Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness has quickly become one of my go-to camping spots. As it is a designated wilderness area, there is no need for pre-arranging reservations, making Nordhouse the perfect last minute destination. You'll have to hike in about 2.5 miles from the parking area to the beach and then anywhere from 0.2 to 6 miles along the beach to find your ideal camping spot. There are no designated camping spaces in the wilderness area but you can easily spot pre-established spots peppered along the beach.
In true wilderness style, the trails are unmarked an unnamed. There are multiple trails that all lead to the beach at dispersed entry points. Starting from the parking lot trail head, following the trails is quite intuitive and easy. However, hopping back on them from the beach can be a little difficult and disorienting so make sure you take good note of where you leave the forest trail and enter the beach. Retracing your steps can become exceptionally confusing if you run into foot trails that lead to other campsites or seemingly nowhere at all--so take good mental notes and don't say that I didn't warn you!
Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness has become an increasingly popular summer weekend getaway location so if you're looking for solitude, I'd recommend going mid week or off season (it's open year round). With this increase in visitors, there has also been an unfortunate increase in litter on the beach and on the trail. If you run into any abandoned garbage, do me a favor and take a little bit back with you to be properly discarded of.
Some important details to note are: $5/day parking fee, bathrooms at trail head, map at trail head, no potable water.
As a Dyrt Ranger, I also get products to test and review in the field. For this trek, I brought with me the Midland ER310 E+READY Emergency Crank Weather Radio. This radio has many features including a USB charger, LED flashlight, high frequency dog whistle, NOAA weather alerts, solar panel and hand crank. The top 2 things I love about this radio specifically in the camping setting include:
1. You can set alerts for incoming severe weather. This can be particularly useful when out hiking as it eliminates the need to constantly scan the radio for updates or search for cell reception in order to access the weather.
2. Strong reception and battery life. I found the reception and audio quality to be quite clear while using the device out in the backcountry. I had the radio playing for essentially 2 days straight without needing to recharge the device, which is particularly helpful when you do not have access to electricity.
My two primary critiques of the device are concerning the initial start up of the radio and the design of the power button. When I first received the device, it was unclear what exact steps needed to be taken in order to get the radio started. After some fiddling with the device, I discovered that it is necessary to open up the battery compartment, remove the lithium ion battery and then plug in the lithium ion battery. The radio itself does not come with any instructions that explain this, however, on the product page on Midland's website, there is a link clearly labeled ER310 Battery Installation Instructions. My next critique is that there is not a button protector for the power button and in a fully packed backpack, the radio is susceptible to randomly turning on and off at times. You could maybe avoid this by hooking the radio by its handle on the outside of the pack.
Notable specs: at 2.95” x 6.85” x 9.61”, the radio is about the size of a loaf a bread. It takes up approximately 3.2 L of space which is roughly 5% of a 65 L pack. I like to economize my pack weight and space as much as possible so I am not sure if I will take this out on every trip moving forward but certainly on the trips where the weather is uncertain.
We stayed the night at one of the Hetch Hetchy reservable sites (first come, first served) before our trek through the backcountry of Yosemite. The sites were just a quick walk in from the parking lot and featured picnic tables, bear boxes, bathrooms and established fire rings. A permit is required to stay in the area as well as a $6 per person fee and you're able to check-in with your reservation right at the Hetch Hetchy entrance. The sites are well maintained and do feature scenic vistas, though it appears that the best views offered by Hetch Hetchy are found farther in the backcountry and we wish we had the time to really explore the area. The campground served as an easy spot to hike in, set up and prepare for a long trek ahead, although, if you're not pressed for time or resting up for a big hike, I'd recommend continuing on past the established sites into the more scenic backcountry. One major advantage of Hetch Hetchy is that you'll avoid the major crowds in Yosemite Valley which can't be beat in my book.
Although it requires one heck of a climb to get to, Sunrise Lakes might be my favorite campsite in Yosemite National Park. The Sunrise Lakes area has tons of dispersed, semi-established spots along the shore for you to lay out your tent footprint and call home. One of my favorite things about Sunrise Lakes is not only the lake views but also the ability to have a campfire. With wildfires being a very real and reasonable concern in Yosemite NP, campfires have been banned in a lot of the backcountry but Sunrise Lakes luckily falls within the safe zone (just be sure to use an established fire pit). Also, the proximity to fresh water is an added bonus, as you do not need to carry up a ton of water with you for the night. Of note, there was a marsh-y waterlogged area at the lake’s east end that I can see being quite buggy depending on the time of year. We luckily did not encounter too many pests during our time of stay but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get the chance to test out products from time to time and I recently brought my Qaras Waterproof Soft Shell Jacket made by Mishmi Takin into the backcountry with me while backpacking in Yosemite National Park. During my trip, I encountered both wind and rain and the jacket holds up impressively well. I usually wear a size S in regular tops and a size M in the Qaras jacket fit me well with room for layers underneath (I was warned that sizes tend to run small). The jacket’s design features different zippers that you can open for your ideal amount of ventilation. However, keep in mind that the inside of the pockets are not fully lined and you’ll lose a lot of heat if you keep them wide open, which could be a desired effect depending on the weather conditions you’re dealing with. I am excited to trial this jacket out in the snow and see how it performs, I have a feeling it will do exceptionally well. In a backpacking setting, this jacket is a bit bulkier to carry than the typical lightweight waterproof shell jacket I’m used to carrying, so this could be a potential con for you weight conscious backpackers. However, armed with warm fleece lining, you might be able to eliminate carrying around additional layers.
