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So as you guys may have noticed we’ve been doing a lot of car camping latelyEver since the pandemic, I haven’t really been feeling the normal traveling and staying at hotels thing. So our method of choice for travel this year has been car camping, specifically dispersed camping. 

One question I’ve been getting a lot lately is “Where do I find these camping spots?” 

There are actually a lot of ways to do it. I’m going to do my best to explain where you can camp for free in Michigan, how I specifically find and scope out the spots before heading out, and what apps we use. This is definitely not the only way to do it, and might not even be the best way. This is just how I've been doing it so far.   

And one thing - I don't want to give away specific locations or anyone's secret spots. I know the UP has been booming lately with a ton of people camping and some access roads have even been closed due to overcrowding and trash problems.

Once a cool location is posted online, everyone flocks to it. I definitely don’t want that to happen.. but there is more than enough public land for everyone, especially in Michigan. So that’s why I want to show you guys how easy it is to find your own spots! It can be confusing or overwhelming at first if you don’t know what you’re looking for. You’ll see even in the video we got confused and had to abort mission at one of the spots.

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Some of you might not  know that  free camping exists - and honestly, I  didn’t really either until a few years ago when we went car camping in Marquette for the first time! But in Michigan, you can legally camp for free on any state-owned land, usually state forest, and national forest land - with a few restrictions/rules. 

This is what you call dispersed camping. You essentially are finding your own spot without an actual campground. There are no amenities at all - no bathrooms, no hookups or electrical and most likely will be alone with very few people around - if any at all (depending on where you are).

State Forests / Public State Land 

There is a ton of public state forest land. Approximately 4.5 million acres (12 percent of the state) with most of it (3.9 million acres) being state forests. State forests are run by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources 

Michigan DNR Rules for camping on state land

National Forests

We have 4  national forests in Michigan: The Hiawatha, Ottawa, Manistee, and Huron National Forests. These National Forests make up over 3 million acres (8% of Michigan's land) ran by the US forest service. 

Huron-Manistee National Forest Rules

Hiawatha National Forest Camping Rules & Regulations

Ottawa National Forest Camping Rules & Regulations

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This should be obvious, but please follow the leave no trace principles and leave your campsite better than you found it so we can all continue to enjoy the public land.


So - now that we’ve determined where you are legally able to camp, the next question is how do you find these places? I remember trying to look at a map and being so overwhelmed with where to even begin looking. The two apps i primarily use when im looking for my own spots are google maps/google earth and Landgrid.


I use google maps as my starting point. It actually highlights the National Forest and some State Forests in dark green. Then I use satellite view to view the roads and look for an opening in the trees and a place that might make a good campsite.


Landgrid is a free mobile app that also has a desktop version that has nationwide parcel data where you can verify land ownership. I will pick a point in the area I want to camp in,  copy the coordinates, and paste them into Landgrid to verify it's public land, not private property. 

Use Landgrid on desktop

Download the Landgrid mobile app


I use google earth to get a better perspective of the area. Unlike google maps, you can actually change the viewing angle so you can see the typography of the area, check out the road conditions and just get a general idea of the landscapes you can expect! I use this the same way I do for scoping out photo locations!

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You can also watch the full video where I walk you through finding 2 different spots using this method on my computer and then take you out in the field first hand and show you how we found our spot to camp for the night!


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