(REVISED September 5, 2020) Cabins – a Great Alternative to Tents! A Roundup of Some of My Cabin Adventures in Michigan

Don’t have your own tent or recreational vehicle but still want to go camping? No problem! The state of Michigan has a variety of different cabins, lodges, yurts and even tipis for rental in its state parks and in a handful of their state parks, you can even rent the use of a pop-up camper.

Most recently in 2020 (who said nothing good came out of this shit show of a year), a whole slew of other lodging options have opened up for campers, too! Safari tents, camper cabins with screened porches and soon – geodesic dome-like structures.

Whether you have a group of two – or 24 – there is likely some state park in Michigan that will have lodging to accommodate you! My husband and I have become big fans of the rental cabin system offered up by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources – and we have stayed in nearly all of the different types! For more information about cabin rentals in Michigan State Parks, click here https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-350-79119_79145_81213_81219—,00.html

So far, I’ve camped in rustic cabins without electricity, “mini cabins” with electricity and heat, camper cabins with dual bedrooms, electricity and heat,  a yurt with a portable propane heater, a rental pop-up camper and most recently – a replica “tipi” structure. Skip ahead to the section on tipi rentals if you’ve already read this blog several times over and don’t want to be bothered reading anything you’ve already read (believe me, I feel you)!

Here’s a roundup of some of my cabin/alternative shelter adventures in Michigan:

Rustic cabins – we don’t need no stinkin’ electricity!

Rustic Cabins were the first type of cabin we ever stayed in. The first cabin trip we did in a state park was in the early 2000s at Brighton State Recreation Area – This park in Southeast Michigan has a large rustic cabin that sleeps about 12 people situated in the middle of the woods (though is still accessible by car), which we stayed in during 2003. There was a nice awning outside with tables underneath, which was perfect for the bit of rain we had on the trip. Though it’s easy for a big group of people to get along during daylight hours, it’s a different story at night! Communal sleeping with mixed company is always a BIT of a challenge! There is always someone who snores, a night owl who wants to stay up all hours talking, someone who ate too much chili and drank too much beer the night before (thus turning the cabin into a chamber of farts):

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As seen on “South Park.” We were on a camping trip where two friends shared a tent and they joked that the tent turned into one of these…groan

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Interior of rustic cabin at Cheboygan State Park

And there is always an “early birdie” in the group – someone who gets up before everyone else. That annoyingly perky go-getter who gets up at the ass-crack of dawn to go fishing – or even worse – go JOGGING! Are they TRYING to make you feel lazy and unmotivated? Does the truth hurt? And it’s always great fun to bicker about the temperature and fight over whether the propane heater is blasting hotter than a coke furnace – or turned down so low everyone has to wear their winter coats. I made up a song that went along to the tune of “Cocaine:” “She don’t light…she don’t light…she don’t light….propane.” Despite the challenges, group camping trips can still be a lot of fun. And a chance to really ham it up…

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Vodka can be a hell of a drug! A couple of campers having a bit TOO much fun at Brighton Recreation Area…

If you have a smaller group, there are four cabins at Brighton that sleep eight. Here’s a picture of one of them:

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Windigo cabin at Brighton with eight bunks. Rustic accommodations, pump water, no electricity, vault toilet.  Windigo means “cannibal monster!” What better cabin to film your own horror movie? 🙂 Photo from Michigan DNR web site

Wilderness State Park near Mackinaw City, MI has a decent selection of rustic cabins for rental, most of which are located on – or near Lake Michigan. We rented one in 2009 which still had the original stone fireplace, though it was no longer functional. A wood-burning stove was used for the heat.  Here are a couple of pictures of Waugoshance Cabin:

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A couple of views of Waugoshance cabin at Wilderness State Park.

McLain State Park near Calumet, MI (in the U.P.) has a set of mini cabins for rental (I’ll explain more about those later) and a nice rustic cabin that sleeps eight people. We stayed in one of these while paying a visit to my brother, and invited our niece along for an overnight.  An unusual feature of this cabin was that it had a sink! Not with a faucet, but it was nice to have for draining things!

