Essentials for Making Campground Reservations

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Making Campground reservations campsiteLast year, I made a big mistake.

We were making the transition from camping in a small pop-up to RV camping. Previously, we’d gone to little “in the middle of nowhere” campgrounds that were just numbered pads of gravel in the middle of a state forest with a hand pump for water and a pit toilet. With our new trailer, though, we felt the need to try out all the amenities, like water, electric, and dump stations. However, we still wanted to feel like we were really camping, so we steered away from any campground with the word “resort” in the title.

Here in Michigan, we have some of the most amazing state parks, so those seemed like the best option to meet our new camping wish list. With that decided, I sat down at my computer when the weather started getting nice in May to make reservations for our summer camping.

Big mistake.

In case you’re wondering, the big mistake wasn’t sitting at my computer or trying to make reservations. The big mistake was thinking I’d still be able to find available sites at the popular campgrounds in May. Whichever state campground I tried, I found no availability—or only sites that didn’t meet my search criteria. To say I was disappointed and frustrated would be putting it mildly.

Since camping is such a popular activity in Michigan—and perhaps because summer is so short—campgrounds fill very quickly. I’ve learned my lesson, though, and this year things are different. Here are my plans to ensure we get the camping reservations we want this summer.

Research Campgrounds Ahead of Time

Many people know exactly where they want to camp. Maybe they’re camping with friends who always go to the same place, or they want to camp near a specific place (like Sleeping Bear Dunes or the Mackinac Bridge). What’s harder to know is the specific site within the campgrounds in which we want to stay. For example, we’ve unfortunately ended up with the campsite closest to the dump station and sites closest to the main road with cars rushing in and out. To avoid this problem:

  • Do a drive through: The best option is to see the campground yourself—if that’s an option. My family has been known to stop at campgrounds we’re not staying at to ask if we can drive through. Most places are more than happy to allow us to take a look. We like to get a map of the campground, if they’ll give one to non-paying guests, so we can mark down sites we like. Then, when it’s time to make reservations, we pull those maps out of the glove compartment (where they always end up) and know which sites are the best.
  • Check out reviews: In the 21st century, it seems everyone writes reviews. While I’m not always sure that’s a good phenomenon, it can help you determine if a campground is the one for you and your family. From reading reviews on Trip Advisor, for example, I’ve found out valuable information like which loop is the busier one and which campground bathrooms need upgrading.
  • Check out photos: These days, many campgrounds are posting photos of each site on their websites. Typing the name of the campground into Google Images will produce photos that others have taken of the campground (and often surrounding attractions). Further, if you’d like a bird’s eye view of the place—maybe to see how close the sites are to one another or how much undergrowth separates each site, use Google Earth to get a look at the place.

Doing your research ahead of time can make all the difference in how successful you camping trip will be.

Find Out When Campgrounds Begin Taking Reservations

I never expected that I’d need to make my camping reservations when there’s still snow on the ground, but that’s the case in the most popular campgrounds here in Michigan. Another part of the research you should be doing is to find out when the online reservation systems will begin accepting reservations for the year to come:

  • Michigan State Park Campgrounds: According to the Michigan DNR, reservations for state park campsites can be made six months in advance—not a day before. If you want a prime site at one of the popular state parks like the Porcupine Mountains SP, Ludington SP, or P. J. Hoffmaster SP, you’ll need to book pretty close to six months out of your intended reservation.
  • Private Campgrounds: Reservation systems can vary wildly for these locations, so it’s good to call ahead. One popular private campground my family likes to visit in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has beautiful Lake Superior overlook sites—but only if you book when reservations open in October of the year before.
  • Campgrounds (National Parks): According to their website, reservations are available six months in advance , with notable exceptions like Yosemite National Park. Group facilities are available 12 months in advance.
  • Reserve America Campgrounds: Acknowledging how tough it can be to get “the good sites” at popular campgrounds, this website includes a list of the Top 5 On Sale Secrets, including synchronizing your clock with the online reservation system to ensure you’re making your reservation at the soonest moment possible. They also suggest setting up your login and password ahead of time and even practicing the reservation procedure so you’re ready the instant the booking window opens. This is serious business!

Knowing when you can begin making reservations is key to getting the campsites you want.

The Exceptions

If you’re like me and don’t get around to making all of your reservations way ahead of time, there’s still hope:

  • Cancellations: There’s always a chance  a campground may have a cancellation. Some campgrounds keep a waiting list, if you call to check their availability.
  • Nearby Locations and Campgrounds: Often, there are county park campgrounds or private campgrounds in the vicinity that have openings.These locations may be less known so therefore have more availability.
  • First Come First Served Campgrounds: If you arrive right at check-in (or even a bit before if check-out is earlier in the day), the odds of getting a prime site are good.
  • Being Nice: I’ve had some luck with just calling the campground directly and being as polite as possible to the person on the phone; when campsite demand is high, politeness can go a long way to getting you an open site.

What are your secrets to ensuring you get the campsite your family wants each year?


Dream Trips: Great Book of Lists 2.0

Okay, I have to admit that I’m giddy with excitement this morning! In my random wanderings of the blogosphere , I found something that totally speaks to me: The Great Book of Lists. (Thanks go to A Reading Writer for leading me to this find!)

