Planning a Family Camping Trip to Nordhouse Dunes

If you think you know Michigan and you haven’t been to Nordhouse Dunes, you don’t know Michigan. As a fairly avid camper and Michigan enthusiast, I thought my first trip to Nordhouse would be like other backcountry camping – beautiful, buggy, marshmallowy, and a little rugged.

And while it is those things, this trip is so much more – it’s camping on a perfect, remote beach of Lake Michigan surrounded by beautifully preserved dunes. It is easily in the top three camping trips to take in Michigan and it is exciting to share it with you!

What it’s Like to Camp

I’ll admit that we did not plan well enough for this trip, which led to some challenges that could be prevented with some small adjustments. I’m hoping this helps anyone else who may be planning a trip to avoid the same issues.

Nordhouse Dunes is a slightly elevated level of camping, but is still kid (and dog) friendly. It just requires strategic planning. There are many families with young children, even babies, camping here, so you can do it too. These tips should help make your trip the best adventure possible for you and your family!

What to Know

This place is beautiful. It is beyond beautiful, and worth every effort in planning your visit there.

The most important logistical thing to know is that there is a 1.5-2 mile hike to get into the camping area. The trail is very clear and well-maintained. It is mostly flat, but has a few small hills. This hike is beautiful in and of itself, so goes by pretty quickly.

Nordhouse is one of two federally Designated Wilderness Areas. As such, Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly principles are encouraged.

Because this is a pretty popular spot that doesn’t allow you to make reservations, it can get busy during camping season. Once you have hiked in, it doesn’t feel crowded at all. The sites are spread out enough that you will have a private camping experience. That said, because there are a lot of people there, the parking situation gets dreadful pretty quickly. It’s best to get there as early as possible on Friday (ideally in the morning) if you plan to camp over a weekend so you can get a parking spot that isn’t awful.

The cost for camping at Nordhouse Dunes is $5 per day and $15 per week.

How to Get There

Nordhouse Dunes is located between Manistee and Ludington along the shore of Lake Michigan. To get to the campsites, you will need to use the Nurnberg Road Trailhead. Parking is available near the trailhead, but it goes fast!

As I mentioned above, you will want to get there as early as you can on Friday if you plan to camp over a weekend. Otherwise, you will have to park on the road, which adds additional distance to the hike to the campsites. From there, you will follow the trail for about 1.5-2 miles. You will start to see campsites and can search for the perfect one for you. Settle in and get ready to make memories!

What to Bring

This is a backpacking-esque camping trip. You are about 2 miles away from your car, so you will want to bring everything you need with you and plan to not return to your car until you are ready to head home. This means you want to pack very light. This trip that requires equipment that isn’t heavy, or is built specifically for backpacking. The biggest mistake we made was in the volume of stuff we brought with us: our tents were too heavy, we brought too many unnecessary accessories, and we brought a TON of water with us. All of this combined made the hike in pretty brutal, and could have been avoided with a little more planning.

Once you’ve made it to your campsite, you can pretty easily gather firewood in the nearby woods. I had concerns about this, but it was easy and ended up being kind of fun.

Top Tips

With kids, having them each carry a backpack with their own clothes, sleeping bags, snacks, water bottles, toiletries, and entertainment would be hugely helpful for getting to the campsite with ease. The families we saw all did this, and the kids seemed to have a blast on the hike into the dunes.

If I have one recommendation for this trip, it’s to bring a high quality water filtration system if possible. Each campsite is close enough to lake Michigan that you can easily snag some filtered water. There are certainly other solutions and depending on how long you plan to stay, you may be able to bring pre-filled water bottles. For one night with kids, you could easily get away with toting along some extra water bottles.

I would also recommend bringing food that doesn’t take up a lot of space and doesn’t require a lot of water or to be kept in a cooler, such as Tasty Bites packets, pre-made sandwiches, and so on.

Every bit of planning that this trip takes is more than worth it. This is one of the most beautiful places in Michigan and is a trip your family will cherish for a lifetime.

Not sure if you’re up for backcountry camping just yet? Check out these other fun options around Michigan.


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