Camping at Ottawa National Forest
Location and Geography
Ottawa National Forest covers nearly one million acres in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, stretching from the south shore of Lake Superior down to Wisconsin and the Nicolet National Forest. The terrain comprises a mix of northern hardwoods, conifers, and wetlands, with numerous lakes, rivers, and streams across the forest, including a portion of the Ontonagon River.
Developed Campgrounds: Ottawa National Forest hosts approximately 27 developed campgrounds, many of which are situated near lakes or rivers, providing easy access to fishing, swimming, and boating. Developed campgrounds, such as Bob Lake Campground and Black River Harbor Pavilion, offer amenities like picnic tables, fire rings, drinking water, and toilet facilities.
Dispersed Camping: For a more primitive experience, dispersed camping (camping outside of developed campgrounds) is permitted throughout the forest. This provides a deeper connection with nature but requires campers to be self-contained and follow Leave No Trace principles. No services are provided, so campers must pack out all trash and be mindful of their impact.
Hiking and Biking: Notable trails in the Ottawa National Forest include portions of the North Country National Scenic Trail and numerous shorter trails suitable for day hikes. Mountain biking is also a popular activity, with trails accommodating all skill levels.
Water Activities: The numerous lakes and rivers offer opportunities for fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and swimming. The forest is also known for its spectacular waterfalls, many of which are accessible via short hikes.
Winter Sports: Winter transforms the forest into a snow-covered playground with opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. The forest's snowfall can average up to 200 inches a year, providing ideal conditions for these activities.
Wildlife and Plants
The Ottawa National Forest is home to a rich variety of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, black bears, wolves, and moose. The forest's diverse habitats also support excellent bird watching, with species like bald eagles, loons, and a variety of warblers. Plant life is equally diverse, ranging from deciduous hardwoods to boreal conifers.
Regulations and Safety
Fire Regulations: There may be seasonal fire restrictions, so check the current conditions and follow all guidelines. Use existing fire rings and never leave a fire unattended.
Fishing and Hunting Licenses: Fishing and hunting are permitted with the appropriate state licenses. Be sure to follow all state regulations and seasons.
Wildlife Encounters: Be aware of the possibility of encounters with bears and other wildlife. Proper food storage and disposal are essential to keep both you and the animals safe.
Weather Preparedness: Be prepared for sudden weather changes, especially if you're participating in backcountry activities where conditions can be more extreme.
Given the rural nature of the area, accessibility options in developed campgrounds might be limited. However, there are facilities with accessible features. Always check in advance for specific needs.
Reservations and Fees
Some campgrounds require reservations, which can be made through Recreation.gov, while others operate on a first-come, first-served basis. There may be fees for camping, depending on the location and services provided.
For the most current information, it's always a good idea to contact the forest service directly:
Ottawa National Forest E6248 US Highway 2 Ironwood, MI 49938 Phone: 906-932-1330
Visitors can also visit the official website or local visitor centers for maps, brochures, and additional resources before embarking on their camping trip.