Higgins Lake in northern Michigan is a large and very popular lake for recreational water activities during the summer. Many local residents have homes or cottages on the lake, and from what I can tell, it’s the only inland lake in Michigan to share its border with two state parks – North Higgins Lake State Park and South Higgins Lake State Park.
We were told by friends who camp there regularly and others who have a home on the lake that the general rule of thumb is North Higgins is the “family park,” while South Higgins is the “party park.” Since we were visiting offseason, I can’t speak to that description, so take it for what you will when choosing which park to visit or camp at. South Higgins is definitely the larger of the two, with more amenities and more campsites. During the summer, expect both to be filled to capacity on the weekends, and many weekdays as well near the holidays. Get your reservations in early.
The North Park
North Higgins Lake State Park is just over 400 acres and is located on the site of what was once one of the world’s largest seedling nurseries. The Higgins Lake Nursery and Civilian Conservation Corps Museum located within the park tells the story of how the Michigan CCC planted 484 million trees, spent 140,000 days fighting forest fires and constructed 7,000 miles of truck trails, 504 bridges and 222 buildings throughout Michigan. You can wander the grounds year-round, but the nursery and historical buildings are only open at certain times, so you’ll need to check the website for exact dates and times.
The modern campground includes 182 sites in two loops, but they are packed in pretty tight. You will find that there’s not a lot of privacy, and some of the sites are much smaller than others. Most are pretty level and the state even upgraded some to 50-amp service.
While the park is open year-round for camping, only a few sites on one loop are available during the offseason. Since the night we were camping was still in the offseason, we found ourselves parked right next to the only other camper in the park. We also discovered this loop was right near the main road, which I imagine could be quite busy and loud at times.
If you don’t have a tent or trailer, North Higgins offers two mini-cabins, as well as a pop-up camper that you can rent. The pop-up was something new we hadn’t seen before. We have discovered it at two other state parks so far now, too.
There’s a playground here for the kids to enjoy, or the big kids in all of us I suppose! We should note that a few of the sites back up right to the playground. So, if you have kids that might be a bonus. But if you don’t have kids that might be a site you want to stay away from.
As mentioned, Higgins Lake is good sized. There is a boat launch available, as well as a narrow beach for sunbathing or swimming. Picnic tables, grills, a playground, and bathroom facilities are all available.
Trails around the park are open to hiking all year and cross-country skiing in the winter. The entire surrounding area is known for ski trails, with the Cross Country Ski Headquarters located down the road from South Higgins.
Located next to North Higgins Lake State Park is the Ralph MacMullan Conference Center. Owned by the DNR, the center is available to rent by nonprofit, government, and education-based organizations, as well as private business with an outdoor or green-themed agenda. Lodging, food, and meeting rooms are all available on site.
The South Park
The easiest way to describe South Higgins Lake State Park is that it is more than double of everything in North Higgins Lake State Park! That means it also includes a lot more features and amenities.
South Higgins is around 1,000 acres, split into two sections. The main campground and day use area are north of County Road 100 and border almost a mile of Higgins Lake. On the south side of the road is 700 acres of forest surrounding the much smaller Marl Lake.
The section around Marl Lake features three hiking trail loops of varying length. There is a total of around 10 miles of trails through the woods. In the winter they become X-Country ski trails and are rated more difficult. A small boat launch also is available to access Marl Lake.
The large day-use portion of the park along Higgins Lake features grills, picnic tables, a shelter, beach, and a large camp store. In addition to the typical souvenirs and necessities, the store features fresh food including ice cream, pizza, a deli and more. You also can rent boats and kayaks.
If you are into boating or fishing, a large boat launch is available that provides access to Higgins Lake. The boat launch itself isn’t anything super special. But if you are camping at the park, there is a boat well where you can moor your boat during your stay. What a great amenity!
South Higgins Lake State Park is home to the second-largest campground in Michigan’s state park system, with 400 campsites. The state opened it in 1927 with 15 sites, so it’s clearly grown in popularity! As mentioned, if you want to come here during peak season, you’ll need to get your reservations in early. All 400 spots will be filled on holiday weekends.
It’s a sure sign of the campground’s popularity when the park road leading into the campground has its own dedicated reservation check-in lane stretching almost from the park entrance. It reaches a good one-quarter to one-half mile. I’ve never seen a lane that distance and can’t imagine sitting in that long of a line just to check in.
The campground is right along the beach, so it’s just a short walk from your campsite to the lake. Higgins Lake is spring-fed, so it is clear and pretty shallow for a decent way out. A great place for kids and adults of all ages to enjoy water and sun time!
With 400 campsites, you can be assured to get downright friendly with your neighbors. The majority of the campground is a wide-open field, with dirt and gravel sites. Nothing is paved and there is little to no shade. There is a smaller section built on a hill with some tree cover. We believe that would be for tents. It would be hard to fit a large trailer or RV in there. Plan on bringing leveling blocks no matter what site you reserve.
There are a few pull-through sites. But the biggest thing of note is the approximately two dozen full-service sites. These include not only 50-amp electricity, but also water and sewer. We’ve only encountered this at a handful of state campgrounds.
If you aren’t lucky enough to get a full hookup site, there is a dump station available in the campground. Another sign of the enormity of the campground is the dump station. It has a huge parking-lot sized staging area and 4 islands.
The campground had opened only two days before we visited and no one was camping there. We were just visiting for the day, and other than a couple of hikers near Marl Lake we saw no one. I’m sure it didn’t help that it was still in the low 50s. Plus there was still snow on the ground in a few places. I’m sure the solitude and quiet don’t last for long once the weather warms up!
We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. (We have a video about North Higgins Lake State Park here and a video about South Higgins Lake State Park here.) You can follow us on Instagram, our Facebook page, and Twitter. Plus, you can see our progress as we visit each park on this interactive Google Map. You also can keep track of our activities on social media with the hashtags #hikecampgo and #mistateparks100.