D.H. Day Campground, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Just over a low dune from Lake Michigan’s spectacular Sleeping Bear Bay, D.H. Day Campground presents a sublime playground for a September sleepout. Walk the beach forever, surf-cast for the returning salmon, swim in the still-warm waters. Cruise a couple of miles into Glen Arbor if you want somebody else to cook for you. Drive-in sites, water pump, outhouse; $12/night. No reservations. 231-326-5134 or nps.gov/slbe.
Number of campsites: 75. Number of acres: 3,000. Nice ratio for serenity seekers. Even better, Fisherman’s Island, just south of Charlevoix, offers campsites smack on that endless beach—a rarity despite Michigan’s abundant shore mileage. Site No. 9 is particularly alluring, according to Russ Mikesell, summer ranger. “In one direction the nearest site is a quarter mile away and to the north there aren’t any.” Drive-up sites, hand water pump and outhouse. $12 a night.
Bonus: Five miles of park beach. Reservations: 800-447-2757 or Michigan.gov/dnr.
Pop a tent beside the Straits of Mackinac and consider your place in history. Native Americans traveled these shores by foot and canoe for millennia, perhaps camping where you now sit with a marshmallow and a Pabst. Bonuses: Freighters and sailboats spice your evening water-gazing; 30-amp power for those who need juice. $27 per night; state park permit required. Reservations: 800-447-2757 or Michigan.gov/dnr.
The Two Hearted River’s name was irresistible to Ernest Hemingway, who stole it for a story title (he actually fished the nearby Fox River). But even more irresistible is the location of the namesake campground, right where the river pours into Lake Superior. Cast a line into the trout stream right from your campsite. Walk a short way for a September’s share of surf-casting, agate hunting and beach walking. Drive-in site, water pump and outhouse; $15/night. Reservations: 800-447-2757 or Michigan.gov/dnr.
If you’ve been wanting to try backpacking, make this camp south of Empire your first attempt: easy effort, big payoff. A flat two miles of walking off Trails End Road, and you arrive at six well-spaced campsites set in a forest behind a dune. Beyond said dune is the watery prize of Lake Michigan fringed by a lovely arc of unspoiled shore—one that lacks people. Outhouse, yes. Water pump, no—so pack water for an overnight or plan to purify (filter, boil, tablets). Experienced backpackers? You’ll love White Pine, too. $5/night—you gotta do it. Reservations: 877-444-6777 or recreation.gov. General info: nps.gov/slbe.