Tag Archives: pure michigan

Rave: Hoffmaster State Park

We finished our 2014 camping season with a trip to Hoffmaster State Park on Lake Michigan between Grand Haven and Muskegon.

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We had beautiful weather for our fall camp. It was warm and sunny. We also enjoyed a serious element of solitude and privacy. We camped in one of the loops that offered electricity. Camping in late-September, early-October can be unpredictable in terms of temperatures. We figured if we had extreme lows, we would best have power for our other comforts. Actually, the overnight lows only dropped to the mid-fifties or so. While it was pretty brisk in the mornings, sleeping was very comfortable. Further, there were only two other campsites in use on our loop. A loop of about 40 campsites. And our “neighbors” were parked pretty far away. We chose to camp on a couple weekdays, which definitely allowed for choice spot availability, clean bathrooms, and some serious peace and quiet.

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Hoffmaster was a great choice for hiking. They offered three separate trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Since they all passed near the beach and dunes, there was a climb and descent on each trail. And some sand. And some woods. The park was divided by a creek, so there was opportunity for drop-fishing too. Dune climbing took some work and, more than once, my legs felt pretty rubbery. But, we were able to catch some beautiful sunsets over the Lake and Duck enjoyed some time on the beach.

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The sites were pretty rustic. Our campsite was in the midst of an oak stand. It was great because it provided the perfect balance of shade and warmth. However, fall does just that; “fall.” We were a couple weeks ahead of the leaves but, Oh. My. Acorns. We had to spend a lot of time under our awning because the falling acorns were bombing us. I swear, the squirrels were trying to chase us out by pelting us with acorns. Seriously. I got a welt from one that hit me in the back of the neck. Both the Den and our truck suffered from the noisy bombardment. We made Duck wear her winter hat so she would have some protection. Fortunately, it was her “Let It Go” hat…

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And, Queen Elsa serenaded the campground quite thoroughly.

We all enjoyed the trip and it was a great way to close out our camping season. It is important to note, however, that Hoffmaster is usually under alcohol restrictions during the high season. After Labor Day, the restrictions are lifted. Thus, it would not be an option for us during the peak times. Camping sans beer? Haha. That’s like camping without baked beans. Never. Now, to winterize the Den for next year. It’s bumming me out. Winter is coming…

Hoffmaster State Park, Muskegon, MI- 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Here are some additional recent campground reviews:

**I would like to note that we try to support the State Park system (regardless of their intolerance toward a wee tippling) because: 1. It is generally less expensive. With a $14 annual Park Passport, you can enter the parks for free. And, depending on the amenities, campsites usually range from around $14 per night to about $28 per night. In the high season, you can usually save between $10 to $20 per night by avoiding the franchised or private campgrounds. 2. Also, it has been our experience, the campgrounds are often situated in a more secluded locale. Less traffic = more privacy, more wildlife, more serenity. 3. Pure Michigan, duh.**

Newaygo State Park, Newaygo, MI- 4 out of 5 stars.
Very rustic and woodsy. Nice, private sites. Clean pit pots (vault toilets) and hand pump wells. Disc golf course. Access to Hardy Dam Pond (which is pretty big water, surprisingly). Small sandy, gradual beach area. Personal note: When we went, we stayed in a tent over a Memorial weekend. It was freezing. Seriously. Coldest camp ever. Newaygo itself is, um, “quaint.” We took a backwoods route to the park and passed a neighborhood that could kindly be referred to as “Little Meth Town.” Ok. Probably not. But, there were paradoxically many trailers and many BMWs. Something fishy, methinks… We really enjoyed the wooded sites and the lack of amenities. There is something to be said for properly “roughing it.” No alcohol restrictions!

Van Buren State Park, South Haven, MI- 3 out of 5 stars.
Meh. A nice beach area on Lake Michigan that’s an easy walk from the campground. But, during our stay, there was some concern about nuclear run-off in the water. No biggie… NOT. The campsites were pretty open and pretty small, lacking in privacy. The bathroom facilities offered showers but needed updating. That said, South Haven is absolutely lovely and totally makes the stay worthwhile. No alcohol restrictions!

Allendale KOA, Allendale, MI- 3.5 out of 5 stars. See my previous review, here. No alcohol restrictions!