I gave this campground a 3 out of 5 stars for two primary reasons. The first being that there is very little information available out there about the campground and the actual location of the grounds can be somewhat cumbersome to find. We spent a fair amount of time researching how to find this place and asking around at multiple information centers within Yosemite National Park before eventually finding it. The second reason being that the sites are not reservable and considering how crowded Yosemite NP can get, this is quite the gamble. Some crowd control is provided, as you need a backcountry permit in order to stay at the campground but with only 20 sites available, there’s a likely chance you may not get a spot. Most hikers use this campground as a basecamp before or after making their treks through the backcountry but it can be difficult to plan out your trip if you’re not sure that you can reliably find the campground or even secure a spot. That being said, this campground is located very close to some amazing amenities (10 minutes to Half Dome Village and 10 minutes to most trailheads). In addition to nearby amenities, the campground itself offers some great amenities including picnic tables, fire pits, bathrooms and bear boxes. The campsites are also really beautiful, as the grounds are situated near a picturesque wooded area, creek and unique rock formation. All in all, if you’re willing to wage the risk of not knowing how to get there or if you’ll even have a spot when you get there, you’ll be rewarded with one of the only remaining patches of solitude in Yosemite Valley.
As someone who frequently falls ill with altitude sickness, I did not think (enjoyable) High Sierra hiking would be in the cards for me. However, when I got the chance as a Ranger for The Dyrt to test Boost Oxygen, I thought it was time to try out high elevation hiking and some portable O2. I used my canister of Boost Oxygen intermittently throughout a multi-day trek across Yosemite at times when I was feeling unnecessarily fatigued, lightheaded or short of breath and found relief every time. Without having to worry about the approach of an impending headache or having to take multiple breaks just to breath, my hikes were that much more enjoyable. In my everyday life, I like to stay active so I can handle tough hikes but fellow sea level dwellers will understand that there’s not a whole lot you can do to prepare for strenuous activity in altitudes you’re not used to existing in. Luckily, Boost helped me deal with those difficulties that are often impossible to prepare for. For backpackers, the obvious downside of the product is that it’s another thing you’ll have to carry. However, flat landers may find that it’s worth making some room for.
One of my favorite things to do in the Huron-Manistee National Forest is to spend the weekend backpacking the ~20 mile loop up the North County Trail and back down the Manistee River Trail. I love this loop trail because you can hike in and out without having to backtrack or coordinate a ride back to your parked car.
This forest area is unique because it offers large changes in elevation that you do not typically get in Michigan, especially not in the lower peninsula. There's the perfect mix along the trail of designated and undesignated-dispersed campsites and I have yet to encounter a spot that didn't seem perfect.
As the trail both runs above and along the Manistee river with each mile, you have ample opportunity to camp both ridge-side and river-side. Do what I did and spend one night at the riverbank and one on a hilltop and you'll have the best of both worlds. The only possible con I encountered along the way was that a few single-track roads run through the forest area and you can occasionally hear ATV/4-wheeler traffic at certain parts, but it always subsides by dark.
As a Dyrt Ranger, I also get products to test and review in the field. For this trek, I brought with me the Leatherman Surge. I must admit, I was a little overwhelmed at first by the capacity of this device to do just about anything and nervous I would spend more time fiddling for the correct tool than actually using it. Those fears, however, quickly dissolved away and I was wielding this tool like a pro in no time. The design and features of the Surge are incredibly intuitive and easily mastered. The top 2 things I love about this tool specifically in the camping setting include:
This site is the epitome of what many imagine Pictured Rocks camping to look like. The site is situated along Lake Superior with beach access and dramatic views. It serves as the perfect base camp for shoreline exploring & can be accessed by a moderately difficult hike. I'd recommend bringing warm clothes, even when visiting in mid-summer, as the wind blowing off shore has a chill to it.
