Let me begin by stating that I am an avid camping/outdoor enthusiast. While it is often difficult to get out of the Midwest due to a difficult work schedule, I plan and enjoy numerous regional camping trips annually with family and friends alike. These trips range from "fake" camping on air matresses in suburban campgrounds/forest preserves to hardcore "live-off-the-land" style trips in Minnesota's Boundary Waters, etc. I have excitedly been introducing my fiancee and now new wife to camping over the past 2 years with relatively positive results.
Before proceeding, please note that this is a long and very detailed review. The most accurate succinct review of Fuller's Resort on TripAdvisor is that by MMcClay below. If you do not plan on reading my full review, please stop here -- the first several paragraphs may bias you the wrong way.
Just recently, a large group of my wife's friends wanted to go on a "camping" trip in order to celebrate several birthdays. It should be noted that their iteration of camping does not involve sleeping outside in tents; quite the contrary actually -- they wanted all the comforts of home: a cabin/cottage with A/C, full kitchen, bathrooms and cable TV. Other trip necessities included campfires, S'mores, a large body of water in which to swim, a beach and, last but not least, a relatively lax alcohol policy.
As you've probably guessed by now, our friends are the stereotypical group of post-collegiate twentysomethings looking to relive their glory days of college. This is most easily accomplished by leaving Chicago's urban sprawl and indulging in an overabundance of alcohol. Yes, they are that annoying group of "kids" who flock to family campgrounds each summer and keep fellow campers up until 3:00am.
While I indeed like to get a little roudy myself every now and then, I understand why most people hate friends like ours: they're loud, obnoxious and have very little respect for their fellow patrons. They esentially turn the serenity of camping into a drunken mockery.
I could not have this. I also don't consider sleeping in a cottage a "camping" trip. I must admit that I normally turn my nose to self-proclaimed "family campgrounds" in favor of state/national parks. Although I had never been to Fuller's, I was easily convinced to attend due to a multitude of factors. All in all, regardless of what type of camper you are, Fuller's has everything you could possibly want in a quick 2-hour drive from Chicago:
LOCATION: Fuller's is neatly tucked into Michigan's far southwest corner making it easily driveable from downtown Chicago in a mere 2 hours (although you lose an hour in the time change). Take I-94 into Michigan and get off at Exit 4. Travel east 15 miles and you will find yourself in the middle of tranquility -- quaint farm villages, golden farmland, winding backcountry roads and wooded thickets. Fuller's is also a quick 10 minute drive from the small town of Buchanan, home to several grocery and liquor stores. Just remember to buy your booze in Ilinois or Indiana -- Michigan charges an extra $3 per case of beer for their aluminum can deposit program.
As I was very against staying in the cottages with the rest of the group, I must admit that Fuller's has something for everyone. The cottages, while somewhat dated, were very clean and situated directly upon the lake. Each cottage had 2 bedrooms, a full kitchen, 1 bathroom, firepit, a walkout deck overlooking the lake and was equipped with cable TV and A/C. Several sofas converted to futons for sleeping additional guests (Fuller's claims each cottage can "comfortably" house 7 guests; we had 9 in each albeit it was a little crowded).
The lodge is reminiscent of the lakeside general store where you used to stop and get ice cream everyday over the summer as a kid. They sell food, firewood, batteries and other essentials, in addition to providing breakfast and $1 coffee (refills are free). It really has a lot of character.
The grounds are very clean. There is ample parking, a large ballfield and a large playground.
SURPRISE: a large non-descript barn sits on the property. This barn is vacant during the day, but after the sun sets becomes transformed into a KARAOKE BARN! OMG where else can you sing karaoke in a barn? It sounds cheesy but in reality is AWESOME FUN, especially after a couple beers. It opened around 7:30pm and shut down around 10:30pm on Saturday.
The beach is very clean and well-kempt. There is a large sand volleyball court. Canoe, kayak, paddleboat and tube rentals are available; however, the AMAZING staff never charged us for their use.
On the smaller side but very picturesque. Water is crystal clear but was fairly cold in mid-September. Several homes and a summer camp are located on the lake, so you will see an occasional ski boat.
I don't subscribe to the popular notion of "RV" camping...therefore I can't comment on the powered sites at the campground. We did drive through the campground though and all the sites were beautiful. If you are looking to tent camp, you will want a "primitive" site. As I am also against going on a "camping" trip and sleeping in a cottage, I booked a primitive site for my wife and me. When making our reservation over the phone, Mark (the owner) asked if I wanted a "lightly wooded", "moderately wooded" or "heavily wooded site". He recommended a "heavily wooded" site for the best camping experience. Boy was he right!
