Friday, July 26, 2013

Pictured Rocks Astounds - Another Michigan Treasure

2013 Girls Trip - Part II
Upper Peninsula, MI

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
We drove to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to spend four days hiking, boating, and exploring this geologic wonder on Lake Superior.  This was an amazing and beautiful spot.  If you have never considered Michigan as an adventure travel destination - Reconsider!  This park offers breathtaking views, diverse hiking trails, and opportunities for world-class water sports.

Mackinac Bridge, MI

We left Arcadia, MI in the Lower Peninsula around 8:30 am and drove north to Pictured Rocks.  We stopped for lunch at the iconic and impressive Mackinac Bridge (pronounced Mack-i-nah).  Bridge View Park spans the Lake Michigan/Lake Huron waterway, and we were able to enjoy a picnic lunch under the shade of the Mackinac Lighthouse and park trees.  Step foot in the water, and you will be touching both Lake Huron and Lake Michigan at the same time!

After lunch, we traveled further to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  We drove Route 77 to the town of Grand Marais and entered the park around 5 pm at the Grand Sable Visitor Center.  The ranger told us that all the park campgrounds were full for the night.  Fortunately, the area has multiple municipal, state, and private campgrounds as well.  We spend the night at Woodland Campground, just outside the north section of the park.  This campground offered electric, water, wifi, and showers as well as access to the Lake Superior beach and the town's playground/park.  We had a pleasant one night stay.

Lighthouse on Grand Island
In the morning, we left around 8:30 am and got a spot in the park at Hurricane River Campground's Lower Loop.  This campground offered wooded, private, and roomy spots.  It also had access to the sandy beaches and is the site for the hiking trail to Au Sable Lighthouse.  Campers should know that the park campgrounds are "bear bones" and provide only pit toilets and a communal water spigot.  That said, it was a serene and quiet campsite, and we really enjoyed being inside the park for our last two nights.

The rest of our time in the park flew by in a blur! 
Here is a list of some of our activities at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore...
View from Lakeshore Trail

1. Hike The Lakeshore Trail - One of our first activities was to drive to the south end of the park for a hike.  The day was windy and the water wild with waves as we trekked along the shoreline.  The Lakeshore Trail runs 40 miles along the coast and is a picturesque destination for backpackers and day hikers.  Our hike began at Miner's Castle off H11 (an awesome viewpoint for breathtaking rock formations) and traveled north along the Lakeshore trail.

The trail took us through maple/beech forest, along sandy wide beaches, and over tannin stained rivers.  We enjoyed views of the painted sandstone rock, wildlife, and shoreline.  The trail continues north, but after a few hours, we turned around and retraced our footsteps back.

Views along Pictured Rocks Cruise
2. Pictured Rocks Boat Trip - We booked the Pictured Rocks Cruises two hour tour out of Munsing, MI to get a view of the geologic wonders from water.  Since boat trips sell out, it is recommended that you purchase your tickets a day prior to departure.  Cruises are offered multiple times a day, so there are plenty of opportunities.

We originally were hoping for a sunset cruise, but because the forecast called for a chance of thunderstorms in the evening, we switched to take a 10 am trip.  This was not the best choice for photographing cliffs since most rocks were in shade, but it was a great time to have calm water and an early start to the day.

The boat trip is narrated by the captain and is well worth the $36 ticket cost.  We viewed colored cliffs, sea caves, historic lighthouses, waterfalls, and sandy beaches.  Along the trip, we passed by a number of kayakers enjoying the views by paddling.  If time had allowed, I would have loved to embark on a kayak adventure.  The teal waters were a stark contrast to the red, brown, and white painted cliffs.

Mineral seepage creates beautiful colors in rock
Walking Lake Superior Shoreline

3. Walk the Lake Superior Shoreline - The composition of the lakeshore beach varies as you stroll along the coast.  We walked on ground ranging from tan sands, to colorful round pebbles, to flat sandstone rocks.  Each step was memorable and beautiful.

Chapel Beach near the Pictured Rocks was a great spot.  The beach is sandy with small colorful pebbles scattered throughout the shoreline.  A red, cascading waterfall blends with the teal waters of Superior next to the statuesque Chapel Rock.  Another beautiful beach was at the Woodland Park.  We walked south through sand and rock toward the Grand Sable Dunes where children enjoyed running down the hills of sand.

Au Sable Light at Sunset
4.  Watch the Sunset at Au Sable Light Station - The Au Sable Lighthouse trail was accessible from our Hurricane River Campground.  The "trail" to the lighthouse is actually a wide, dirt tote road.  Leanne and I hiked out there around 8pm to catch the 9:20 sunset.  The light danced on the sandstone beach and lit the side of the lighthouse beautifully.  It's a great spot and a hike that is accessible for everyone.

5.  Hike the Chapel Rock Loop - The largest hike of our trip was to Chapel Rock and Chapel Beach.  We drove down the dirt Chapel Road off H58 to the hiker's parking lot.  Be aware- there is no water at the trailhead so pack it in!  We hiked to Chapel Falls and continued to Chapel Rock and Beach.

Along the way, we enjoyed seeing tall maples, white waterfalls, young deer, and the beautiful Chapel Rock - a classic feature of the park.  A large evergreen majestically stands on this rock tower - only able to survive due to it's roots that reach the 12 foot divide to land.

We returned via the 2.5 mile parallel trail on the other side of Chapel Lake, although many hikers continue to Mosquito Beach before returning to the parking lot - making it a 9.7 mile loop.  For the overnight hiker, there are backcountry campsites in the Chapel Rock area as well as a pit toilet.  There is no running water.

Leanne and I LOVED our trip to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  I'm glad she chose to make this our girls trip destination.  If given a list of destinations in the past, I doubt that Michigan would have been my top choice, but NOW, I look forward to coming back to explore more!

Girls Trip 2013

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