Fall Camping in a Michigan State Park
We spend part of fall break in Waterloo State Recreation Area
When we started planning our fall break camping trip, we had one stipulation: we had to camp in Michigan.
Why? Because my dear husband had Michigan season tickets and they would be playing Indiana at home the weekend that we would go camping.
With our geographical location narrowed down to a reasonable driving distance from Ann Arbor (there were several options), I finally landed on Waterloo Recreation Area, a 20,000-acre park in southeast Michigan. It is the largest state park in the Lower Peninsula and home to eleven inland lakes. It looked beautiful and offered enough outdoor options for us to enjoy both before and after two of the four of us went to Ann Arbor for a Saturday football game.
Then our son threw a tiny wrench in the plans by lacerating his spleen three weeks before we were supposed to go on the planned camping trip. We had already been forced to end a camping trip a day early the previous weekend. But after a few days at home on break, he had minimal pain and we felt comfortable with keeping our plans.
We packed up the camper and headed out for a second camping weekend in a row.
My first mistake was not checking the state park map before we headed north. I looked at pictures, viewed the campsite pictures, and made a reservation, completely ignoring the size of the park and the fact that the two RV-capable campgrounds were on opposite sides of the park. As we approached our exit, Jeff asked me where to go, I shut down as I looked for the map on my phone—which wasn’t loading because of spotty service—and we drove past our entrance and kept traveling down narrow country roads. It was not one of our better moments.
Eventually, we were parked into our wide spot in the Portage Lake campground, with a campfire roaring and dinner around the fire. By the time I got back from walking both dogs around the loop, Jeff had decided to break all camping protocols and set up the projector so that we could watch a movie outside while enjoying a campfire. I may have rolled my eyes, but we were still trying to keep one kid as inactive as possible, all while enjoying the outdoors. I let the night-time viewing of Coco slide.
Because of the Michigan game and the threat of incoming rain, we really had one day to do anything in the park. We also had to be aware of our son’s limitations. Since we didn’t have a trail map, we drove to the Gerald E. Eddy Discovery Center to get park information. We found a fantastic learning center—both kids forgot their age and enjoyed the activities intended for much younger children—and walked the short trail around the natural play area, finding forts made of sticks and other natural play equipment that our kids could have spent hours playing with when they were younger. Unfortunately, the many trails around the Discovery Center would have to wait for our planned return in a month and a half.
Our daughter wanted to read, our son wanted to go into Ann Arbor to find U of M gear, and I wanted time out in nature. It appeared that we would be doing the unusual and splitting up the family for a few hours. After the boys left, I headed out on the Dry Marsh Trail, right in our campground loop. While it was a short one-mile hike, it still took me into the woods, the fall colors popping up all around me.
By the time Jeff and our son got back, I had walked the dogs again and I was keeping the fire going a book on my lap and firewood right next to me. Our daughter and I put aside our books as we enjoyed the dry weather, the rain holding off long enough for us to make and eat dinner, enjoying the last of our s’mores by the time the rain turned from a drizzle to a steady drip.
The cold, fall rain fell through the night. When we woke up the next morning, I dug deep inside myself to decide if I was ready to brave sitting out in the rain for four hours while Jeff and I tried to enjoy a football game. We stuck with the plan: we bundled up and packed our ponchos while the kids waited for my sister and her five kids to eventually arrive so that they could enjoy some cousin time in the state park. She arrived right before the end of the game, which our son was faithfully watching inside of the camper and out of the rain, and took all of the kids to an orchard. We, on the other hand, enjoyed a football game and came home thankful for ponchos that had kept a vast majority of the steady rain off of us.
By the time we got back to the camper, the rain had stopped. We were able to treat the kids to a campfire while we all ate the French dip that had been cooking all day in the multi-cooker.
Despite the fact that it was our fall break and we were camping, this was not the most exciting camping trip we’ve ever had. But we love Michigan (both the state and the university) and this gave us a chance to finally camp in the Mitten, something we hadn’t done since our return to Indiana. And seeing my sister, who drove an hour south in the rain for the occasion, was a definite bonus.
But we will return to Waterloo, and hopefully next time we will all be healthy enough to take full advantage of the beautiful outdoor recreation the state park offers.
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