Hungry Horse, Dorr, MI- 3 out of 5 stars. Pool, laundry, game room, bouncy thing, playgrounds, nice camp store. Some meadow areas, some wooded areas. Electric and water. The decor was a wee outdated, but kitschy. They offered nightly movies in the Gazebo. Beer Bear really liked this campground, but I thought it was sort of a “concrete campground.” They did have a few nice trails around the property but I mostly felt that it was an outdoor motel more than anything. Definitely a family-friendly choice and very near Grand Rapids while remaining off-the-beaten-path. Not much to Dorr though. No alcohol restrictions!

Huh… “No alcohol restrictions!” features prominently as a characteristic of our choices. Weird. Chug-a-lug.

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Rave: Geocaching

Geocaching. Essentially, it can be summed up by this: We use multi-million dollar satellite technology to find Tupperware in the woods. And, it’s awesome.

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I had first looked into it last year during one of our camping trips, but we neglected it in favor of drinking and eating at the campsite. (Shocker). In any case, Duck was pretty young and mayhaps wouldn’t have enjoyed traipsing through the woods with us.

Fast forward to this summer: Duck and I were trying to make the most of our time outside. Lots of nature walks, lots of playgrounds, lots of parks. On a whim, I decided to download a geocaching app onto my smartphone to add an extra element onto our outdoor exploration. I told Ducky that we were going on a treasure hunt. We had a nearby cache to go check out. The beginner-friendly app made it really easy to locate. Having some idea of what to expect, I had brought along some cache trinkets to exchange at the site. Once I found the “treasure,” I let Duck choose one of the cache gifts and I signed the log book. We deposited our cache gift and replaced the stash as we had found it. Easy Peasy.

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Our first deposit. Yes, that’s a tiny plastic Chippendale. Best future cache find ever?

After our first find, we began checking the app for nearby caches more consistently. They are everywhere! It’s been a lot of fun trying to locate them, whatever they may be: ammo cases, peanut butter jars, mason jars, camo cans. Generally, since we are still amateurs, we try to find caches that are relatively large, relatively easy, and relatively easy terrain. We have not found any nano caches yet. These are usually hidden in “fake” screws, rocks, etc. and they are teeny-tiny! We tried one cache at a local park with a difficult terrain but both Beer Bear and I just ended up scraped and bruised, sore and tired, and dirty, dirty, dirty. Most likely, we will avoid difficult terrain for awhile. Another difficulty in searching is the avoidance of “muggles,” regular folk who can catch you exchanging at a stash. You don’t want the cache to be inadvertently discovered and, consequently, disabled, dismantled, or destroyed.

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While I know someone will enjoy our tiny, plastic Chippendale as a true cache treasure, there has never been a more fitting find than the duck for the Duck.

Thankfully, Beer Bear has a knack for finding the caches. Usually the app will reliably put us within 15-20 feet of the cache, but we have often had to use hints and the online entry-log for valuable info. For instance, we have often searched and searched the “big tree at the fork” or whatever, only to find that someone before us moved the cache to a better hide at the “little tree below the fork.” It’s useful to be flexible and take your time.

It’s been exciting learning more about the activity and getting involved with the community of fellow-cachers. Here, in West Michigan, there is quite a presence and we discover new caches regularly. We even found our first pathtag recently on a trail. A pathtag is a tradeable and trackable coin that geocachers can personalize to leave behind. Finding our first one was pretty exciting for me. Because I am a dork. Whatever.

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See? It’s my awesome pathtag. We are practically pros now.

Mostly, it’s been fun getting out and doing something different with Duck. She gets excited whenever we announce that we are going “treasure-hunting.” We always let her choose the “prize” from the stash. She even gets to keep them in her “collection,” a little door cubby in my car. Except for the pathtag. That is mine, obviously.

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Duck picks the prize. She’s super selective. Once, she overlooked a set of walkie-talkies for a marble… Um, whatever.

If you have the opportunity and the desire, try to find a geocache near you. You can download the free app to get started. We have enjoyed adding another activity to our life outdoors and we are planning to hide a few caches of our own. If you ever find a bearpack trinket, you know where it came from…. Go outside and play!

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Summer Summary, Part 2

So… After a (very) brief respite at home, Duck and I traveled back out to the east-side.

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Ducks. Duh.

