Why We Love Dispersed Camping in Manistee National Forest

The isolation of dispersed camping is the perfect cure to the hustle of every day. It’s remote, quiet, and provides campers with the opportunity to reconnect with nature.

From his previous years of backpacking, Steve was already hooked on dispersed camping but I had not experienced it until 2010. I immediately fell in love and soon we were looking for areas near us where we could sneak away for a weekend.

Huron-Manistee National Forest contains nearly one million acres of forested land, dunes, bogs, and marshes. Scattered between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, this wide range national forest provides “recreation opportunities for visitors, habitat for fish and wildlife, and resources for local industry.”

With all that land, there are plenty of opportunities for dispersed camping. So why do we love the Manistee area?

Nordhouse Dunes

Nurnberg Trailhead

Formed 3,500 to 4,000 years ago, the Nordhouse Dunes tower 140 feet above Lake Michigan. They may not be as well known as the Sleeping Bear Dunes to the north, but they certainly are beautiful. They offer 10 miles of hiking trails and 2 main trailheads.

North Country Trail

The North Country Trail traverses the entire Manistee National Forest, north to south. With 139 miles, the NCT takes hikers over rivers, including the Manistee River, and through hard-wood forests.



Whether car camping or hiking in, there are plenty of hidden places to find isolation and peace. While some areas are more heavily used by dispersed campers, there are others that look as if no one has ever been there.

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

Our original reason for selecting the Manistee National Forest, specifically the area near Manistee, is because of how close this portion of the forest comes to Lake Michigan. A short hike through the woods is all that separates us from a quick dip in the lake, a brilliant Lake Michigan sunset, or some of the most stunning night sky we have ever laid eyes on.

Lake Michigan Sunset


Porcupine Butt

Porcupines galore! This is the only location we have consistently seen porcupines. And not just one or two. These unique animals can create plenty of problems but are also a special treat to see.


Some of our best owl sightings have been in Manistee National Forest. One night when we were driving the trails, we had an owl swoop down to fly along side us. The familiar hoot of the “who who who cooks for you” Barred Owl can often be heard throughout the night.

Manistee National Forest is such a special place for all types of outdoor enthusiasts. For those who are seeking a bit more adventure, if offers something even more.

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