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 above, or use the drop-down on the right to find an area within each Ranger District.

2022 Fee Free Days

Days where Day Use Fees* are waived on National Forest Service System lands:

  • Jun 11, 2022: National Get Outdoors Day**
  • Sep 24, 2022: National Public Lands Day
  • Nov 11, 2022: Veterans Day

*Does not apply to camping, OHV or concession sites.

**Note: the Michigan Department of Natural Resources offers Free Fishing Weekends February 13 & 14 and June 12 & 13, 2021.

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Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information

Recreation Conditions Report

Area Name Status Area Conditions
Black River Harbor Recreation Area Open Open The Campground will open July 8, 2022.  No water is available at this time, staff are working to make it available. The Pavilion remains closed until water is available.
Bob Lake Campground Open Open
Bobcat Lake Campground Open Open This site opens May 27, 2022
Burned Dam Campground Open Open This site opens May 27, 2022. Fee-free campground, toilets available, no water, pack in-pack-out.
Camp Nesbit Environmental Center Open Open
Courtney Lake Campground Open Open
Golden Lake Campground Closed Closed Due to an extreme wind event, Golden Lake Campground is closed until further notice. The boat landing is open, no toilet available and pack in pack out trash.
Hagerman Lake Open Open The boat landing and picnic area are open. There is a vault toilet located adjacent to the boat landing. Pack-in, pack-out garbage.
Henry Lake Campground Open Open This site opens May 27, 2022
Imp Lake Campground Open Open This site opens May 13, 2022
Lake Ottawa Recreation Area Open Open The Lake Ottawa pavilion will be closed for the 2022 season to allow for major rehabilitation work to the interior and exterior of the building.
Lake Ste Kathryn Campground Open Open
Langford Lake Boat Launch Open Open
Marion Lake Campground Open Open
Moosehead Lake Campground Open Open Services begin May 27, 2022
Norway Lake Campground Open Open
Ottawa National Forest Visitor Center Open Open The Visitor Center is open to the public Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (CDT).
Paint River Forks Campground Open Open Services begin May 15, 2022. Fee-free campground, toilets available, no water, pack in-pack out
Perch Lake Campground Open Open
Pomeroy Lake Campground Open Open Services begin May 27, 2022. No fees are charged when no services are being provided. All rules and regulations apply.
Robbins Pond Campground Closed Closed Services begin May 27, 2022. Fee-free campground, toilets available, no water, pack in-pack out.
Sparrow Rapids Campground Open Open
Sturgeon River Campground Open Open
Sylvania (Clark Lake) Campground Open Open
  • The status of the Clark Lake Pavilion during the 2022 season is planned as follows:
  • The pavilion will be open and taking reservations.
  • Flush toilets will be open and available for use.
  • The shower facilities will be closed this season due staffing levels, which will not enable the more frequent cleanings required to meet health and safety standards.
Sylvania Wilderness Backcountry Camping Open Open The Sylvania Entrance Station is closed for the 2022 season.
  • Backcountry camping available by reservation only.
  • All overnight camping users planning to camp in the backcountry between May 15 and Sept. 30 must have a campsite reservation prior to camping.
  • All rules and regulations apply and all backcountry campers must camp at a designated site with proof of reservation.
  • All sites must be reserved through Recreation.Gov. No walk-up permits will be issued.
  • Same day reservations will be allowed.
  • Prior to your visit, all visitors are strongly encouraged to review the rules and regulations and watch the Sylvania Wilderness Orientation video.
  • Day use fees and backcountry camping fees are charged May 15-Sept 30.
The Clark Lake Pavilion will be open for the 2022 season, however, the shower facilities will remain closed.

Spotlights

Sylvania Wilderness Backcountry Camping

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

2022 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:

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.

Recreation Areas