Located in one of my FAVORITE outdoor places in Michigan — Ludington State Park — the Jack Pines Hike-In Campground is one of my favorite beginner backpacking sites. It's located just on the other side of the dunes of Lake Michigan, so at night you can fall asleep to the sound of waves. There's a pit toilet and water pump, and many of the sites have picnic tables, which is nice when you're first starting out.
In order to get to the campground (it's nestled inside the state park), you need to hike a mile in with your gear — the perfect distance to get away from all the crowds at Ludington (at least in the summer). However, you need to reserve your site ahead of time, so make sure you get online early. Once you're there, there are miles and miles of beautiful hiking trails to explore. Plus, if you wimp out and get hungry for some restaurant food, the beautiful town of Ludington isn't too far a drive!
Sand Lakes Quiet Area
The best thing about Sand Lakes is that it's not that well known — so if you're looking to get away from the backpacking crowds (yes, there is such a thing), consider Sand Lakes Quiet Area.
One thing I do warn visitors is that, as late as fall of 2017, the water pump was broken at the "campground" (really it's just a collection of worn spots & a pit toilet next to a marshy lake), so you need to be prepared to get water from the lake. And like I said, the lake is surrounded by mud and cattails, which makes getting the water into your filtering system a little tricky (but it can be done). Just be prepared!
But there's great hiking in the surrounding area, and if you decide you really only want to do one night in the "wilderness" there's a state campground (Guernsey Lake State Forest Campground) nearby that's really nice and hardly ever full.
Manistee River Loop
Because of its incredible popularity — and the damage that's resulted from that popularity — apparently local Michigan Hiking & Backpacking Meetups have officially stopped mentioning or promoting the Manistee River Loop to new backpackers. There's been too much trash, too many people driving in on old logging roads with their pickup trucks and beer coolers.
But I figure it's not the trail's fault people are destructive assholes! So I say go try it (though read up on it first). It's one of the best loops in Michigan, offering the perfect weekend trip for women who are beginners, with beautiful views and close proximity to civilization so you don't have to feel so remote..
Pro Tip: Plan on spending the night on the east side of the river — suitable campsites are few and far between on the west side.
Waterloo Pickney Trail
"Waterloo-Pinckney Trail is a 33.9 mile lightly trafficked point-to-point trail located near Grass Lake, Michigan that features a lake and is good for all skill levels," says AllTrails.com. This is the only trail on the list that I have very limited experience with, but I wanted to add something for east-siders to visit. This trail is one-way, so you'll need to have two cars or some way to get back to your vehicle from the starting point. Do your research on which section of the trail you'd like to attempt — because 34 miles is NOT for beginners!
South Manitou Island
If you have to choose between North Manitou Island and South Manitou Island (you can reach them both via the Manitou Island Transit), newbie backpackers should opt for the latter — South has many more amenities such as bathrooms and water pumps. My husband has taken his three teenage boys camping on South Manitou twice, and both times they've had great experiences .
When you feel ready & have some experience under your belot, come back and visit North Manitou Island — it's one of my most favorite places on earth. Peaceful, gorgeous sunsets, and it's just remote enough to feel like you're really getting away from the world..
One of the most gorgeous natural ecosystems in Michigan, Nordhouse Dunes is a National Forest and a very popular place for backpacking, since it offers dispersed camping along the shores of Lake Michigan. Most seasoned backpackers avoid the location since in summers it fills up with college students dragging giant coolers of beer (there's no one as dedicated as a college boy with his beer). But if you can get there early and claim your secluded spot — the dunes offer a lot of privacy if you do it right — the views and the hikes are incredible.
Your own backyard
If you're nervous about backpacking, one of the best places to start is your backyard, or even a local park. BUT DON'T STAY IN CITY PARKS OVERNIGHT. Just set up your gear, maybe even cook a meal using your stove to get a feel for what it's like. Lie in your tent and smile and sigh, and imagine what it would be like to leave it all behind and do some serious shinrin-yoku. It's a great first step toward getting comfortable and feeling safe with the idea of backpacking.
Seasoned backpackers — what are your tips for newbies? Leave them in the comments below.
Jill Hinton Wolfe,
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