A Weekend Getaway to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Updated: Jun 14
Hike to views of turquoise and emerald waters, kayak through coastal rock formations, swim at pristine beaches and enjoy local seafood with this 3-day Michigan itinerary.
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Drive to Pictured Rocks and Hike the Chapel Falls Trail
Start the drive to Pictured Rocks National Park in the early morning. My friends and I drove straight from Chicago to the trailhead so that we could hike on Friday instead of Saturday to avoid crowds. In the busy summer months it is best to start any hikes either before 8am or after 1pm. Those times will either beat the crowds or will be when the crowd is leaving. The parking lots for the trailheads will fill up during peak hours. Our Friday afternoon strategy worked well, we were able to find parking in the lot and enjoyed a trail without crowds.
These hikes would also make beautiful sunset hikes with the sun setting over the cliffs and water. The sunset is late in the summer though (9 p.m.-10 p.m. depending on the month).
There are numerous trail options in the area that are all outlined on the park’s website here. The best option for a day hike with views of waterfalls and coastline are the trails that start at the Chapel-Mosquito Trailhead Parking Lot.
A few notes on the hikes:
The trails are flat, but can be muddy and require maneuvering around branches, puddles and mud. Wear waterproof shoes.
In the summer months expect mosquitos and flies on parts of these trails. Wear long pants and sleeves and/or bug repellant.
Pack or wear a swimsuit and bring a towel if you want to stop and swim at Chapel beach along the route. The beach isn’t accessible except via hiking so it is pristine and not crowded. There’s also a stream that runs off into the lake here that helps make the water warmer in this area.
There are bathrooms by the trail parking lot and at one spot along the trail near campsites at Chapel Beach.
This trail could make a short 1.2 mile hike a 5.8 mile loop or a 10 mile loop. I've outlined the trail options below:
1. Hike out and back to Chapel Falls- This is a quick 1.2 miles each way. This trail leads you to views of the falls but it has no coastline hiking.
2. Hike to Chapel Rock, Chapel Beach- This is a 5.8 mile loop. You will be able to see Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock (a tree growing out of a rock on the coast line) and Chapel Beach. You will walk 10-15 minutes along the coastline, but mostly will hike in the forest. If you want to take this option, look for the sign for a left turn back to the parking lot near the trail at Chapel Beach.
3. Hike the full 10 mile loop. This hike took us 5 hours including time to stop and take photos. You will be able to see all of the sites mentioned above and also have a long hike along the coastline with views of green and turquoise waters, rock formations and sandstone cliffs. The trail starts in the forest, goes to Chapel Falls and then hits the water at Chapel Rock. You walk along the coast line for a third of the hike with viewpoints along the way. Then you turn back into the forest and will also see the smaller Mosquito Falls towards the end of the hike. You have the option to skip Mosquito Falls to cut off .3 miles of the loop at the end and avoid extra mosquito bites. The coastline views for the middle portion of this hike are well worth the extra mileage on this trail option.
That evening we ate out at The Duck Pond (see Where to Eat) and then checked in to our campsite. Be sure to stay up for star viewing as well. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is known for its unpolluted skies and star gazing.
Kayak and Beach Time
On day two experience the area from the water by kayaking along the Lakeshore. If kayaking isn’t for you, you could swap in a boat tour mentioned on day three instead.
The kayak tours follow along the shoreline and depending on the length of the trip, include the following sites:
A shipwreck visible in the water down below
An archway to kayak through
Rocks formations to kayak in between
A couple other notes on the kayaking experience:
The kayaking tours start and end at Miner’s Beach, so you’ll have an opportunity to see that beach as well. (Your car will be parked a 10-minute drive away from the beach though).
The tour company provides dry bags for you to bring snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, camera, etc on the kayak. The kayaks have storage areas for the bags.
