North Michigan is one of five campgrounds in State Forest State Park, a hidden gem in northern Colorado near the tiny town of Walden. Michigan Lake is a great option for car camping, particularly if you don’t look for reservations early enough and don’t get into Crags (this totally didn’t happen to me).
North Michigan is in an area of the park hit hard by pine beetle, which resulted in a lot of trees dying and being cut down. The campground is a little exposed, and for that reason wasn’t my favorite. BUT if it’s important for you to be near water, or to be able to take out a paddleboard, then it’s a great option. There are tons of little trails that take you right onto your own private beach, which was a great place to watch sunset.
If hiking is your main priority, and you don’t want to be around RVs, I would highly recommend getting a reservation at the Crags Campground. It was sold out by the time I looked, but we went to check it out on our way back to Denver. The campground was nestled into the thick pine tree forest and was adjacent to the American Lakes trails, which were some of the most beautiful hiking we’ve done. North Michigan isn’t a bad back-up, though.
How do I get there?
State Forest State Park is a beautiful – and easy – drive from Denver. I recommend leaving as early as possible, though, to beat traffic on I-25. Driving through Poudre Canyon is stunning, as is Cameron Pass (where a lot of people have seen moose, but sadly, we did not).
The road into the campground is dirt and a little bumpy, but nothing novice drivers can’t handle. You could take it on in a sedan, just drive slowly since there are a few potholes.
If you have an annual state parks pass, you can skip the Visitors Center and drive straight to the campground. If you need a day pass, or want to buy an annual one, then the visitors center is on the way to the campground. Be prepared to wait if you’re getting there on a Friday evening!
Which campsites are the best?
North Michigan is fairly small, with a 15-site loop on the south side of the reservoir and additional RV sites and cabins on the north side. We stayed in the middle of the loop at site 222, which was not very private at all. It had a great trail down to the reservoir, though, so we dragged our campchairs down it to have a little more privacy (and shade!).
I would recommend reserving the first few sites that you see when you drive in – 215 or 217. Or, going to the end of the loop and reserving 248. All of the sites have tent pads, picnic tables, and fire rings (although there was a fire ban when we went). The other thing I didn’t like about our site (222) was that the fire ring was in the same area as the tent pad. If we had made a fire, it would have been about a foot from our tent, which sounds risky and smoke-filled.
By the way – if there’s still a fire ban and you need a campstove, we LOVED this one. One burner, idiot-proof to use, and super powerful. We picked it up at the Fort Collins REI, which was right on the way. If you forget to get butane at REI, they don’t have it at the King Soopers on the north end of town. You can stop at Glen Echo further along, or you can drive into Walden (about 30 minutes from the campground).
Do I need a reservation? How much will it cost?
Like I said, I didn’t jump on reserving a campground fast enough and lost out on Crags. “Not fast enough” means I was looking in February to reserve in August. BUT North Michigan still had plenty of openings then. Regardless, if you want to book a summer camping trip within four hours of Denver, reserve early!
At $28 per night, State Forest is a few bucks cheaper than state parks closer to Denver. There is also a $9 fee to enter the park.
What’s the toilet situation?
She’s basic. There are two small vault toilets. This means no flushing, basically a toilet over a very deep hole (which can give you a rush of cold air when you sit down). Make sure you bring a headlamp with you to the bathroom, and bring plenty of hand sanitizer. And be prepared to hold your breath.
What can I do nearby?
We wanted to hike to American Lakes, which was about a 15-minute drive away. The Lake Agnes trailhead is in the same area. The only recreation within walking distance is if you want to fish or get on the water.
At 71,000 acres, State Forest State Park has a TON of hiking options. If you want to be walkable to some of them, stay at Crags (are you sensing which campground I would have rather stayed at yet?).
Anything else I need to now?
The little town of Walden is about 30 minutes away from the park and has everything you might forget. Since we stayed two nights and did a long, sweaty run/hike Saturday morning, we were also in desperate need of showers. We stopped at the Chedsey Motel and paid $20 for both of us to shower. The owner was one of the most delightful humans I’ve ever met, and the hot shower was so clutch to not feeling disgusting the rest of the evening/next day.
If you want a meal besides Spaghettios or hot dogs, or if you just want a drink and a taste of life in Walden, stop at Mansker Station. It has a giant sign for wood-fire pizza and cold beer, so it’s difficult to miss. Being a most basic white girl, I was thrilled that they also had $3 cans of spiked seltzer. My pizza-loving husband was equally excited about the wood-fired pizza, which absolutely lived up to the highway sign hype. Stop there on your way back from showering, then head back to the park to enjoy a relaxing evening!
What’s the bottom line?
I’ve made it pretty obvious by now that I would rather camp at Crags than North Michigan, but I would happily go back if it’s the only option to get into State Forest. Sure, it’s a bit longer of a drive from Denver, but there are way fewer crowds, great hiking and wildlife watching, and stunning scenery. Not to mention, at 8,500 feet it’s much cooler than the city.
Camping one night probably wouldn’t be worth the trip from Denver, so make a weekend out of it and experience the North Park region of Colorado!