Going beach camping is something I have always wanted to do. When you live in a state that is surrounded by water on three sides and offers picturesque sunsets, I guess that probably just comes naturally.
After spending quite a bit of time listening to suggestions from friends, hoarding information on Pinterest boards, and securing some time off work, it was finally time to set out with Patronus on our first beach camping road trip. The goal? To explore two places we have never been before and get in a little bit of rest and relaxation to boot.
On a hot, humid Thursday morning in July, I loaded up the car and set out with Patronus for an extended weekend adventure. Our first stop was at Fisherman’s Island State Park in Charlevoix, Michigan.
After a long drive along a very interesting route, we arrived at our destination at around 4:00 P.M. The sky was overcast and there were storms in the forecast, so I made quick work of setting up our camp as soon as we arrived.
We were lucky enough to snag one of the sites right on the water. We had some privacy from the other campers around us thanks to the trees and bushes (and poison ivy), as well as our own little slice of heaven on a private section of beach.
It was pretty humid outside, so I think we were both eager to cool off in the waters of Lake Michigan.
People often ask if Patronus likes to swim, and my honest answer is yes and no. He loves getting into the water to cool off, and every now and then he likes to splash around and play for a bit, but he has almost zero interest in swimming as a form of exercise. He’s more of a “let’s hang out in the shallow end” kind of guy.
After taking some time to swim and hang out on the beach, I let my Thai Lemongrass Curry backpacking meal rehydrate while I cracked open a beer and played a few songs on my ukulele.
Patronus and I listened to the sound of gentle waves lapping against the rocky shoreline of Lake Michigan and watched the sun sink into the horizon as we enjoyed our dinner together atop the rocks and sand of our own private beach.
People in kayaks and canoes paddled by atop the silvery water, soaking in the last few moments of daylight.
After taking some time to talk with the people camping at the site next to us – a couple around my age – the light was almost gone and it started to rain. We decided to call it a night and head into the tent to get some rest.
Patronus drifted off peacefully to sleep almost immediately, while I sat up for a few hours reading a book to the light of my headlamp and listening to the sound of the water washing upon the beach. Eventually the rain picked up and it began to storm.
When we awoke in the morning the rain had stopped. Groggily, we stumbled out of the tent, took a quick bathroom break, then headed down to the beach just in time to watch a freighter go by along the horizon.
Since we were beach camping, my original plan was to enjoy breakfast and some tea on the beach before breaking camp and getting ready to head off to our next destination.
Unfortunately, nature had other plans for us, as more storms were on the radar. I decided to get dressed and pack up first, which ended up being the correct decision, because it began to rain just as soon as I got the tent disassembled and started packing up all of the pieces into their respective stuff sacks.
(Pro Tip: Some two wall tents have the ability for you to pitch only the footprint, poles and rain fly. Whether you’re car camping or backpacking, this is a really helpful feature because it allows you to set up or take down your tent in the rain without worrying about the inside of your tent getting wet.)
By the time we were all packed up the rain began to pick up. Begrudgingly, I made the decision to head out so we could get a start on our drive to our next destination, which was somewhere between three and four hours away.
This was my first time driving across the Mackinac Bridge by myself, and to be honest, I was a little bit nervous. It ended up being okay, though.
After getting off at our exit, we followed the same stretch of road for miles and miles. It was a scenic drive through forests, quaint little towns, and along the shores of upper Lake Michigan.
As we continued on, gloomy skies turned into light rain, which eventually turned into a torrential downpour.
Driving along the picturesque lakeside highway through a rain storm felt reminiscent of a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie, and I sincerely wished I would have added a Bernard Herrmann song like this one to my road trip playlist.
To be completely honest, morale was pretty low at this point. Patronus seemed bored and homesick, and although I had brought my Copper Spur tent which can be pitched beneath the rain fly, I was not looking forward to setting up camp in the pouring rain.
Fortunately, by the time we had reached Garden Corners, the angry clouds parted and made way for sunny skies.
