The North Country Trail through the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of my favorite stretches of trail. Part of that is due to the scenery and part is due to the fact that I’ve been coming up here since before I can remember.
Last year I did the whole 43 mile stretch in one go for the first time. This year we’re doing 36.4 miles from Miners Castle to Au Sable Falls. There is a hiker shuttle that runs between Munising and Grand Marais, but with a group the car shuttle is pretty easy, the trailheads are only about an hour apart.
We got started just after lunch and headed the 5 miles to Mosquito Beach Campground. The next morning we broke camp and started the walk by climbing to the top of the Pictured Rocks themselves. The forecast called for a front coming in from the north sometime in the late morning. Sure enough around 10am a bank of clouds started building to the northwest. For the next hour we watched the clouds inch closer until suddenly they were upon us. The temps dropped about 20 degrees and the winds picked up to gale force, it was awesome.
Sure I’d prefer the warmer, sunnier temps but witnessing the sudden transition really reminds you who is in control. The wind continued through the rest of the day and made for a dramatic sunset over the lake at the Beaver Creek Campground where we spent night 2.
It was a cool and drizzly morning on day 3. Last year I had the pleasure of calm weather and was able to walk a large stretch of twelvemile mile beach along the beach itself. This time around we stuck to the forest.
The highlight of the day was the surprise that I knew was coming. For the most part the trail stays a few miles off the main road through the park but near the Au Sable Lighthouse the trail nears the road. Before meeting with 2 members of our group a friend and I managed to stash some beers under a log just off the trail. Nearing the end of our day the team was tired, hungry and wet. When I told my unsuspecting friend to “see what’s under that log...” I got a death stare. But after some coaxing he obliged me and gleefully pulled the bag of beers out. Definitely a morale booster to walk the last two miles of the day with a beer in hand.
The sun came out for our final day and we had good views climbing up to the top of the dunes and down through the forest to our car at Au Sable Falls. We made a beeline for the Dunes Saloon in Grand Marais for a well earned burger and beer before heading back home.