Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

I am thinking about summer. Beaches. Camping. Sun. Even sunscreen and bug spray. Freedom.

My mind goes back to our trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It is located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I heard once that the UP is very far away, and I believed for a while that it was not a reasonable drive, and therefore not worth thinking about. It turns out it’s only 12 hours drive from Western PA! It is funny how much of an impact one thought can have. After a 3 week road trip in 2015, driving thousands of miles through about 15 states, 12 hours drive through 2 states in 2016 seemed extremely reasonable. Maybe I’ll write about the great west trip next time.

I planned the trip with a dear friend who I’ve traveled with many times. We both heard that the first come-first serve campsites fill up quick. Knowing that, we planned our trip to arrive on a Monday morning to take advantage of folks who were leaving after weekend camping. To get to the campgrounds nice and early, we chose to stay overnight in Mackinaw City, Michigan, at the very top of the lower peninsula.

That part of the trip was surprisingly beautiful. We were at the intersection of the great lakes Michigan and Huron. There were peaceful sandy beaches, with tiny lake waves. We could see quaint Mackinac Island in the distance, along with the Mackinac Bridge. It was just a two hour drive from there to Pictured Rocks, excellent time to arrive in time for camper checkout.

The beach in front of our hotel, on Lake Huron

I wish we’d brought food for dinner to our Mackinac bridge area hotel, because they had gas powered fire pits on their beach! And firewood was included. That was a good lesson in double checking hotel amenities! We had a very humdrum non memorable dinner out that night too, oh well.

Morning travel went very smoothly. While we were a little too late to get one of the coveted spots at Twelve Mile Beach, we did secure a site at Hurricane River. Our site was a 3-5 minute walk to the lakeshore, excellent. Camping in this park is all fairly primitive. There are pit toilets only, no showers and 1 water pump for the full camp. There are no restaurants in the park. There are a couple food/shopping options in Grand Marais, just east of Pictured Rocks. Munising is at the western side of the park and had more options, though it was close to an hour’s drive from our camp. Must plan ahead when staying here!

While in the park, we spent much time at the beach just near our camp. It was just stunning, with pure white sand and the majestic Lake Superior beyond. The water was very cold and very clean. It was just barely warm enough to swim near the shore. That kept us cool in the very hot summer weather. Even with the full campground, the beach usually looked like this, very few people.

Swimming also got us away from the bugs. Big biting flies eek. They didn’t respond much to bug repellants unfortunately. Going in the water and keeping moving kept them at bay a little.

We saw some other places also. Hurricane River campground is in hiking distance to Au Sable Lighthouse. We spent a very nice morning there climbing on rocks and viewing wildlife in tidepools.

The next day we drove to Munising to take the ferry to Grand Island. It is part of the Hiawatha National Forest. There are no private cars on the island, just hikers and one transportation/tour bus option. Some folks arrive by their own canoe or kayak. There are camping cabins and primitive campsites, pit toilets and water spigots. The water spigots are far apart, so it’s wise to bring a lot of water in the hot summer. No food is on the island for purchase, so it’s necessary to pack what you need for the day. With 4 kids in our group, it was certain we would need many snacks. we thought we brought way too many snacks. Nope. Snacks were gone by the end of the day eek. There were many mosquitos. Many many many mosquitos especially on the trail away from the water. Here is picture of the wooded trail:


My favorite part of visiting this island was the clean clear water. In this photo I was up to my knees wading in the lake (and my legs are pretty long!)

On the way home, we stopped at the actual Pictured Rocks that the park is named for.

While the view from land was pretty, I think I’d take a boat tour to get a better look. It’s hard to view the shoreline from land. There are many boat tours that leave from Munising.

On our last full day we decided to take a shipwreck boat tour, in a glass bottom boat. I didn’t know that Lake Superior is very dangerous in storms and that there are many shipwrecks. They are particularly well preserved because of the cold freshwater and lack of organisms to break down the wood from the old boats. The boat captain was really funny. He reminded me of people I’ve met at home in Pittsburgh. In one shipwreck area, he joked that we were viewing Captain John’s john when we spotted the old toilet from the boat. This was good for most of our kids humor, tee hee. Here is a shipwreck picture:

front of a ship wrecked in the 1800s

We had a beautiful sunset the last night of our trip, likely because the weather was about to change on the lake. The next day a big storm blew in. Time to go home.

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