Hiking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is Worth the Effort

Hiking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is Worth the Effort

Forests and trees, dunes and cliffs, chirping birds and chipmunks galore – welcome to hiking the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore!

The views are killer, the hiking trails are uncrowded, and the potential for outdoor adventures is unlimited. Michigan beauty is easily discovered here – I sure found loads of it.

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to hike some of the best trails including an 8 mile loop that runs through Mosquito Beach and Chapel Rock. The trail runs in a giant circle, so at the end of the day hikers end up directly in front of their cars, which is considered a luxury in the hiking world. This one is definitely for the books.

Pictured Rocks - The Awesome Mitten
Photo by Shalee Blackmer.

If you begin in the direction of Mosquito Beach, the trail will take you two miles through the woods before reaching water. The path is dirty and muddy, so it is a wise decision to leave your new tennis shoes back in the car. However, it is not a wise decision to leave the bug spray behind!

The beach is rocky and includes a beautiful stream that slowly rushes into Lake Superior. If you are daring, when the beach ends to the east you can free climb around a sharp corner that will open up to large sea caves. If you fall on your attempt, it will only be a few feet into the chilled water below.

When continuing east on the path, you’ll encounter dozens of lookouts over cliff edges. The trail section between Mosquito Beach and Chapel Rock is 4 miles. Although it can be long, the views are beyond worth it. The further the down the path, the higher and more supreme the cliffs become.  Slowly, the trail will peak over an escarpment that towers hundreds of feet over the water below. These cliffs were my favorite part of the hike. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junky, so standing on the edge made my heart race in the best way possible. It really made me feel like I was on top of the world!

Pictured Rocks - The Awesome Mitten
Photo by Shalee Blackmer.

Towards the end of the stretch, near Chapel Rock Beach, there are cliffs that can be cliff jumped. They stand about 50 feet above the water and are the perfect cool off after a long hike. The water below is deep and will not be touched, but the swim back to shore is the most strenuous portion (a few hundred yards). If you are not a good swimmer, this adventure is not for you.

Pictured Rocks - The Awesome Mitten
Photo by Shalee Blackmer.

When I arrived at Chapel Rock, I realized why it is an iconic landmark of the Pictured Rocks experience. The rock pedestal juts out from the surrounding shoreline and houses a single tree which towers dozens of feet above. The roots dangle over the rock and stretch to the mainland making it a one-of-a-kind sight.

Heading inland, the last 3.2 miles consists of woods and waterfalls. Some hikers are lucky enough to see wildlife such as coyotes, bears, and wolves on this section. I, however, only saw approximately 567 chipmunks who I collectively named Jimmy.

Upon arriving back to the trailhead parking, you will feel tired, accomplished, sore, and blissful. That’s when you know it’s time to head out and grab dinner at Main Street Pizza in Munising. Then you’ll be able to head to bed with a full belly and with all those new memories playing in your mind.

Hiking trail tips:

  • The trailhead and trail do not have water. Don’t make this mistake! Water is a crucial part being safe on this hike.
  • Beware of biting black flies. They only come for a short period in the summer, but when they are present they swarm in the hundreds.
  • Give yourself enough time. The hike can take anywhere from 4-8 hours.
  • Don’t bring your iPhone without a case. You’re going to drop it, just like I did. Oops!

Have you ever hiked the Pictured Rocks? What were your favorite parts?