43 Miles in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

I’ve been coming to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (PRNL) since before I could walk. Over the years I’ve hiked most of the Lakeshore Trail, the 43 mile section of the North Country Trail that runs from Grand Marais to Munising, but this will be the first time I’ve done it in one stretch.

I drove up early to meet the hiker shuttle at the Munising Falls parking lot. After the 45 minute shuttle ride I was dropped off at the Grand Sable Visitor center with a friendly midwestern goodbye paired with the comment “people who hike out here alone are crazy”. Gee thanks…

Two miles in I passed a group of 4 heading back to the Visitor Center. They would be the last people I saw until Munising Falls.

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What I’ve always liked about PRNL is the variety of scenery packed into the park. Heading east to west I start in a forest before weaving in and out of view of the sand dunes. At the old log slide the trail follows the ridge down to Au Sable Lighthouse with sweeping views of Lake Superior along the way. Just before dusk I reach the Au Sable East campsite and make camp.

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Day 2:

I wake up to a cool damp morning. Skies are still overcast. After a warm breakfast I pack up and head out past the lighthouse. This time of year it’s deserted. I pass through two car campgrounds (the first empty, the second has a single RV but no signs of life as I walk past) before starting the section along Twelvemile Beach.

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The trail technically is just inland from the beach but it can be quite soft with sand so I chose to walk on the packed sand near the water. The lake is calm and the walk to the Pine Bluff campsite goes by quickly.

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Day 3:

Much sunnier today. I finish the last few miles of the beach and get to the Coves section of the trail. I love this section: lots of secret coves and rock lookouts a short scramble off the trail. I spend way too long sunning myself here and drinking a mid-morning coffee.

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Now the trail heads on top of the Pictured Rocks and then down to Chapel Beach. The sun is out and the lake is perfectly still. It’s gotta be 50 if not 55. I can’t resist a swim (it’s Nov 3rd!).

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The trail heads back up on the rocks and I catch the sunset there before heading to the (eerily creepy) Mosquito campsite in the dark.

Day 4:

I wake up before sunrise and can’t get back to sleep so I pack up and decide to have breakfast on top of the rocks about two miles into my hike. A bit hazy at the start of the day but hopefully that burns off soon.

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On Miners Beach the sun starts to shine and the view through the wild blueberry bushes is stunning. Heading up to Miners Castle I expect to see a few people but the area is empty. From here the trail stays slightly inland and I get only occasional views of the lake. The walking is easy but it’s the most boring section of the trail.

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Mid afternoon I reach Munising Falls and soak my feet in the (cold!) stream before heading back home.

If you go: