From the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Camping is defined as temporary outdoor living. That covers a pretty wide swatch of ground.

Michigan campgrounds are a popular destination for families this summer.

To some folk, camping means tossing on a backpack and carrying a sleeping bag well away from civilization. To others, it can mean driving into a developed area in a $150,000 recreational vehicle that has all the amenities of home – including a wireless Internet connection.

There are endless possibilities between the two extremes.

Regardless of what the word means to any particular individual, there’s no doubt that camping is a hot topic this year as both public and private campgrounds throughout Michigan are reporting a summer surge in attendance.

“As of early July, ‘camp-nights’ were up 17 percent from last year,” said Harold Herta, who runs the resources management section of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Parks and Recreation Division. “And last year was up from the previous year.

“We haven’t seen a million camp-nights since 2005,” he continued. “I think we’ll break a million by late August.”

There are numerous possible explanations for this renewed public interest in camping, ranging from nostalgia among aging baby boomers who want to rekindle the excitement they experienced as kids to the simple fact that a night in a tent is a lot less expensive than a night in a hotel. A motor car vacation to visit a state park is just a fraction of the cost of a week at Disney World. Plus, camping is reaping the benefits of marketing campaigns – from equipment manufacturers and retailers to government agencies involved in outdoor recreation – that have definitely caught the public’s eye.

The DNR is right it the thick of it, having launched several campaigns in recent years that aim to make it easier for would-be outdoors people of all ages to discover camping and enjoy the experience.

Take the DNR’s First Time Camper program, for instance. Available at 19 state parks and recreation areas across the state, this instructional program furnishes newcomers with an information kit, assistance setting up camp (by a park ranger) and the use of all the gear (courtesy of Gander Mountain) that a camper needs for a two-night stay: a tent, tarp, flashlight, lantern and stove. All for $20.

“We’re getting a lot more requests this year,” said Maia Stephens, recreation programmer for the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division. “We’re happy to report that 22 percent of participants have become continuing campers.

“We see a lot of single moms come out, but the program is open to anyone who has never camped at a state park before.”

Coupled with that first-timer initiative is a program for newcomers and veteran campers alike – Recreation 101 – which teaches additional outdoor skills to make any camper’s stay more exciting and enjoyable.

Recreation 101 classes are taught by DNR staffers, volunteers, guides and other experienced people who can introduce you to fishing, archery, shooting, kayaking, geocaching and an almost endless list of other outdoor recreation opportunities. All Rec 101 programs are free of charge and available at most state parks throughout the summer.

“You get all of your gear and expert instruction included and there are more than 500 Rec 101 programs going on this year,” Stephens said. “In June, we had more than 1,000 people who tried something new. We had 33 instructors and 22 of them were private businesses – outfitters, guides or retailers – who were bringing their equipment and donating their services for free.

“What’s most impressive is that somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of Rec 101 participants had never been to a state park before.”

Both of these recreation-minded initiatives come on the heels of what has turned out to be a highly successful change to state parks’ entrance policy. In past years, park-goers had a choice between paying a daily entrance fee or buying an annual motor vehicle permit ($24). Beginning in October 2010, the DNR introduced the Recreation Passport, replacing both of those choices and providing a much more economical way for residents to enjoy and support state parks and recreation areas.

Now, almost one in four Michigan residents opts to purchase the $10 Recreation Passport – which shows up as a letter “P” on the license plate sticker – when renewing a license plate registration.

In addition, the DNR has folded its state forest campgrounds – generally more rustic, less developed facilities located in state forests – into its Parks and Recreation Division. The change has helped to build awareness among residents and out-of-state visitors about Michigan’s plentiful rustic camping opportunities in picture-perfect settings. An added bonus: this administrative change made it possible for the DNR to lower the cost of campsites at those campgrounds.

A Recreation Passport also provides access to (but does not cover the per-night campsite cost of) state forest campgrounds.  

All in all, Michigan’s Recreation Passport is proving to be a success for the DNR and a boon to building interest in state parks, recreation areas and state forest campgrounds – and the many fun and memorable experiences to be had there. Attendance at state parks is flourishing.

“In 2010 we bottomed out, but we bounced back in 2011,” Herta said. “We’re seeing capacity crowds that we haven’t seen since the ’80s. We’re having a banner year.”

To book a spot at your favorite state park or state forest campground, visit; to find out how to get your Recreation Passport, visit; or to see what fun Recreation 101 events are happening in your area, visit