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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Campground Review- Paint River Forks in the Ottawa National Forest in U.P. of Michigan

(this is one of series of posts of various campgrounds we have been to over the years... I am going through my files in alphabetical order and posting past camping trips in my blog.... something to do over this long long winter---- sigh)

I almost hate to post information about this campground, it's such a nice boodocking secret!  Shhhhh don't tell anyone, ok?  This is a small remote campground, designated fee-free by the US Dept of Ag- Forestry because it's so far out to maintain and collect fees from.  There are four sites, an outhouse and a manual well pump.  There are some garbage cans, but they are rarely emptied, and unscrupulous folks from nearby cottages dump their weekend trash in them on Sundays on their way home.  So we take our trash home with us.   The sites are often overgrown with tall weeds, so we take along a weedeater to clean up a bit before we park, small price to pay for free camping!

The road loops into the campground and back out again, past a canoe launching spot on the Paint River... and some folks just drive through to "see who is camping"  which we find funny!

There are four large sites, big enough that we sometimes double up on the camping.  When we are ready to head out there, we let our family and friends know, so they all load up and head there.  Most often we are the only ones out there, so we take up the whole campground for ourselves.

Here is some information on the Ottawa National Forest campsites:  

The campsites here are space apart nicely with trees and shrubs all around.. the road is wide enough  to swing in a big rig for camping.
  paint river forks campground

We like boondocking here.  It's quiet, it's free and we are comfortable.  Having batteries, generator, and a nice river to park by is just about all we need!  The kids didn't like camping here when they were little, because the river is all rocky, fast current, and no beach.  So now as adults, we enjoy the place even more.

parked at paint river forks

These pics are from a time we were here with our Coachmen motorhome , but our big diesel Safari would fit too.  The road into the park is gravel, but graded.   Our folks also had a Coachmen at this time when these photos were taken.  They have now gone to a Holiday Endeavor motorhome, a diesel pusher too.   Here we are camped together on the same site.

camping with the parents

We spread out and take up all four sites, with family on each one.  Close enough to carry food, lawn chairs, and beer coolers back and forth.  The guys cut some firewood and we designate one site for the campfire for cooking and sitting around.  Usually not by the parents cause they go to bed early.

linda n fuzz camper

I remember taking these pics.. it was a hot muggy summer weekend, but early morning things were fresh with dew and pretty bright green in the morning sunshine.

 morning freshness
The north branch of the Paint River is great for trout fishing.  There are two little paths behind the campsites along the river that lead to some nice fishing spots.  We also put in the canoes here and float on down for 5 miles to BlockHouse, another National Forest campground of 2 sites on the same river.   When our kids were teens, we would let them float on downriver and pick em up 4 hours later at Blockhouse.  The river is pretty shallow and many spots the canoes need to be dragged across the shallow spots to get down the whole distance.

paint river

One time we had pulled in here... lo and behold, what did we see???  Our old FAMILY CAMPER TRAILER!!!    Yes, it is still being used, by the grandchildren of the folks my dad sold it to many years ago.

(P.S. we don't camp this "messy"  this photo is from now with the new people)

old mayfair

Okay.. I need to go off on a tangent here, please bear with me.  This is why I have become such a Happy Camper person and my background into why I love to RV so much.

This little Mayfair travel trailer was our summer HOME at the Pentoga Park campground on Chicagon Lake.  Sure, we had our house in Caspian, but we lived all summer out at the lake.  Mom would drive back and forth for work each day.  Dad was disabled so we would stay all summer at the lake.  Swimming, water-skiing, campfires and running around the campground was the Life O'Riley for us kids growing up.   In the Spring and Fall (during the school season) we would pull the trailer on the weekends out to various other national forest campgrounds.  Then, during the hunting season in November, my dad would pull this trailer wayyy up into the woods on some land he leased from a logging company.  It would stay there the entire winter, as a get-away place for our family on the weekends. 

Once the snow fell, the only way into the trailer was by snowmobile, going miles inland from the main road.  We would go there, with Mom packing enough food, clothes and supplies for 2 adults, 5 kids and 1 big dog.  We would park out on the road, unload the snowmobiles and gear up and hop on, to trek our way into the woods to where the trailer was parked.   We towed a sleigh behind one snowmobile, similar to a dogsled sleigh.  On there we would load supplies and smaller kids.  I would stand on the back end with my feet straddling the sled, one foot on each runner, keeping it from tipping on the rough or slanted parts of the trail.  That was my job.   Sometimes it would take two trips to get all the gear in for the weekend.  That would mean two trips out too to go home as well.

