Pic­tured Rocks Na­tional Lakeshore, Michi­gan

On Lake Su­pe­rior’s south­ern shore, sand­stone meets the un­re­lent­ing waves and weather of the world’s largest freshwater lake. The re­sult: caves, arches, pillars, and cliffs that stretch for miles along the shore­line. Bet­ter yet: The colorful coast gets eve

Backpacker - - PLAY LIST - BY ELIS­A­BETH KWAK-HEFFERAN

The insider

Few can claim to know the nooks and cran­nies of Michi­gan’s wild Lake Su­pe­rior shore­line bet­ter than Michael Neiger. After decades spent ex­plor­ing the re­gion as a vol­un­teer canoeing and back­pack­ing guide for groups like the Sierra Club, a lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor for Michi­gan Back­coun­try Search and Res­cue, and au­thor of Ex­plor­ing Pic­tured Rocks: West Half, Neiger has logged nearly as many days in “the bush” as he has in civ­i­liza­tion.

Top dayhike

The loop cir­cling Chapel and Mos­quito Beaches is “the best cliff­side hik­ing in the Mid­west,” Neiger says—and that’s not even the half of it. This 10.4-miler also en­com­passes a pair of wa­ter­falls, wavy sand­stone for­ma­tions, and pris­tine, singing-sand beaches. From the Chapel Road trail­head, hike coun­ter­clock­wise through abun­dant patches of or­angeyel­low jew­el­weed ( bloom­ing late summer into fall) to 60-foot Chapel Falls. Con­tinue on to see Chapel Rock at mile 2.1, a sculpted sand­stone pil­lar mark­ing the start of Chapel Beach. Swing west along the sandy stretch (when it’s dry, the sand will squeak or “sing” un­der­foot), then as­cend the lake­side cliffs to stroll 200 feet above the shore­line to “the most spec­tac­u­lar part of the park.” The es­carp­ment of­fers views of the cliffs’ or­ange stripes, rut­ted coves, and sea caves in both di­rec­tions. De­scend to Mos­quito Beach (usu­ally bugfree in Sep­tem­ber), then head back into the woods to pass Mos­quito Falls—a wide shelf where you might spy river ot­ters—en route to the trail­head.

Mul­ti­day trek

Pic­tured Rocks is a long, skinny park, and the North Coun­try Na­tional Scenic Trail spans the whole thing—mak­ing it the best bet for ex­tended back­pack­ing. Neiger’s fa­vorite seg­ment links Sand Point to Lit­tle Beaver Lake for a leisurely 22-mile, four­day shut­tle route. From Sand Point ( beachy and shel­tered, it’s a top spot for a dip in the lake), fol­low the NCT north­east along the bluff to Min­ers Cas­tle (pic­tured above). Take the short spur to a se­ries of over­looks to check out the soli­tary sand­stone pil­lar, then con­tinue down to Min­ers Beach. Camp at the clifftop Potato Patch site at mile 7 (there’s no water up there, so top off at Min­ers Beach .4 mile back). Day two, hike the shore­line sec­tion of the ChapelMosquito Beach Loop (see “Top Dayhike,” pre­vi­ous) and snag a cov­eted site in the pines near Chapel Beach for a grade-A Lake Su­pe­rior sun­set (reser­va­tion re­quired). Fol­low the bluff 4.3 miles to the sandy Coves site for night three, nab­bing views of 70-foot Spray Falls along the way. Fin­ish by con­nect­ing with the spur to Lit­tle Beaver Lake in the Beaver Basin Wilder­ness and hik­ing out to your shut­tle car.

Beach ram­ble

The 5-square-mile ex­panse of Grand Sable Dunes, a rare “perched dune” sys­tem of sand de­posited on top of a bluff, “will blow your mind,” Neiger says. “You’ll think you’re in the desert.” For the best ac­cess, start at the Sable Falls lot and head 1 mile north to the lake to wan­der through the frag­ile

dune ecosys­tem, a rolling, sandy land­scape dot­ted with stands of jack pine.

Best car camp­ground

Tent-door lake views, epic sun­sets, a sug­ary beach: Mid­west­ern camp­ing doesn’t get much bet­ter than Twelvemile Beach. The first-come, first-serve sites ($14$16/night) sit on an el­e­vated plateau shaded by white birch and fill up fast, so show up early and bee­line it for sites 12, 15, 16, 24, 25, or 26 for the best water views.

Apres

At Fall­ing Rock Café & Book­store in Mu­nis­ing, lo­cals hang their own coffee mugs on the walls, smoked white­fish head­lines the menu, and a “su­per se­lec­tion” of ice cream re­plen­ishes lost calo­ries, Neiger says.

Trip plan­ner

SEA­SON May through Oc­to­ber; fall fo­liage typ­i­cally peaks late Sep­tem­ber through mid-Oc­to­ber. PER­MIT Re­quired for back­pack­ing ($5/per­son per night plus $15 reser­va­tion fee); ob­tain at recre­ation.gov. Car camp­grounds are $16/night. SHUT­TLE ALTRAN (al­tran­bus.com/ back­pack.html) and Trailspot­ters (trailspot­ters.com) both run hiker drop-offs and pick­ups. Prices vary. CON­TACT nps.gov/piro

Get this view of Min­ers Cas­tle on the North Coun­try Na­tional Scenic Trail near the visi­tor cen­ter.

Kayak­ers can ex­plore the in­nards of Min­ers Cas­tle. To do it, put in at Min­ers Beach near the visi­tor cen­ter.

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