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Top Five Campgrounds Near Detroit to Experience this Spring

The weekend has arrived and campers all across the Detroit region are packing up to find their resting spots under the stars. Just in time for peaking camping season, here's our breakdown of the Top Five Campgrounds near Detroit.

BREAKING NEWS: there are incredible campgrounds near Detroit.


For most of our passionate following, this shouldn't be a surprise. In fact, almost all of the Detroit region's most beloved state recreation areas and Metroparks have at least one modern group camping location. The majority of the campgrounds may be best suited for "RV camping," but hey, at least you can still pitch a tent.


That being said, a common message thread that we received while uploading our content from thru-hiking the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail read a little like this:


"Woah, you can backcountry camp near Detroit?"

"Yo! Since when do we have campgrounds?"

"You can actually have these experiences in Metro Detroit?!"


And, best of all:


"Where else near Detroit can you camp like that?"


Dear friends, that's where this article comes in. We've rolled our sleeves up to track down the five top-rated "rustic" campgrounds within the Detroit region. Destinations that not only preserve, but enhance the wilderness aesthetic that every outdoor enthusiast desires when looking to disconnect from modern society for a night or two. Especially when such pristine campgrounds are merely a short drive, moderate hike, decent ride, and - yes - expeditious paddle away.


Here are the "Top 5 Campgrounds" in the Detroit region for this year's camping season:

1. BLIND LAKE CAMPGROUND | Pinckney State Recreation Area

Number of Sites: 10

Arrival Logistics: Hike-In or Bike-In

Reservable Dates: All Year

Cost: $20/night, plus additional fees


I have a confession: as I'm typing these words, I'm kicking myself under my desk. Why? Because last month I made a last-minute decision to bail on my reservation at Blind Lake Campground - the top-ranked campground throughout the entirety of the Detroit region. Forgive my insolence; it was Day 3 on the WPT, and I opted to crank out 14+ miles to finish the trail vs. spend another night in the woods.


If I had completed this article a month ago, however, you can bet your bottom dollar that I would have stayed put for a Day 4.


Located along the western rim of the quintessential Potawatomi Trail in Pinckney Recreation Area, the main allure of Blind Lake stems from its isolation from any main trailhead within Pinckney Rec or its surrounding parks. Any arrival at Blind Lake is earned either by boot or pedal (7 miles from the Silver Lake trailhead), so your night spent under the brilliant stars and by the lapping waves will be free of headlights and slamming car doors. Blind Lake's solitude is further enhanced by the gracious amount of space allocated between the sites, therefore ensuring as much privacy as a camper could ever hope for - especially when camping in the dead of winter (Blind Lake is the only campground here that offers year-round camping).


The Blind Lake Rustic Campground is located about halfway along the 17-mile Potawatomi Trail. The campground is outfitted with a vault toilet, hand-pump water access, and fire rings. Only dead and downed timber are to be used for firewood. Advanced reservation required to book a site.

2. MURRAY LAKE CAMPGROUND | Brighton State Recreation Area

Number of Sites: 25

Arrival Logistics: Hike-In, Bike-In, or Drive-In

Reservable Dates: May 26th - September 3rd (only reservable for weekends)

Cost: $20/night, plus additional fees


Sorry to start this section with bad news, but unless you stop reading and book a site at Murray Lake Campground NOW, then you may have to wait until next season. Seriously. And yes, we know that Murray Lake's short "2023 season" doesn't even start for another week.


That's how in-demand this amazing campground is.


Located deep in the northern woods of Brighton Recreation Area, Murray Lake provides its fortunate campers with immediate access to the full spectrum of Brighton's world-class outdoor recreation opportunities. The campground conveniently sits right off of Brighton Rec's famous Mountain Biking Loop trail system, one of the three prestigious "Black Diamond" trails in the entire Detroit region. The campground is also a short hike from the even more famous Penosha Trail, consistently ranked as one of the best trails in the entire state of Michigan. And, of course, the campground's immediate access to its namesake Murray Lake means that you will be treated to a lakeside sunset by your campfire.


Each site at Murray Lake Campground features a picnic table and fire pit. Other amenities include potable water and vault toilets. Advanced reservation required to book a site.

