Recreation

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From vast wildernesses to stunning waterfalls, exploring the Ottawa takes you into a different world.

With an average annual snowfall of 200", winter sports enthusiasts will find Alpine and Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, dog-sledding and ice fishing for most months the year.

Lightly used campgrounds and far-flung trails make it easy to find solitude no matter what time of year you visit. Although the forest is home to many furry friends, including bear, coyotes, wolves and deer so you'll never be alone.

With over 500 named lakes and 2,000 miles of rivers and streams it's a fisherman's paradise, from walk-in lakes, streams and rivers, to access to the depths of Lake Superior at Black Harbor Recreation Area.  

Get started by exploring one of the activities below. Can't find what you're looking for? Select an activity from the list on the left, or use the drop-down on the right to find an area within each Ranger District.

 

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Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information

Recreation Conditions Report

 Area Name Status Area Conditions
Bergland Cultural & Heritage Center and Museum Closed to Visitor Visit the Bergland/Matchwood Historical Society Musem website for more information.
Black River Harbor Recreation Area Open to Visitor To ensure the health and safety of its visitors, employees, and partners, the Black River Harbor pavilion is closed for the 2020 season. The picnic area is open for use, toilets are available. No water is available. There is a day use fee associated with this site, $5 per day per vehicle, or a season pass for $30 per vehicle. The season pass covers Lake Ottawa Recreation Area, Sylvania Recreation Area, and Black River Harbor Recreation Area.
Bob Lake Campground Open to Visitor
Bobcat Lake Campground Open to Visitor NO WATER IS AVAIABLE at this time
Burned Dam Campground Open to Visitor
Camp Nesbit Environmental Center Closed to Visitor
Courtney Lake Campground Open to Visitor
Golden Lake Campground Open to Visitor
Henry Lake Campground Open to Visitor NO WATER IS AVAIABLE at this time
Imp Lake Campground Open to Visitor
Lake Ottawa Recreation Area Open to Visitor There are multiple sites within this area. The campground opens 6/13 with full services, $18 per night, RV dump station available. The day-use picnic area and boat landing are open with toilets and water. A $5 day-use fee in effect on 6/13. Currently, there is no potable water available at this site, please plan accordingly. Sorry for any inconvenience.
Lake Ste Kathryn Campground Open to Visitor
Marion Lake Campground Open to Visitor
Moosehead Lake Campground Open to Visitor NO WATER IS AVAIABLE at this time
Norway Lake Campground Open to Visitor
Ottawa National Forest Visitor Center Closed to Visitor
Paint River Forks Campground Open to Visitor Fee-free campground, toilets available, no water, pack in-pack out.
Perch Lake Campground Open to Visitor
Pomeroy Lake Campground Open to Visitor NO WATER IS AVAIABLE at this time
Robbins Pond Campground Open to Visitor Fee-free campground, toilets available, no water, pack in-pack out.
Sparrow Rapids Campground Open to Visitor
Sturgeon River Campground Open to Visitor
Sylvania (Clark Lake) Campground Open to Visitor Road construction work on Thousand Island Lake Road to begin soon. Click to learn more.
Sylvania Wilderness Backcountry Camping Open to Visitor Road construction work on Thousand Island Lake Road to begin soon. Click to learn more. Sylvania Wilderness
  • Backcountry camping available by reservation only
  • All sites must be reserved through Recreation.Gov (detailed information available here)
  • Current reservation holders will be contacted by Recreation.Gov via email
  • Reservations available starting June 13
  • Sylvania Entrance Station will be closed for the season

Spotlights

Sylvania Wilderness Backcountry Camping

Sylvania and Clark Lake Entrance Station

The Sylvania Wilderness encompasses 18,327 acres of primitive lands and is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Visitors can camp in 50 designated campsites within the Sylvania Wilderness. Visitors enjoy endless canoeing, fishing, hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities.

 

Natural Features: The old-growth forests and pristine lakes in the region provide habitat for a wide range of animal and plant life, including rare orchids, bald eagles, loons and osprey. The wilderness contains 34 named lakes, some with sandy beaches and others surrounded by record-size red and white pines. 

The Ottawa National Forest is comprised of nearly 1 million acres and is located in the western reaches of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The forest's rolling, forest covered hills extend from the south shore of Lake Superior to the Wisconsin border. Lakes, rivers and waterfalls are found throughout this beautiful landscape.

Recreation: Sylvania's abundant lakes provide plentiful non-motorized boating, canoeing, kayaking and fishing opportunities. Other popular activities include hiking and viewing wildlife.

Facilities: Sylvania Wilderness Backcountry Camp is not a physical campground located at one location. The 50 individual sites are located along eight lakes within the Sylvania Wilderness. Camping is allowed only at designated sites. Campsites are primitive, but each is equipped with a campfire ring and a wilderness latrine.