I know, I know… You’re thinking, “Why would this make anyone giddy with excitement?”

I am an obsessive list maker. I suppose that makes me a control freak, but lists help me manage my world—they give order and structure. There’s nothing like checking something off a to-do list to give me a sense of accomplishment. When things are in a list, they can be addressed (then probably moved to another list!).

Anyway, I’m apparently not the only person who loves lists because there’s an entire list-making challenge at the blog of La duchesse d’Erat, and I’m totally in. I’m starting a month behind, but I can’t pass this up! Thank you, La duchesse d’Erat, thank you! Here are the instructions for anyone interested (translated into English—thank you Google!), and my first list follows. I’ve decided to keep my lists to ten items each.

  • Every Monday, I will propose a theme and you will have until Sunday night to publish your ticket, including the hashtag #TGBOL and a ping back (link) to the post announcing the topic which you are participating.
  • I will publish a summary of holdings with a new theme on Monday.
  • The comments section will allow you to say on what topics you want to write or to do lists.
    Do not forget to subscribe to the blog so as not to miss the ads Monday.


Why not start this month to share a piece of our dreams: the trips we would like to do, the places we dream of going, we note in our list of things to do but absolutely where we never the weather.
These places make us dream, ignite our imagination. These travel plans can also throw new light on our neighborhood.

My Dream Trips

(After the first two, these are in no particular order; some I’ve visited already but would love to return to.)

  1. Greek Isles
  2. Sienna, Italy
  3. Boston, MA, USA
  4. New Orleans, LA, USA
  5. San Francisco, CA, USA
  6. India (Goa, Jaipur, anywhere!)
  7. Bora Bora
  8. Sydney, Australia
  9. Seattle, WA, USA
  10. Arizona, USA

What would be on your list of dream trips?

Summer Dreaming: Michigan’s U.P.

My front yard is covered in snow, but I’m daydreaming about summer trips to the Upper Peninsula today…

Little Sable Point Lighthouse

A man stands at the window trying to read the darkness. It shouldn’t be dark. It’s morning, an hour past sunrise, yet the sky is heavy gray and clouds dip and turn and roll onto themselves, caught up in winds merciless enough to shake the tower of the lighthouse in which he stands. It’s been like this all night, and he hasn’t slept. Instead, he’s peered out into the nothingness of night, not knowing but guessing the numbers of lives lost in the storm. He can’t save them. They’re too far out in Lake Michigan, and the waves are more churlish than charitable. He keeps watch, though, staring into the storm and keeping the flame lit, signaling the way home to any who survive.


One of my family’s favorite lighthouses to visit is the Little Sable Point Lighthouse in Silver Lake, Michigan. Silver Lake State Park and the surrounding area is a summer destination for many who enjoy the opportunity to camp, swim, fish, and ride the dunes. However, my family likes the area best outside of the busy season. We wait until fall when the leaves are changing colors or we visit in early spring when the sun warms the sand enough to melt the snow. It’s at these times when I find myself daydreaming about what life must have been like when the lighthouse was in service.

Amy's phone 079History

From the early discussions of the need for another light along the Lake Michigan shoreline (Point Betsie and Big Sable Point having been recently constructed in 1858 and 1867 respectively) to the Michigan Department of National Resources’ lease of the lighthouse to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse Keepers Association in 2005, Little Sable Point Lighthouse has had many historical highlights:

  • 1871: The schooner Pride grounded on Little Sable Point, increasing calls for a lighthouse.
  • 1872: O M Poe, the Major of Engineers of the Eleventh Lighthouse District, wrote to the Lighthouse Board to request land for a lighthouse.
  • June 10, 1872: The US Congress appropriated $35,000 for the Petite Pointe Au Sable Lighthouse.
  • July 1872: Forty acres of what was public land was set aside by President Ulysses S. Grant, but construction was delayed because there were no roads to the area.
  • April 1873: Work on the lighthouse began with the construction of a dock to offload materials.
  • 1874: James Davenport became the first head keeper at Little Sable Point Lighthouse upon the lighting of the third-order Fresnel lens atop the roughly 100-foot tower.
  • 1899-1922: Joseph Arthur Hunter served as head keeper, longer than any other keeper.
  • September 24, 1900: After receiving complaints that the brick tower was hard to see in daylight, the lighthouse was painted white.
  • 1910: Originally named “Petite Pointe Au Sable Lighthouse,” the lighthouse was renamed the Little Sable Lighthouse.
    November 11, 1940: William Krumwell served as keeper in November 1940, when the Armistice Day Storm struck the area.
  • 1953: Little Sable Lighthouse was electrified and automated.
  • 1954: Henry “Hank” Vavrina, the last keeper, was transferred to Big Sable Lighthouse.
  • 1958: The brick dwelling and outbuildings were determined to be no longer needed and were torn down.
  • 1974: The lighthouse was sandblasted in 1974 to cut the cost of annual painting.
  • 2005: The Michigan Department of Natural Resources leased the lighthouse to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse Keepers Association (later renamed the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association).
  • 2010: Paid for by a Federal Coastal Zone Management grant, the Pathways to Illumination project was completed, providing visitors with a paved pathway to visit the lighthouse.

