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.

 

2021 Fee Free Days

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

  • Jun 12, 2021: National Get Outdoors Day**
  • Sep 25, 2021: National Public Lands Day
  • Nov 11, 2021: 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.

Add to your calendar by joining the Facebook Events.   

 

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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
Black River Harbor Recreation Area Open to Visitor
  • The campground is open for the 2021 season.  There is no water available at this time, staff are working to have water available. An update will be posted when water becomes available. 
  • Vault toilets are available in the campground.
  • The picnic area is open for use, and a vault toilet is available near the suspension bridge.
  • There is a day use fee associated with this site from May 15 – September 30.
  • To ensure the health and safety of its visitors, employees, and partners, the Black River Harbor Pavilion is closed for the 2021 season.
  • Construction continues on the dock this season.  The boat landing will remain closed until later in the season when dock construction is complete.  An update will be posted when the boat landing is open for use.
Bob Lake Campground Open to Visitor
Bobcat Lake Campground Open to Visitor
  • The campground is open for the season.
  • Potable water will be available on 5/28/2021
Burned Dam Campground Open to Visitor Fee-free campground, toilet available, no water, pack in-pack out. Campground is open year-round, however, the facility is only maintained May through September.
Camp Nesbit Environmental Center Closed to Visitor
Courtney Lake Campground Closed to Visitor The boat launch is open
Golden Lake Campground Closed to Visitor 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 to Visitor 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 to Visitor
  • The campground is open for the season.
  • Potable water will be available on 5/28/2021
Imp Lake Campground Open to Visitor
  • The campground is open with full services for the 2021 season.
  • The boat landing is open.
  • There is no toilet facility located at the boat landing.
  • Pack-in, pack-out trash.
Lake Ottawa Recreation Area Open to Visitor
  • The campground is open with full services for the 2021 season.
  • The day use area and boat landing are open for use.
  • A vault toilet is available near the boat landing.
  • There is a day use fee associated with these sites from May 15 – September 30.
  • To ensure the health and safety of its visitors, employees, and partners, the Lake Ottawa Pavilion is closed for the 2021 season.
Lake Ste Kathryn Campground Open to Visitor This site will open June 13.
Marion Lake Campground Open to Visitor
  • The campground is open with full services for the 2021 season.
  • The boat landings are open.
  • There is no toilet facility located at the boat landing.
  • Pack-in, pack-out trash.
Moosehead Lake Campground Open to Visitor
  • The campground is open for the season.
  • There is no water available at this time, staff are working to have water available. An update will be posted when water is available.
Norway Lake Campground Open to Visitor Boat launch is open
Ottawa National Forest Visitor Center Closed to Visitor The visitor center will be open for the sale of passes and permits starting June 7. Hours of operation will be:

June 7 - 18, Monday through Friday - Building: 10 am to 3 pm; Phones: 8 am to 4 pm

June 21 until September - Phones and Building: 8 am to 4 pm, Monday through Friday

No restrooms will be available on evenings and weekends, please plan accordingly.

Paint River Forks Campground Open to Visitor Fee-free campground, toilet available, no water, pack in-pack out. Campground is open year-round, however, the facility is only maintained May through September.
Perch Lake Campground Open to Visitor Boat launch is open.
Pomeroy Lake Campground Open to Visitor
  • The campground is open for the season.
  • Potable water will be available on 5/28/2021
Robbins Pond Campground Open to Visitor Fee-free campground, toilets available, no water, pack in-pack out. Campground is open year round but sites and access are only maintained May through September.
Sparrow Rapids Campground Open to Visitor
Sturgeon River Campground Open to Visitor
Sylvania (Clark Lake) Campground Open to Visitor
  • The campground is open for the 2021 season will full amenities.
  • To ensure the health and safety of its visitors, employees, and partners, the Clark Lake Pavilion and Sylvania Entrance Station are closed for the 2021 season.  All wilderness regulations still apply.  Visit the Sylvania Wilderness Backcountry Camping page for more information specific to use in the wilderness.
Sylvania Wilderness Backcountry Camping Open to Visitor The Sylvania Entrance Station is closed for the 2021 season.  
  • Backcountry camping available by reservation only.
  • Visitors planning to camp in the backcountry between May 15 and September 30 must have a campsite reservation.
  • All sites must be reserved through Recreation.Gov prior to arrival or on the same day of arrival. Please follow the registration directions posted before going to your site.
  • 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 - September 30.
  • The Clark Lake Pavilion will be closed for the 2021 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

2021 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