Where To Rent Rustic Cabins:

Places I’ve visited and rented cabins will be indicated in bold
  • Hartwick Pines State Park
  • Sleepy Hollow State Park
  • Ortonville Recreation Area
  • Porcupines Mountains Wilderness State Park
  • Thompson’s Harbor State Park
  • Tippy Dam Recreation Area
  • Van Riper State Park
  • Waterloo Recreation Area
  • Wells State Park
  • Wilderness State Park
  • Island Lake Recreation Area
  • Bald Mountain Recreation Area
  • Rifle River Recreation Area
  • Yankee Springs Recreation Area
  • Brighton Recreation Area
  • Cheboygan State Park
  • Craig Lake State Park
  • Fort Custer Recreation Area
  • Harrisville State Park
  • Holly Recreation Area
  • McLain State Park

Off the beaten path – cabins only accessible by foot

If you don’t have eight or more people to share the costs of a rustic cabin, there are smaller cabins for rent, too. If you’re willing to strap on a backpack with all of your gear – sleeping bag, clothing, dehydrated food, water bottles, cookware – you can hike into a cabin in the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park in Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula. The hikes usually range from one to four miles, which may not seem like much – until you realize how much a loaded backpack slows you down! That, and it kind of throws off your balance a bit, as you navigate rocky/hilly terrain (a walking stick is kind of essential). Once you arrive at the cabin you have the most rustic accommodations  – no electricity, wood-burning stoves, and not even a pump for well water! You do, however, have a vault toilet! Which means you don’t have to dig a “cathole” for your crap (I draw the line at this type of rustic camping – I did it once, and nope, never again. Trowels are for gardening, not for digging your own shit hole)! You will either need to boil water you pull from a lake or stream, or bring some kind of portable purifier. There’s no better way to really appreciate water as a resource than to go backpacking! On one of our backpacking trips, we brought the wrong kind of gas canister for our stove, so we couldn’t boil our water from Lake Superior like we had planned! Fortunately, we also brought sanitizing capsules (which took about four hours to work), so we had a back-up plan. We attempted to use the wood stove to boil water, but it was to no avail…I actually managed to haul in quite a load of potable water (which weighed me down on the hike in, but looking back, it was a worthy sacrifice).

Weather is the main reason cabins are appealing. We did our first trip to Buckshot Cabin in the the Porcupine Mountains (or “Porkies,” as they are referred to by locals) in 2007. And weather indeed reared its ugly head! Lake Superior acted like it was re-enacting Nov. 10, 1975 (the date the Edmund Fitzgerald went to its watery grave) and churned up enough waves to take out a freighter! We were happy to have the cabin in which to hunker down while we watched “Gitche Gumee” do its wild dance…we had a wood stove to keep us warm, several battery powered lights, and a board game to entertain us. “Zombies” provided the evening’s entertainment…I couldn’t find any photos from this trip (I think they might be on an old computer’s hard drive), but this is a photo of that cabin’s interior:

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Cabins we stay in are NEVER this tidy looking!

Weather isn’t the only challenge on a trip. Sometimes you also need to be concerned about…other permanent cabin residents. In 2012, we rented the Lake Superior cabin in the Porkies with our 11-year-old niece in tow, and a mouse quickly made its presence known. We managed to secure all of our food in a drawstring sack and suspended it from a rafter, thus ensuring that Mickey got none of our vittles! But the nighttime scurrying was a bit nerve-wracking.

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Interior view of Lake Superior cabin. Which has a (probably) adorable little mouse living in it.

Another quirk of this cabin was the meaty haul we had to make if we had to use the privy. They decided to park the shitter on top of a hill! We had to climb this hill if we wanted to use the toilet…

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Good thing we didn’t do any drinking on this trip! This would be ground zero for drunken face plants! If we only had to pee and it was dark enough, we just did it somewhere near the cabin…sometimes climbing this summit just wasn’t worth the effort! Though the 11-year-old girl we brought on the trip easily scaled the hill!

This toilet was of the “moldering” or composting variety, which is supposedly more environmentally friendly than the “just shit in a hole and leave it there for eternity without doing anything else” variety.  Some of the homes on “Tiny House Nation” use composting toilets.  This particular composting toilet had no toilet paper provided (thankfully we brought plenty of tissues), and not only that, there were RULES to follow once you were in there!

