Will 45mph winds break our tent? Does this fierce storm throw chairs onto our camp? The otherwise beautiful Lake Michigan drown us in its waves? Is this storm lightning the tree that we are sleeping under? These are a few of many questions running thru our minds every minute of that night. What supposed to be dreamy camping turned out – dead-scary. Are you curious to know about our chilling camping experience on that wild night in the Wilderness State Park?
Let’s travel back to October 3rd 2020.
Wilderness State Park is one of my favorite state parks in Michigan. Located in Carp Lake and about 10 miles from the famous Mackinaw bridge, this corner of Upper Michigan is thousands of acres of forest. And so, dark skies to spot stars like nowhere else in Mid-West. Those beaches with miles of shoreline, the hiking trails, campsites with uninterrupted views, and the nights illuminated with billions of stars. All these make it a perfect getaway.
I have been looking for my desired camping spot in the West Lakeshore campground. And when site #441 is available which is right on the shore of Lake Michigan, I immediately booked for a night and already making fall plans. This is on July 2nd and little did we know about the weather.
Entering the park
The 7-hour journey is pretty. Fall colors are coming thru in the Manistee National Forest, Gaylord State Forest, and the Petoskey area. Sun is shining all day and it is a beautiful day for camping.
Sun is already setting when we entered the Wilderness Forest Area. All the construction traffic on I-75 and the 10-mile drive on small back roads to reach the State Forest delayed further. Check-in is not easy. Although we reserved the campsite online, we called earlier for a daily pass to enter the park and were told the host would help.
Now it is after 6 PM and there is no one in the office and the park phone isn’t working. The only way to buy the pass is by filling out a form and leave it in the box with a cheque or cash. We do not have either of them. We are lucky to carry Skyroam and used the data to buy the only available pass online – an annual pass at recreation passport. Our mobile signal is very spotty but that is all Wilderness is about, right?
Love at first sight
As soon as we parked the car on our site, we were jumping. We haven’t seen campsite photos before, so this is all dream come true — camping right in front of Lake Michigan. It is such a beautiful sight with a vast lake in front of us painted with colors after sunset. We were lost in the view for some time and enjoyed the beach at our doorstep.
Campsites are sitting very tight and next to each other in the Wilderness State Park. When we started to settle, neighbors stopped by and greeted us. We are struggling to start the fire and the camper in front of us immediately brought burning firewood with his gloved hand to help. The other neighbor brought a fire starter and the other one offered a better lighter. This is one of the campsites where we made friends almost immediately. There are so many wonderful people around.
The camper couple in front of us stayed for an extended conversation. They were saying how lucky we are tonight as the site was almost in the water with high tides a couple of days ago due to the passing storm. Tonight it looks promising. Clear sky, low tides, and calm winds. There is a forecast of a brief shower later that night but it should be ok. At least that’s what we thought.
We made quick dinner, enjoyed campfire talks in the cool breeze for some time, and then got ready for the night.
It started drizzling and we moved in. The air has become chilly and our Ozark trail’s sleeping bags are keeping us warm enough to fall asleep soon.
I woke up to a loud thunder from a deep sleep and I was never able to sleep again. My first of many worries are about the waves if they hit our tent. Then woke up every few minutes to the loud crashing of waves and checked if we were safe. This continued for an hour or so.
This time when I woke up – the winds are blowing at very high speed. We arranged our tent with our luggage so it stays stable. The next thing I realized – we left our camping chairs out there. Either I was so sleepy or tired or afraid, I couldn’t go outside to remove those chairs. Now I have two things to worry about – waves and chairs, which I am checking every few minutes from my tent.
I passed a couple more hours sitting there and sometimes sleeping with my eyes wide open, hoping the night passes safely.
By now, it is around 4 AM and I am awake for a couple of hours already. My wife woke to the loud thunders with bright bolts of lightning. After a video she saw recently, she is afraid that lightning may hit the tree directly above us. We want to go to the car to sleep but we wouldn’t step out. Not sure if it is about getting wet or we must be totally freaked out.
One minute it is dark, and the next, light slowly emerging from the end of Lake Michigan. Eventually, the whole place is light up. All in front of our eyes. It is still raining with winds but the light gave us hope. We took that hard step and came out. Picked the umbrella from the car which we almost lost to the winds onto the RV next door. Although, our Ozark trail tent stood up firmly.
We were able to rush to the restrooms and came back with the breakfast bars from the car. We spent some time with cards and some interesting talks in the tent. The dark circles around our eyes spoke of how great last night was. But there was no regret, after relishing the view in front of us. It is totally worth it.
Rain now subsided and we headed to Cecil Bay Trading Post, the savior convenience store for everyone around. Got a couple of donuts, coffee, and a fire starter. Everything we need most at that moment.
Back at the tent, we used up leftover fire word for a much-needed fire to warm up. Boiled eggs and instant noodles are our lunch.
We wanted to stay another night after seeing the view but the forecast is very bad. It is clear that surviving another night after seeing the freeze warning would be tough. We packed up and left although the winds made it tough to get the tent together. It was hard to leave that beautiful campsite though.
See ya ‘real’ soon
Would you believe it if I say we drive back 7 hours to Michigan the very next weekend to spend another night?
Wilderness State Park excites me. The thought of living next to Lake Michigan in the middle of the wilderness itself brings happiness. So yes we went back. Obviously, we couldn’t get any lakefront campsite but we’re able to book a decent rustic walk-in campsite.
Guess how was our night?
It was beautiful. We would have seen thousands of stars with the naked eyes after a long time. And we have seen full Milky Way above us. It is absolutely stunning. My wife was able to witness a few meteors as well. Those could be Orionids that were active then.
The night isn’t bad with some rain but the morning was windy again. Since we stayed a bit far from the lake, we weren’t that scared this time.
We walked on the shore the next morning talking about two crazy nights in the Park. How it scared our last time to how amazing it was with all the stars glowing above us.
Well, what did we decide? We gonna come back next year. We are loving it here – Wilderness State Park. See you.
Are you gonna go visit this park in Michigan? Save this for future use:
Have you ever been in a situation like this? How is your experience? Share with us in the comments and we would love to read.
We have a few other experiences which I think you will love. Either our first camping at this state park, an epic fail at a Yurt, or otherworldly canyons at Illinois’ gem. Illinois lovers might also love this trip to Shawnee National Forest or our honeymoon trip that changed our relationship. Go further and check out this 1000 years old temple.
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Cheers and Stay safe!