This place in the woods was worth it.  There was a natural spring hole that was adapted with a barrel and pipe so we had fresh water all winter long.  We rigged up a temporary outhouse that could be disassembled each spring.  

Now you have to imagine this:   2 adults, 5 kids, one wet dog,  with drying snowmobile suits and felt boot liners, hats, mitts, socks etc. all in that tiny camper!   Sleeping quarters were tight.  The couch folded down into a bed for the parents, the double fold-down bunk above for my sister and myself, with my littlest brother crossways along our feet.  Then the table went down into a bed, with my other two brothers.  If they brought along a friend, then one brother would squish down in the tiny space under the lowered table where it folded down to make a bed.  Yes, on the floor in that tiny space!  Of course the dog bunked in wherever he could fit.  A big husky/shepherd mix.  

We had a Warm Morning radiant LP heater, no blower.  There was a big LP light fixture near the table.  The stove had 4 burners for cooking or heating up water for washing up.  Mostly we cooked outside on the campfire though.  Fond memories of coffee perking in the early light of day and seeing the blue flames of the propane burner under the edge of the pot.  Ahhhh 

We had a 12volt battery we would haul up each time, and take home again to recharge.  It was for powering the CB radio and running the 8 Track player.  Yes, my folks would play their music, over and over, like 8 track players do, the incessant country twanging or else the music of the Moms and Dads Magic Organ -- I kid you not!   over and over and over...   I also would bring my tiny transistor radio with earphones, for my 70's music.  Only one radio station up there and it would go off the air at 10 pm.   

At night, we played lots of card games, tictactoe and checkers.  Favorite card games were 31 and cribbage.  You had to sit in one spot and take turns moving around when you needed to get up and bundle up to use the outhouse.  I would bring along beading or needlework in my pockets, or a stack of paperbacks and use a flashlight to read.  I always had to remember to bring extra batteries of my own,  so I didn't waste the ones meant for the camper.   

As kids, we had to get along and behave.  We were in such close quarters that if you were being a brat, it was easy for Mom or Dad to lean over and WHAP you a good one.  So we learned to adapt and make the best of it.  There was no hope of staying home, when the whole family went, we ALL went.   It was worth it to be up there.  The serenity of the land and the peaceful woods was spellbinding.  I remember one time, sitting in the snow down near the spring hole, a deer came up to drink from the open water just below the spring.  I sat really really still... and she drank, looked around, drank again, and sauntered off in the woods, not knowing I had been sitting there all the while.    We had Whiskey Jack birds who would swoop in for bread and scraps.  If you kept putting them closer and and closer, you could get the birds to hop right next to you and see them up close.  They are very friendly birds.  I used to try to draw them from memory after they flew away. 

During daylight hours we would be outside playing, or hop on the snowmobiles for long rides in the most wonderful winter woods you could ever imagine!  Dad would pour over the "Plat Book" to see where interesting logging roads were for a nice ride.  Sometimes they would dead end.   Sometimes they would come out somewhere we would recognize.   Never had GPS, just Dad's memory of the maps and knowing the woods from hunting.   Mom would take along a few packs of hot dogs, a thermal jug of cocoa and we would stop somewhere on the trail and start a campfire.  No buns for the hotdogs, they would get squished.  But we didn't care, ate 'em right off the sticks as we cooked 'em.  We would get back to the trailer by dark and start the campfire there for cooking supper.  

Now I take it back about not being able to drive into the trailer in winter... one Xmas (yes, we did spend an Xmas us there, think of Santa trying to get the presents in un-seen from the truck out on the road, going miles in the woods to the trailer) ....   well,  these two old drunk lumberjacks, Louie and Davey, were talking to my dad on the CB radio.  We were singing them Xmas carols over the air.   Well.... these two old coots decided that these kids needed a visit with some treats from the bar they were sitting at in Watersmeet.   They loaded up a bag of candy bars, potato chips, pretzels and gum, and headed out in their beat up old car.  Imagine our surprise, seeing two headlights come bouncing down our well-packed snowmobile trail!   It was miles into the trailer and they made it!   LOL   What a holiday memory, huh?     

Once the big snows of January and February came along, driving in was impossible, and only snowmobiles could get through to the trailer.  Once spring came, we would haul it out quickly before the frost left the ground, otherwise it would be mid-June before we could tow it out. 

