10 Fun Facts about Camp Deer Trails

10 Fun Facts about Camp Deer Trails

Camp Deer Trails — located in Harrison, less than 2.5 hours from metro Detroit and two from Grand Rapids —  isn’t your typical campground or wedding venue. This former Girl Scout Camp has a tremendous history and offers something for everyone — a lake, cabins, rustic or modern camping, many gathering spaces and more.

While there are many fun facts about Camp Deer Trails, we compiled 10 of our favorites to help you learn more about us:

  1. We have a private island! Moose Island is owned by Camp Deer Trails and is available for our guests to explore and enjoy. We have rowboats, canoes and kayaks for rent to help you get there, or feel free to bring your own!
  2. We serve our guests with … wait for it … 32 outhouses! They’re all original to the Girl Scout Camp and are distributed throughout the property (not all are operational). Even though most of our cabins have private bathrooms and the camp has a bathroom building, you’ll never be without a facility when you need one!
  3. Our three, white-sand beaches span a half mile of lakefront. If sunbathing or building sandcastles are your jam, we’ve got you covered. 
  4. In the woods, you can find a walking bridge built by Girl Scouts. We love that this walking bridge still stands today — and we hope you find it!
  5. We’re part of a program to help sustain healthy forests. This program provides grants for us to plant trees and seeds for the native bee population and to keep our forest healthy.
  6. More than 40 couples have gotten married here. Camp Deer Trails has several unique spaces to get married, including the beach, an amphitheater and a rustic cabin. Our lodge holds up to 160 people for your reception and has an indoor/outdoor bar and a huge deck overlooking the lake. We’ve also hosted sports teams, reunions, community events, engagement and birthday parties, and more. 
  7. You can stay with us year-round. While many campgrounds close during the winter months, many of our cabins are available for rent in the colder months.
  8. Bobcats, turkeys and bears, oh my! We have an abundance of wildlife at Camp Deer Trails. On any given day, you might see bald eagles, turkeys, muskrats, rabbits, squirrels, and, VERY rarely, you might spot a bobcat or bear. And we can’t forget about the deer!
  9. We’re wifi-free. What!? There are places in the world without wifi? Yes, we’re proud to say we do not have wifi, allowing our guests to truly disconnect from the stresses of everyday life. If you still need to connect, cellular service usually works. That said, we recommend connecting with friends and family around a campfire or curling up with a good book!
  10. We’ve been around for almost 90 years. That’s when the Girl Scouts acquired the property and began their camp, attended by hundreds of girls over several decades. We know, however, that there’s even more to our story. How far back does it go? Well, arrowheads used by Native Americans have been found here, too…
Meet the Owners: The Cole Family

Meet the Owners: The Cole Family

A few years ago, Justin and Courtney Cole set out in search of lakefront property for their family to use for hunting and leisure activities. They came across a former Girl Scout camp for sale and, without even seeing it in person, made an offer.

Their offer wasn’t accepted, but they didn’t stop there. 

The Coles learned the property, Camp Deer Trails, might be sold to a business that would develop it into something new. They knew the camp had tremendous history they wanted to help preserve. They wrote a letter to the seller, promising that if they bought the property, they would keep it 100% intact, preserving the camp.

“Finally seeing the property, we couldn’t believe anyone would want to tear it apart and develop it,” Courtney said. “We saw what it could be and had visions of not only preserving it, but making it into something even better than it was before.”

The seller — and hundreds of former Girl Scouts who have memories from the camp — wanted it preserved. The Coles became the new owners of Camp Deer Trails in late 2020 and soon were renting the cabins to visitors. 

A family affair

The Coles, who live just south of the camp in Clare, run the business with the help of their family. Courtney manages day-to-day logistics, upkeep and event planning, while Justin, a financial planner by day, manages the finances. 

Justin’s father, Mark, has devoted his retirement to the camp. The former restaurant owner is the camp chef, making all of the food for wedding receptions, corporate gatherings and other group events. He also watches over the camp and uses his handyman skills to help with maintenance. Courtney’s mother, Cheryl, helps with lodge and cabin cleaning and wherever else she is needed.

The couple also has four boys ranging in age from 11 to 1— Jayden, Cannon, Jordan and Cruz — who also help out by mowing lawns, taking out the trash and driving tractors (well, at least the older ones do!). 

Since acquiring the camp, the Coles have begun hosting weddings and other gatherings, made many improvements and added two new cabins — Lakefront Lodge and Sunset Shores. 

“We love owning the campground and hosting people from all over the state and beyond,” Courtney said. “We have something for everyone and love to welcome new people into the Camp Deer Trails family.”