Ottawa National Forest


Although there are exceptions, many of the camping areas are lightly used compared to other national forests in this region. Twenty-seven developed campgrounds, all accessible by road, welcome both tent and trailer campers. Many are located on lakes or streams, with fish nearly jumping into the frying pan, and swimming holes of which legends are made. All campgrounds have picnic tables, tent pads, fire grates and toilet facilities. Hot showers are available at the Sylvania Recreation area. Lake Ottawa, Sylvania Recreation Area, and Black River have the most highly developed facilities, while other campgrounds offer a more rustic experience and greater solitude. If you are looking for a more primitive camping experience, the public lands within the Ottawa National Forest are open to backcountry camping. There is no fee charged for this type of camping. Campers should be prepared to pack out all that they pack in and to leave the area in its natural state.

All campgrounds include picnic tables, tent pads, fire grates, and toilet facilities. Most have drinking water and can accommodate trailers up to 22 feet in length. Only Blockhouse has no water supply. The three campgrounds with the most highly developed facilities are Lake Ottawa, Sylvania Recreation Area and Black River Harbor. Each has paved access roads, pressurized water systems, flush toilets, and trailer dump stations. No electricity is available. Sylvania Recreation Area has showers available and a dump station. Other campgrounds offer more rustic facilities and greater solitude. Campgrounds range in size from 3 to 40 sites.

Fees: A nightly fee is charged at most campgrounds.

Lake Ottawa features 11 economy sites, located further from the lake. The remaining sites in the campground, Perch Lake, Lake Ste. Kathryn, and Norway Lake, have several double family sites which provide the opportunity to park two units together in one site. These sites are larger than the others and have longer spurs and two picnic tables.

Several campgrounds are available free of charge. No fee is assessed at Burned Dam, Robbins Pond, Matchwood Tower, Paint River Forks, or Blockhouse campgrounds. Paint River Forks has an accessible toilet facility.

Persons 62 years of age and older and individuals with disabilities can benefit from the Golden Age or Golden Access Passport program. A 50 percent discount on Federal campsites is given to those who qualify. Passports must be obtained in person and proof of age or a medical disability is required. For more information, contact any of the Ottawa National Forest offices.

Season: Most campgrounds are scheduled to be open by May 15 annually with some exceptions. Most campgrounds close after Labor Day although some remain open into the fall. See the Recreational Site Information Guide for exact dates and use fees.

Group Camping
The group camping facilities at Marion Lake, five miles east of Watersmeet, can accommodate up to 100 people. Water, toilets, garbage cans, and fire pits are available. The camping area is near the Marion Lake picnic area, beach, and playing field.

Remote Area Camping
With a few minor exceptions, the public lands within the boundary of the Ottawa National Forest are open to back country camping. Such campers should be prepared to pack in their water supply and pack out their trash. No waste disposal facilities or safe drinking water are available in these areas.

Fires are permitted but use of camp stoves is recommended for remote area camping. Low impact camping techniques that leave an area undisturbed after your passing are recommended. Printed materials, videos and general program information on Leave No Trace land ethics may be obtained by calling 1-800-332-4100.

Use of a current map is advisable as 40 percent of the land within the Forest is privately owned. A detailed 1/2 inch equals 1 mile recreation map of the Ottawa National Forest can be purchased from any of our offices. Primary base series maps showing topography of the Ottawa National Forest are also available at the Forest Supervisor's Office. Or you can obtain them from the U.S. Geological Survey Map Information Office, Washington D.C. 20242. Selected primary base maps are available at District Ranger offices.

Wilderness Camping
If it's solitude and pristine beauty you want, combined with challenge, you may want to camp in one of the three Ottawa National Forest wilderness areas. Wilderness is managed to protect and maintain resources in natural states. They are not managed solely for recreational use by people. Few amenities are provided in the wilderness, and users have a special responsibility to leave the wilderness in a natural state.

Sylvania Wilderness: This 18,327-acre wilderness is located on the Watersmeet Ranger District. Here you will find old growth forests and crystal clear lakes. Travel to the area's interior is on foot or by canoe only. Camping is permitted at designated sites by permit only. Permits can be obtained on a walk-in basis at the Wilderness Entrance Station or can be reserved through the Watersmeet Visitor Center. Designated campsites have fire grates and wilderness latrines. Special fishing regulations apply to Sylvania lakes. They can be obtained from the State of Michigan or from the Watersmeet District Office.

McCormick Wilderness: This 16,850-acre wilderness is located on the Kenton Ranger District and boasts a variety of landscape types ranging from nearly level to rocky cliffs and outcrops. You will find small scattered lakes and the Yellow Dog National Wild and Scenic River. Access is by foot. Canoeing opportunities are limited by lengthy portages. There are no developed campsites and dispersed camping is allowed.

Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness: This 14,139-acre wilderness is located on the Kenton Ranger District. Here you will find the Sturgeon National Wild and Scenic River and its tributaries with steep rugged gorges up to 300 feet deep, and 1/2 to 1 mile wide. Access to the interior is by cross-country navigation or on overgrown old logging roads that may be difficult to find and follow. There are no developed campsites and dispersed camping is allowed.

All camping is on a first-come, first-served basis with a few exceptions. Reservations can be made for Norway Lake, Perch Lake, Lake Ste. Kathryn, and Black River Harbor campgrounds through the National Recreation Reservation System by calling 1-877-444-6777 (toll free). Reservations are taken for the Marion Lake group camping facility by calling (906) 358-4551.

Information concerning campgrounds can be obtained at any time of the year by calling or writing to the Forest Supervisor's Office, 2100 E. Cloverland Drive, Ironwood, MI 49938, (906) 932-1330 (toll-free in Michigan 1-800-562-1201), TTY (906) 932-0301 or District Ranger Offices in Bergland, Bessemer, Iron River, Kenton, Ontonagon and Watersmeet.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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