If you are willing to drive into pictured rocks and inland there are several campgrounds that offered first come first serve and reserved sites, but they were not on Lake Superior.
We made the 3.5 hour drive from Kalamazoo to Petosky on Wednesday. We did this to avoid weekend traffic and to ease the trip for the kids. Josh also needed to take some calls and meetings from Petosky, so we needed the strong Wi-Fi. Otherwise we saw many great camping options on the way to Petosky that we would have gone for.
For our 5 day trip we left Kalamazoo with reservations for 1 campground which we would be staying in for 2 days. There were no reservations available for campgrounds within Pictured Rocks. This is by far the most popular area to camp in the summer, so if your intentions are to get away from it all you may want to try a less popular site or dispersed camping especially if you have a vehicle setup that allows it.
We picked Bay Furnace campground because it was close enough to pictured rocks and it was first come first serve. The campgrounds in pictured rocks were booking out to Jan 2021. So unless you are ready to plan 6 months in advance this is our next best option. This campground also offered direct lake access and had toilet facilities. It also has fire pits. We tried to make reservations for a boat tour of pictured rocks through Pictured Rocks Cruises. We actually called all the boat tours a week in advance and all were booked solid.
“try to make reservations as early as possible. They did tell me that they usually have cancellations right before and to try back Thursday morning if I was interested in Friday. I did it and got a reservation for 4- 2 adults and 2 children. We chose this operator because we are traveling with an 11 year old and a 2.5 year old. We loved the idea of renting Kayaks but there was an age restriction of 8 years old for the kids. There was also a high speed boat tour, but they did not allow pregnant women to take the tour- bummer. On this trip we did not want to break up into multiple activities. The pictured rocks cruises was also the most cost efficient option for our family. The total cost for us to take the Spray falls cruise was $101.00.”
We stayed at the Courtyard Petoskey at Victories Square. We chose this hotel because we both have a lot of points with Marriott brand hotels due to corporate travel and a credit card that we use to gain points. We can recommend the Visa Chase Marriott card as we have used it for years and have stayed at most of their hotel brands, alone and with kids. There is always a great property nearby and regardless of the property we always find a high level of service and family friendly facility. The property was brand new and beautiful. There were plenty of precautions put into place for COVID. There were hand sanitizers stations at front desk, lobby and elevators. They also offer gloves at the elevators and Plexiglas partitions at check-in. The hotel was about 3 miles from the downtown and scenic waterfront area.
We arrived around 4 pm and got settled in and went to eat at Petoskey Brewing. We chose this brewery over the others because it was more casual dining (burgers, cheese curds and sandwiches) and because it had some really interesting brews (Mint Chocolate and Mocha Java Stout). They had a big well-spaced outdoor seating area. You need place your order inside at the bar and they bring it out to your table. There is also an ice cream truck near the picnic tables outside. The ice cream truck The Waffle Cabin Wagon is making “waffle” cones that are actually waffles with their ice cream over it. The ice cream scoops were amazing- Try the Carmel Sea Salt and Peanut butter Chocolate,. But the star of the show is the waffle made from Dough that has been proofed for an hour before it goes into the oven and comes out hot and fresh for you. The waffle is covered with ice cream and eaten with a spork. It’s a dream.
The pub food was also great. We had the cheese curds, a Caesar salad, the signature burger and the shrimp basket. The food came out in a reasonable amount of time and tasted fresh. The cheese curds were deep fried to crispy perfection and the shrimp tasted great. The signature burger comes with their homemade sauce-which is reason enough to order the burger. You could dip your fries or your cheese curds or just drink it, it’s that good.
Once you stuff yourself, we recommend a sunset stroll along the waterfront. The kids can run around and the view of Lake Michigan was breath taking. There are greenways along the water and on the streets behind that are well marked and have bathrooms. We parked at Kilwins and walked down the greenway and back up the waterfront trail.
After that it was early to bed so that we could get up and get moving to see if we could get a spot at Bay Furnace Campground. We got on the road around 8:30 and started driving north. We were trying to end up at Bay Furnace around 11am which is when check out happens. If you are traveling with a pregnant woman and recently potty trained toddler you have to stop a lot so its going to take longer.
Germfask is about an hour from the campground. It had places to buy food, firewood and even clothing and gear- in case you forgot something. It was near several luxury log cabin rental places like Seney and the Seney National Wild life refuge. Shingleton is about 20 minutes from the campground and has gas stations, restaurants, firewood and an ATV dealer. Right after the town you will see the entrance to the Hiawatha National Forest. Munsing has a Hardees and has firewood for sale at $8.00 a bundle, a Family Fare supermarket, hand dipped ice cream and a Subway. There’s also a Dairy Queen and a few Pasty shops. Once you get onto the Upper Peninsula you will notice your cell service go to one bar. There are parts of the drive that there is no service, but I did have a couple bars while passing Shingleton. Recreation.gov had great information with pictures. We also tried the Dyrt app and iOverlander. These worked ok, but we found the recreation.gov to be the most reliable and helpful.
Au Train Campground on Au Train Lake. It was about 4 miles off the main hwy. The lake is right next to the river and there are TONS of kayak and canoe rentals. There are several private campgrounds on the lake as well, but we were interested in National Forest campgrounds. It was full, but we asked the host if they had any first come first serve spots. This was a crazy busy weekend given the time of year and pandemic travel limitations. People had already booked reservations, but those who wanted to stay longer were staying and then jumping into a first come first serve. If you are well organized and mobile- you can get a site. We can’t stress this enough. A good organization system is extremely important in camping. We had lists ready that helped us plan and prepare.
Camping becomes exponentially more enjoyable when you have good planning. This is a great time to also teach your kids how to do everything. Having everyone know what they need to do or where certain gear goes makes the difference. The more you prepare the more you can adapt.
The campground we stayed at for the first 2 nights, Bay Furnace Campground was actually full. We ended up staying in an “Emergency campsite”. Who knew that was a thing??- but always ask- people will help you out. Since we had 2 adults and 2 kids and were doing a combination of tent and car camping- they let us stay. The campsite had a smaller footprint and therefore no fire pit, but it had half a picnic table. We were charmed. They also had this great day area that had picnic tables and grills right next to the water so the kids could swim throw rocks and look for sea glass.
The moral of the story is ask – because there may always be something, be adaptable and PREPARE!
This campground is great because its comfortable. We are in the middle of July its 61 degrees today and tomorrow the high will be 80. The bugs aren’t bad. As I write this I am 28 weeks pregnant and I feel great.
Today we spent some time at beautiful hidden Au Train beach on Au Train bay right across from Arbutus St. We enjoyed the beach and swam- it was not crowded and had bathroom facilities. Then we went to check out downtown Munising.
The last thing we did was visit Grand Island. You get there by taking the Grand Island Ferry. You can take bikes, wagons, dogs and snacks onto the island. The ferry terminal even rents a wide variety of items (its expensive) that you can take with you in case you forgot it.
The island has miles of trails and you can spend hours exploring the island. We took snacks for the kids and found camping areas with fire pits and even little beaches perfect for swimming. The only downside was how hot it got when there was no breeze and the stinging flies were relentless. We had to leave when we ran out of the deep woods bug spray.
The ferry, while we were there, came every hour which was convenient because once we decided to go- it was time to go. Our tween was driving us nuts with attitude about walking and our little guy was worn out from the trails and the sun. If I did it again I would have brought bikes for both kids and more bug spray. By the end I was wishing I had paid the high price and rented a wagon since we ended up carrying the 30 lb sweaty toddler that was asleep for the last half mile (ugh!). Other than that- the trip was great and I still would recommend it.