Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is the absolute best hiking the midwest has to offer. I have a very personal bond with this place because it is where I truly fell in love with backpacking and camping. My very first major camping trip was here in 2007, and I have been there another five times since then! Over 30 miles along the coast of Lake Superior offers incredible views and beautiful hiking trails. I usually describe it as like seeing sections of the Grand Canyon, but on the water! Pictured Rocks is a popular spot for both hikers and kayakers. Itineraries are very customizable and the trail is extremely easy to navigate, making this a great place to take a trip with camping novices and veterans alike. Highly recommended to all my fellow midwestern backpacking lovers!!
There are many ways to see Pictured Rocks. Four days is recommended to hike the entire coastline. I will walk you through my recommended four-day hike, and then offer ideas if you need to trim this time down by a day or two. The North Country Trail runs from Grand Marais to Munising Falls, which is close to 40 miles. The hike can be done in either direction, but I would recommend starting on the east side and hiking west. The trail is split into two distinct sections. From Hurricane River to Chapel Beach is Twelve Mile-Beach, which is very well named. That hike traces along the beach in the tree line and is a nice hike but isn't going to offer the views you see when you google this place. All the amazing rocks are in the section between Coves and Mosquito. That will be the best day of the hike, and I like building my trip up to the best moments.
Day 1: Arrive and Stay at Benchmark
On the first day, you will complete the drive up to Munising, Michigan, check in at the ranger station to collect backcountry permits, then drive to SAND POINT. When I hike a single direction trail, I prefer dropping the car off at the end and arranging transportation from the endpoint to the starting point. That way when the hike is over I can hop in the car right away and be off. There are several shuttle services that can take you from Sand Point to various spots in the park that have vehicle access, including Hurricane River. Currently, you can get picked up at Sand Point at either 7:45 AM or 3:45 PM. RESERVE SHUTTLE HERE. The drive from Sand Point to Hurricane River will take between 1-2 hours depending on how many stops they make. From Hurricane River trailhead, hike west along the North Country trail a little over two miles until you reach the beautiful Benchmark campground. This campground is right along Lake Superior and offers a bear bag pole to store food.
Day 2: Benchmark to Coves
After making a great breakfast at Benchmark, grab your pack and begin this 10.5-mile hike along 12 Mile Beach. On this section of the trail, you will hike along the crystal clear water of Lake Superior and through the serene woods. The hike is pretty flat and meanders along the beach and through thick groves of pine trees that completely take you away from civilization (even though a road isn't too far away). It isn't the most picturesque day, but views are always better when they require a little work to get there!
Day 3: Coves to Mosquito
Day 3 is definitely the most spectacular section of the trail. Make sure to wake up early, because you will want to take frequent breaks to take pictures and just sit and enjoy the view. Although the hike only covers about eight miles, the miles are slow. All of your postcard-worthy shots will be taken on this day. Aim to get to Chapel Beach before lunchtime. There are several incredible places in between Chapel Beach and Mosquito that make a fantastic lunch break spot. Mosquito is one of my favorite campgrounds. The rock formations that line the water at this spot in the coast are fascinating, and make a great spot to cook dinner and watch the sunset!
Day 4: Mosquito to Sand Point, Back Home
Day 4 is a very beautiful hike that traces about nine miles from Mosquito to Sand Point. Go ahead and have a later start to the day, but plan on arriving at Miners Castle by lunchtime. The hike from Mosquito to Miners will take about two hours, depending on how many times you stop for pictures! Miners Castle is where you'll run into more tourists since it is accessible by vehicle. Enjoy lunch at Miners then finish with an afternoon hike all the way back to your vehicle at Sand Point. Make sure to fill up water at Miners since there is limited water access from Miners Castle to Sand Point. Consider where you will be driving to from Sand Point. If you need to make a long drive, you could opt to stay at Cliffs that night, then get to Sand Point the next morning.
Alternative Itinerary Ideas:
Pictured Rocks Weekend Trip
Pictured Rocks can be done in a weekend, you will just be rushed and have to be able to cover some good miles. If you are a confident backpacker, this is how I hiked Pictured Rocks in a weekend:
Friday: Drive up to Munising. Park at Miners Castle. Hike east two miles to Potato Patch.
Saturday: Hike 12 miles from Potato Patch to Coves
Sunday: Hike 14 miles from Coves back to Miners Castle. We had an early start and were able to make it back by about 2:00 PM. Plenty of time to drive back and go to work by Monday.
All backcountry sites for Pictured Rocks can be made through the National Park Reservation Service Page. Sites are limited and fill up quickly. If you cannot get reservations for my suggested itinerary, try these alternatives:
Beaver Creek or Chapel instead of Coves
Potato Patch over Mosquito