By CASEY WARNER – Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Camping in Michigan by staying overnight at a state park meant pitching a tent or lugging an RV. Visitors can still do so, but the options available in Michigan’s state parks have changed. This is due to travelers’ needs and preferences have evolved.
For many years, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has provided housing choices. These included tiny cabins, camper cabins, and yurts at several parks. Enabling guests who do not have their camping gear or RV to reserve a stay. However, with changing travel preferences, the DNR is expanding the number of lodging options available.
Online Services & Glamping
The increased popularity of platforms like Airbnb, where individuals can arrange a stay at home and glamorous camping, with more luxury. This speaks to particular vacationers opting for greater comfort than typical campsites.
“Understanding the allure of Airbnb, many state parks and recreation areas have new and unique overnight lodging options, some boasting amenities of home,” said Chuck Allen, a DNR Parks and Recreation analyst and the Innovations Team member of the division, which is responsible for the initiatives to improve public park lodging.
“These locations are modernizing and exploring lodging options for the next generation of travelers, including tiny houses, public-private partnerships, and revitalizing aging infrastructure with a more modern experience.”
Tiny Houses at State Parks
In May 2021, the Waterloo Recreation Area launched its “little house” in Jackson and Washtenaw counties. Tiny houses, usually below 400 square feet and frequently built on trailers. These are part of a social movement that promotes tiny, more straightforward, and more energy-efficient living areas. On various TV series, such as HGTV’s “Tiny Luxury,” the tiny house trend was emphasized.
The small cottage Waterloo, located on the park’s Campground Sugarloaf Lake near the pool, has a deck overlooking the lake. Four people sleep on the main floor with a full-size bed, a single bed, and a loft. Electric services include air conditioning, fan and ceiling lights, a sofa, table, and chairs. There is also a mini-fridge, microwave, and coffee maker. A new trend for sure, but it offers those without equipment a way for camping in Michigan.
“The tiny house has resulted in new visitors that previously would not have stayed at Sugarloaf Campground because they may not have camping equipment. In addition, it is a great way for people to test out camping before making a major investment,” Jim O’Brien, unit manager at Waterloo Recreation Area, said.
The newly opened little buildings will be open next spring. The list of sites includes Clear Lake State Park in Montmorency County, McLain State Park in Houghton County, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, and Gogebic Countries.
Private Camping Suppliers Work with Michigan’s DNR
The DNR also participated in a variety of camping activities with private firms. Twenty new tents in the Highland Relaxation Area in Oakland County and the Sleeper State Park in Huron County. This gives visitors a chance to camp in style thanks to a partnership with Tentrr.
“Tentrr has invested more than $180,000 to establish new infrastructure while bringing attention to the beauty of these lesser-visited destinations,” Allen said.
Situated in rustic areas beyond the park campsite, the places sleeping up to six. They are decorated with a spacious, safari-style, lined tent located on a high wood platform and comfy bed for a good night’s sleep. Adirondack chairs are also available to rest, a fireplace with a barbecue, and a picnic table with a pantry.
Another private participant in Pontiac Lake recreation, Oakland County, Port Crescent, Huron, and Sterling State Parks has committed $1,08 million. This will build 25 cottages.
“A highlight of this partnership with RRM has been two geodesic domes at Port Crescent, reshaping and expanding the definition of the state park experience,” Allen said.
The two environmentally friendly geodesic domes at Port Crescent offer a comfortable setting, with spruce paneling, skylights, and windows looking out to Lake Huron.
Equipment such as mattresses, power, and kitchenettes are provided for the RRM housing. Houses and fully equipped cottages feature a furnished patio and porch. They also include a kitchen, dining room, and a standard room with a futon. In addition, they have a private bathroom.
The DNR receives a percentage of Tentrr’s sales and RRM site reservations. This totals a yearly revenue of $120,000 projected for five locations.
DNR To Invest in Lodging Improvements
The DNR has also begun to “reimagine” several of its existing accommodation facilities. This is so that guests are more attracted to camping in Michigan.
“It’s not a piece-by-piece renovation, but an entire overhaul of the interior, exterior, and surroundings to appeal to the next generation of travelers,” Allen said. “Our lodging experiences need to match the splendor of our resources.”
A specialist designer helps to supervise the refurbishment of the state park camping in Michigan.
The first re-imagined mini-cabins designed by Traverse City professional interior/exterior designers may be found in the Ionia Recreation Area in Ionia County.
These tiny cabins can sleep three people comfortably in the modern camping and behind the woods, up to 5 of them equipped with a bunk bed and simple furnishings. Each features a new, covered front porch, a kitchenette, splendid wooden flooring with a stove, a ceiling fan. It also includes electric outlets with USB ports and a bar with stools. They all have a kitchenette. In addition, the accommodations are a short drive from the canoe entry point.
Reimagination initiatives continue to occur in 202. Starting in Grand Traverse County, Chippewa County, Brimley State Park, and Livingston County, Island Lake Recreation Area.
Traditional rustic camping cabins such as those in Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains continue to be an option.
Minimalist Camping in Michigan on the Beach
While these new accommodation alternatives offer numerous facilities, new possibilities are also available for those who want a more limited yet unique camping experience.
Two hammock-only sites are currently in Port Crescent State Park. They are located in the Park’s modern campsite and along the Huron Lakeside. Four hammock poles and hooks, a picnic table, a power pedestal, and a burning ring are included at each site. In addition, the park is now available for hammock rental. The campers, who made graceful donations while making their reservations, financed these hammock spots.
The DNR strives to provide accommodation that satisfies the needs of travelers. The DNR also aims to give visitors to State Parks meaningful experiences.
“This means not only providing safe, fun, and unique lodging opportunities but working to tell a story with each one,” said Maia Turek, resource development specialist with the DNR Parks and Recreation Division and another member of the division’s Innovations Team. “As we look toward the future, we are developing night sky viewing lodges for our dark sky parks, providing native gardening ideas through the landscaping surrounding our reimagined cabins and bunkhouses, or even just increasing awareness of the plant and animal species in an area through artwork.
“This is an important aspect to fulfilling our mission and empowering our visitors to be advocates and storytellers for their public lands.”
In the months and years ahead, travelers will continue to find new and exciting opportunities for planning a state park vacation. With no tent or RV required.