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It was kind of an insult to hike 3.5 miles to a cabin – with about 40 pounds of gear – and then have to scale a small summit to use the john! And follow rules, too! But I love Mother Earth – I can do a “solid” for her, lol…

However, the views from “Toilet Hill” were quite lovely…

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It’s essential to have places to hang things when you’re backpacking – both inside and outside of the cabin! And you can use the rope to film your own horror movie! Uses for rope are endless!

Screw this rustic crap – I want a flushing toilet! And an outlet to charge my phone!

If rustic camping ain’t your thing, you can also rent mini-cabins, camper cabins or yurts in the state parks. Most of these all come with heat and electricity, and access to modern restrooms (though that depends upon which park they are located). Some of the cabins even have microwaves, refrigerators and coffee makers. We’ve stayed in all three of these types of lodging previously, but the “mini cabins” are our favorites.  They are the cheapest option, and are single-room numbers with bunks accommodating 4-6. Some of them (not all of them) have refrigerators and microwaves. And some are open for rental year round, such as Traverse City and Tawas Point. They are especially ideal for “shoulder season” camping in spring or fall when nighttime temps make the heated cabins especially nice. They are also a cozy place to hole up if it rains and you have to resort to playing board games or watching movies on the laptop. Here are some pics of the most recent cabin we rented at North Higgins Lake State Park in Northern MI.

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Exterior view of mini cabin at North Higgins Lake State Park.

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Dining/kitchen area of cabin.

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Other than the shades not working properly, we had no real complaints with this little cabin. And the benches/table were a nice touch! Great place to eat, play board games, or sit and watch movies (we set the laptop on a bunk and chilled out on the benches – I think we chilled out a bit TOO much! A hangover reared its ugly head this morning. I terrified a chipmunk when I went outside to throw up! My husband went to a nearby party store to fetch some ginger ale.

We’ve stayed in a variety of mini-cabins throughout Michigan – Tawas Point State Park, Straits State Park, Ludington State Park, Hoeft State Park and most recently, North Higgins Lake State Park.

Where To Rent Mini Cabins:

Places I’ve visited and rented cabins will be indicated in bold
  • Brimley State Park
  • Burt Lake State Park
  • Fort Custer Recreation Area
  • Harrisville State Park
  • Holly Recreation Area
  • Indian Lake State Park
  • Ionia State Recreation Area
  • Ludington State Park – Beechwood Campground
  • Ludington State Park – Cedar Campground
  • Ludington State Park – Pines Campground
  • McLain State Park
  • Mitchell State Park
  • North Higgins Lake State Park
  • Otsego Lake State Park
  • Port Crescent State Park
  • South Higgins Lake State Park
  • Tawas Point State Park
  • Twin Lakes State Park
  • Van Riper State Park

Camper Cabins – Electricity, Heat, and More Space

The “camper cabins” are bit bigger (and more pricey) than the mini cabins. But they have two separate bedrooms, which is great for families – both the kids and parents get a little bit of precious privacy! We stayed in one of these in December, 2015 over New Year’s when temperatures were very Hoth-like! The treks to the bathroom were kind of treacherous, we trudged through ice-covered snow when nature called! And though they were heated, they were not very well insulated against the heavy winds that gusted in from Tawas Bay! We managed to have a campfire, but did so on an adjacent camp site which was more sheltered from the wind, not on the cabin site (the winds were too fierce). Here’s what they look like – inside and out…

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Exterior of camper cabin at Tawas Point State Park

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Interior of camper cabin at Tahquamenon Falls State Park. We have never stayed in this one, photo is from the DNR web site.

Where To Rent Camper Cabins:

Places I’ve visited and rented cabins will be indicated in bold
  • Holland State Park
  • Ionia Recreation Area
  • Lakeport State Park
  • Metamora-Hadley Recreation Area
  • Mitchell State Park
  • Onaway State Park
  • Orchard Beach State Park
  • Pinckney State Recreation Area
  • Port Crescent State Park
  • Proud Lake Recreation Area
  • Sleepy Hollow State Park
  • Tahquamenon Falls State Park
  • Tawas Point State Park
  • Van Riper State Park
  • Waterloo Recreation Area

Deluxe Camper Cabins

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Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo of deluxe cabin at Holly State Park

I’ll let the copy from a Michigan DNR web site do the talking about deluxe camper cabins, which are the newest “kids” on the cabin rental block – one is available for rent at Holly State Park.I have not yet rented this type of cabin.