There are bathrooms at check-in at the tour operator’s office in Munising, porta potties at the lot where you park your car and and park bathrooms in the kayak launch area. There are no bathrooms during the kayak tour, but for the longer tour you have the option to swim during the beach stop.
The kayaking tour options below are with Uncle Ducky’s/Paddling Michigan. This is the company I kayaked with. They have an established, well organized operation. There are other kayak tour operators in the area, but they have less selection of tour options.
6-hour kayak tour:You can choose either a 9 a.m. or a 3 p.m. start. It is only four hours of actual kayaking on the water with a one-hour lunch or dinner break at the Mosquito Beach area. The rest of the time includes check-in, orientation and transportation to and from the launch. This is the only kayaking option that goes all the way out to the Lover’s Leap Arch. You will be in a double kayak so the paddling isn’t too strenuous unless you hit stronger winds. This tour costs $169 per person.
3-hour kayak tour: This is likely only two hours of actual kayaking after orientation and transport times. This option costs $129 per person.
2-hour kayak tour: This is likely only one hour of actual kayaking after orientation and transport times. This tour costs $109 per person.
Note: The "Paddle & Hike" tour, not described above, includes hiking in the same trail area as the hikes I recommend for Day 1. So if you're following my itinerary, you can skip the Paddle & Hike tour option.
After kayaking, the shuttle will bring you back to your car that is parked about 15 minutes away from the Miner’s Castle viewpoint. Make a quick stop at the viewpoint for one of the highest views in the area. It’s a couple minutes walk from the parking area to the upper viewpoint. I recommend you skip the lower viewpoint, since it only has a view of the back of the rocks. On the road to the Miner's Castle viewpoint there is also a turnoff for Miner's Falls. It's is a short .5 mile hike to a viewpoint of the falls. if you have time stop to see it as well!
Spend the rest of the afternoon at Au Train beach. It is a calm, natural white-sand-beach on Lake Superior. Since there are no vendors at the beach, be sure to pack your own snacks and drinks. The lake water is cold year round, but there is an area at this beach with runoff from a river that has warmer water. Stay at the beach until sunset or eat dinner and then come back to the beach to watch the sunset over the water.
Boat Cruise and Drive Home
For a relaxing end to the trip, take a boat cruise on Lake Superior. I recommend cruising around Grand Island or to Spray Falls to see a new area, different from where you went kayaking and hiking. A few options are listed below.
Cruise around Grand Island- This is a 3-hour-tour on the water, plus extra time for lunch or dinner at the restaurant. It is a smaller one level boat that is all covered outdoor seating. The cruise goes around Grand Island, showcasing waterfalls, caves, and lighthouses on the shoreline. It costs $64 per person with a meal included. The cruise is offered by Paddling Michigan. They offer both lunch and dinner cruise times.
Cruise around the shoreline plus Spray Falls-This is a 2 hour and 15 minutes trip for $45 per person with Pictured Rocks Cruises. This is a large multi level boat with indoor and outdoor seating. Spray Falls is arguably the most impressive waterfall in Pictured Rocks, falling 70 feet over cliffs into the Lake. The falls are difficult to see from the trails though, so a boat tour is the best option for views.
Cruise around the shoreline - This cruise will go to similar areas where you kayaked and hiked. It is a 2.5 hour trip for $38 per person with Pictured Rocks Cruises. This is a large multi level boat with indoor and outdoor seating.
After the cruise, start your drive home. Be sure to stop for a Pasty road trip snack on the way.
Lodging Recommendations for Pictured Rocks, Michigan
There are a few options for lodging in the area:
Hotels- There is a Holiday Inn Express centrally located between town, the beach and hiking trails.
Home rentals/Airbnb- There are limited options in the immediate area. If this is your preferred option, book months in advance and be sure to research driving times to hikes, the beach and restaurants.
Camping- There are campsites within the National Lakeshore, most are backpacking sites though (there is no car access). There are also numerous public campground options.
