Where to go when there is a wild virus on the loose and you feel most socially responsible driving your car? MICHIGAN. I love this state and the Great Lakes: the wild, remote beauty and escape from all current events, the endless blues and turquoises reminiscent of the Caribbean, the fresh air, kind people & desolation. Did you know, after Alaska, that Michigan has the 2nd longest coastline of any state in our nation? Worth the trip. Worth it. Go to Michigan. Post on the full road trip coming soon!
Anyhow, I digress…on to this wondrous spectacle of nature known by the unimaginative name of Pictured Rocks! (We did indeed take many photos.) Lake Superior has thrilled many wanderers over the years with her bright emerald greens and sapphire blues, sandy dunes and cliffs stretching craggy fingers into the clear expanse. The water is so crisp and clean, we can see up to 30 feet down! Cyan, turquoise, cerulean, teal, sometimes even light violet…just ogling the waves is mesmerizing and peaceful. Until a stable fly chomps on your leg. Be less dumb than we–wear pants.
Location: Pictured Rocks lies on the southern shore of Lake Superior between Munising and Grand Marais, both of which are small towns a smidge too far to be called convenient. Camping is the best option, but, after cobbling our vacation plans together last minute, we were rather limited on campsites. Note to future self and everyone else: book campsites early, if possible! No tragedy, however; I obtained a permit for a backcountry campsite at Benchmark, and we were able to practice using our backpacking gear again! Lake Superior sunsets…just wow.
The next day, we hiked and clambered all over the cliffs via the vaunted Chapel Loop, a 10.1 mile, very flat hike. I love loops, especially when over 4 miles of the hike includes views like these! More details here via AllTrails, my favorite hiking app. We always save our most scenic stop for last, and Pictured Rocks is no exception.
Notes on hiking Chapel Loop: ARRIVE EARLY. Not sleep deprivation early, but before 10am would be wise. People will show up because there is a sign on the main road, won’t know why they showed up, and will consume parking spaces. And for God’s sakes, wear appropriate footwear! Trail shoes at a minimum. Both the Chapel Rock and Mosquito Beach arms of the trail have a propensity to get swamp muddy, the Chapel Rock portion being marginally drier. We saw so many people with the idea of walking 2.5 miles to Mosquito Beach in flip flops! Bets on how many sandals were devoured by the mud monster? Oh, and no cell service & the road to the trailhead is made of dirt and potholes. Not terrible, but drive trepidatiously when the route requires. Also, a map! Who doesn’t like maps? (Enlarged PDF here). 10/10 recommend Chapel Rock on the way out, and Mosquito on the return.
Somehow, we always run into scenarios where each view puts the last to shame. Starting at the Trailhead, we swung by Chapel Falls (nice, but we have been spoiled by Rickett’s Glen in PA for waterfalls, I think), then on to Chapel Rock, where Jeremy was in awe at both a tree’s perseverance and the views.
Originally called la Chapelle by early explorers, Chapel Rock is just the first in a series of magnificent geological formations. How about that white pine perched on top? He gets the best of the views. When he grew too large for his home and desired more nutrients, he stretched his massive roots over to land! Here is some information about rocks if you are also curious about random things. From Chapel Rock and our tree friend, we then lunch at the Beach and wander along the tops of Pictured Rocks, zig-zagging along the coast. Apologies in advance for the overabundance of photos, but I love this place too much!
Lakeshore Trail, part of the North Country National Scenic Trail, also intersects with the Chapel Loop for a good portion of the hike. Apart from a few backpackers and beach-goers, we had much of the trail to ourselves on this gloriously sunny Thursday. Grand Portal Point (see map) is especially scenic; it’s as if we have our own private beach atop the cliffs!
And the water! Lake Superior is superior for a reason; not only does she contain some of the cleanest water in the world, but all other Great Lakes + 3 more Lake Eries could fit in Lake Superior. (**actually, Superior’s name also comes from the French…superior simply referring to the “upper lake.” Still an apt name nowadays, though!) We came across several people who said they drank the water right out of the lake–still good with my filtration system though, thanks! 350 shipwrecks also occurred here, so I’d imagine there’s some amazing scuba diving. More facts, then onwards along the trail.
Beautiful, no? Highly suggest always bringing a swimsuit along when wandering in Michigan–great spots for a dip abound! Although the humidity was nonexistent this trip, we hike at a good clip and were thus pretty toasty…hello, water! No salty eyes, no sharks, refreshingly chill water. This also reminds me of our swim the day before at Miner’s Rock/Miner’s Beach in and out of the coves…
Miner’s Castle Rock! You may recognize it from a screen saver; this has to be one of the most-photographed places in Pictured Rocks due to both beauty and ease of accessibility. However, my husband (I love him so much), spied a beach through the trees when we were at the point and suggested swimming. We hiked a mile on the Lakeshore Trail down (also beautiful), threw on our swimsuits and started frog-legging.
One day, we may actually need a GoPro or some such device. Plopping in and out of the caverns eroded into the cliff faces was amazing, albeit rather chilly! Sunshine would have been nice on the head, but not complaining. Bantering with warm people in boats, we also learned that one of the caverns is 25 meters long. Definitely would not want to be caught out here in a storm, though. Speaking of rock erosions, we swam a shortcut to Miner’s cove via a hole in the stone and definitely showed up in the vacation photos of many strangers. Here is a rough sketch of our swim route:
While only here for a bit over two days, it’s quite clear that you could spend at least a week at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I’m looking for someone to do the 42 mile Lakeshore hike sometime 🙂 Seriously though, I wish I could plan vacations for other people on top of my regular job, seeing as I’ve already planned four for this summer alone and this is the first one we’ve taken!
Here is more information on Pictured Rocks. Be sure to comment below with other favorite destinations, questions or ideas!