A Solo Camping Guide

A few things to know before you embark on your adventure for one.
Solo camping has grown in popularity as people seek to explore nature and themselves. // Photography courtesy of Meagan Francis

The thought of camping alone in the dark woods can be frightening, but for Stevensville resident Meagan Francis, a mother of five, her solo camping trip in 2019 was a time to enjoy the outdoors alone and map out her experiences without having to accommodate others.

“I love my family, I love traveling with them, but I was like, ‘I just want to be alone. I want to do all of this by myself, in the quiet, and choose where I want to go and not wait for anybody else,’” Francis says.

She’s not alone. The Dyrt, a popular app and online platform for camping information and booking, noted a 28% increase in solo campers across the country from 2021 to 2022 in its 2023 Camping Report, adding that many of them were women.

“It showed me something that I was capable of,” says Francis, who camped in the Upper Peninsula in the Munising and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore areas. “There’s so much value in getting out into nature. … I think I learned a lot about what my limits were and how to get right up against them and challenge myself, but not challenge myself too much.”

Nick Nerbonne, the media, digital, and industry relations director at Pure Michigan, agrees that solo camping can be an excellent experience for those who are comfortable with the idea. “Some of the things that we’ve seen are that people are really into exploring themselves,” Nerbonne says. “They want to connect with their emotions and connect with nature on their own so they can form their own perspectives and relationship with the surroundings.”

Here, Nerbonne offers some solo-camping advice, including which campgrounds to visit and how to stay safe.

Stevensville resident Meagan Francis went on a six-day solo camping trip and explored the Munising and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore areas in the Upper Peninsula. // Photograph courtesy of Meagan Francis

Where should people solo camp?

I think anyone should feel safe camping at a Michigan state park. [They] are staffed with park rangers; they have infrastructure with well- lit bathrooms and showers and other facilities.

There are about 103 Michigan state parks. In southwest Michigan, Warren Dunes State Park is a large-scale dunescape with forested trails, so you can enjoy the Lake Michigan beach but also go hiking. And, it’s got a great campground there. Further up the coast is Holland State Park, which is fantastic, and then around Muskegon are P.J. Hoffmaster State Park and Muskegon State Park. Those four are absolutely gorgeous.

In what ways should a solo camper be cautious?

Make sure you’re always aware of your surroundings. Take a look at the weather forecast before you go, no matter where you’re going, no matter what time of year. There can be storm systems that pop up.

Also, make sure that your food is stored in a secure area that’s not going to attract animals. Michigan does have black bears and other animals that can come in and look for that food. If you have a car nearby, keep your food inside the car at night.

What types of equipment should solo campers bring with them?

The best part about camping is to get that rest that you get in the outdoors. That starts with a good tent that has a rain fly, which is an extra layer of protective material that deflects the moisture as it falls so your tent doesn’t get wet. And then also a good sleeping bag and a sleeping pad, which can be made of foam and many other different materials.

You also need a method of preparing food. If you’re backpacking, it’s not always possible to have a cooler. So having food that can be prepared with a small camp stove is great. And there’s always the option of cooking over an open fire; in Michigan state parks, there’s a firepit in every campsite.

How can solo campers be on the lookout for exciting outdoor opportunities?

We always recommend taking a look at what’s around the area where you’re planning to travel. For example, if you went to Port Crescent State Park [in Port Austin], there are a couple different outfitters that do trips where you can paddle out to Turnip Rock. It’s a very scenic and photogenic location.

There are books and guidebooks and online websites where you can find more information [so you can] get out and explore.

This story originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. To read more, pick up a copy of Hour Detroit at a local retail outlet. Our digital edition will be available on May 6.