We stayed at the Paddler’s Village Au Tran Beach Campsites. Paddler’s Village also has a 2nd site closer to town. It was more expensive than a public campsite but had clean, modern bathrooms, individual showers and changing rooms, and options for safari tents, yurts and teepees. If you want lodging closer to a glamping experience, it’s a fun option.
Bookings for a Pictured Rocks Trip
Lodging, kayaking and boat cruises all will fill up in advance. Lodging should be booked months out if possible and kayaking and boat cruises should be booked by a couple weeks out from your trip.
What to Eat on a Pictured Rocks Trip
Lake Superior Whitefish (Perch)- A freshwater fish with a delicate, mild flavor, more similar to salmon than trout.
Smoked Fish and Smoked Fish Dip- Munising is also known for their smoked fish and smoked fish dips. There are multiple fisheries right off the water that sell smoked fish.
Pasty- They are a traditional upper peninsula snack/meal with meat, egg or vegetable filling inside a golden pastry crust. It looks a bit like an empanada but is usually larger. It was traditionally a miner food brought to the area in 1850. It was an easy hand held dish for miners to eat down in the mines.
What to Wear And Pack for a Pictured Rocks Trip
Read My Packing List for more recommendations on specific gear. What to Wear
Hiking boots or shoes
Hiking sandals or water shoes for kayaking
Lightweight long sleeves and pants for nighttime- These will help prevent mosquito and fly bites.
What to Pack
A daypack for hiking. The Arc'teryx Index 15 is my favorite.
A water bladder or water bottle for the hike
A Cooler for the beach
Bug Spray and/or bug bands
Snacks for hiking, kayaking and the beach
See Planning a Weekend Camping Trip for what to pack if you are camping for this trip
Where to Eat near Picture Rocks, Michigan
The Duck Pond Eatery and Beer Garden- A lunch or dinner option located in Christmas, Michigan. It is located in between Au Train Beach and the hiking trails. They serve fresh caught daily Lake Superior Whitefish, homemade BBQ and have a local draft beer list. Sit outside in their patio area for a relaxing evening. The blackened fresh fish tacos were our favorite.
Pictured Rocks Pizza-This restaurant is located in Munising and has indoor and outdoor seating. You can build your own pizza with their local ingredients or have one of their specialty pizzas like their arugula, ricotta, garlic and prosciutto pizza. The pizza is fresh and not too greasy.
By George Brewing Co. - A local Munising brewery with indoor and outdoor seating and live music on the weekends. We loved their root beer and bought growlers of it to bring home.
Cap'n Ron's Smoked Fish- Pick up some local smoked fish or their famous smoked fish dip from their location on the water.
Eh Burger-This is a fast casual option located in Munising that offers burgers, chicken and fries that are higher quality than your average fast food restaurant. Their burger patties are fresh, not frozen. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Miners Pasty Kitchen- Pasties are an easy snack to bring on a hike. This spot in Munising sells a wide variety of them to go.
Trenary Bakery- Founded in 1928, this bakery is a road trip stop located in Trenary, a half an hour from Munising. They are known for their Finnish Dunking Toast (that we actually found sold in local gas stations as well) and their homemade Rye breads. We had breakfast sandwiches on their homemade bagels that were great as well. Stop for a sandwich or for their twice baked coffee bread, cinnamon rolls or bread to take for the weekend. Note that it is closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday
Dobbers Pasties-This is a road trip option for trying a Pasty. It’s located in Escanaba and has been open since 1975. They ship their Pasties throughout the US.
When to go to Pictured Rocks
This itinerary works well for spring, summer or fall. Most cruises and kayak tours only run May through early to mid October. The temperatures are too cold for water based activities after that. The black flies in the area are most prevalent in May and June, so later summer and early fall trips help to avoid the worst of the flies. In the middle of winter the area becomes a popular spot for ice climbing along the cliffs as well.
Trip Dates: July 2020
Article Updated: June 2022
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