Camping is permitted at designated sites by permit only. Permits MUST be reserved by visiting Recreation.gov (see details below). No first-come, first-serve walk in sites available in 2020.

Fish Your National Forests: Fish available include: Trout, Native Trout, Bass, Walleye, Panfish, Pike; Types of fishing available include: Wade, Shore, Non-motorized boat, Float tube, Fly, Spin, Ice; 

Maps:

  • Sylvania Wilderness Map
  • Clarks Lake Campground Map

2020 SYLVANIA WILDERNESS AND RECREATION AREA UPDATES

Ottawa National Forest Visitor Center

Image of Visitor Center

Welcome to the Ottawa National Forest!  Start your visit to the Forest with a trip to the Ottawa Visitor Center, here you will find recreation information, maps, and much more.  The facility is packed with interpretive exhibits and animal mounts explaining the Forest's natural and cultural history.  We offer a large selection of educational videos to be viewed in our auditorium; Thursday Evening Programs throughout the summer months; group conservation education programs, upon advanced request; as well as an interpretive nature trail.  The Visitor Center and interpretive trail are fully accessible, and no fees are charged for admission to the Center, or to attend our interpretive programming.

Also located within the Center is the "Bear's Den" sales outlet, operated jointly by the USDA-Forest Service and the Ottawa Interpretive Association.  The "Bear's Den" offers many environmental books, Ottawa apparel, unique gifts and other nature-related items for purchase.  Proceeds from these sales, after expenses, go back to the Ottawa National Forest in the form of grants for interpretive projects around the Ottawa.

Available at the Ottawa Visitor Center:

2019 Summer Program Brochure - pdf

Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness

Spring at Sturgeon River Falls

The Wild and Scenic Sturgeon River rushes out of the northern portion of this wilderness, over the 20 foot volcanic outcroppings of Sturgeon Falls, and through a gorge that reaches 350 feet in depth and a mile in width. Throughout this rugged, steep Wilderness, the Sturgeon and Little Silver Rivers and their tributaries have carved falls, rapids, ponds, oxbows, and terraces. Stunning views are possible from the eastern rim of the gorge. Except for a few naturally bare slopes, most of the land is forested with pine, hemlock, aspen, sugar maple, birch, and basswood. When the leaves of the hardwoods change color in the fall, they form a vivid tapestry. There are few established trails in Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness, and the few overgrown logging roads are hard to find and follow. The North Country National Scenic Trail parallels the northern and eastern boundaries for about eight miles. Sturgeon River Campground offers seven sites on the southeastern boundary. In spring and during peak runoff, kayaking and white water canoeing are challenging, and only recommended for advanced paddlers.

Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness Map

McCormick Wilderness

Sign for McCormick WIlderness

Three generations of McCormicks, the descendants of Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the reaping machine, held the deed to this area before Gordon McCromick willed the land to the U.S. Forest Service. McCormick Wilderness has recovered from the logging era that ended in the early 1900's. Today, you'll find a mixture of northern hardwoods and lowland conifers interspersed with small patches of towering white pine, Michigan's State Tree. Straddling the divide between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, this region ranges from nearly level terrain to rocky cliffs. McCormick's water is what draws most visitors, with the Huron, Dead, Pahokee, and the Wild and Scenic Yellow Dog Rivers all have part of their headwaters within the wilderness. Many cascading waterfalls on the Yellow Dog make it unnavigable. The Yellow Dog is one of a few Eastern rivers designated "Wild". Eighteen small lakes add sparkle to the landscape. Trout, pike, and bass live here, but only in small numbers due to the less-than-fertile-waters. The three mile White Lake Trail connects County Road 607 to White Deer Lake where the McCormick Estate once stood. Remnants of old, unmaintained trails can sometimes be found, but the rest of the Wilderness is fairly rugged, isolated, unspoiled, and relatively difficult to access.

McCormick Wilderness Map

Camp Nesbit Environmental Center

Nestled in the beautiful northwoods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Camp Nesbit Environmental Center is the perfect setting for exploring the natural world. Built by the CCC, this residential camp blends a rustic feel with many modern conveniences. For more information on the facilities and reserving your spot read below or print out the brochure (pdf).

Camp Nesbit was built in 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and exists today much as it did when construction was completed in the late 1930’s. The facilities blend a rustic feel with many modern conveniences.

The 12 dormitory-style cabins can accommodate up to 144 people and are readily accessible to Lake Nesbit—an 18-acre lake perfect for fishing, canoeing and swimming. A recreation hall, kitchen and dining hall, nurse’s cabin, and fire circle complete the Center.

Amenities such as an archery range, shooting range, hiking trails, ropes course, volleyball and basketball courts, baseball diamond, and swimming beach provide for outstanding recreational opportunities.



https://www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/ottawa/recreation