Camp in the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness

Nordhouse Dunes, Free Soil, Michigan, United States

  • Activities:

    Stand Up Paddle, Chillin, Camping, Photography, Kayaking, Swimming, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:


Dog Friendly
Easy Parking

3,450 acre wilderness area. 4 mile hiking trail along Lake Michigan to camp off of. 140 foot sand dunes. Located within Manistee National Forest. Completely cut off from cell phone reception. No crowds.

The Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area is located south of Manistee along an extremely isolated shoreline. Most hikers prefer to camp two nights along the shores of Lake Michigan, but some choose to call the dunes home for weeks at a time. This is an area of backwoods camping, where sites can be established either in the woods or on sand dunes. It is also known for its hammock camping, which allows stunning beach views from the treeline.

Everything must be hiked into the campsite including all food, water, and other supplies. The beach hiking trail runs 4 miles long, with inland wooded trails lasting for miles inside the Manistee National Forest. If looking for a long beach hike, an isolated lighthouse known as Big Sable Light is a 6 mile hike south from the middle point of the dunes.

Nordhouse Dunes has a wide range of wildlife; including deer, raccoons, bears, bobcats, and coyotes. All food must be hung, buried, or kept in a scent proof container at night. Animals will chew through tent material if food is smelled.

The hiking trails can be accessed from two parking lot points. The main parking lot is located off of US 31. If camping, an overnight backpacker’s permit must be acquired at a Marathon Gas Station at the corner of US 31 and W Forest Trail Rd. Once the permit is bought, continue down W Forest Trail Rd. for approximately 8 miles until the road ends into a rounded parking lot.

Pack List

  • Water
  • Tent/hammock
  • Sleeping bag
  • Bug repellent
  • Swimming suit
  • Cards
  • Adventure book
  • Fire starter
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We went for Fourth of July weekend with our dog, and we're warned about large crowds which turned out not to be a problem at all. If you're willing to put in an extra mile or more you're pretty much guaranteed to find a nice quiet spot to camp. I'd recommend entering the area on the south road (past a little general store) and park at the end of the road near the southern trailheads. It was busy so had to parallel park along the road. When you get to the dunes and the shoreline, its easier to walk along the beach to head south to the more secluded areas. The camp spots are up near the tree line a few hundred feet off the shore. You may have to find a gap up the steeper shoreline to get back up in there. Get there early and catch the sunset over Lake Michigan! Unexpected beauty here. Friendly people, interesting wildlife and vegetation, awesome beach camping.

8 months ago
8 months ago

My favorite place to camp in MI so far.

8 months ago
8 months ago

I only give this 4/5 stars because the hiking around the area can get somewhat repetitive. Beautiful areas to camp right on the dunes of Lake Michigan with a gorgeous beach. There are plenty of awesome spots to camp both on the dunes and back into the forest, depending on your tastes. We set up camp near Lake Michigan and hiked out during the day and, while it was nice, it definitely didn't compare to other hikes I've done in the state. Overall, great hike-in camping, but not great "backpacking" that I'm used to - there's not much variation on the trail when you're in the first.

9 months ago
9 months ago

Plenty of room and beautiful scenery.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

It was a ton of fun for being a really short easy hike! However, definitely do not expect a challenging hike other than the fact that your walking through really sand terrain most of the time. Avoid it during the Holliday weekends because it can be hard to find a campsite where you have some solitude.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Did my first trip of the year( in over 20 years) and wow I really wish I had trained a lil harder. Terrain is very sandy with no shortage of elevation changes and more than a few downed trees crossing the trail. Trails aren't marked except for at the trailheads, so a little bit of backtracking should be expected. There are some great camping spots along the Lake Michigan side, and even better trees to hang a hammock from. If your back country camping you only pay $5 a night to park at either trailhead. Beautiful country and definitely worth the trip.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

I just returned from a trip to Nordhouse Dunes and it was well worth my time. Its an absolutely scenic area and a great location to take a friend thats new to backpacking and camping without it being too strenuous or overwhelming. However, this is NOT a location that I would consider one for solitude. I saw dozens of hikers and campers strewn along the entire length of the wilderness' shoreline with lake Michigan, not to mention two Boy Scout troops I ran into while there. The parking lots at both trailheads to the wilderness were completely full of vehicles with additional vehicles overflowing onto nearby forest service roads. For a secluded wilderness area, it was PACKED! Also, as a additional bit of info not on here, the USFS is charging a $5/day recreation fee for the wilderness area, or if you're there for more than 3 days it become $15/week. There is a self-pay collection box at each trailhead with a stub that goes onto the dashboard of your vehicle while there. They will ticket you if you don't follow those instructions, I saw a ranger out inspection vehicles on my way out. Besides that, its definitely a worthy destination and I would definitely go back to camp again!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Backpack in a mile or more and park your tent on the dunes of Lake Michigan. A wonderful hideout!

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Shalee Blackmer Explorer

I have my heart in Michigan and my mind around the world. Adventurer, travel blogger and outdoor enthusiast. You'll probably find me in the woods.

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