Backpacking Michigan's
National Lakeshores
Chapel Beach

Chapel Rock and the mouth of the Chapel River. (Photo © Mark Whitney)

ausableeast

A campsite at Au Sable East. Note the “bear pole” at left. (Photo © Mark Whitney)

Backcountry Campsites in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Campground Miles* Group sites Water** Fire rings
*From trailhead at Munising Falls
**Water is available only from streams or Lake Superior, and must be micro-filtered or boiled.
Cliffs 5 Yes No Yes
Potato Patch 9 No No Yes
Mosquito Beach 12 Yes Yes No
Chapel Beach 161/2 No Yes No
Coves 20 Yes Yes Yes
Beaver Creek 22 No Yes Yes
Pine Bluff 231/2 No Yes Yes
Trappers Lake 241/2 Yes Yes Yes
Sevenmile 28 Yes Yes Yes
Benchmark 31 No Yes Yes
Au Sable East 35 Yes Yes Yes
Masse Homestead 38 Yes No Yes

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Among Michigan's 2,726 miles of shoreline, there are plenty of huge sand dunes, but the towering sandstone bluffs comprising much of the 43-mile Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are unique.

The rocks get their colors from different layers of sandstone laid down as sediment more than 440 million years ago, according to National Park Service geologists. Four waves of glaciers, then 12,000 years of water and wind erosion produced the winding, weathered bluffs we see today. The darker, reddish bands are rich in feldspars, minerals which form about 60 percent of rocks found on the earth's surface, and are rich in silicates of aluminium, sodium, potassium, iron, calcium, and barium. Many common glass and fiberglass products are produced from these minerals.

Hiking the narrow trails along the bluffs is both exhilarating and exhausting. Hikers climb and descend constantly, and the narrow trail winds with the carved cliffs. One particular hazard to watch for on the trail is rock and root outcrops that can easily stub a toe or trip a top-heavy, pack-laden hiker, especially those paying more attention to the scenery than the trail.

The presence of Lake Superior keeps temperatures cool, even at the height of summer. Because of this, midsummer is a great time to hike the lakeshore, unlike many areas in Michigan which are best hiked in spring or fall. Black flies are abundant and annoying, but lake winds moderate temperatures and often help keep the bugs at bay along the shoreline itself.

Camping at Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks has 11 backcountry campgrounds (along with three drive-in campgrounds) lining the 43-mile lakeshore. Some campgrounds have group sites for parties of 7-20 people; backcountry sites in general are restricted to one to six people.

Backpackers will need to take precautions against attracting bears. Officials at the park's visitor center in Munising say no serious bear encounters with hikers have occurred in recent years, but it's still best to be cautious. Backcountry camping areas have "bear poles" on which backpackers should hang food, garbage and anything else that gives off an aroma.

For much of the lakeshore, water is available from Lake Superior or a handful of small rivers and streams. Anyone planning to hike the entire shore, or spend more than a couple of days backcountry camping will need a microfilter or purifier, or will need to boil water.

Many, if not most backpackers hike the entire lakeshore and use a Munising-based shuttle bus service to return to their starting point. Another, possibly more convenient, approach is to use a loop connecting Mosquito Beach, Chapel Rock, Chapel Falls and a Park Service parking lot to explore the lakeshore from the middle. You'll only have to carry your gear 2-5 miles at any one time, and you can do most of your sightseeing on day-hikes. Also, if the need arises, your car is only a 30-60 minute walk from either campground, at a brisk pace without gear.

Mosquito-Chapel Loop, 3 nights

Hike to Mosquito, stay one night; day-hike to Miner's Castle and back, stay another night; hike to Chapel Rock, day-hike a bit to the east and back and stay another night; hike to parking lot.

Mosquito-Chapel Loop, 4 nights

Hike to Mosquito, camp; day-hike to Miner's Castle and back, stay another night; hike to Chapel Rock, stay one night; day-hike way to the east and back and stay another night; hike to parking lot.

Even if you don't hike to them, Grand Sable Dunes at the eastern end of the lakeshore is worth a visit. A nice way to finish the Mosquito-Chapel trip is to drive east on one of the designated truck trails to Grand Sable, visit the dunes, then check out the town of Paradise. Drive south on highway M-77 to begin heading home.

For more information or to obtain backcountry permits contact:

For more information about the Pictured Rocks-Munising area, visit the Munising Visitors Bureau online at www.munising.org

Comments? Suggestions? Email the author Mark Whitney

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