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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Lake Michigan Recreation Area / Lake Michigan at Manistee, Michigan

August 2016, Weekend, 2-nights, Orchid Loop Site 43

Sunset over Lake Michigan at LMRA
This was our first overnight stay at Lake Michigan Recreation Area. I was a bit confused when I made our campsite reservation, because the government reservation site lists the name of the campground a tad differently. The reservation site has the name as Lake Michigan at Manistee, MI

Advance reservations

Not considering the group campsites, there are four loops in the campground, and two of them have sites that can be reserved: Oak and Orchid loops. I thought it was difficult to choose a site, as we had never camped there before. Many of the fire pits on the sites are located behind the tar pad or on the right side, which would not be a good location, if you are camping in an RV (like we were) and need to back in. The fire pit is not visible in the photos of some of the sites, and the site dimensions are not provided; only the length of the tar pad. I thought the camping cost was high, considering there is no electricity, no shower facility, and no dump station. It was $21 night, plus a $9 transaction fee. We have a trip planned to Mammoth Cave Campground; the rate is similar, $1 less per night, and they have a dump station. We'll see how that National Park compares to this one after that stay.  

Arrival and check-in

This campground has self-registration with locked deposit boxes like the State of Michigan forest campgrounds for campers who do not have a reservation. Our site had a reserved tag on it with our name and the dates of our stay.

Orchid Loop Site 43

Site 43 has a 44' tar pad, and it says it can accommodate an RV up to 44'. Our 5th wheel is 30', and it was tricky for us to back into this site. It is on the corner, which made backing in a bit more difficult. The corner was sharp enough that we had to watch out for the numbered site pole on our lot, and the one across the street. Additionally, there was a large tree located next to the road at the start of the driveway. The tree was located on the east side of the pad on site 43. All of these obstructions were considerations when we backed in, and when we departed. This was one of the few times I needed to stay outside the truck to watch when we departed, until our RV was completely on the road. Fortunately, my husband is experienced with backing up and towing many kinds of equipment!

Site 43
There were wooden posts in the ground at the end of the pad on this site, so we could not back in as far as we would have liked. I can understand that they want to keep tires on the pavement; however, the back of our 5th wheel extends several feet beyond the tires. If we could have backed up a couple more feet, we would have had more room to park our truck on the pavement in front of the 5th wheel. Most of the sites had similar posts at the end of the pads, although I observed a few sites without posts.

The site was level, and it was a good size. Although the site was a good size, it was not very secluded. In fact, we thought most of the campsites in this park were open to the sites around them. Campers on both sides of us were easily visible, although there were a few more trees on our west side (between sites 42 and 43), than between sites 43 and 45.


Each loop of this park has vault toilets. There is one set of flush toilets with running water in the Orchid Loop across from host site 40. We did not know this when we made our reservation. I thought we were fortunate that the flush toilets were only a short distance away from site 43.

It appears the hosts are supposed to clean and stock the restrooms (maybe even buy the supplies). They do a lousy job. The first time I tried to wash my hands in the Women's bathroom, the soap was all watery. I had to pump the bottle many times to get enough watery soap so l could lather my hands. I ignored this until I happened to enter the restroom right after the host had cleaned it. First, I was disgusted that I had to use the toilet in a just cleaned stall with spiders hanging over my head. How much work is it to knock the spiders down with a broom when cleaning?! I know this is easy to do, because I sweep the spiders and webs off our house siding and deck every week. Then, as I walked to the sink to wash my hands, I saw that the soap bottle was full with little bubbles on top. Yep, she had filled it to the top with water and then shaken it up! The soap was just about worthless the first day of our stay, and after this, it was merely colored water. My husband said the situation was similar in the Men's restroom. He commented about the many spiders and webs in the bathroom, when he had gone in right after cleaning. He said the soap was useable in the Men's bathroom though, because the container was never shaken. He could see that the soap was on the bottom, and that there was water on top. When he pumped the dispenser, soap came out, and most of the water remained at the top.

Fresh water is available from a spigot in each loop of the campground. There is no sanitation station in this park.

Recreation: beach, hiking, picnic area, observation platform

There is a trail from each campground loop that goes out to the beach. It was an easy walk of about ½ mile. There is plenty of beach area. The water was clean, and it was sandy. There is beach parking at the end of W. Forest Trail Rd. (the road the campground is on), and at the end of Porter Creek Rd. (the road where the observation deck, picnic area, and group campground are located). The beach signs said dogs are not allowed on the beach; however, we observed several dogs on the beach.

Beach view looking north toward the main trail by the campground

We could not find a trail map in the campground, and the hosts on site 56 were not able to provide a map or any information. They told us there was a map on the board by the flush toilets; however, there was not. Later, we found a map on the board by the picnic area and group camping sites, on the other side of the creek, once we figured out how to get over there. There was a sign posted on a trail off W. Forest Trail Rd. that said, "Authorized personnel only." We rode our bikes to the beach on W. Forest Trail Rd, and then took a path back through the woods. When we did, the trail took us to the bridge that goes over the creek. This was the same trail with the posted sign by the road. It looked like a bridge for hikers to use, and there were no signs posted along the trails, so I do not know why the sign was posted at the road.

Trail map in picnic area
There are a few miles of hiking trails in the dunes. Here is a link to a trail map, if you want to print one before you go.

View from observation platform
There is an observation platform in the picnic area. This is located at the end of the road by the beach. When you enter the park, follow the "beach" sign to get to this area.

Misc. and overall

There is not very good cellular reception in the campground. During our stay, I had cell reception for calls and texting, although my husband did not. My data reception was spotty.

It was rainy the weekend of our stay, and it appeared there were a few no-shows because of the weather. We observed at least four campsites, just in our loop, with reserved signs on the posts that no one ever used. One of these had an arrival date a week earlier than our arrival. I do not know if those guests departed early, or if they never showed up. The reservation policy states: If you do not arrive at the campground and do not cancel the reservation in accordance with the above policies, you will be assessed a $20.00 service fee and forfeit the first nights use fee. I was told that sites are held until checkout time the day after their scheduled arrival, and then released as walk-up reservations. This campground was quite full, even with the rainy weather; however, none of the reserved sites were released before we departed after our two-night stay. This seems like something the campground hosts should be on top of. Someone had taken care of marking the reserved sites with dates before our arrival.

This park has some nice recreation inside the park and nearby; however, I would not suggest this campground, if you are looking for a quiet or secluded place to stay. It was extremely noisy during our stay. Voices carried, and we heard a lot of loud talking, and general rowdiness. The generators also contributed to the noise pollution. We have a quiet generator, which we refrain from running all day long, late in the evening, and early in the morning. Many people ran their generator all day. Campers in the Oak loop behind us, around site 75, ran a noisy generator almost all day on Saturday. Site 75 is quite a distance from site 43, and the noise was annoying from our location. The noise may be different during spring and fall, when I expect the campground is not as busy.

Photo taken from the trail the goes from picnic area to beach
A friend of ours wants to try dispersed camping in this area. After our experience at the campground, we are inclined to agree with him, and try that next time. We had thought a tent we observed on a bluff near the beach and picnic area was someone taking advantage of this option. After I read the information for dispersed camping, I realized the tent did not belong where it was. The tent location was clearly in violation of the dispersed camping rules.

Please let me know if you have any questions or information to add. Feel free to share this post for others!