Although I love traveling in Michigan, I make it a point to get out west at least once every summer for a backpacking trip in the mountains (I know we have the Porkies but sometimes you need a bit more elevation). But I also take every opportunity to get up to one of my favorite backpacking spots ever, right here in Michigan. A Pictured Rocks trip is a must for any outdoorsy Michigander.
We’re lucky to have a national park in our state. But we also have this neat thing called a national lakeshore. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, to be exact. And while the mountains are breathtaking and incredible, there is nothing quite like this unique hike along the Lake Superior shoreline, with views of the sandstone cliffs jutting out of cerulean blue water.
The entire North Country Scenic Trail is 42 miles. Lots of people make the entire trek over a few days. There are some great guides to doing the full hike. But you can also do shorter trips and plan a more specific itinerary. Rather than a full trail guide, I want to share some tips and thoughts for anyone looking to spend a night or two doing a section of the hike to folks taking on the entire trail. Plus, I have a bonus recipe for some super fancy lakeside dining.
I’d recommend taking some time to really research and read through hiking guides and trail reports before you head up to the UP for your Pictured Rocks trip (make sure to follow all COVID-19 guidelines as well). Below are the absolute, need-to-know things from someone who has spent a lot of time watching Lake Superior sunsets.
Pictured Rocks Hiking: The Do Nots
- Do not go in the summer. I know the weather in July is beautiful. It’s the best feeling in the world to take a dip in frigid Lake Superior after a long, sweaty hike. But the flies will be out in full force, and these aren’t your ordinary house flies. They will ruin your life. If you can make it up over a long weekend, late September or even early October tends to be the perfect time. It’s cold enough that most of the bugs are gone, but not too cold for a night in a tent, especially if you’re used to alpine camping. Plus, it’s peak maple syrup season so you can stock up on your way home.
- There won’t be a ton of elevation gain, but don’t underestimate the hike. Fall in the UP can get cold and rainy (and sometimes even snowy), so layer up and dress accordingly. There are sheer dropoffs and crumbly sandstone ledges. Just like every trip into the backcountry, be respectful of nature and come prepared.
Now, The Dos
- There won’t be a ton of elevation gain, so enjoy the hike and the views! They don’t call it a pleasant peninsula for nothin’. While there are some more strenuous areas, generally this is a pretty flat hike. It’s much easier to admire your surroundings when you’re not huffing and puffing up an incline. For those of you who are in great shape and don’t spend your mountain hikes huffing and puffing… I admire you. I am not that person.
- If you can, reserve the Chapel Beach backcountry campsite. It’s the best one on the trail. Mosquito Beach is a good one too.
- No matter where you camp, you won’t be too far away from the lakeshore. Head over to the shore, find a good rock, and settle in for a nice dinner and sunset. The sunsets on Lake Superior are incredible. Speaking of sunset dinners, see below for my favorite backcountry recipe.
- Bring your hammock! Pictured Rocks campsites are full of perfect hammock trees.
- This applies to any backcountry trip, but airplane-sized bottles of Makers Mark and powdered spice cider mixed in boiling water makes for a perfect campsite nightcap – and it all fits nicely into a bear can!
- Speaking of bear cans, sites have bear lockers, so bear cans aren’t required. But we tend to bring ours along anyway. There are black bears in the park and you can never be too careful.
- The UP is big and spread out, but if you have the time, stop at one of the awesome UP breweries on your way home.
If you haven’t hiked our very own National Lakeshore, book a Pictured Rocks trip and spend some time up north. What’s on your must-see list when you visit Pictured Rocks? Tell us in the comments!
Fancy Lakeside Fish Tacos, Backcountry Style
These mini tuna tacos are perfect for a lakeside sunset dinner in the backcountry. They pair well with boxed white wine.
- 4 mini, street taco size tortillas
- 1 avocado
- 1 pouch of tuna (they make flavored ones so try to get one that’s spicy)
- 1 Babybel cheese, wax removed
- Wine, boxed or in small plastic bottles
- Scoop out avocado and divide among the four tortillas, mashing avocado a bit so it sticks to the tortilla
- Divide tuna pouch among four tortillas
- Cut cheese into smaller chunks and divide evenly among the tortillas
- Open your backpacking-friendly wine
- Eat your tacos near a pretty lake or other backcountry spot, preferably during sunset
- Pack out all of your trash and keep it locked away from bears