Our second dispersed camping experience in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was in the Ottawa National Forest at Paint River Forks Campground. We stayed there overnight, mid-September 2016 in our 26-foot motorhome.
We found this campground using Allstays.com; this website (also an app) has been quite handy as we travel from one work camping job to the next. We are not only able to find dispersed camping, but we are also able to find affordable campgrounds with full hooks and additional amenities. Allstays allows travelers to plan their routes with information on road grades, bridge heights, overnight and extended stays, dump stations, and propane availability.
Ottawa National Forest stretches out to almost one million acres of lushness, glistening water, and rolling hills. It is a haven to outdoorsmen with miles of hiking trails, fishing, boating, equestrian activities, wildlife viewing, and in the winter, cross country skiing and snowmobiling.
Paint River Forks Campground, just a short 10 minute drive north of U.S. Route 2, is a dispersed campground, free of charge. Gibbs City Road, leading up to the campground, is a well maintained dirt and gravel road. It was wide open and free of congestion. As we got closer to the campground and made our way across the bridge, the road turned into concrete pavement.
We weren’t sure if there would be any space available considering the number of sites (4) in this small campground. Lucky for us, there were plenty available. In fact, we had the entire campground to ourselves. Busy season, according to the forest service webpage, runs June-August.
We easily backed our motorhome into one of the two sites, butted up to the river, with ample room to spare, at least ten more feet for the dolly and our little blue car. The ground was a combination of grass and compacted dirt and a bit uneven. We had to extend our leveling jacks a bit to maintain a comfortable balance in the RV.
All four immaculate, spacious sites came with their own picnic table and fire pit. Two of the sites, ours included,had a grill atop the pit. Levi grilled barbecue chicken over the fire, and we were able to work on our website because of the excellent, available cell service.
There were quite a few campground extras that we did not take advantage of due to time constraints. As mentioned before, our campsite (as well as one other site) sat alongside the Paint River. A rather steep pathway jets down to the embankment from either site. This little landing makes for a great fishing spot.
For those wanting to venture out onto the river, there is a canoe and kayak ramp located at one end of the campground, just a few paces away from any of the campsites. Visitors can even park their vehicles close to the boat access point for convenience. There was ample parking space for 3 or 4 cars.
A sign nearby the boat ramp warned of invasive species and preventative measure boaters could take to prevent additional distribution. Just peeking into the river, we spotted a few of the non-native rusty crayfish lingering about.
Leave no trace behind is the name of the game with any form of camping, Paint River Forks Campground was no exception. We burned what little paper products we had and made sure to take our remaining trash.
Despite the lack of garbage bins, there was a well kept, well stocked outhouse. It was quite clear that the forest service took great efforts (and most likely routine efforts) to keep the campground tidy.
We ended the night under a blanket of stars over head. The only noise was the hum of our propane heater that kicked on a few times. Between the campground’s overall cleanliness, size and maintenance of each site, and easy access to boating and fishing, we are most certain to revisit!
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As always, safe travels and happy trails!