My wife and I arrived later than the rest of the group. While they were boozing it up in the cabins, we followed Mark in his ATV as he led us through the dark wilderness to our campsite. It was nestled deep in the woods and was absolutely beautiful. The biggest difference between the different "tiers" of campsites isn't how wooded they are, but how far they are from other sites. The "lightly wooded" sites are fairly close to one another. Because there are few trees separating each site, you can easily see your neighbors and they can easily see you. This might be well-suited for a large group with several tents who want to stay together. These sites also also located directly on the main road which traverses the campground. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the "heavily wooded" sites are totally secluded. Each campsite is nestled in its own grove of trees and is roughly 50 feet off the main road. These sites are also the furthest away from the waterfront/lodge area; probably a 10 - 12 minute walk. Every campsite has a parking space for one car, a firepit and picnic table (ours also had an awesome log for people to sit on).
Perhaps the nicest thing about the campground in general is the layout: the more "happening" area (lodge, cottages, barn, playgrounds, ballfield, lakefront) is totally segregated from the campsites, yet the two areas are a mere 10-minute walk from each other. You could be singing drunken karaoke one minute, and then feel like you're in the middle of nowhere listening to crickets chirping the next. It really is unique.
I must mention that a section of the campground is sectioned off for permanent/semi-permanent RVers. Admittedly, more than several of these RVs are in severe disrepair and lend an unwelcome note of "trashiness" to the resort. Fortunately, this area is located completely opposite the campsites and most would have no reason to venture in this direction.
One very huge strong point is the EXTREMELY friendly and cordial staff. Everyone I met at Fuller's, most especially Mark, were very helpful throughout the duration of our stay. Because my wife and I were running late, I called ahead to let the office know that we wouldn't be arriving until after 11:00pm. Upon pulling into the parking lot, Mark approached my vehicle and addressed me by name before I even had a chance to introduce myself! Knowing that we weren't familiar with the grounds, he then led us to our campsite in his ATV. While we were setting up our tent, we realized that we didn't have a campground map and had no idea how to get back to the lodge area. 5 minutes later, almost magically, Mark reappeared in his ATV with a campground map.
If you've made it this far in my review, you may be wondering how the staff handled our quasi-alcoholic obnoxious party animal friends. I must agree with the review written by MMcClay: the staff wants their guests to have a good time and enjoy themselves, simply not at the expense of other guests. I will admit, our group was very loud at times, and many did not go to bed until 3 or 4am. Most of our group was also fairly intoxicated for a good portion of the trip. Instead of being a jerk, Mark calmly approached our group and asked that we keep the noise level down. When the alcohol started getting out of control, he let us know in a respectable manner. This is unlike many campgrounds I have been to which seem to have a "one-strike, you're out" policy when it comes to youthful partygoers. Fuller's staff does a great job to make sure that all of their guests are happy -- they're willing to flex their rules a little bit to ensure that, as long as it is not at the expense of other guests.
Fuller's has plenty of activities for people of all ages. We slept in past noon both days, so I'm unable to comment on anything that happens in the morning. As I mentioned, the karaoke barn is awesome. On Saturday night, Mark took us on a private "haunted" hayride throught the property. At 7:00pm we boarded a hay-filled trailer and were tractor-pulled through several miles of rolling trails and property adjacent to Fuller's. Not only was it a blast, the scenery was breathtaking. All Mark asked was that we tip the staff. It was truly awesome.
Note that we attended Fuller's fairly late in the season (middle of September). I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the campground was pretty much dead. This is probably why the staff was as lax as they were with our noise. I am fairly certain they may have been a bit more stringent if the campground was full. Since not many people were at the campground, I can't comment as to the typical clientele. Despite the fact that the tent sites are secluded from one another, I did not see another tent camper throughout the duration of the weekend. Mark did tell me that Fuller's becomes very crowded over the summer months and warned us that if we ever planned to come in July or August, reservations must be made far in advance. I am curious what the resort dynamic would be when it is crowded, as we had virtually the entire place to ourselves the entire weekend (the girl working the karaoke barn left at 9:30 and said we could have the place to ourselves until 10:30 to "party").
While comprehensive "family campgrounds" are not my ideal camping adventure, Fuller's truly has something for everyone and is a short 2 hour drive from Chicago. Their "heavily wooded" tent campsites are beautiful and nicely juxtapose the wealthy array of activities available near the lakefront. The friendly and helpful staff ensure that all guests are satisfied, while not being too stringent to keep people from having a good time. We will definitely be returning next year.
skulboep offical rating: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED