I have been interested in backpacking for a very long time. Ever since I was a kid and my family road-tripped the western USA, I have been in love with outdoor adventure. Camping, biking, rock climbing, kayaking, hiking and the list goes on. I am not proliferate in any of the previously listed activities. I have only dabbled but, so far, my interest is still sparked. I daydream about all the adventures I would like to have in the great outdoors someday. I have achieved a few of those dreams and plan to continue to check boxes on my list over my lifetime as time and funds allow. One of the activities I dream about most often is backpacking. I subscribe to Backpacker Magazine, which gives me plenty of daydreaming material. As I pull the eagerly awaited magazine out of my mailbox I am already planning in my head when I can sit on the couch by the window and gobble up the entire publication in one sitting with no interruptions. Flipping through the pages with sparkly eyes and gushing over the gorgeous photographs of mountain views and forest trials, I think of all the places I will go.
One of those places was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (my home state!!). This was my first time backpacking and it was definitely a learning experience. I will be writing another blog post about what I learned as a noob on this trail. In this post I will explain how a couple of friends and I planned this trip and what to expect on the trail.
The 42-mile-long trail runs along Lake Superior between the towns of Munising and Grand Marais. It is also a part of the North Country Trail. You can hike east-west or west-east. We chose to hike from the Grand Sable Visitor Center to Munising Falls (east-west). The plan was to park our car at the Munising Falls Visitor Center and take a shuttle to Grand Sable to begin the hike. The main reason we did this is because Munising is a bigger town than Grand Marais and has more food and lodging options. This way, when we finish the trail we can hop in our car and drive a few minutes to our hotel (to take a long awaited hot shower) and get some yummy dinner in town. Of course, our plans changed (as they often do) because my hubby wanted to meet up with us toward the end of the hike. So, instead of spending money on a shuttle, we parked at Grand Sable and planned for my husband’s car to be waiting for us at Munising Falls. Our plan was to hike the trail in 5 days/4 nights. You could hike it in less time but we wanted to have plenty of time to enjoy the views! Also, we are beginners and did not want to over-exert ourselves. Here was the itinerary:
Day 1: Grand Sable Visitor Center to Au Sable Point East // 7.1 miles
Day 2: Au Sable Point East to Sevenmile // 7.3 miles
Day 3: Sevenmile to Coves // 7.3 miles
Day 4: Coves to Mosquito // 8.7 miles
Day 5: Mosquito to Munising Falls // 12 miles
We woke up on day one to dark gray skies and rain. Oh, what fun! We checked the weather and figured it was still worth it to hit the trial. We got our ponchos on, covered our backpacks, and powered through the first day. Being the first day, our energy levels were high and optimism strong. Thankfully, the rain had stopped by the afternoon and the ground at our campsite was not wet and muddy. We camped under some beautiful evergreens and we (surprisingly) had cell phone service so I was able to call my hubby.
On the second day it rained even more. By the time we arrived at the campsite we were all pretty beat and ready to take off our soaked, squishy boots and socks. The rain cleared long enough for us to set up camp, eat dinner, and enjoy the sight and sound of Sevenmile Creek, which we were camped right next to. Before sunset it started to downpour so I retired to my tent and read for quite awhile before falling asleep.
The third day was by far the best day of hiking, mostly because the sun came out! Also, we had stellar views of Lake Superior for most of this section, which were lacking the first two days. With the sun out, our clothes were able to dry completely, which was a WONDERFUL feeling. The lake was a beautiful aquamarine color, the forest floor was covered in moss in every shade of green, and the the ground was DRY. When we arrived at our campsite we immediately hung up our still-damp tents and yesterday’s socks (yuck) and went to the sandy beach. It was not warm enough to go swimming but I waded into the water and splashed my face. The beach at Coves is where the famous “Pictured Rocks” begin. We scrambled along the huge rocks were the sandy beach ended and found ourselves in a little cove were the water lapped and splashed on the rocks. We were determined to make a fire and scoured for firewood around camp but everything was too wet to burn. Then Alex had the idea to use driftwood! There was plenty of it on the beach and it had been exposed to the sun all day. We had a glorious fire that night that lasted for hours. Another backpacker joined us and we chatted for a while before going to bed warm and happy. That day was just the sort of experience I was hoping to have on the trail.
The fourth day had the most beautiful views. (Note: This section would make a perfect day hike. In fact, you can see photos from a day hike that I took through this section in another post I will be doing soon. The weather was nicer that day and the photos turned out better.) This section included most of the iconic Pictured Rocks points of interest such as Spray Falls, Chapel Rock, Grand Portal Point, and Mosquito Beach. The sun did not want to grace us with her presence but it did not rain! We camped at Mosquito, which was a big, pine-covered area near Mosquito Beach. My husband hiked in from the Chapel Road trailhead and camped with us for the night. He reported that the next day was going to have a rough rain storm with high winds and cooler temps. We decided that instead of hiking the final 12 miles, we would hike about 2 miles into where he parked and go to our hotel. It did not take me much convincing to cut the trip short. The last thing I wanted to do was to hike in more rain, especially in a cold wind. After enjoying a spectacular sunset on Mosquito Beach, we went to bed. The next morning we awoke to a heavy downpour and we knew it was not going to let up anytime soon. We packed everything up as fast as we could. My tent was so drenched and heavy that it was not fitting in the stuff sack very well. We just wadded it up in a trash bag and my husband carried it. We basically ran 2 miles to the car in the pouring rain. At first we tried not to step in puddles but that soon proved useless as our feet were soaked to the bone almost immediately. The car was a very pleasant sight to behold! I did not regret cutting the trip short. Not even a little bit.
The trial is only a small section of the 4600 mile long North Country Trail. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of my favorite areas in Michigan and I have plans to return to do some kayaking along the coast (who wants to come with me!?) Despite the not-so-perfect weather and cutting the hike short, this adventure did not kill my enthusiasm for backpacking. In fact, it made me even more excited and I’m already planning my next adventure.