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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

State Forest Camping in Michigan

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by JHY

I'm getting ready for my next and final round of NCT hikes (that count toward an end-to-end total). I'll be doing dispersed camping in some Michigan State Forests. Did you know that you are supposed to have a permit to do that, and that if you get caught without one it can be a $100 fine? Well, I knew it, but I'm actually trying to comply this time.

First of all, let's be clear. This is not the same as State Game Areas. They have completely different rules. It is also not State Parks. The rules are also slightly different for Designated State Forest Campgrounds. This post only addresses dispersed camping.

The Michigan State Forests through which the NCT passes are: Pere Marquette State Forest (map MI-05), Mackinaw State Forest (map MI-06), Lake Superior State Forest (map MI-09), Escanaba River State Forest (map MI-11), and Copper Country State Forest (map MI-12).

It is both easy and a pain in the neck to get these free permits. You can't download them on line or have them faxed or emailed. They say it's because they are made in two parts and printed on waterproof paper. Well, I won't rant, but anyway, you have to go to a DNR office to get them. Their web site says that you must go to a regional office. That's not true. Any field office will have them. For example, I don't have to go to Cadillac, but I will have to go to Baldwin to get the permit forms. Supposedly there is a box outside the door with forms in it that you can get even when they are not open. But of course, there is no guarantee that anyone has filled the box.

There are a bunch of rules, of course, but only a few are really pertinent to NCT hikers. I've linked to the complete list below, but here are some that may be relevant.
  • Everyone who stays overnight needs one, whether using a tent, hammock, RV, trailer, or even a sleeping bag, etc. For designated sites, no more than 4 unrelated persons can stay in a site, but I don't see any regulations about this for dispersed camping.
  • You must be more than 1 mile from a designated State Forest Campground.
  • You cannot camp for more than 15 consecutive days, and if you move your site it must be at least 1/2 mile from the previous one.
  • You can't leave a campsite unoccupied for more than 24 hours

Here's what you do with those permits. You need one for each campsite you plan to use. Fill it out, tie it on a tree or some permanent feature. When you leave the site, leave the permit. Yes... they claim that one of their rangers will find it. No comments about understaffed state agencies and their inability to police unlawful ATV use, shooting of signs, etc. But they will find your little scrap of waterproof paper tied to a tree.

So when you get the blank permits, take a few extra so that you are sure to have a new one for each campsite you think you might use.

There is one huge exception in a Michigan State Forest, which is the Jordan River Valley of the Mackinaw State Forest on MI-06, where dispersed camping is not allowed. In fact, the only place NCT hikers can camp in that segment is at the Pinney Bridge SF Campground. This makes it very difficult to hike through that area without support.

This segment is on NCTA maps MI-05, MI-06, MI-09, MI-11, MI-12

See Michigan State Forest Camping Regulations


Pathfinder said...

They are not waterproof - they are often found by the rangers (if you camp by a two track, but I have found them hanging a year after they were placed). And, you should keep a stock at home - I took a handful a couple of years ago and keep a few in the Jeep and a few at home.

Also, interesting is leaving your personal information tied to a tree for all the world to see.

In all honesty, I tend to tie it to a tree, then take it with me when I leave. No trash, no personal information. etc.

Sharkbytes said...

Hi Pathfinder- Yes, I thought about that... do I really want to leave a trail of bread crumbs of where I have camped for anyone to know? It's a really outdated system for sure.

The Silver Age Sara said...

I can understand having permits to raise money for the forests but to have to leave all of the information attached to a lonely tree, forget it. What are they thinking in this day and age.

Have a safe and fun hike. Really sounds like fun.

Lily Riani said...

i envy you, am trying to start hiking now too in country (malaysia) or when ever i travel to remote asia. hope not too late (or too old) to start.

love reading your blog, prob require some tips from your goodself :D

latunsk4 said...

Okay, must have been updated now but I found the permits online on the DNRs website.

Go to the camping and recreation area.

Then to the state forest campgrounds and dispersed camping tab.

The last option is for dispersed camping and it has a download-able pdf file.