The first day, we went to the Fowlerville Fair. It’s a pretty typical county fair with a carnival, midway, etc. It’s always a great choice for us because they have a giant 4-H area devoted to livestock. And, you may know, we can’t pass on “aminals.” It was pretty fun chasing Duckers through tents of horses, cows, pigs, rabbits, fowl, and more. We must have heard her croon “Old MacDonald” about a thousand times. She sure loves her “aminals.” We arrived to the Fair prior to the games and rides opening, but, fortunately, the face-painter was available.

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A face tattoo. I’m so proud. #miketyson

That weekend, we also celebrated Running Bear’s 30th birthday. She had a pretty fabulous party with a Pure Michigan theme. (Whoever threw that party must be pretty amazing). The venue (just some guy’s house) had a trampoline. Of course, Ducky could be found there at any given time throughout the party. She was a jumping machine… not that this led to a reasonable bedtime or anything. (I swear, she’s secretly mainlining caffeine when we aren’t looking or something). I really hope Running Bear had a great time and felt the celebration and love. Only kidding. I know she did. She told me. Over. And over. And over. Before she passed out on the stoop. Chug-a-lug, Running Bear. Chug-a-lug.

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Pure Michigan is all about consumerism.

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Da Bears. (Some of us, ahem, in our Pure Michigan-themed costumes. See if you can find Aretha Franklin, Madonna, and Ted Nugent. Anyone else was a spoilsport.

After a little more boating and fishing and lake time, we hauled back to GR with my ex-pat sister, Hermana Bear, and my brother-in-law, Bear Más Exotico. We packed up the camper and trekked to another nearby campground, Hungry Horse in Dorr, MI. It was a beautiful couple days for camping. The campground was pretty similar to the KOA I mentioned earlier, here. Pool, games, camp store, etc. It was more woodsy at Hungry Horse. Pros: felt more like traditional camping, allowed for more privacy, better scenery, better hiking. Cons: bugs, bugs, bugs. (I will update with a complete review of the campground soon).

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Those are designated camping jammies. They are pretty incredible.

A couple days camping and then a 5-hour drive to Harrisville on northern Lake Huron for our annual family reunion (and birthplace of the bear pack!) Again, we enjoyed great weather, great company, and great food as we played waterside over the weekend.

Return to Grand Rapids for a couple busy days of preparations: shopping, packing, etc. for the following weekend: our very first GAGME. Yes, we bears decided to begin our own traveling, family reunion. GAG being “Garbers’ Annual Gathering.” We will change the meaning to ME correspondingly with our destination. This trip, ME referred to a “Monumental Event” as we invaded Washington DC. It. Was. Awesome. I promise to write an entry dedicated to our experience. I loved DC. I loved our “gathering.” I had a great time and hope we will keep the new tradition alive next year with a new destination and a new ME.

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Note the fabulous matching t-shirts? Boom.

Oh, yeah, we drove. Ugh. So, after a 10-hour trip back to Michigan, we swung through Lansing to pick up Beer Bear’s sister. She flew into town to spend a week with us from her home in Florida. It was a pretty great week. She love Duckers and definitely took the lead with her, a nice reprieve from almost constant parenting. Beer Bear and I even went on a date downtown! (I hope to offer some personal dining and exploring reviews of our great downtown in a future post).

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Date night = rationalizing name for event where parents can drink sans judgement.

We also went to Boulder Ridge Animal Safari in Alto during Sunny Bear’s stay with us. It is, by far, the best thing I have done since we moved out to West Michigan. I will “RAVE” about it soon because it was fabulous. It is incredibly interactive and is a great environment to engage with exotic and domestic animals. Or, “aminals.” Whatever.

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What did you do today? Oh, that’s nice. Me? I pet a kangaroo.

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I just liked this photo. Time to get a DSLR! (Only kidding).

Finally, after Sunny Bear’s departure, Beer Bear, Duckers, and I hauled out to Grand Haven for a proper beach day. The weather was cool and cloudy, but that was to our advantage because the crowds were slim. We had a nice day in the sand and a nice lunch in town.

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Sand? Sand. Sand! SAND! SAAAAAAAAAAAAAND!!! (It’s everywhere).

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Now, we are home again. And, I am worn out. Completely. Of course, Ducky is just staring at me with a suggestive gleam: “What are we going to do next, mom?!?”

Die. Probably die.

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