(UPDATED APRIL 2023) Mill Lake Cabins – Like Staying in an Abandoned Summer Camp!

NOTE: As of 2021, these cabins have heat and electricity, when we stayed in them in September 2020, they did not have these amenities.

My husband and I lucked out last weekend and were able to rent a 10-person cabin for two nights at a park not far from our home. The cabin was located in Waterloo Recreation Area, which is a sprawling playground including 11 lakes, two modern campgrounds, a rustic campground, an equestrian campground, several public boat launches and a variety of cabins/structures to rent for overnight adventures. It’s the largest state park/recreation area in the “lower” mitten of Michigan.

In the past, we’ve rented the yurt structure at Green Lake, and last year, we rented the camper cabin at Portage Lake. You can read about the camper cabin trip here: https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/hebontheweb.blog/17413

If you want electricity/heat and access to modern bathrooms (in season), you can rent a “camper cabin” at the Portage Lake campground, if you want more of a tent camping experience but don’t want to actually set up a tent – you can rent a yurt at the Green Lake rustic campground, and if you’re bringing a Brady Bunch sized family you can rent one of several rustic cabins, which accommodate 8-20 people. The cabin we rented looked like this and could accommodate 10 people:

The cabin has bunk beds accommodating six people, plus two full-sized futons. I put our own sheets on them so we could feel less “icky” about sitting on them! There is also a large dining table with benches and a kitchen style counter and small storage area near the front:

Outside the cabin, I really enjoyed the private area we had for our campfire and picnic table. Our cabin (one of three in our section) was at the end, so we had only the woods on one side our cabin. I enjoyed chilling out in my reclining camp chair and listening to my “jams” on my little mp3 player and battery powered speakers. I also made a noble attempt at a “creepy” selfie:

Won’t you come into my cabin? I have Pop-Tarts!

My only real “complaint” about the cabin was a lack of lantern/light hooks. There was nothing on the ceiling for lanterns/lights, like I’ve encountered in other rustic cabins I’ve rented. I adapted by using my own supply of battery lighting so that we didn’t have to curse the darkness when the sun set:

I had battery operated string lights (four sets) draped around the windows, some tea lights on the dining room table and a small fuel lantern by the front door on a dim setting. When I was outdoors after dark, I had my own personal light source:
I kind of screwed up this selfie, but thought it was cool anyway! Doesn’t it look like my head is on fire? It’s actually a headlamp, unsure what I did to f— up this photo!

All of the rentable cabins are a short walk to Mill Lake:

Mill Lake may not be ideal for swimming, but there is a public boat launch for small motor use (across from where I stood to take this photo).

If you want a slightly longer walk from the rental cabins, you can hike to the Gerald Eddy Discovery Center, which connects to a variety of hiking/nature trails – including the 33.9-mile Waterloo-Pinckney Trail (popular with backpackers).

A majority of the old camp’s buildings are still boarded up, though they don’t all appear to be falling into ruin (the exterior stain looks like it is being reapplied regularly).After our first overnight, we took a short walk on the grounds to see the other buildings. There are multiple signs posted stating that security cameras are in use (which I hope is a strong deterrent for vandals).

The whole experience last weekend felt like two things to me – stepping back in time – and it also felt like being at my old Girl Scout summer camp again! The place I attended summer camp in the early 1980s has since been sold to a private owner (Camp ‘O Fair Winds in Columbiaville, MI near Lapeer). None of the old camp buildings/structures still exist. Being able to walk this old camp gave me a strange sense of closure! And according to my husband, gave me a little “spring in my step!” He said he really enjoyed watching me explore the grounds so enthusiastically.

“It was fun watching you bouncing around and taking all of those photos,” he told me later. Uh…OK! What did he mean by “bouncing?” I don’t “feel” very bouncy these days! Eye of the beholder?

Mill Lake Outdoor Center Scenes

Section of cabins that remain closed off to users (there are six of these cabins in this section).
Side view of the dining hall and what appears to have been a bathroom building (right).
Front view of dining hall. Campers would come into this building to stuff their faces, and if they were naughty, have food fights.
I’m not sure what this building was originally used for, but I thought it was creepy AF! It does not appear that anyone has made any attempts to maintain or preserve it.
This cabin was sitting by itself near the dining hall. I have a feeling that it was part of a “series” of identical cabins that are no longer standing (though I am not sure about that).
Doesn’t this old disheveled ball look sad and lonely? Or is this boarded-up cabin more sad and lonely:
Who wouldn’t want to spend a night in this cabin? đŸ™‚

The cabin we rented last weekend was part of a sprawling camp complex that was built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. Over the years, the cabin buildings (I counted 12 of them still standing), dining hall/kitchen building and other auxiliary buildings were used primarily by youth groups, until 2000, when budget cuts brought it all to a halt. It was only in recent years that an effort (led primarily by volunteers and donations) to rehabilitate/renovate a handful of the bunkhouse-style cabins allowed them to see new life – and visitors – again.

Cabin B3, which was around the corner from ours.
Side view of our cabin (B8). There were three rental cabins in our section, and two around the corner.

I think it’s great that a few of these cabins have had some life pumped back into them and can be enjoyed by people seeking unique, no-frills overnight accommodations (what better way to distance yourselves from others during a plague)? I’m not confident that the whole complex will become a bustling place for visitors anytime soon, but having a place like this less than an hour from my home? Hell yes! I’d definitely rent one of these cabins again!!!

6 thoughts on “(UPDATED APRIL 2023) Mill Lake Cabins – Like Staying in an Abandoned Summer Camp!

  1. I’m very intrigued by your photos and narrative. The school I attended in a nearby county had a tradition of taking all their 6th graders to this camp each September, so I spent a week here in 1971. We swam, had archery, went for hikes, did crafts, and performed skits and songs on the evening when our parents visited. What are now “A” cabins were the girls’ side of camp, and the “B” cabins were for the boys.

    Mill Lake Camp has been closed for decades, and I didn’t know until just today that they’ve fixed up cabins and been renting them out the last couple summers.

    The creepy building you photographed was a bathroom/showerhouse back in the day. When I attended, the newer bathhouse didn’t exist–at least I don’t think it did. So, yes, I used that building.

    For many years I didn’t even know where the camp was located; then some years ago I chanced upon it because I still live in the area and go hiking at Pinckney Rec Area a few times a year. So for the last couple decades I’ve occasionally walked through the camp to see how it’s been faring. The buildings must’ve been built well, because they were doing fine until maybe 8-10 years ago when at least one or two of them started having roof issues.

    I’m so glad to see the interior pictures–the cabin looks great!

    1. Thanks for your feedback! I went to a Girl Scout camp near Lapeer for three summers in the early 80s, so this adds to my fascination with Mill Lake and its cabins. It would be nice if more of the buildings could be rehabbed and used again but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

      1. One thing I meant to ask–did they put in at least a vault toilet somewhere and a sink to wash your hands? When I was walking around the other day, I only got to about half the camp, and didn’t see any bathrooms or shower facilities that looked usable.

        I think I’m going to call to see if they’re renting them out this summer–the website that lists reservable cabins and campsites doesn’t mention Mill Lake.

      2. No sink or running water or elecricity!
        but they have a hand pump for well water and vault toilets equipped with hand sanirizer. Still always good to bring your own sanitizer .

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