grayling.
Open April to October, there is a registration kiosk when you enter the campground. Pick up a fee envelope before checking for available sites, all of which are naturally surfaced and come with a fire ring and picnic table. Trash cans, water hand pumps, latrine style toilets, as well as a gravel boat launch are also available for campers.
With numerous lakes as well as the wide Manistee River, a multitude of opportunities await the avid boater. If you are seeking a quiet paddle, the Manistee River is perfect for a canoe trip and is easily accessible from the Manistee River Bridge campground. A gravel boat launch is available from Pickerel Lake State Forest Campground for launching motorized craft. Whether you just want to enjoy a swim or drop in a line for fishing, you’ll find the time on the water and away from your camper scenic and inviting.
Several trails criss-cross the Kalkaska and Pere Marquette State Forests, offering a chance to head out from your rig into the sandy hills of the pine shrouded state forest. With trails ranging from 11 miles to the 65 miles of the North Country Trail that traverses a section of the State Forest, there are multi-use routes available for anything from a short and intense ride to longer trips that might require an overnight kit. Rising over the sandy soils and terrain of the glacial outwash, trails range from easy to difficult as well as long and short.
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 the nearby Huron-Manistee National Forest with additional small trails within the Kalkaska State Forest. Six trails are suitable for ATVs and offer fun terrain over the sandy knolls 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 available. All OHVs need to be registered before use.
From easy interpretive walks to short day hikes to even multi-day treks, nearby Huron-Manistee National Forest offers numerous hikes for all skill levels. A section of the 4,600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail weaves through the Kalkaska State Forest, offering a link to history, as well as a path connected to seven states. Locally, easy footpaths are scattered throughout the pockets of this state forest and easily accessible from nearby towns, such as the Brown Bridge Quiet Area Trail and the Longer Fife Lake Loop. The sleepy Hollow Hiking trail located in Charlevoix offers 16 miles that wanders through picturesque woodlands with numerous views of Lake Ovid and is a great choice as well.
Snow covered pines offer a chance to explore the Kalkaska State Forest on snowmobile. Connecting with trails located in the nearby Huron-Manistee National Forest, there are over 300 miles of cross-country ski trails to discover in quiet winter splendor. The North Country National Scenic trail is a well-loved route, but numerous quieter spots might mean you need to break trail but assure you will find solitude as well as some exercise amid the winter woodlands.
For a bit of winter excitement, head out on your snowmobile to tour frozen lakes and weave through the hills of the snow covered State Forest. Many of the OHV routes are accessible to snowmobiles once the snow flies, ensuring you have numerous options to explore. 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.