The Skinny on Deluxe Camper Cabins:

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources today announced that Holly Recreation Area in northern Oakland County has family-friendly cabins available for rent during the winter season. The cabins give private access to Wildwood Lake and offer an “up north” feeling within an hour of the Detroit metropolitan area.

The 448-square-foot deluxe cabins each includes two bedrooms, a kitchen, living area and a bathroom with a shower. They provide more space than traditional camper cabins and can accommodate six to eight adults. Additionally, each cabin has a 32-foot-long front porch to maximize views and water access. The cost is $120 per night Fridays and Saturdays and $86 per night Sundays through Thursdays.

Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the beach, boating and fishing just steps away from the cabins. There is an adjacent trail nearby that links many other recreational opportunities.

For more information, call Holly Recreation Area at 248-634-8811.

Yurts – kind of like tents – only more sturdy and insulated

Yurts are the most recent lodging addition to the Michigan State Park system. They are essentially frame tents, and like the cabins, offer heat (and in some of them, electricity). We stayed in one once at Waterloo Recreation Area near Chelsea, MI. Here’s what they look like:

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Where To Rent Yurts:

Places I’ve visited and rented yurts will be indicated in bold
  • Tawas Point State Park 
  • Pinckney Recreation Area – Bruin Lake
  • Craig Lake State Park – Keewaydin Lake
  • Muskegon State Park
  • Waterloo Recreation Area – Green Lake 
  • Craig Lake State Park – Teddy Lake Yurt
  • Pinckney Recreation Area – Glenbrook Yurt
  • Porcupine Mountains Yurts

Lodges – stay in a house that used to house a ranger!

One last type of lodging available for rent is the lodge. It’s basically a house, which was previously used by resident park rangers, until budget cuts (presumably) helped bring that little party to an end.  We rented a lodge in Highland Recreation Area in the mid 2000s, which had amenities we were not used to – a full kitchen, an indoor flush toilet (which was kind of on the fritz, thankfully we had a backup vault toilet outside), a shower, and a formal dining table. There were two other couples on the trip, and we were all able to have our own rooms! There was a loft bedroom upstairs, and two bedrooms downstairs, as well as a large living room.

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We rented this lodge in the winter, but decided we were going to have a campfire outside. I consumed so much blueberry beer that I briefly turned into Violet Beauregard, and our friend Dave decided his ass was too cold – and so he “mooned” the campfire to warm it up. Good times!

One of the lodges available for rent is in Hoeft State Park near Rogers City, MI. It is actually a Sears “kit” home, and always reminds me of mint chocolate chip ice cream:

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Where To Rent Lodges:

Places I’ve rented lodges will be indicated in bold
  • Cheboygan State Park Modern Lodge – Sleeps 8
  • Tahquamenon Falls Lodge – Sleeps 8
  • Traverse City State Park Cottage – Sleeps 11
  • Hoeft State Park Sears and Roebuck Lodge – Sleeps 8
  • River Hawk Lodge at Proud Lake Recreation Area – Sleeps 24
  • The Lodge at Twin Lakes State Park – Sleeps 8
  • The Dune Grass Villa at Mears State Park – Sleeps 8
  • Grand Haven State Park Lodge – Sleeps 8
  • Historic Bay Stone Lodge at J.W. Wells State Park – Sleeps 12
  • Fayette Historic State Park’s Furnace Hill Lodge – Sleeps 10
  • Highland Recreation Area Bass Lake Lodge – Sleeps 6
  • Kaug Wudjoo Lodge at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – Sleeps 12

Pop-Up Campers – Deluxe Tent Camping

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Pop-Up Camper at Mears State Park

If you’re like me and the thought of sleeping on the ground in a tent is not… quite as exciting as it was when you were 10 and had your best friend over for a summer sleepover – then pop-up camping might be for you!

My husband and I rented a pop-up camper in May, 2019 at Mears State Park. We both decided that it was the most comfortable we’d ever been on a camping trip! The pop-up camper we rented had a mini-fridge, a microwave, a space heater/air conditioner and plenty of room to stretch out. Because Mears State Park has Wi-Fi, we were able to stream movies on the laptop when it was raining outside.