This is another easy-hike site located in the park. The site is situated not along Lake Superior, but Little Beaver Lake--although the name can be misleading. The lake itself is rather expansive and the campsite is situated along the shore, offering beautiful views of the calm water. This site is great for first timers or individuals seeking a mild hike. It is also a refuge from the Lake Superior gusts of wind. The only con of this seemingly perfect site is bugs, so bring a fair amount of repellent!
Some of the major pros that come with the Cliffs site are FIRE & shielding from the wind, which are quite the amenities when visiting the shoreline in early spring or fall (and even summer). It gets cold in pictured rocks and being away from the gusts of wind coming off the lake and being able to warm up via fire is ideal. When parking to hike to the site, don't skip the built in platform/pavilion, as it offers the popular & iconic view of pictured rocks. The actual hike in is fairly easy, although it does become muddy and floods easily so be aware of recent rainfall. The hike is along the shoreline cliffs and offers plenty of breaks in the trees to stop and gaze out at Lake Superior. The site is one of the few in the park that does not offer beach access (as you are situated in the trees on a cliff) but again, this is the price you pay to stay warm. Pro tip: hike back up the trail from the site just before sunset and grab a spot in one of the breaks in the trees to watch the sun slip below the lake's seemingly infinite horizon.
We made the trip up to the porcupine mountains in early May. The trees were still partially bare from winter and we even saw the last traces of snow melting! We camped at Mirror Lake and along the Big Carp River Trail. Mirror Lake: Mirror lake is tucked between ridges in an almost valley-like area and hiking there requires a bit of ascending then descending small hills. The hike takes you through one of the largest stretches of old growth forest in North America, which is beautiful. The trail is marked with blazes, although it was an effort to locate each successive blaze along the trail. Perhaps later in the season once the trail has seen more foot traffic, the path is more defined/easier to follow. Mirror lake offers an amazing way to view the forest and immerse yourself into the wilderness but it does not offer the iconic views of the Porkies.
Big Carp River Trail: Once the trail takes you up the mountain side, the trees start to break and you have an amazing view of the valley and old growth forest below. We hiked this trail along the cliff edge and found the perfect camping spot maybe 1/2 a mile down. It felt like one of those camping sites you see pictures of but never actually exist in real life. We camped right at cliffs edge looking out into the surrounding Porkies and I swear it was real.
This island is a hidden gem 12 miles off the coast of the Sleeping Bear Dunes national Lakeshore, accessible by ferry..
I gave the island 4 stars because some of the rules are a little too stringent in my opinion. Fires are only permitted in the Village Campsite at the island's entrance & you cannot camp within 300 ft of the beach. But if you're willing to forego the pyro effects & sleeping a stones throw away from the shore, then you're in for a camping experience unlike any other in MI. In the summer months, the island feels unquestionably tropical. The sparkling blue waters and sandy beaches make it feel like you're on an island at the equator, not halfway to the North Pole. The island is also sprinkled with uninhabited cottages that vacationers left behind at the end of a summer and never returned to. You can expect your stay here to include exploring historical ruins, marveling at beaches strewn with Petosky stones & reminding yourself that you're in Manitou, not Martinique.
This is the only backcountry spot in the Sleeping Bear Dunes on the mainland. I gave it a 3 star rating because this place hardly classifies as "the wilderness". The hike in is a quick, flat terrain hike through somewhat anticlimactic scenery. Once you're at the the campground, the sites are pretty close together (which might be a good thing for groups) and there is a communal fire ring. If your preferred version of the backcountry is a short walking distance from the car and less secluded, more social sites, then this just might be your 5 star site. The beach was about 1/2 a mile from the campsite and was completely empty. Although this beach does not have the characteristic dunes of the surrounding lakeshore, it is beautiful in that it's completely yours. I would recommend this site as an ideal spot if you wanted to take a larger group and reserve multiple sites or as a way to ease first time backpackers into the backcountry. Visited July 2016.
We stayed at one of the twelve mile backcountry spots and it might be one of my favorite back country spots in Pictured Rocks. The hike in is fairly easy and flat the entire way. We also happened to be the only ones camping at this site and it was great to get away from the more busy sites further down the lakeshore. The beach is just steps away from the site which is slightly above the beach (maybe 50 ft) situated within beautiful clusters of birch trees. The climb to the beach and back is not terribly difficult, we were able to make dinner by the water and run back and forth from our camp to grab misc. cooking items without the climb taking a huge toll on our energy levels. It's also the perfect spot for star gazing and relaxing on an empty beach. I have stayed in the back country at Pictured Rocks 5 times, staying at a different site each night and this place stands out. We also passed by the drive up campsites and they seemed like some of cooler drive up spaces we've come across with each site tucked into the trees and nicely secluded.