Van camping became one of our favorite activities when my wife Ana and I bought our conversion van. We had no tent to set up, and no problem with rain or wind. We could explore all day without worries, then find any beautiful spot to park for the night. Our bed was ready in the back.
It is sometime surprising what you find when you explore without any itinerary. There are many forgotten places that few people go to, but are still accessible by van. This is especially true in the north country, like in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Unlike the hiking required to get away from the crowds in popular parks, theses are places where there is true "drive-in wilderness."
It was in October, and we carried a book of county maps with us, so we could find the little dirt roads in the national forests and other lands of the "U.P." Thirty minutes north of the little town of Ishpeming, we came into an area owned by the Mead Paper Company. Mead has a number of tree "plantations," which they generously leave open to the public.
"Grapevine plantation" is where we eventually stopped, in the middle of a thousand acres of three-foot high trees. We found a clearing a hundred feet off the road, and parked the van there. We didn't move it for two days. Two cars went by while we were camping there.
It might seem a strange choice for a campsite. It was out in the open, not near water, and almost next to a dirt road. It was strange, but that was part of the appeal. In any case, there was no traffic, we had woods were nearby for hiking, and it was free. A breeze kept the mosquitoes away, and we had a fire both nights. The silence was amazing, as were the stars. There weren't even any planes flying overhead here.
Our second day we hiked up into the hills and woods to the north. The trees had on their fall colors, and the air was cool. We saw no one that day. We had the woods to ourselves, and even had waterfalls to ourselves. These we discovered when we went off the small trail, and we gave them our own names, since they had none according to the maps we had.
Camping With Coyotes
As we sat by the fire talking that night, I discovered a unique feature of this place. The immediate area was flat, but was surrounded by rocky hills, which created the most awesome echoes. Not just normal echoes, but echoes that rolled on and on.
I howled like a wolf, which scared Ana. Wolves or coyotes howled back in the distance, which scared her more. I continued to encourage the coyotes until my voice was tired. We relaxed and watched the shooting stars, as the coyotes almost certainly watched us from the woods. When at last the fire died down, we climbed into the van and laid watching the sky through the windows. This was van camping at its best.