Where To Rent Pop-Up Campers

Places I’ve rented pop-up campers will be indicated in bold
  • North Higgins Lake State Park
  • Charles Mears State Park
  • Yankee Springs Recreation Area 
  • Hartwick Pines State Park
  • Bay City State Park pop-up camper

Want To Re-Enact Scenes from Dances With Wolves? Rent a Replica Tipi!

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We rented a tipi at Cheboygan State Park in early September, 2020. More about that in a bit!

Maybe you’re normally a tent camper but want to mix things up a bit. Or perhaps you’re a regular RV/travel trailer “camper” and want to slum it a bit without slumming it TOO much. Maybe you really loved the movie Dances With Wolves. Maybe you still want to feel like you’re “camping” and the weather is still mild enough to get away with not paying the extra money for a cabin. Maybe you want to be the envy of other tent campers in the campground when rain douses the area. If any of these apply to you, then renting a tipi might be just the thing!

What did I enjoy the most? Having the extra space to spread out! We had two bunks (both with a bottom/top bunk), and a coat rack. That was…it. My husband and I were able to use the top bunks to store our clothing bags and other gear and still have enough room to bring in camp chairs and other random camp furniture to wait out a rain storm by watching DVDs on my laptop. We brought our own extension cord and a power strip so we could power our stuff.

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The sleeping arrangements were quite comfortable! We weren’t on the ground, had an actual mattress (I added my own self-inflating mattress to the mix) and BONUS it was actually long enough for me to stretch out!

So now that I’ve told you what I liked the most (extra space) what did I like the least? Well, three things – one, it’s open a little bit on the top, so a little bit of rain does get in (keep anything important you have away from the center of the tipi – like electronics). The short entry door was also kind of annoying. The last thing? It’s not rodent proof. We had a chipmunk get inside. It didn’t stay long enough for us to ask it to pay rent, but it was still kind of bothersome. Don’t keep ANY food inside this thing! We suspect this particular chipmunk may have been curious about the empty hard seltzer cans we had in there.

Where to rent tipis:

  •  Baraga State Park
  • Bewabic State Park
  • Cheboygan State Park
  • Tawas Point State Park (NOTE: Even though the DNR lists this park as being one that rents tipis, as of this blog posting, I have not been able to confirm that they actually have a tipi that you can rent, you might want to call the park to confirm.

Don’t Have a Tent? Rent One at Interlochen State Park!

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Me at the Camp ‘O Fair Winds Girl Scout camp in 1981. The tents that Interlochen State Park rents out to users is quite similar to this one!

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I do not own this photo. But renting a tent like this is definitely on my to-do list for 2021! Inside, there is a bunk bed with two beds – and a portable cot. Tent rental apparently used to be a “thing” with Michigan’s state park system (according to an old camping book I have), but Interlochen is the only park currently renting tents like these (as far as I know).

Other than my experiences at Girl Scout camp in the early 1980s, I’ve never rented one of these things at a state park, so I really can’t provide any commentary about the experience. When I do rent one, I will update this blog!

Safari Tents, More Cabins and Geodesic Domes – Oh My!

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources web site will have more information about this “new hotness” in lodging options, please visit it here.

So what’s next? It’s Miller Time!

Craig Lake State Park, located in the U.P. of Michigan west of Marquette near Champion, is the most remote state park in Michigan. This 6,983 acre park is a haven for backpackers, hunters, rustic campers, anglers and anyone who just wants to get the f— away from people. Getting the f— away from people is one of my favorite pastimes! This lovely tract of land was once owned by the Miller brewing family and used as the family retreat, until Frederick C. Miller (son of Frederick E.) and his son Frederick (they were not very creative with first names in that family, apparently) were killed in a plane crash in 1954. Eventually the property was sold to the state of MI, and now anyone can come visit this place. As long as you have a vehicle with a very sturdy suspension – the seven-mile gravel road leading to the park can be a hazard in inclement weather. This park has hike-in campsites and a couple of rustic cabins only accessible by foot. A little bit of trivia, there is a lake located just outside the park called High Life Lake.

This place is definitely on my bucket list of cabins to one day visit! Even if I have to haul in enough Miller beer on a hand truck! I mean, what else are you going to drink if you come out here? 🙂

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People-free nirvana!

7 thoughts on “(REVISED September 5, 2020) Cabins – a Great Alternative to Tents! A Roundup of Some of My Cabin Adventures in Michigan

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