Ottawa National Forest

The almost one million acres of the Ottawa National Forest are located in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Forest extends from the south shore of Lake Superior down to Wisconsin and the Nicolet National Forest. The area is rich in wildlife viewing opportunities. Topography in the northern portion is the most dramatic with breathtaking views of rolling hills dotted with lakes, rivers, and spectacular waterfalls. The northwestern edge of the forest borders on Lake Superior. It is comprised of 982,895 acres. There are 27 developed campgrounds, 18 of which meet our selection criteria.

Retaining much of the pristine beauty of turn-of-the-century northern Michigan woods, Ottawa offers an interesting contrast to the several nearby national forests. The dominant features of the rustic campgrounds are loons and lakes.

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With over 500 lakes within the Forest’s boundaries, it is difficult to find a campground not located on or near a lake. Each lake has a beauty of its own and challenges the visitor to identify their most favorite. It seems each lake has a pair of loons to provide the sound of wilderness with their call. The rustic feature refers to not only the basic amenities but the sense that one is connecting with their pioneering roots—the mountain man in all of us.

The Sylvania Wilderness and Recreation Area provides this connection with the earlier people of the Upper Peninsula (U.P.). Saved from the lumberjack’s ax by A.D. Johnston in 1895, the area now called Sylvania Wilderness was used primarily for fishing and hunting by Johnston and his friends who purchased connecting parcels. This area was eventually purchased by the Forest Service in 1967 and opened that year to the public. The area is dotted with small, hike-in campsites as well as a large developed campground on Clark Lake. As one sits next to the campfire, listening to the loons and other forest sounds, you almost expect an Ojibwa or Voyageur to hail the camp from the woods’ edge. And therein lies the unique character of not only the Sylvania Wilderness but all of the Ottawa National Forest.