Located amid the scenic AuSable State Forest of Northern Michigan, the Rifle River Recreation Area is a nature lover’s retreat. The park has seven miles of trout streams, three ponds, and seven lakes for you to enjoy some water fun. You’ll find some of the best fishing in the state as well as excellent kayaking, swimming, and wildlife watching. The park also has 14 miles of trails for you to explore on foot, mountain bike, or horseback. The trails are packed with a wide variety of bird and mammal species to see as well. Visitors to the park in the winter will find plenty to keep them happy. The park’s extensive trail network turns into a cross-country course, and you can also bring a snowmobile to explore the park. Hunting is popular here, too, with over 4,100 acres for your hunting grounds. With four main campgrounds and over 100 sites to choose from, RV campers will have plenty of options to choose from for their rig. And all of the sites are well within walking distance of the park’s main areas. No matter what time of year you visit the Rifle River Recreation Area, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy.
Located in northern Michigan, the Rifle River Recreation Area can be reached by car or RV from Michigan’s major cities, as well as from other cities in the region, such as Chicago. If you are driving from Detroit, take I-75 north from the city, and you will get to the park in around two and a half hours. From Chicago, take US-131 north, and you will reach the park in a little over five hours.
The roads are well-cared for and easy to maneuver, but in a large motorhome or pulling a trailer, you should always be careful. Some of the curves on the roads can be challenging, especially on the downhill slope. However, as long as you take things slow and easy, you should have no trouble. It is best to drive slowly anyway so you can enjoy the beautiful scenery. The AuSable River Scenic Byway is about 20 miles east of the park, and there are many points of interest, such as Largo Springs and Lumbermen's Monument Visitor Center.
The Devoe Lake Rustic Campground at Rifle River Recreation Area has 57 campsites with picnic tables and campfire rings. Many of these sites are shaded, level, and can accommodate RVs and trailers up to 50 feet in length. Although you will be more than 200 feet away from the nearest restrooms with running water and showers, there are six pit toilets around the campground for use. There are three potable water spigots to get drinking water from, as well.
Being right on the beach of the park’s largest lake makes this campground the most popular, so you need to reserve your spot well in advance, especially if you plan on camping on a holiday or weekend. Swimming, fishing, and paddling are all welcome here, and there is a playground for the kids right by the beach. Dogs and cats are welcome as long as you supervise them and keep them on a leash.
The Ranch Rustic Campground has 25 huge campsites with plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the area. In fact, you should have enough room for a game of frisbee here. In addition, each site has a campfire ring with a grill for cooking, a picnic table, and room to sit around the campfire. The showers and modern restrooms are further away, but there are two pit toilets available and a water spigot for potable water between sites 150 and 152. These sites have plenty of sun, and some are right on the river, making it easy to head down for a swim or to go fishing. You can also find a playground for the kids to enjoy and horseshoe pits for the adults. This play area is on the western side of the campground across from sites 144 and 146. If you bring your pet, make sure they are restrained and accompanied at all times. Reservations are required and can be made up to six months in advance.
The Spruce Campground is the smallest campground with only 16 campsites, but the sites here are extra-large. Nestled amid a mature and majestic spruce grove, many of these sites are shaded, and all of them are spread out for plenty of privacy and seclusion. Each site has a picnic table, a campfire ring with a grill, and a large clearing to hang out around the fire.
There is also plenty of space to set up a badminton or volleyball net so you can play a game with the kids. The campground has a pit toilet and a water spigot for drinking water. This camping area is just a short walk from the river, and you can spend the day on your own piece of riverfront when you get tired of the crowds at the Devoe Lake beach. Go ahead and bring your pets with you, but make sure you supervise them and keep them restrained at all times.
Grousehaven Lake Campground has 80 sites with electric hookups for your RV or trailer. Also, each of the sites has a picnic table and fire pit, and there are potable water spigots, restrooms with running water, and hot showers. Pets are welcome as long as you keep them restrained and supervise them during your stay. The camp store is available for any of your needs, such as snacks, ice, drinks, and firewood.
Camping is open from April through November. Since many of the sites are pull-through, there is plenty of room for your rig. All of the sites can be booked online and must be reserved at least a day before you plan on arriving.
Those who want a more exciting way around the park during the winter can bring a snowmobile with their RV and explore the wintry forests at high speed. There are 14 miles of trails for you to cover within the park. And you can still find plenty of bird species during the winter if you are interested in the park’s wildlife. Should you want to extend your ride, you’ll be able to connect to trails that lead outside of the park and allow you to explore the forests in the surrounding areas. Do take extra caution, as trails are shared with hikers and skiers.
If you plan on visiting during the winter, you should pack a set of skis in your rig because the park’s 14 miles of hiking trails turn into a scenic cross-country skiing course once the snow begins to fall. Rifle River Recreation Area is still packed with birds and mammals during the winter, so there’s plenty of wildlife to see. And the trails are groomed, so you can focus on skiing and not on wading through snow. The park doesn’t offer equipment rentals, so you’ll need to make sure to bring your own ski gear with you.
Rifle River Recreation Area was a private hunting retreat before it became a public recreation area. The wooded streams and thick forests make for challenging hunts, and there’s a wide range of species populating the park. With a variety of streams and lakes, the duck hunting is excellent in the park, as is the grouse and woodcock hunting. Do make sure to follow all state hunting regulations, as laws are strictly enforced. And the park is popular with hikers, so take extra caution.
Michigan is a popular birdwatching state, with hundreds of species making their way through the state throughout the year. Rifle River Recreation Area is a great place to catch a glimpse of some of the state’s most notable bird species. There are over 100 species of birds that visit the park every year. You’ll be able to see species such as American goldfinch, red-tailed hawk, great gray owl, pileated woodpecker, and dozens more. Birdwatching tends to be best in spring when the birds are migrating. But you’ll still find many species in the park year-round. Take advantage of the local birdwatching societies, many of which produce incredibly detailed field guides with information on all the birds in the area.
You’ll find a nice variety of trails that give you a taste of all of the local plants and wildlife. The main trail is the 14-mile Rifle River Multiuse Trail, which starts at Grousehaven Lake near the campground and runs along the lake, winding between it and Lodge Lake. Then it takes you down the Ridge Road around Devoe Lake, meandering along Skunk Creek to Lost Lake before bringing you over to Rifle River. You will cross the swinging bridge and go up the other side of the river, past the other campgrounds, and end up at the beach on Devoe Lake. The hiking is excellent just about any time of year, but best from April through September.
Before it was a state park, the Rifle River Recreation Area was a private fishing and hunting retreat. RV campers will find a wide variety of fish species populating the park’s lakes. The trout are abundant from April through early June, and they are mostly found in the creeks and river. You’ll also find other species such as walleye, bluegill, and perch. There are multiple small lakes for you to fish on, as well. Each fishing location has its own boat ramp, making getting out onto the water a breeze. No motorized boats are allowed on any of the lakes, and you’ll need to make sure you have a Michigan state fishing license. Fortunately, visitors can purchase a permit at the park office.