Rustic Vacation: Stay in Cabins at Wilderness State Park


When I set out to find a combination of beautiful Michigan wilderness, rustic ambiences in a cabin, and a remote location where I hoped I had no cell signal, I figured it wasn’t. would not be easy. But just a two hour drive north of Traverse City, the historic Wilderness State Park at Carp Lake gave me everything I hoped for and a few surprises I didn’t expect.

Founded in 1922, Wilderness State Park has over 10,000 acres and 26 miles of pristine Lake Michigan coastline covered in thick pine forests bustling with creatures ranging from otters to bobcats to black bears. There are two islands in the park, and it is also a Dark sky reserve offering spectacular views of the stars above.

The scenic drive to Carp Lake passes through farmland and the friendly towns of Elk Rapids, Charlevoix, and Petoskey along US 31 North and takes you to even smaller stops such as Pellston, Brutus, and Ponshewaing.

But it is only when you exit the freeway onto the roads of Pleasantview, Gill and Cecil Bay that you begin to sink into that peaceful state of mind as the farms dwindle and the forest grows. bigger.

When you arrive at Wilderness State Park, it is clear that you have made your way to a special public place that is looked after by friendly rangers and staff. In addition to more than 250 outdoor campsites along the water and in the woods, you will find ranger offices, superb parking lots with a view and manicured trails in all directions.

But I was here for The Cabins.

There are six in all and two dormitories. The oldest built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the last in 1989 — their names evoke the spirit of the frontier and natural sites: Nebo, Sturgeon Bay and Station Point.

Arriving just as the ranger station was closing I found a yellow phone booth and spoke to a staff member who told me they were waiting for me and I could find my key hanging at the door of the headquarters. It did, and I took my map and keys and started driving to the edge of the park where the asphalt gave way to gravel. I was suddenly in a tunnel of trees, miles in the park.

At the end, and after a deer rushed down the road in front of me, I found the door to the Waugoshance hut – a simple and beautiful structure with a heavy log stove, bunk beds, wooden chairs. modest but handcrafted woods and a bay window overlooking the dunes, a stone’s throw from Petoskey. The frame was the cabin’s real show off.

Like others before me, I delayed unloading the car and exploring inside the cabin to head straight for the dreamy sandy path crossing the dune grass and ending in a shoreline. as beautiful as anyone I had seen in the world. My girlfriend and I just watched the lapping of small waves of a dozen colors of blue hit the shore, pushed by a warm September wind. The clouds were racing across the sky and the breezes were picking up… a storm was coming.

The interior of the cabin was large and sturdy, but the old wooden logs kept it warm, even when the sun was setting. I lit a fire in the wood stove and we lit some candles. The fire helped light up the dark interior as I lit our camping stove to cook dinner: baked potatoes and sausage and a salad with apple slices.

We put on some music, a mix from the 60s, and we settled in for the night. The dinner was hot and plentiful, a good meal in every way, especially a meal without running water or electricity – cooked with the fuel of the ancients.

There was a relaxed but competitive game of Scrabble on the wooden table by the window. No cell signal meant no access to the online “I told you so” dictionaries, so the words were played by the honor system. There was an epic battle of Jenga with multiple rounds and fierce and daring moves. I kept the fire going, now perfect with a bed of embers. Then a new deck of cards and just talk, stop to listen to the fire or the winds.

It was near midnight when we put two of the bunk beds together, unrolled the sleeping bags, and made our nest as best we could.

Rain hit the moss-covered cabin roof overnight, then trickled down to the eaves and fell, creating curtains of water outside each window. We left a lot of them open so that the fresh air and the smell of the rain could circulate inside.

In the early hours of the morning, we walked barefoot to the shore to watch the distant lightning cross Lake Michigan. The beach was completely empty except for us. The natural spectacle continued until we were cold and returned to the cabin. I kept the fire going for the last time.

We forgot the coffee, a major oversight, so we packed our little equipment imprint, swept the floors, closed the windows and locked the cabin again. One last trip through the gate and back on the dirt road.

Just for fun we took a wrong turn, which ended in a little parking lot at the end of the pier, another nice little beach where endangered piping plovers mate and lay under the protection of the park . There are only a few dozen couples left who are fighting for their survival.

All that remained was to put the key in the slot in the ranger office and we were back on the road. We stopped for coffee at Petoskey and had our take-out caffeine fix with bites of our latest apple, shared together in the car.

Stopping on whims, we visited the The largest cherry pie pan in the world * and a set of retired passenger trains called the Crooked Lake Express. We parked by the side of the road to admire a giant chicken sculpture, the hen in a red dress welcoming passing visitors.

The rain drove us to Traverse City. The last thing to do was unpack the car and throw out the garbage. We left no other trace of the adventure.

Professional advice in the cabin
  • You will forget something, but everything will be fine! Part of the fun is taking on a few challenges, like how to cook an entire meal with just one fork. Here are the things you must have because you won’t find them in your cabin: cookware, trash bags, dishes, toilet paper, kindling and, of course, silverware.
  • Cabin life is darkening faster than you might think, and once the sun goes down you will need a good source of light. Check lanterns and flashlights before you go to make sure they are working. A generous amount of dry logs will be in your cabin, but you will need your own kindling and matches. You can purchase additional bundles of wood inside the park for $ 6.
  • You have to pack everything, so don’t forget the trash bags. It is your responsibility to leave the place better than you found it.
  • Bring meals that are simple and easy to prepare. Prepare them ahead of time and simply reheat them. Bring a little spice — mustard, dressing, salt and pepper — every meal made after an adventure tastes great and you’ll be hungry, so make it hearty and special. You will not regret it. And don’t forget the snacks and dessert.
  • Cabins are designed for families and groups, so if you and your loved one are going together, you might just be in separate bunk beds. Bring a sleeping bag and pillow for each person to have it covered. The sleeping pads are quite comfortable, and you just might get an epic good night’s sleep with all that peace and quiet.


Northern Michigan outside


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