Hiking Chapel Basin Loop Pictured Rocks


Hiking Chapel Basin Loop Pictured Rocks

Hiking Chapel Basin Loop along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of our favorite hikes we have ever completed.  This hike gives you amazing views of the Pictured Rocks along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  The North Country Trail (part of the Chapel Basin Loop), between Chapel Beach and Mosquito Beach, is the only place you can see these unique multicolored Pictured Rock cliffs from land.  This hike will also take you past two waterfalls (Chapel Falls and Mostiquo Falls), to a unique rock formation (Chapel Rock) and to two beaches (Mostiquo Beach and Chapel Beach). With so much pretty and varied scenery on this hike, the Chapel Basin Loop Trail will not disappoint anyone up to hiking it.  Here is our complete guide on hiking the Chapel Basin Loop.  

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!

FYI This post is written based off two different hikes both completed in early September 


How long is the Chapel Basin Loop Hike? How much elevation gain on the Chapel Basin Loop Hike?  

This trail is approximately 10 miles with 750 feet of elevation gain and is a loop trail. However, that being said, we have hiked this trail twice and have recorded a longer distance both times.  With walking down to the beaches (Mosquito and Chapel beach), we have recorded this hike to be a little over 12 miles both times. We recommend budgeting enough time (and mentally preparing yourself) to hike 12 miles before starting. 

Hiking Chapel Basin Loop Pictured Rocks

Which way should I hike the Chapel Basin Loop?

You have the option to start this loop hike towards Mosquito Falls/Beach (clockwise) or Chapel Falls/Beach (counter-clockwise). See map above for a visual.  We have hiked both ways and recommend starting toward Mosquito Falls/Beach.  The Mosquito part of the trail involves more elevation and is more uneven/rocky than the start/end of the Chapel Falls part of the loop.  It is best to do this Mosquito part of the trail when your legs are fresh and save the relatively flat/smooth Chapel Falls part of the loop for when you are more fatigued at the end of your hike.  

What are the Chapel Basin Loop Logistics? 

This hike starts at the Chapel Falls Trailhead in Shingleton, Michigan (easy to find by typing into Google Maps). 

Hiking Chapel Basin Loop Pictured Rocks

Start Towards Hiking Mosquito Falls/Beach

Starting towards Mosquito Falls at the trailhead, you will hike about a mile on a rocky/root covered path before arriving at these pretty flowing falls. Mosquito Falls is the less impressive of the two waterfalls you will see on this trail but nonetheless pretty.  

Hiking Chapel Basin Loop Pictured Rocks

After hiking to Mosquito Falls on the Chapel Basin Loop, you will make your way towards Mosquito beach.  This will take you about another 1.5 miles.  This path is rocky and root covered as well.  When you reach the Mosquito area, be sure to look for signage pointing you down to the beach.  It is easy to pass it by as it is not easily visible from the main path and you do have to walk down to it.  Mosquito Beach is extremely scenic, peaceful and not crowded, especially early in the morning (when we had it to ourselves). 

Hiking Chapel Basin Loop Pictured Rocks

Hike Along the Pictured Rocks

After stopping at Mosquito Beach on the Chapel Basin Loop hike, you will now hike about 4.5 miles parallel to the Lake Superior Shore along the famous Pictured Rocks. This is the best part of the hike!  Soak in the views of all the rock formations including Indian Head and Grand Portal Point (our favorite).  The views along this part of the path are why we love this hike so much.  

Hiking Chapel Basin Loop Pictured Rocks

Hike Through the Chapel Beach/Falls Area

After you hike along the Pictured Rocks on the Lake Superior Shoreline, you will arrive at Chapel Beach.   This is a nice sandy beach. It is more crowded than Mosquito Beach but is a nice place to stop and take a break.  You then can hike parallel to Chapel Beach before you reach Chapel Rock.  Chapel Rock is a super unique rock formation with a large tree growing on top of it jutting out of the shoreline.  

Hiking Chapel Basin Loop Pictured Rocks

After seeing Chapel Rock, you will turn right and start your hike back towards the parking lot.  On the way, you will pass Chapel Falls (after about 1.9 miles).  This waterfall is the bigger of the two on this loop.  Be careful to not get off the trail here as it can be a bit confusing which path is correct – there are several sections that look like trails to take. You will need to cross a bridge after you see the initial Chapel Falls viewing platform to continue on the trail back towards the parking lot (approximately 1.2 miles away).  The trail after this point is relatively flat and smooth before you reach the parking lot. 

How long will it take to complete the Chapel Basin Loop Trail?  

Budget 5-6 hours when hiking Chapel Basin Loop at Pictured Rocks.  You may be able to hike it much faster but it took us between 5 and 6 hours (including breaks) when hiking the first time with only our newborn daughter and then the second time with our newborn son as well as our 2 year old daughter (both carried).  For tips on hiking with an infant, see our How to Hike with a Baby post. 

Hiking Chapel Basin Loop Pictured Rocks

Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 8+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


Are dogs allowed on the Chapel Basin Loop?

