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Bill would give Michigan residents dibs on campsite reservations at state parks

Lighthouse on the beach
Ludington State Park, one of the most popular in Michigan, tends to fill up very quickly. A new bill may allow Michiganders to reserve campsites at state parks before non-residents. (Courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
  • Rep. Cam Cavitt introduced a bill that would give Michigan citizens first dibs on campsite reservations 
  • Campers can book reservations up to six months in advance
  • Popular locations like Ludington State Park and Tahquamenon  Falls State Park tend to fill up very quickly 

A new bill could give Michiganders early access to booking campgrounds at state parks and forests.

Visitors can already reserve campgrounds up to six months in advance in Michigan but spots tend to fill up quickly at the most popular sites.  

Rep. Cam Cavitt, R-Cheboygan, introduced a bill on March 19 that would allow residents to make campground reservations up to two weeks before non-residents. 

“It’s great to see so many people interested in camping in Michigan. But some of our most popular parks fill up so quickly that state residents have less than 20 minutes to get a spot before they’re gone,” Cavitt said in a press statement.

According to the state Department of Natural Resources, one in three campsites at state parks are already booked for the year. Some of the most popular parks, like Ludington State Park and Tahquamenon Falls State Park, have less than 40% of their campsite inventory available.


Campers may find themselves with even fewer options to choose from this year as some state parks will be only partially open, have pushed back their opening date or are closed altogether for infrastructure and improvements through the Building Michigan Together Plan

 “There should be perks to living in Michigan. People who pay taxes that contribute directly to the quality of the parks should be able to get first dibs in vacationing to those parks. Camping is supposed to be relaxing. Michigan families shouldn’t have to plan their vacations by huddling around a computer in December and praying for a nice campsite.”

The bill has been referred to the House Natural Resources, Environment, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee. 

While the DNR has taken no official stance on the bill, Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division, said if it were to become law, it may or may not have a significant impact on Michigan residents being able to reserve campsites. 


“About 87% of the people that reserved campsites or that got on the website six months in advance … over the last five years were residents,” he said. 

Non-residents only make up between 12% and 14% of reservations at state parks. 

“We try to encourage tourism in the state and we want to make sure that that stays balanced, but clearly the far majority of people that book sites are residents when that window opens up.” 

As of Monday, there are 170,498 state park reservations through Memorial Day weekend; 47% of available sites have already been booked for the year. 


Inventory is updated daily, and reservations can be made online or by phone

Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, who chairs the Natural Resources, Environment, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee, said she would give the bill a hearing but isn’t sure if the bill addresses the problem. 

“The bigger issue that they (DNR) outlined is that people will reserve five campsites at different locations and a pretty close time frame before the trip is set to happen, they’ll free up four of them and decide where they want to go,” she said. 

Pohutsky said the DNR has considered increasing cancellation fees and legislation is not needed to do so. 

“It’s not that I'm opposed to this legislation. It just doesn't seem to actually be getting to the problem because the vast majority of these reservations … are not being made by out-of-state residents,” she said. 

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