I have really appreciated seeing that people are interested in hearing about my experience at Picture Rocks National Lakeshore and after reading Rachel’s story, I have been inspired to share my own. This will be in two parts since I have plenty to talk about and it helps me since we are still moving from our old house. Just like Rachel’s story, I learned a lot through error, saw the most amazing cliffs and beaches, and bonded with my fiancé and sister. From learning about the opportunity to thru-hike Picture Rocks to ending with pizza and a long drive home, my first thru-hike awaked a new awakened exciting interest for me (hence this lifestyle blog!?).
It was summer 2020 (the same summer we first hiked Picture Rocks) that I found out you could backcountry camp at Picture Rocks National Lakeshore. With trails connecting each campsite you can complete the entire 42 mile trail in less than a week! After taking this idea to Charlie and then to Rachel, we agreed to enjoy our summer vacation with our first backpacking trip. We spent the next two months acquiring our gear from the big three (backpack, sleep system, and shelter) to planning little things like which vegetarian jerky tastes the best. After confirming our vacation dates with our jobs we finally went to recreation.gov to make our backcountry campsite reservations, which if you read “Top 5 Things to Know before Hiking Picture Rocks” you know we made a big mistake in waiting until late summer to make reservations. We were only able to reserve two consecutive nights for nearby campsites.
This caused the first issue in my planning. The campsites we were able to select were Mosquito River and Cliffs. Now these sites are 6.9 miles from each other, not so bad. For our first day we decided to start out at Chapel parking so that we could see Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, and Chapel Beach – all worth it. However, this made our trip to Mosquito River campsite 8-9 miles on day one! This was a lot for us novice backpackers.
With the small itinerary set, we knew we needed to get to Chapel parking early because it is a highly trafficked trail with a big payoff at the end. We did NOT wake up as early as we had wanted to and even treated ourselves to Biggby coffee on the way to Munising. After getting a little lost to drop Rachel’s car off at Miner’s Castle parking (a blessing and the only sight accessible by car), she threw her backpack in Charlie’s car and we headed to Chapel parking where we gawked at Ride and Seek’s van as it parked and unloaded our packs. Once we trekked to the trailhead from a street parking spot I had realized I left our camping permits in the car and went back to get them while Rachel took pictures of the trail maps.
The first mile all I could think about was getting to the beach and eating lunch…my first clue at how much of a food-motivated hiker I am. Our first stop was Chapel Falls which was beautiful at every angle. Our first pictures were here and the only evidence that I hiked the first two miles in shorts. After passing the falls we got a little lost after passing a sign for “North Country Trail.” Fun fact, the Picture Rocks National Shoreline trails are part of the longest scenic trail; the North Country Trail. However, here we got the chance to chat with a family that really cheered us on and joked that carrying their baby was probably lighter than our packs!
Once back on track I was grossly aware of hikers behind us, dreading the moment they caught up and we would preemptively mask-up and move to the side for the lighter day hikers. This was an unnecessary stressor that really should not have bothered me and I even started to remember the family that was cheering us on and enjoy the canopy and look for the horizon beyond the trees. Once I started to let go of the small anxieties, I immediately started to enjoy my hike better.
Then we reached Chapel Beach and Rock. Wow. Chapel Rock is awesome, you have to see its lone tree yourself. But the beach. Y’all, Chapel Beach is the most beautiful beach I have ever been to – my Laguna Thousand Step Beach friends’ group is shook reading this. The beach had socially-distanced groups scattered across its entirety (I mean who wants to be near each other on the beach anyway?) and a few rented pontoons anchored near the shore. The water was beautiful turquoise and a river that fed into Lake Superior created a safe space for small children to frolic in.
We ate lunch and I changed into my leggings behind a log to save my thighs from the undeniable chaffing I was experiencing. The climb back up to the trail was worse than getting onto the sandy beach, but of course gravity was never a friend to backpackers. From this point on it felt like we stopped every 10 minutes at a lookout to see every angle of the cliffs and the waves of Lake Superior’s blue-green water. Mine and Rachel’s packs became exhausting but seeing each mushroom and muddy step kept us occupied in between lookout points.
After a little bit under dense tree cover I cannot explain to you the joy and relief I found in myself after seeing a sign for Mosquito River Campground. Then while we thought we had one mile to go, we realized the campsite was 20 feet behind the sign! We chose the nearest site to Lake Superior and immediately began to set up our hammocks sans rain tarps and trek to the shore to collect and filter water.
We made dinner at camp – wrong, you are supposed to keep food stuff at the center of the campground to avoid critters and bears at individual campsites. Ever since resting at Chapel Beach I had began cold-soaking some dried mushrooms for our dinner and began to boil water for risotto. Which I made too much of. I felt sick trying to eat it all to avoid waist/bear bait. After dinner we took all food items and trash to the campsite’s bear box and I took my sore body to bed. I recall Charlie waking up in the middle of the night to rain and alerting us, but I was under good tree cover and too sore and tired to be bothered with putting up my rain tarp. Fortunately Charlie but my pack under his tarp and I never got wet! I slept like a big baby that first night.
Wow, this is the longest post I have personally created for Sustaining Sara! Please make sure to see how my backpacking adventure concludes on Monday’s post; Part 2/Day 2! Thank you to everyone that has expressed interest in hearing about my hiking team’s experience (aka Rachel and Charlie) at Picture Rocks. Please make sure to join our community and discussion by following the Sustaining Sara Facebook group and Instagram linked below, thank you!