When I think of Michigan I just don’t think “oh yeah that place has some great hiking opportunities.” It may not be as famous or well known as Yosemite or or Yellowstone, but Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore has some beautiful hiking!
Pictured Rocks is named for the 15 miles of colorful sandstone cliffs that are up to 200 feet (60 m) above lake level. Minerals in the rock create the colors in the cliffs. Mineral laden ground water leaches out of the rock and evaporates, leaving streaks of red (iron), black-white (manganese), yellow-brown (limonite), and pink-green (copper).
Our longest hike was also the prettiest. We started out in the chapel rock parking lot and followed the trail past a boisterous group of little boys in matching neon yellow t-shirts (boy scouts perhaps?) to chapel falls. Man- do little boys make a lot of noise or what?! Their yelling and yelping sounded a lot like a wolf pack. We didn’t linger here long so we could put some distance between ourselves and the wolves.
Onward to chapel rock. We learned later that chapel rock actually used to be a rock arch but the arch collapsed in the 1940’s. The only reminder of the arch is a lone pine root that spans the distance between chapel rock and the cliff face nearby.
The next part was a slog through dense woods. As we neared the beach we started to see glimpses of the Lake Superior shore line through the trees.
Eventually we found “steps” down to the beach. The water was crystal clear and COLD.
After a short stroll on the beach it was time to go back into the woods. The next miles rewarded us with views of pictured rocks and rock arches.
It is about 1.5 miles from the beach to grand portal, which is another larger collapsed arch. Stopped before reaching grand portal to have lunch on an escarpment ledge. Now if you want lunch with a view this is it.
After lunch we continued on to grand portal point. You can’t see the arch that well while you’re standing on top if it, but you can see the boat tours traveling along the coast line. These are some of the last views of the cliffs you’ll see before turning back into the woods for the long hike back. We passed through mosquito campground and by the spur for mosquito falls. Those names aren’t arbitrary, mosquitoes are live and well in this moist area of forest. We skipped the mosquito falls spur due to being sick of being bug food in spite of heavy applications of bug spray and to tell you the truth we were tired! Even though we skipped the last falls this was probably the second best hike of my life. Who knew!
We followed the Chapel Basin Trail Route described in detail in Hiking Michigan by Roger E. Storm and Susan M. Wedzel. Cautions: The trail winds along cliffs. Rocks and roots are sometimes exposed, and parts of the trail may be wet. Wear proper footgear. Take insect repellent and plenty of water. This is bear country. Follow posted trail instructions and warnings.
A map of the trails in this region of the park can also be found here. The route described above is between 9 and 10 miles according the maps and guides consulted and took us just over 4 hours including a 20 minute stop for lunch. Guide books suggest 5.5 to 6.5 hours of hiking time including the mosquito falls spur that we skipped.