No, dogs are not allowed on the Chapel Basin Loop. There is a large fine for bringing them as well so best to leave fido at home. Many of the shorter hikes in the area, covered in our Complete What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Guide, are dog friendly though so be sure to check those out if you will have your dog in tow. 

Looking for a dog friendly vacation? See our Dog Friendly Apostle Islands Guide, Dog Friendly Door County, Wisconsin Guide and our A Day at Starved Rock State Park guides.  

Is the Chapel Basin Loop Hike Busy? 

Yes, it is highly trafficked.  Arrive early as the trail is less busy earlier in the day.  The Chapel Falls/Basin side of the loop tends to be busier because many people only hike out to Chapel Falls and/or Chapel Rock/Beach. 

Also, hiking it on a predicted or questionably rainy day helps negate some of the crowds too (just be prepared with the right gear).  Here are links to the rain gear we use and love:

We hiked the trail the second time on a questionably rainy and overcast day.  We loved how we had the trail mostly to ourselves and luckily we never actually got rained on. 

Anything else I need to know about hiking the Chapel Basin Loop?

The road to access the trailhead is in rough conditions and 4WD is preferred to access it.  However, you likely could navigate with 2WD if you go slow and carefully. We were easily able to drive the road with an AWD small SUV. 


We hope this guide helps you plan hiking the Chapel Basin Loop.  See our Complete What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Guide for more information on this area. Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

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What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore


What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, located in the upper peninsula (UP) of Michigan, is one of the most picturesque areas of the Midwest.  The coastline here is absolutely breathtaking, lined with unique colorful cliffs made from ancient sandstone formations.  You can hike, kayak or take a boat cruise along the scenic Lake Superior Coastline to soak in all the views.  Further, the surrounding area has many stunning waterfalls and other unique scenery to explore.  Our guide on ‘What to do in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’ goes over seeing it all. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!

FYI This post is written based off two different trips both taken in early September 


What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Hike Chapel Basin Loop

What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Our first recommendation on what to do in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is to hike the Chapel Basin Loop.  Although there are many options and different combinations of routes to hike on the trails in this area, we recommend hiking the Chapel Basin Loop (see map below).  This hike gives you amazing views of the Pictured Rocks.  The North Country Trail, between Chapel Beach and Mosquito Beach, is the only place you can see these unique multicolored cliffs from land.  This hike will also take you past two waterfalls (Chapel Falls and Mostiquo Falls), to a unique rock formation (Chapel Rock) and to two beaches (Mostiquo Beach and Chapel Beach).  If you are only going to do one hike in Pictured Rocks, do this one! 

Beware that this hike is over 10 miles though so take into consideration your fitness level before completing it. Although there are out-and-back options on the trail, the shortest path to lakeshore is to complete it as a loop. For more detailed information on this hike see our Hiking Chapel Basin Loop Pictured Rocks Guide

We have completed this hike twice.  Once with our newborn daughter in tow and another with our newborn son as well as toddler daughter along.  For tips on hiking with an infant, see our How to Hike with a Baby post. 


Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 8+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Sea Kayaking or Boat Cruise

Our next recommendation on what to do in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is to experience the Pictured Rocks from either a kayak or boat cruise.  We particularly recommend doing this if you are not hiking Chapel Basin Loop as these are the only other ways to see the Pictured Rocks in person.  See more information on Pictured Rocks Boat Cruises and Paddle Pictured Rocks with these links. 


What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Visit Miners Castle, Beach & Falls

What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

From the upper viewpoint at Miners Castle, you can see the unique Miners Castle rock formation against the beautiful Lake Superior turquoise water.  This viewpoint is only a very short walk from the parking lot along a paved path.  You can hike to a lower viewpoint with some required elevation gain on the return trip but the view is not as good from close-up to Miners Castle.  As parents visiting with a young toddler, we really appreciated the little windows they had at all of the viewpoints for our daughter to look out and see the viewpoints safely.  The trails here were also very toddler friendly and paved, allowing our toddler to hike alongside us. 

You can also hike down further to Miners Beach and on part of the North Country Trail along the Lake Superior Lakeshore. The North Country Trail is the longest trail in the National Trails System stretching 4,800 miles, across 8 states! It is pretty cool if you can say you hiked on part of it.

What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Be sure to stop and hike to Miners Falls while out this way (trailhead 2 miles before Miners castle parking lot, on the same road). This trail is 1.2 miles with 154 feet of elevation gain and is an out & back trail through the woods.  We really liked this trail and found it to be very serene.  Our newly 2-year-old daughter was able to easily hike it with us on her own two feet until we got to the viewing platform/stairs where we were glad we had our backpack carrier along. Dogs are allowed here on a leash. 


What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Visit More Waterfalls in the Area

The area around Munising has many beautiful waterfalls.  Beyond Miners Fall, below are some other waterfalls to see.  Ranked from our favorite to least favorite waterfall.

Laughing Whitefish Falls

  • 1.0 Mile, 121 feet of elevation gain, out & back
  • Largest waterfall in the immediate area
  • Dogs are allowed here on a leash. 

