Pictured Rocks Backpacking Trip

Pictured Rocks Backpacking Trip

This weekend I finally got to drive up north and check out Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I'd been looking forward to this for a long time. I've had it on my list ever since I created art inspired by the cliffs for a client. A few friends and I tentatively planned a trip there in 2020 but we were too late in ordering our camping permits so we had to postpone till this summer. That's something you'll want to be very careful about if you intend to backpack there. The permits for backpacking are in very high demand and get bought up very fast. My friends who ordered them for our group were on the website the day they were released to secure our reservation.

Once past acquiring the passes it was a relatively simple trip. It was about an 8.5 hour drive (not factoring in stops) from our place in Ohio, but we split the travel into two days so we could get a full nights rest and hit the trailhead late morning. We arrived at the Chapel Basin Parking Lot pretty late in the morning so it was already very full and cars were parked pretty far down the road leading up to the lot. Thankfully we were able to snag a couple spots but we were lucky - I would recommend getting there early in the morning to avoid the rush of people. This was a Friday morning and it was a beautiful, clear day. When we got out of the woods on Sunday it was rainy and there were just a couple cars besides ours.

Here we are ready to hit the trail!

Two of our friends were already at the first campsite so we had a total of 8 people. This is a National Lakeshore, run by the National Parks Service. They are quite strict about camping and permits so be sure to follow the rules. There are only two tents allowed per campsite so on our two sites we had four tents total, some people just had to share.

Here is Chapel Rock. An amazing rock formation with a beautiful tree atop it. It was amazing how the roots went from the cliff out to the tree. Some parts of it looked so narrow, I'm honestly not sure how many more years it will be there. 

Everything was shrouded in mist at this point, you could barely see to the water below -  I kinda loved the mood of it, especially since it cleared up the next day and we got to really see the cliffs.

This water flowing from Chapel Lake was so warm compared to the water of Lake Superior and it make a mist as they met.


Don't worry I wasn't actually putting my weight on that sandstone handle, it just looks like I am 😅. There was a really cool view around the corner.


 So moody.

 The "stairs" to the beach were a bit treacherous as you can see. Perhaps they could more aptly be called a ladder.


 This was the trail right along the beach, our campsite were just inside the woods.

Here we are sitting down for dinner time! Usually we do this around a fire but the spots we picked were no fire sites since they were close to the shore. It was a tradeoff because I love to hang out around a fire once it gets dark, but it was worth it to be close to the beach. And since we didn't have a fire we all got a lot more sleep - which was nice!

I just want to take a brief moment here to tell you about some of my favorite backpacking meals. This blog is not sponsored by any of these products but I do get a very small commission from the links. When you buy from the links below it helps me to be able to keep making these blogs and reviews - so thanks!

Peak Refuel. I just discovered this brand last year and I can't wait to try all of their meals. This trip I had their Chicken Alfredo Pasta and it was ah-mazing for a freeze dried meal and quite good for a regular meal even. The second link is for their Chicken Coconut Curry which a couple of my friends have had and raved about.

 I often just do bars for breakfast but when I want to be fancy I get a fruit and granola bag like this one. Theirs is seriously so good. Just freeze dried berries, granola and powdered milk. It's a great way to start your day on the trail!

 This was our campsite on the first night, we got some nice flat ground and beautiful pines around us. There was a raven that we affectionately nicknamed Bob who patrolled our campsite looking for snacks and making a call that sounded like a child screaming. Thankfully he had nearly the same sleep schedule as us. Conveniently there were bear boxes provided for us to store our food. I would recommend taking advantage of those because there may not be bears but there are plenty of other bold creatures willing to walk into your campsite and steal your trail mix. There was said to be a bear in the area when we were there but no one saw it.

The park service also provided outhouses which were of course stinky but at least they had walls. There were a lot of people going through the area and not a lot of good hiding spaces to take care of business.

 The second day we had ALL the amazing views of picturesque cliffs. They are even cooler in person. The water is so green and clean and beautiful. I convinced my husband and another friend to go swimming with me in the freezing water. I was numb for a bit afterward but it was so cool.

 There are plenty of spots to get out and see the view along the trail.


I think this was my favorite view - I mean look at that water contrasted with the cliffs!




 This is my sister out on the rock at Grand Portal Point. It's a pretty epic view and I'm kinda kicking myself for not getting a shot of myself there too! But sometimes you just have to be there and enjoy the uniqueness of the sight and not worry about all the pictures.

There were some kayakers going around the cliffs below us. I'm sure that was an awesome perspective to see the cliffs. I'd like to see them from the water next time I'm in the area.

The first day of our hike it was very foggy over the water. To the point that we were on the beach and couldn't see the cliffs above us. But thankfully the fog broke in the late evening and we saw a pretty sunset over the water. The second day it was mostly clear. It got very cloudy again in the evening so there wasn't much of a sunset the second night, but the water was still really pretty as you can see below.


Earlier that evening (the second and final night in the Park) I convinced my husband and a friend of ours to take a quick swim in the lake. Dang it was cold! But it was also a really cool experience and I'm glad I did it. My sister took this sweet photo of me and Joshua debating our decision to jump in.

Our total mile count for the trip was about 10 and it was really quite easy. Not a lot of elevation change, the trail is pretty flat and smooth for the most part. The last day there were a lot of small hills and tall roots jutting out of the ground so you just had to be careful not to trip. A lot of the path is sandy but mostly all packed down pretty hard.

Overall this was an awesome trip with amazing views for such a mild amount of hiking. I love that you get to hike along the cliff for a while, watching the water and the cliffs as you go.

This was my first time in the Upper Peninsula and I am sure that I'll be back soon! Leave a comment if you learned something or just enjoyed the pictures!

Be sure to follow me on Instagram to see when I make some paintings inspired by this trip. And check out my webshop of prints and other types of art.

Thank you so much for reading!!

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1 comment

At first I thought this was the Apostle Islands area in WI. If you haven’t been there, you should add it to your list! Beautiful sea caves to explore via kayak on Lake Superior and Bayfield is a precious small town with very nice people.


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