Monday, June 18, 2012

Backpacking Pictured Rocks Nat'l Lakeshore

Our backpacking trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the U.P. of Michigan was one of those vacations that had a mind of its own. We had left three weeks in June open for a trip to Isle Royal. Lori had applied for an art residency there, but didn't get it, so PIRO was our second choice. I'd been there several years before with our friend Karin on what was essentially my first backpacking experience. (You can check out those posts here.)

Karin and I had hiked the Chapel Beach/Mosquito River loop, which is flat and pretty easy. We did the loop in three days, staying only one night at each place and backpacking each day. I wanted to take a bit more time so we planned on two nights at each campground, giving us a few extra days to relax or do a day hike.  I made advance reservations as this is a popular route, just to make sure we were covered.


Five days before we were to leave, the park calls and says that the road to the Chapel loop trail head is closed for repairs that week. I was at a show and didn't know what other loops were available so we decided to delay the start of our hike a few days. Parking was still going to be tricky though as the parking lot at the trail head would still be closed and we would have to park about 1/2 mile down the road, turning a 3.5 mile hike into a 4 mile hike--if we could find a place to park the van.

Once we got home and looked at some maps we decided to abandon the Chapel Beach loop altogether and hike to Trapper's Lake in the Beaver Lake Basin area of the park. I talked to Pam at the park and made the changes.

We drove up on a Thursday afternoon, meeting Karin on the way, and stayed in a motel in Munising that night. The hike was to start Friday morning, but there was a prediction of severe weather with very heavy rains for Friday afternoon and evening. I wasn't real excited about being caught in a storm but Lisa and Lori had never backpacked before and I wanted this to be a pleasant experience, one they would want to repeat. After much debate we decided to wait until Saturday to start our hike, and spend whatever time the weather allowed Friday to explore some other parts of the park.

Friday morning we stopped by the headquarters to pick up our backcountry permits, and after talking to Pam decided to spend three nights at the Beaver Creek campground. It was about a three mile hike from the trail head, one we felt we could manage. Trapper's lake is another two miles, and we just didn't know if we could make it that far, so we would stop short at Beaver Creek and make a day hike to Trapper's instead.

After getting our permits we drove out to Miners Castle. This is by far one of the most recognizable views from Pictured Rocks. The sun was bright and Lake Superior was very calm, a gorgeous morning.

From the Miners Castle overlook one has a great view of Grand Island. We also had a great view of the front edge of the storm system as it worked its way down from the northwest. After seeing this we were feeling better about changing our plans!

The overlook is maybe 100, 150 feet above the water, and to look straight down was dizzying but beautiful. Gentle waves were breaking on the sandstone shore far below.

We decided to walk down to the other overlook, which is pretty much on top of the rock formation. I hadn't seen this view before. On the way we crossed a park-like area with trees and benches, and we heard a bird singing. Lisa spotted it with her binoculars. A Scarlet tanager! By the time I got my lenses switched I managed only one shot before it flew away. Grrr!

Back in the day you could walk right out onto this formation. I don't know how long ago that was stopped, but there used to be two tall formations on the top of this outcropping. One has since fallen into Superior's chilly waters. Note the flat spot just in front of and to the right of the taller rock--that's where it used to be.

While we poked around one of the PIRO tour boats chugged past. This is a spectacular boat ride but if you ever get a chance to do it, pay attention to the time of day and where the sun is. I would recommend doing this only in the evening. This early in the day the rocks are in shadows and the sun is right in your face.

I don't know about you but for me nothing says "North Country" better than birch trees. All along the shore view after gorgeous view is framed by these delicate trees.

The trail out to the second overlook is lined with wildflowers. The U.P. is a few weeks behind where we are here in Southeast Michigan so we got another shot at the late spring ephemerals. There were scads of these pretty little starflowers, a new plant for me.

Eastern wood pewees were also plentiful. This little bird is easy to ID as his song is exactly like his name. He sat on this snag and sang and sang.

Next: Munising Falls

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