Camping the Lake Michigan Shoreline in Winter [SPECTACULAR]

 Camping the Lake Michigan Shoreline in Winter [SPECTACULAR]

One of the best ways to enjoy the RV and truly get alone with nature is by camping the Lake Michigan Shoreline in winter.

The long and beautiful coast of Lake Michigan along the Wolverine State is home to well over 100 campgrounds and state forest campsites. But most are seasonal and shut down tight from October-May.

In the winter, only a few campgrounds along the big lake are open.

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On our way on the snowy roads as we head up north Camping the Lake Michigan Shoreline in Winter

We just returned from a fabulous four days spent camping at two awesome campgrounds located on Lake Michigan – the Ludington State Park near the middle part of the Michigan lower peninsula “Mitten,” and the Platte River Campground in Northwestern Michigan right near the Sleeping Bear Dines National Lakeshore.

Here's a video that we did on this adventure on our RVLifestyle Channel on YouTube:

This is the winter camping trip you saw us preparing some make-ahead camping meals for in a previous video. Because our RV is winterized – the water lines and tanks have all been drained and RV antifreeze is in the plumbing system – we didn't have onboard running water for washing dishes.

So making meals ahead of time not only made less of a mess when it came time to clean up, it gave us extra time to hike and play in the snow.

CLICK HERE to see our video on Easy Make-Ahead Camping Meals

Needless to say, that creamy broccoli cheddar soup, the Tuscan Chicken, and the Homemade Meatballs in a garlic tomato sauce that we prepared ahead of time were much appreciated on this trip!

But we want to tell you about these two awesome parks we visited.

Camping the Lake Michigan Shoreline in Winter at Ludington State Park

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We were the only campers in the entire Ludington State Park!

The Ludington State Park is one of the most popular state parks in the midwest. In fact, we have found it almost impossible to get into during the warm weather months. 

And no wonder. It is a huge park, comprised of 5,300 acres of scenic sand dunes, sandy beaches, the iconic Big Sable Point Lighthouse, wetlands, marshlands, and forests. It is situated between two lakes  – Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan – with several miles of beautiful shoreline along both lakes.

The Big Sable River runs through the park and provides excellent warm-weather opportunities for fishing, paddling, and tubing. The park has more than 21 miles of marked hiking trails through dunes, forests, and wetlands.

And there's a four-mile-long canoe trail through the 5,000 acres Hamlin Lake.

With so many awesome attractions, you can imagine how popular this is with RVers and campers. In fact, Ludington State Park has three different campground loops, most with electricity. It has 360 sites and they are booked up pretty much every night during the season.

No crowds when camping the Lake Michigan Shoreline in winter!

But when we were there in mid-February, we were the only campers in the whole park.

We suppose the fact that the nighttime temperature dropped to 9 degrees above zero and there was a foot of snow on the ground had something to do with that.

But we are not complaining.

We had this awesome place just to ourselves.

Bo loved it. There are over 20 miles of hiking trails at Ludington State Park.

We hiked to the cold shoreline (Lake Michigan hadn't frozen over, though Hamlin Lake had).

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Our view from the Skyline Trail of the sand dunes in winter at the Ludington State Park

We walked along the snow-covered banks of Big Sauble River (it flows too fast to freeze) and we climbed the wooden steps up to the top of the sand dunes to walk the wooden planked Skyline Loop Trail, which offers tree-top high views of the dunes and the distant Lake Michigan.

In our two days there, the only other humans we saw were a nature photographer along the river and a ranger passing us in his pickup on the park road.

The modern bathhouses and restrooms and shower buildings for Ludington State Park were all closed for the winter. Electricity was available at our site.

And for those who have not read our other blog stories or watched our other videos on winter camping, let me say that, yes, we are able to use our RV toilet, despite the fact that the plumbing system has been winterized. You can use the toilet in your RV as normal, except that instead of flushing with running water, you flush by pouring an amount of RV antifreeze equal to what you put in the toilet.

Our RV furnace, run on propane, kept us toasty warm at night.

Camping the Lake Michigan Shoreline in winter – Platte River State Forest

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The Platte River Campground is next to the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan

From Ludington to the Platte River Campground took us about an hour and a half, heading straight north on US-31. The road was partially snow-covered but an easy drive. especially with our all-wheel drive RV.

The Platte River Campground is even more popular than Ludington, no doubt because it is located right next to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore and that it only has about 100 RV sites with electricity.

This campground is run by the National Parks Service and is also open year-round.

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This is our spot at the Platte River Campground

But, unlike Ludington, the modern restroom buildings and showers are open and heated. There is even a camp sink where you can wash your dishes in a heated room between the showers.

We were not the only campers here. 

Down the road a bit was a big tent, where three guys were spending a weekend cross country skiing.

On our second night, a young woman came and set up a tent. She, too, was a cross country skier, and best as we could tell, she was all alone.

And our friends Rick and Lea Ann, who we know from our annual Tahquamenon Falls winter campout in the Upper Peninsula each January, were also there.

But again, we were mostly alone.

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You can hike to the Lake Michigan Shoreline from the Platte River Campground. It's not quite a mile. Bo loved it!

We hiked all over the campground and broke deep 12-inch snow along a trail that led to the Lake Michigan Shoreline, about a mile overland from the campground.

Both of us forgot our snowshoes and worked up quite an appetite trudging through the heavy snow, more of which was falling most of the time we were there.

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This massive sand dune on the lakeshore is 460 feet high

We also did some exploring with the RV, heading about five miles north of Empire on highway M-109 to the  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the 460-foot-high Dune Climb, which is used in the winter for sledding. We took Bo for a walk along the Heritage Trail, being careful not to ruin the snow for cross country skiers with our footprints.

And we made our way to the beach in Empire to watch the cold Lake Michigan waves break and quickly freeze on the shore.

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A warm slice of cherry pie was worth breaking my diet for!

When we had enough of the cold for a while, we drove another half dozen miles to the village of Glen Abor, visiting the Cherry Republic, an eclectic series of buildings and storefronts that sell all things cherry. Cherry syrup, cherry wine, cherry coffee, cherry mustard, cherry salsa, and our favorite, dark chocolate-covered cherries.

We also took back to the RV a cherry pie, still warm from the oven.

There went my keto diet!

Check our accompanying video to this post to see how much fun camping the Lake Michigan shoreline in winter truly is.

Happy Trails!

Looking for more ideas on where to camp and RV?

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Whatever season you choose, our series of 7 Day RV Adventure Guides will help you really experience an area. We have an entire library of these eBooks covering major regions of the U.S.  We show you where to go, how to get there, what to see and where to camp!

You can get them individually or in money-saving bundles, all instantly downloadable.

Please check them out!

Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

1 Comment

  • I recently heard Michigan & Wisconsin are requiring campers to have a CDL if their rigs, campers & trailers, are beyond a certain length. If this is true, what kind of CDL would I need for a 30 foot bumper-pulled trailer and a four-door long bed pickup?

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