It was mid-afternoon by the time Patronus and I arrived at Fayette State Park, got checked in, and made it to our campsite.
None of the sites in the campground at Fayette State Park were as secluded as the as the sites at Fisherman’s Island State Park, and the section of shoreline near the campsite was extremely rocky (with a designated swimming beach further down a trail), however there were actual bathrooms with running water and showers available.
After setting up our camp, collecting some kindling and tinder, and stopping by the park headquarters to purchase some firewood, Patronus and I made our way down to the section of beach near our campsite to swim for a while and enjoy the sunset.
When the sky became dark, we headed along the trail that led uphill back to our campsite.
It took a bit of coaxing to get a fire started since most of the kindling I had collected was still wet, but thankfully I was able to get it lit.
I sat beside the fire with a book and my headlamp, enjoying my favorite pasta backpacking meal and a s’more, while Patronus napped and had some dog food.
By the time we were ready for bed, the skies were perfect for stargazing, and the air was a comfortable 57 degrees with a light breeze. Patronus fell asleep almost immediately after we got settled into our tent, while I spent a little more time reading, stargazing, and listening to the sound of the water below us.
Patronus and I awoke pretty well-rested the next morning. After making our usual pit stop to use the bathroom, I got our breakfast ready and then plopped into my hammock to enjoy mine. (If you’re wondering, it was granola with powdered milk and some tea.) We are both night owls, so taking a couple hours to wake up before getting a start on our day is our favorite thing to do whenever we can.
Once we were sufficiently fueled up and reasonably awake, I got dressed, packed up both of our packs, then took Patronus for one more bathroom break so we could head out for a day of hiking and checking out the Fayette ghost town.
You can read more about our time exploring the ghost town and hiking the escarpment trail here, but basically, the TL;DR version is that we spent a beautiful sunny day checking out abandoned buildings, exploring an old cemetery, and doing some much-needed hiking.
After a long day of exploring, we headed back to our camp to settle in and relax for the evening.
I fired up the JetBoil and made breakfast burritos to share with Patronus. Eggs are one of his favorite foods, and because he was on his absolute best behavior all day long, I was happy to reward him for a job well done.
After enjoying our meal, we decided to head back down to the water to enjoy the views. I couldn’t believe it was already our last night of beach camping!
As the sun began to sink lower in the sky I could see that Patronus was starting to get a bit restless, so the two of us meandered our way back to camp.
I built a big fire and we sat beside it as the sun lit up the sky through the towering pines, the sound of gentle waves lapping against the rocks at the bottom of the hill behind our site.
The night sky was clear and perfect for stargazing, yet again. We sat awake past 2:00 A.M. enjoying our campfire, watching the stars, and just hanging out in nature without much distraction.
The night was cool and breezy again, so both of us slept like rocks.
It was still a cool 58 degrees when we awoke the next morning, so after we awoke and took care of business, I decided to spend some time in my hammock, sipping on tea and soaking in my last few hours of relaxation before we had to head out.
The time to get dressed and pack up eventually came. Although I am ALWAYS an uncoordinated mess whenever it is time to pack up, I still managed to snap a couple photos of us, have everything packed up, and make one last pit stop before our designated checkout time. Yay for productivity!
Since neither of us were exactly in a hurry to get back to the grind of daily life, and because it’s been on my bucket list for ages, we decided to take a side trip on the drive home to check out Kitch-iti-kipi.
After taking time to enjoy the springs and watch the fish, we headed back to our car and settled in for the long drive home.
When we arrived back home, Patronus and Naga were reunited at last and it was clear that they had missed one another quite a bit.
Luke greeted me with dinner from Carrabba’s. Once the car was unpacked from our little adventure, Luke and I sat on the couch enjoying our food and watching TV.
All in all, doing a solo road trip with Patronus turned out to be a lot of fun, and I am so glad to have made these memories.
Thanks for reading!