Monday, July 27, 2015

Backpacking Michigan's Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore follows the southern shore of Lake Superior for 42 miles and is three miles wide at its broadest, totaling 52 square miles of property. Much of the land is forested with pine, fir, spruce, and hemlock. Numerous streams, ponds, and small lakes channel water to the largest of the five Great Lakes, Lake Superior, which is also the world's largest body of fresh water by surface area. The namesake Pictured Rocks rise 50 to 200 feet above Lake Superior and range for 15 uninterrupted miles near the town of Munising. Over the eons, their sandstone has been sculpted into caves, arches, and various fortress and castle-like formations as seen below. One twelve mile stretch is an endless beach, giving access to the frigid waters for those hardy enough to enter.

The Lakeshore Trail runs along the Lake Superior shoreline for 43.5 miles, often elevated up to 200 feet above the water, as it travels between the towns of Munising and Grand Marais. Visitor centers, at which you can get the required backcountry permit, are located at each terminus. A shuttle bus runs between the two visitor centers, allowing you to get back to your vehicle (bus phone number and address are below.)

Here I am about to start at the Grand Marais trailhead, the Grand Sable Dunes. A hazardous reef has left shipwreck remnants strewn along the trail, and the Au Sable Light Station is along the trail.

You soon enter this lovely forest that runs the length of the Lakeshore Trail, which comprises a section of the 4600 mile long North Country Trail that runs from New York to North Dakota. Pictured Rocks was the first National Lakeshore when authorized in 1966. It was formally added to the National Park Service in 1972.

This is a view out my tent door looking at Trapper's Lake, one of the most serene and beautiful lakes I've ever camped alongside, a definite must for anyone hiking this area.

As in many National Park Service properties, there is no at-large camping allowed. Thirteen backcountry campgrounds for individuals and seven group sites are located along the trail at two to five mile intervals. Most have surface water available, though it will have to be treated. Safe water is available on the trail at Miners Castle Overlook, 12 Mile Campground, and Hurricane River Campground, all three of which are accessible to the public by car. Food poles are provided at all camp areas to keep bears honest.

You never know what artifacts from previous habitation you might encounter while backpacking. I also spotted several of these while backpacking Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky/Tennessee.

The view below looks at Lake Superior and the Pictured Rocks shoreline curving around a bay from the area around the top of Grand Portal. The Lakeshore Trail runs along the top of the bluff and for over half of the 44 miles is alongside Lake Superior.

At some places the cliffline curves in or juts out, giving brief views of the cliff as you hike, but since you are mostly on top of the cliffs, the best way to see the Pictured Rocks is from a boat. Pictured Rocks Cruises offers cruises daily depending on the season. The tour lasts 3 hours and covers about 17 miles of the shoreline, with explanations and witty comments from the captains. It is really a nice tour, very informative, and the best way to experience the remarkable scenery is from water level.

Mineral stains give the color to the cliffs.  Red and orange colors are from iron, black is manganese, white is limonite, and green is a trace of copper. So far, no pictographs or petroglyphs have been found.

One-half mile offshore of Munising, Michigan, is Grand Island which shelters Munising Harbor from the fury of a storm-enraged Lake Superior. The island is open to hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, and during the winter months, ATV use. A circuit of the trails which follow the shoreline appears from the map to be about 25 miles in length. There are six designated campsites and "at-large" camping is allowed almost anywhere on the island. Campfires are not allowed at at-large sites. Permits were not required as of summer of 1996. Roads and trails are not maintained and may be in hazardous condition due to washouts, deadfall, etc. A few private residences still exist and the residents may be using motor vehicles to access their property. The Recreation Area is administered by the Hiawatha National Forest. A ferry goes to the island.

Sunset over Lake Superior is something very special, as the following photo attests to.


National Park Service website for Pictured Rocks

Backpacking info from NPS

Pictured Rocks National Seashore
Sand Point Road
P.O. Box 40
Munising, MI 49862-0040

Grand Sable Visitor Center 906-494-2660 (summer only)
Interagency Visitor Center  906-387-3700
Lakeshore Visitor Center in Munising 906-387-2607

Alger County Transit (ALTRAN)
530 E. Munising Ave.
P.O. Box 69
Munising, MI 49862

ALTRAN runs 7 days a week. See their website for schedule and info

Pictured Rocks Cruises, Inc.
P.O. Box 255
Munising, MI 49862
800-650-2379 or 906-387-2379

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: A Guide by Olive M. Anderson; Bayshore Press; Munising, Michigan; 1988, revised 1994; 56 pages.

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