Lighthouse Life

As a writer and researcher, I love when history comes to life. One of the people I think about when visiting the Little Sable Point Light is its last keeper, Henry “Hank” Vavrina, who raised two daughters on the lighthouse property after his wife’s death (he later remarried, and his wife and stepsons also lived at the lighthouse). Vavrina saw the 1940 Armistice Day blizzard when 30-foot waves resulted in the loss of 66 lives on three freighters, the SS William B. Davock, the SS Anna C. Minch, and the SS Novadoc , along with two smaller vessels. I can only imagine what it would have been like to look out from the lighthouse at those raging waters, knowing very little could be done to help those on the lake except for keeping the light burning.

Visiting the Light

The Little Sable Point Lighthouse is located on Lake Michigan near Silver Lake, between Ludington and Muskegon (Latitude: 43.65156 and Longitude: -86.53934). The lighthouse is open to the public throughout the summer, and for a modest fee, visitors can even climb the tower for a panoramic view of Lake Michigan. For more information, contact the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association:

P.O. Box 673, Ludington, Michigan, 49431

References and Resources Harkenrider – Final Copy Sept 2015.pdf

How Long Until Camping Season?

According to all of the major weather services, this lovely Fall we’ve been experiencing here in Michigan is about to end. We’re currently under a Winter Weather Advisory, with three to eight inches of snow expected between tonight and Sunday. That makes today one of the saddest days of the year for me: The official end of camping season.

imageOkay, truthfully, we winterized our camper a couple of weeks ago, but with temperatures in the 60s, I’ve been tempted to get out one more time. If only the packing, unpacking, and planning didn’t take so long.

Speaking of planning, tomorrow’s blustery weather gives me a great excuse to start thinking about next year’s camping trips. This is where I’ll be starting my Camping Season 2016 planning:

  • Pinterest’s Camping Section: How many different ways are there to roast a marshmallow? I can spend hours looking at the clever things people have come up with for outdoor cooking and outfitting their RVs. I also spend far too much time looking at pictures of national parks and campgrounds.
  • Camping World: Who doesn’t need a new zero-gravity chair for relaxing by the campfire? I’m always amazed at the things this place sells that I didn’t know I needed–but now really, really want!
  • Families on the Road: How do families who travel the country in an RV survive? Okay, so I don’t think my family is ever destined to join their ranks, but I love to read the adventures of those who do.
  • RV Life: What’s boondocking? Why do I need a generator? A lot of the information on this site is geared toward full-time RVers, but I’ve picked up some useful tips from the pros.
  • Michigan Campgrounds & RV Parks: Where’s the best place to camp in Michigan? Since we spend a lot of time wandering around our home state, this Pure Michigan resource is a must.

So what are your favorite resources for planning next year’s camping season? How will you while away the time until it’s time to head out again?


The Up North State of Mind


The calendar in front of me says that summer officially begins on June 21st, but here in Michigan, the real start to summer has to be Memorial Day weekend. Although Mother Nature may not always be in agreement (truthfully, she’s RARELY in agreement, sending snow, rain, wind, and freezing temps for Memorial Day many years), hundreds of thousands of Michiganders greet the Memorial Day holiday with open arms, open windows, and full campers.

I remember once reading one of those “You know you’re from Michigan if…” forwarded email messages that contained the gem “You know you’re from Michigan if you go ‘Up North’ for every possible holiday.” Okay, so I’m not sure I fully agree with that, but a true Michigander would definitely head north for all the major summer holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Since Memorial Day is the first of those holidays, the harbinger of summer after a too-long winter, the chance to escape to the Great North of Michigan is too much to resist.

I was once asked by a friend at grad school way down in Ohio just where “up north” is in Michigan. That’s a tough one to answer—even with my trusty map.

Most people would probably assume “up north” refers to the cardinal direction North, literally getting in a car and driving northward. Now, don’t get me wrong. On Memorial Day weekend, people in Michigan DEFINITELY pack their cars, load the campers, stock the boats and hit the road. If you’ve ever accidentally ended up on I75 headed north on a holiday weekend—okay, any weekend in the summer—you might think the entire population of the state is migrating northward. Every campground from West Branch northward seems to fill to capacity by Friday night, and the familiar acrid smell of campfires wafts as far away as Ohio, I’m sure. If you’re not headed north, you’re probably laughing at those who are, sitting on lawn chairs in your driveway watching the endless line of traffic, taking part in this ritual of “heading north” even without leaving your own house.
Who wouldn’t like to escape every now and then? Who wouldn’t want a little “up north” every now and then? I’m of the mindset, though, that “up north” is about something much more than a direction. For me, going up north is all about escapism—a chance to get away from the daily grind and reconnect with family, friends, nature…. Remember that old 80s’ haircut the mullet? The saying that went along with the look was something like “Business in the front; party in the back.” “Up north” for me is a lot like that haircut: Work hard down here during the week; head north to play harder during the weekend.

What’s your favorite “up north” memory—whether you’re from Michigan or not?