Thanks for the trip down memory lane... now back to Paint River Forks Campground review:

Here we are parked in a campsite, loaded with chippies and squirrels, all for the dogger's entertainment.  We keep them tied up here, as the passing cars through the campgrounds every so often don't allow for free-roaming dogs at this place.  And if fishermen come down the river, our goofy dogs would jump right in to go swim to them to say HI!   So tied up they are and that makes em happy too.  At least they are in the woods so they don't really mind.

on guard

Each site is surrounded by tall trees and dense underbrush.  We sure like it here.  Being in the middle of the Ottawa National Forest, we can hear the wolves and coyotes howl at night.  Close enough to make the hair stand up on the dogs, and the hairs on the back of your own next to boot!

tall pines_1


Yes, there is a well here.  But the iron ore causes  the water to be very rusty red.  It stains the containers you haul it in, even for washing up.  So we make sure our holding tanks are full of fresh water in town before coming out here.

water source

Of course I bring all my fiber toys along ... and here is a pic of my spinning wheel.  But the reason for posting it is about the fire ring in the background.  There are many different types of fire rings in the National Forest Campgrounds... seems they install whatever company they happen to contract with that year.  But this type is the best.   The grid can adjust to any height for cooking, or swing outta the way for just an open fire.  If there is no grid, we bring along our tripods to cook over if need be.

 sittin and spinnin

Now, food is an important part of our camping.   Seeing as we have usually 15-20 people around to feed when we come here, we coordinate ahead of time the basic menus.  Mom, sister and I burn up the internet connection on Friday to figure out what to cook and bring supplies accordingly.  Folks bring this and that and before we know it, we have a full meal enough to feed everyone.  

Here are some photos of one of the times we deep fried a turkey.   This is a very exacting thing to be able to calculate the right amount of oil to be heated.  It has to have enough in there to cover the bird fully, but not too much when the displacement of lowering the bird into the oil which would make the oil overflow the pot!    Of course you must ALWAYS have the burner off while lowering the bird, otherwise flames can erupt as you see on shows like American's Funniest Home Videos... not too funny though.  Even a dribble down the side of the pot can allow the flames to come up once you relight the burner.. and that can trail right up into the pot and start the whole works on fire too.  So unless you know what you are doing, leave the deep frying to folks like my brotherinlaw, Fuzz.

(P.S. we won't talk about the time he almost burned down the woods at Blockhouse when he was smoking 2 turkeys... that is a story for another time) 

deep fried dinner doings

See?  now wasnt' that worth it???  Yummm succulent white juicy turkey meat, not oily or greasy at all.  We remove the outer skin and eat the meat inside.  The dogs get a taste of the skin, not too much though.

deep fried dinner

Now.. in past posts I have mentioned ATV's or commonly called "fourwheelers" when up north.  We all have them and take them out for rides  (much like the snowmobile rides we took as kids)   there are unlimited trails and logging roads, all open to ATVS as long as you have an ORV sticker from the DNR.

Mom decided they needed to have one up here in the U.P too, so she bought a little Suzuki from my sister.. it's one that our kids used to learn on.  We all had these little Suzuki ATVs for the kids.  They had automatic clutching and were simple to use.   So Mom needed to be enrolled in Yooper  ATV Kindergarten!

(note-- Yooper means residents of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan... U.Per's --- Yoopers --- get it?) 

Mom hopped on the machine and learned by going round and round and round the campground loop.   She had driven school bus, snowmobiles, boats and a big passenger van.  So she could do this too.

atv kindergarten

My brother followed till she was comfortable with it.  Not too bad for a lady over 70 years old, huh?

In no time she was a pro! 

speed demon

Go Momma Go ! 

Okay.. that is enough for todays's blog.  We have a dreary wet icky day here in Wisconsin, so seeing these summertime photos really makes me homesick for camping and Spring Fever is setting in strong!


  1. What a camping life you have had!!Full timing will be a piece of cake for you!! I too remember being crammed into a 15 ft camper at the coast.The smell of food penetrating your nostrils..close quarters and you had to get along with each other!! Enjoyed your stories again!!

    Cindy from Tx

  2. Your description -- when you took the trip down memory lane...(GREAT description by the way!)

    Now THAT is real Boondocking!!!

    I am thinking we all are somewhat spoiled these days -- let the Hi-Def Flat Screen TV stop working and it is...well...the end of the world as we know it! lol

    Ken and Nanette

  3. Wow what a camping start you guys had, no wonder you love it so much. Donna & I started with an old used popup that we borrowed, no stove just a small sink with a pump handle that Sam broke and has a devil of a time replacing as parts weren't available. Any cooking was done on a fire outside, no fridge just ice chests. Now when we look at the 5th wheel with everything including a queen size bed and large enough shower for Sam, WE say this is really tough camping. Hope to see ya some day. Sam & Donna

  4. Love your blog! You should add "writer & photographer" to your list of talents. The recounting of your childhood camping experiences would make a wonderful children's book, if you haven't done that already! Lorna :)


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