For the most part, free camping for us has taken place in the parking lots of Walmart and Cracker Barrel, truck stops, and rest stops. We stay overnight, car hooked up, without opening our slide outs. We decided to dry camp via dispersed camping in national forests this time as we ventured from our work camping job in Mackinaw City, Michigan to our next gig working the beet harvest near East Grand Forks, Minnesota.
Dispersed camping is a term typically associated with camping away from designated campgrounds and in the vicinity of national forests. Camping amenities can vary from absolutely nothing to toilets and a water source. This type of camping can be free; however, with that being said, there are some campsites listed as dispersed camping and have a daily fee.
Depending on the area of the U.S., campers wanting to utilize public land, can stay at a given site for about two weeks and then must vacate the site. They can boondock in another nearby location for the same amount of time, but it must be many hundreds of feet away. This varies and it is very important to be aware of the stipulations for that given region.
Until now, Nevada has been the only other state that we have dry camped on public land, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. At each location, we stayed a minimum of two nights, opened the slide outs, started a fire, prepared every meal, went for a hike or two, and gazed at the night sky stretched out on our reclining chairs.
Hiawatha National Forest was the first national forest that we crossed on US-2 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It stretches almost 900,000 acres between its two regions draping the middle and eastern portion of the UP. Besides the endless list of outdoor activities it provides sportsmen, there are a number of dispersed camping options, some free and some at an average nightly rate of $8.
After perusing the list of dispersed camping areas on recreation.gov, we settled on Haymeadow Creek Dispersed Campsite. It was listed as fee free and was equipped with primitive toilets and a water source. Each campsite (15 total) came complete with a contained fire pit and picnic table. Hiking and brook trout fishing were mentioned as nearby activities. The one-mile (round trip) Haymeadow Falls Trail head is located within the camping loop.
The lots are not numbered, but we were camped out in #8.
Haymeadow Creek Dispersed Campsite is located about ten miles from Rapid City,Michigan. A mere ten mile journey on County Road 509, from US-2, finds campers at the entrance of the campground.
We arrived on a Saturday, mid-September and found the rustic campground about 25% occupied. There was a mixture of tents (large and small) and small travel trailers. It was apparent that some of the campers had been staying for the better part of a week with their own personal shower houses and clotheslines situated at their respective sites.
Pulling into the campground
Each site had a picnic table and fire pit (mentioned online) and they were kept relatively clean. A few downsides were the obvious: uneven ground and outstretched branches. These could pose issues for RVers, mainly. All sites are back-in, as well, no pull-thrus.
We drove around the campground loop once before returning back to the most spacious and level site for our 26 foot motorhome. We dropped the levelers once we figured out the best parking angle. The levelers did extend out a bit since the rig was slightly tilting to one side but not to any extreme as all tires remained on the ground. We were able fit our car dolly and Toyota Yaris (and then some) into the site.
As the last of the slides swept out, the rain began. Just in time! We prepared dinner in our counter top stove and watched some TV; we were able to get four channels with the antenna. Internet access was non-existent. The following day we explored the Haymeadow Falls Trail and chit-chatted with some of the campers afterwards.
The one-mile loop was a well-marked, well-worn trail. Since it had rained the night before, some sections of the trail were muddy and the footbridges could get slippery. The amber-tinted falls we viewed mid-hike were a special surprise and we got some great shots! The forest was a lush array of flora, most prevalent to us were ferns, maple trees, and mushrooms. There were a variety of birds singing and critters rustling about but we never spotted wildlife once. A few fisherman passed by us at the tail end of the hike, hoping to catch a trout or two for dinner that night, I’m sure.
Haymeadow Falls in all her glory!
Between the pets and us, we got a decent amount of rest and relaxation the remaining part of the day. Our dog seemed to enjoy taking in the sights and smells of the new location and the cats lounged atop the dashboard soaking in the sun.
When we pulled out of the site the following morning, one of the campers we had stopped to talk with the day before came to say bye and wished us well. We did the same. Overall,with our style of camping, we could easily see ourselves spending a week camping and exploring more of the Hiawatha National Forest. Unfortunately, we were on a schedule and had only a small window to take in its treasures!
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