Nestled along the southern coast of Lake Superior and between the wild forests of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a gem of the north for locals and visitors alike. A well-known hub for camping, hiking and watersports among “yoopers” of Michigan, it is a lesser known destination for out-of-towners. During the early fall, temperatures begin to cool, and the colorful scenery is gorgous. Great camping spots can be found in the park and just outside in the Hiawatha National Forest for those who want to stay a few days. Many are down isolated dirt roads, and due to the small size they can fill up quickly in peak season and during fall foliage. Be sure to grab a map to find a campsite at one of the visitor centers. Depending on the weather and time of year, this northern park boasts some of the quietest and least crowded experiences around, generating nowhere near the crowd volume as places like Acadia, Yellowstone, or Zion.
A spectacular highlight of the park is the Chapel Beach lakeshore area, where hikers can take a 10.4-mile loop hike between Chapel Falls and Mosquito Falls. The trailhead starts at Chapel Basin Parking lot, where an intersection forks left toward Mosquito Falls or right toward Chapel Falls. The forested trail leads to a nice viewpoint of Chapel Falls, a 60-foot tall waterfall southeast of Chapel Lake running off of Section Thirtyfour Creek. The trail then leads to the shoreline and Chapel Rock, one of the premier sights along this trail and of the entire park. Indeed, when hikers emerge from the forest, the viewing of Chapel Rock is a spectacular greeting to the lakeshore. This is where the trail intersects with the Lakeshore North Country Trail, and it is also the heart and middle of the park's shoreline. Right takes hikers farther east toward the sand dunes of Grand Marais, and left follows the predetermined loop west along the most revered part of the shoreline. Chapel Rock leads to Chapel Beach and the beginnings of stunning views of rocky cliffs, arch formations, cliff beaches, and caverns. Hikers will enjoy the sights and sounds of the choppy waves slamming against the sandstone, as it is often windy on the lakeshore.
Just off the trail from Chapel Beach is the campground, a nice respite for hikers conquering the entirety of the Lakeshore North Country Trail, a 42 mile backpacking adventure. There is a trail here that leads back to the parking area as well for those who would like to cut their trek short. Following along the cliffs leads to Grand Portal Point, a splendid cliff beach with a view of infinite, deep cerulean water and smooth layers of sandstone.
A nice but distant view of Lover’s Leap Arch can be spotted just before heading toward Mosquito Campground. Wooden steps built into the sand lead to Mosquito Beach. This is where the loop will begin leading back into the forest to a nice viewing of Spectacle Falls and little Mosquito Falls, both runoffs of Mosquito River. Tree lovers will be happy here as the forest consists of several species of birch, pine, hemlock and maple. There are a few small hills during this section of trail, and after hiking for more than 9 miles, the forest can feel infinite.
Clocking in at just over 10 miles, this day hike is a must-do for avid hikers and an easy to moderate hike for beginners or those not wanting to do the full loop by way of cutoffs. This hike is a way to fully appreciate the wide expanse of the largest freshwater lake in North America, and it is an unforgettable experience.
Because of the lake effects, weather changes can be extreme and sudden. The weather is often overcast, windy and chilly, so pack layers and wind- and water-resistant clothing. As the terrain is not mountainous or rocky, good hiking shoes or even athletic sneakers are fine, though you may want waterproof shoes. High protein foods and energy snacks, water, a filtration system, headlamp, knife, first-aid kit, and pack-out trash bag are musts. Bring gloves, a warm hat, warm socks, an extra pair of socks, and a headband or neck gaiter for warmth and wind resistance. Bring your charged phone for GPS function and for pictures, but heed warnings that your cell service will not work in most of the park. It is isolated up there. Bring a buddy, and tell someone where you will be going and when you expect to be back. If the weather turns bad, seek shelter as soon as possible or turn around and head back inland if it is safe to do so. Avoid being on exposed cliffs or beaches during storms. Most importantly, have fun! Enjoy it while you can and take it all in; not everyone will get to experience it.