3. CROOKED LAKE CAMPGROUND | Pinckney State Recreation Area

Number of Sites: 25

Arrival Logistics: Hike-In, Bike-In, or Drive-In

Reservable Dates: April 1st - November 29th

Cost: $20/night, plus additional fees


If you're looking for a slightly more accessible - but still rustic - stay at Pinckney Recreation Area, then Crooked Lake Campground has the ideal setup for what you're looking for. Intrepid recreationists can still readily hike or bike into camp from the main Silver Lake Trailhead along the Potawatomi Trail, although Crooked Lake's 25 sites also accommodate car-camping enthusiasts. Although this attribute of Crooked Lake may detract from its "wilderness solitude" aesthetic a-la-Blind Lake, Crooked Lake has one key feature that makes it a massive draw for especially paddlers and anglers: The Fishing Pier.


That's right - Crooked Lake features a fishing pier/boat launch that provides an ideal location for kicking back and casting a line or setting off towards a sunset over the waves. As fantastic as secluded, forested campsites are, there's just something ethereal about kicking your boots off after a long hike and dipping your feet into crisp, fresh water.


Each site at Crooked Lake Campground features a picnic table and fire pit. Other amenities include potable water and vault toilets. Advanced reservation required to book a site.

4. ISLAND LAKE CANOE CAMPGROUND | Island Lake State Recreation Area

Number of Sites: 2

Arrival Logistics: Paddle-In

Reservable Dates: April 1st - October 31st

Cost: $20/night, plus additional fees


Spending a night at Island Lake Recreation Area's Canoe Campground should be on every local outdoor enthusiast's "Bucket List." Why? Well, for starters, the sites are the most limited to book out of this "Top Five" list. As noted above, there are only 2 sites available for reservation at the campground. The scarcity of the sites is fortunately diluted by a one night-maximum stay per reservation, but still...book while you can.


The second reason - and far more adventurous one - involves how you arrive at your site. As you probably guessed, there's only one way in or out of the Canoe Campground: via canoe (or kayak/paddleboard). One would think that "Canoe Camping" would be an immensely common way to camp in the Detroit region given our plethora of water, but amazingly Island Lake is only one of four legitimate canoe campgrounds throughout the entire Detroit region. In other words, Canoe Camping remains a relatively niche method of camping throughout our region - all the more reason to book a site, pack up your kayak with some dry bags, and paddle down the Huron River to an unforgettable experience.


Island Lake's Canoe Campground is located 0.5 miles downstream of the Riverbend Picnic Shelter launching point. Amenities include a vault toilet, fire ring, picnic table and grill. There is no potable water available, so please bring your own water or water filter. Advanced reservation required to book a site.

5. GREEN LAKE CAMPGROUND | Waterloo State Recreation Area

Number of Sites: 25, not including the Green Lake Yurt

Arrival Logistics: Hike-In, Bike-In, or Drive-In

Reservable Dates: April 1st - November 29th for rustic sites; year-round for Green Lake Yurt

Cost: $20/night, plus additional fees


Last but certainly not least, we proudly present Waterloo Recreation Area's premiere camping destination, the Green Lake Campground. Located on the northeastern edge of Waterloo's expansive 20,000 acres, Green Lake marks roughly the mid-way point of the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail and as such is frequented by backpackers, bike-packers, and car campers alike. The 25 sites in the campground overlook the idyllic Green Lake, including its golden sunsets and ample bird-watching opportunities.


For our niche "glamping" readers, Green Lake also offers something special just for you: its regionally-famous, heated, open year-round Green Lake Yurt. The Yurt sleeps 5 people and comes outfitted with 2 futons, solar powered lights inside (lantern or flashlight also recommended), small table, propane cooking stove, and an outdoor grill.


The Green Lake Rustic Campground is located near the DTE Energy Foundation Trail, Waterloo Pinckney Trail, and the Border-to-Border Trail. The campground includes vault toilets and a hand pump available for water. Advanced reservation required to book a site.

 

This article includes Michigan camping insights published within Matt Forster's fantastic guide book Best Tent Camping: Michigan (3rd Edition). We couldn't recommend this book any more for our regional outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore the Detroit region and beyond.


What are your favorite campgrounds? Is there a particular "hidden gem" near Detroit that you have been camping at for years that deserves a special spotlight? Let us know in the comments!

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