Rugged Van Riper State Park

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Pure Michigan
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Van Riper State Park

This is absolutely one of my favorite Michigan State Parks. recreation_passport_logo_w_tagIt has a rugged beauty that is beyond compare. It is amazing how beautiful this state is and how much of that land is readily available through the state park system. And I love how it is now only $11 for a Recreation Passport to access all of these gems. Note: this is an affiliated but unsponsored post. All opinions are my own.

Van Riper State Park is located on Lake Michigamme just outside of Champion, Michigan in the northwestern Upper Peninsula about half-way between Marquette and the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

This is a must if you read the Northwoods Readers series (which I highly suggest). These books are written by Cully Gage (AKA Charles Van Riper). His father, Doctor Van, donated the land this park sits on and the books are they story of Cully’s life growing up in the area around the turn of the century. His stories are hilarious and heartwarming while also giving readers a unique insight into the history of the land.

The Park


This park consists of two campgrounds; the modern campground with 147 sites and the more secluded rustic campground with 40 sites. I have camped in both, but prefer the peace of the rustic side, as I can tolerate pit toilets and no electricity to gain the peace and quiet. There are also several different kinds of cabins that you can rent if you prefer.

Van Riper State ParkSource: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

It is located right on the impressive Lake Michigamme, which provides a host of opportunities. The lake covers nearly 4,300 acres and reaches depths of over 70 feet. The fishing here and in the adjoining Peshekee River are absolutely superb. There is a nice boat launch right in the park and another on the other side of the lake.

IMG_0736 If you don’t have a boat, you can rent a kayak at the park office. This is usually a very calm lake, making ideal for kayaking. it is also good for swimming, as it is more sheltered and warmer than Lake Superior.


There are only three problems I have found with this park: it gets very busy during Canadian holiday weekends, the bugs are bad during black fly and mosquito seasons, and it floods very easily. If you are tenting and significant rain is forecasted, have a backup plan. A foot of standing water in a campsite is not unheard of. We arrived during a good storm and our site was under water. They easily switched us to a different site on higher ground, but we still slept in the car that night and didn’t set up camp until the rain stopped the next day.


Like any state park, they have daily programs to teach both kids and adults more about nature. We were lucky enough to be there during the Perseid meteor shower and got to participate in their “Meteors and S’mores” program. A park ranger taught us about the meteor shower and how best to view it. Then, we got to make smores while we were waiting for it to be dark enough for the show to begin. It was a very fun and informative program and also a great place to view the meteor shower.


In addition, they have several annual events. The Fourth of July Jubilation (a favorite of Doctor Van) includes patriotic programs, a bike parade, and minnow races. On weekends in September, they have a Harvest Festival with many events including trick or treating and a haunted hike.


My favorite thing to do here is to hike the trails because I love the River Trail (see map above). The reason is that little spot that says “overlook”. The trail is fairly rugged but the view is totally worth it. There is also a geocache on this trail and several more in the area.



In his books, Cully Gage talks about climbing “Mount Baldy” and all of the fun things he did up there. I don’t know for sure where that was, but I like to think it was here. Either way, it is a very awe inspiring experience.


Nature to Explore

When I am here, there is a drive I always have to take. The map above calls it Huron Bay road. It starts out paved, improves to gravel, then dirt, then turns into logging roads before becoming paved again when it reaches L’Anse. It doesn’t look like much on paper, but it is probably the most beautiful country I have ever seen.


This is my favorite spot. I always expect to see a moose here, though I haven’t yet. Last time here we did scare up a few deer, though and I once spotted a lynx on a different section of the road. It is just so peaceful and serene here, like heaven on Earth. I love to fish here too, though I have never caught anything of any size, it is one of my fondest memories.


Yes, this is a bridge. That you drive across. Yes, you can see the creek through it. Be sure to keep your tires lined up properly. It has held up so far. No worries. Note: if you explore very far on this road, I suggest a good GPS, just in case. There are several side roads and it wouldn’t be too hard to get lost. I would also suggest a full tank of gas if possible.


There are also several waterfalls in the area. I especially enjoy nearby Canyon Falls. There is a nice map listing several of them here.


The Nearby Towns

Van Riper State Park is located in a fairly remote area. It is only 1 mile to the Village of Champion, but there isn’t much left there and similarly, Michigamme is 5 miles away. Champion is where Cully Gage grew up, though he called it Tioga in his books. You can still find some of the same sights like Higley’s Saloon. Though it is closed, it is still impressive. The town is working on making these locations more obvious and accessible.


If you want more “civilization” i.e. a real grocery store, you will have to go 17 miles to Ishpeming. This is ideal if you are looking to get back to nature and enjoy the wilderness without being too far from necessary supplies. While in Ishpeming, be sure to check out Da Yoopers Tourist Trap Museum and Rock Shop. It is a very interesting place chock full of Yooper humor and unique souvenirs for everyone on your list.

I am a big supporter of shopping local, especially while in the U.P. This is hard, rugged country and it is difficult to make a living here. By shopping the small mom & pop shops, it helps them to survive and supports the economy of a place I love.


If you really want to get back to nature and are willing to give up some of the modern comforts and conveniences, this is the place for you. It is beautiful and breathtaking. It still has truly wild parts and will take you back to a simpler, yet harder time. This has all of the amenities of a State park, but at its heart it is not a civilized  park that will coddle you. There are wild animals and rough terrian. There are no guardrails on the paths to keep you from falling off a cliff and very few posted warning signs. It is nature, pure and simple. And that is what I love about it. Are you up for it?


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One thought on “Rugged Van Riper State Park

  1. PJ C says:

    Great information, I’ve recently been revisiting the Northwoods Reader books and was looking to find out which town they lived in (after seeing that Tioga appeared to have absolutely nothing in a modern satellite view). So cool that Higley’s Saloon was still there and operating until fairly recently, I hope to pay this town/area a visit someday soon. Thanks again!

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