Munising Falls 

  • 0.4 Miles, mostly flat but optional stairs to climb, out & back
  • Paved path
  • Dogs are allowed here on a leash

Wagner Falls 

  • 0.2 Miles, out & back
  • Dogs are allowed here on a leash 

AuTrain Falls

  • 0.2 Miles, out & back 
  • Dogs are allowed here on a leash

What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Hike Beaver Basin Wilderness Trails

This area of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is much less trafficked than the Chapel/Mostiquo area.  There are several different hiking options in this area, all offering a little bit different scenery.  You can combine these trails anyway you please.  

What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Hike through the COVES section 

We hiked through the forest, past Little Beaver Lake and then west on the North Country Trail until the COVES group campsites.  The section of the North Country Trail we hiked on here was really pretty and felt untouched.  Throughout the COVES section, you can climb down into some of the different coves along the lake for even better lakeshore views.  

The forest trail, leading out to the lakeshore, is really unique as well with lots of interesting rock formations.  Alternatively, or as an add on, you could also hike around Beaver Lake and east on the North Country Trail. 

Note, you cannot see the Pictured Rocks from this hike, you can only see those on the North Country Trail in the Chapel/Mosquito area. You can hike to Spray Falls from this trail though and could continue on the North Country Trail to the Pictured Rocks section (although this would make for a very long hike – a great potential route for backpackers). 


What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Day Trip to Tahquamenon State Park

Tahquamenon State Park, located along the Tahquamenon River, is rated as one of the best state parks in Michigan. This is because this park is home to the very large and impressive Upper Tahquamenon Falls. 

Day Trip to Tahquamenon State Park: Upper Tahquamenon Falls 

Tahquamenon State Park

This 50 foot waterfall, with its grandeur, will not disappoint and can be viewed from several viewing platforms.  It also can be viewed from a paved path but the best views are at the viewing platforms. The walk to each of these platforms is about 1/3 mile on a paved path as well as wooden stairs.  To get up close with the falls, go to the upper viewing platform.  For more encompassing views, go to the lower viewing platform.  We recommend going to both.  Each is about 100 stairs to climb up and down but completely worth the effort. 

Day Trip to Tahquamenon State Park: Lower Tahquamenon Falls 

Tahquamenon State Park

The Lower Falls is a series of smaller waterfalls but equally beautiful.  Here, you can walk down the path and onto the wooden viewing platform, about 0.5 miles, to see all the cascades in this area.  You can also hike through the forest around the falls as we did.  Another option here is renting a rowboat to ride out to a small island among the falls.  On this island, you get contrasting views of the falls and can go for a short 0.5 mile hike through the forest on the island itself. 

Day Trip to Tahquamenon State Park: Tahquamenon River Trail

You can also hike between the Lower Falls and Upper Falls along the Tahquamenon River trail. This trail is 4.8 miles one-way or 9.6 miles roundtrip.  We hiked a mile out and back of this trail, starting at the lower viewing platform from the Upper Falls. The trail was beautiful!  When we visited, the weather was questionable and we did not want to be stuck in the rain on a 9+ mile hike with our 5 week old daughter so we opted not to do the whole trail but that would be a pretty way to see more of the park.  

During peak season (not when we were visiting on a weekday in early September), there is a shuttle (Jordan’s Shuttle Service) that runs between the Lower Falls and Upper Falls. This shuttle will take you back to where you started your hike for a fee, at either the Upper Falls or Lower Falls, so you would only have to hike the trail one way.  

If you hike between the falls, you may have the trail all to yourself.  When we hiked part of the trail, we saw no other people on it (granted it was on a weekday, not during peak season and questionable weather). Most people drive between the two falls (about a 10 minute drive). 

Other Tips on Tahquamenon State Park

Between hiking and exploring at the Upper Falls and Lower Falls areas, we ate at the Tahquamenon Brewery. This restaurant is very conveniently located in the Upper Falls parking lot.   We’d highly recommend you break up your visit this way. The food and brews were on-point here.  

Note: Tahquamenon Falls is about 1 hour and 20 minutes drive from Munising. 


What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Paddle the Lazy Au Train River

A family friendly adventure floating down the lazy, mostly sand bottom, Au Train River.  Paddle Au Train is a family run, 3rd generation UP business.  Paddling this lazy river is a great way to enjoy the outdoors in the peaceful Au Train area. 


What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Take a Ferry to Grand Island 

Grand Island is located in Lake Superior, about a half mile off the mainland city Munising, Michigan. 

Grand Island is a great place to spend part of a day or all day exploring.  Here, you can hike, bike (20 miles around the island), kayak/canoe or take a bus tour. For more information on Grand Island rentals click here. For even more of an adventure, you can camp overnight here too. 

See a map of Grand island here and ferry schedule/cost here.


What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Day Trip to Grand Marais 

Grand Marais is home to a very pretty section of coastline along Lake Superior and a cute little town.  Here, we hiked to a lighthouse, a waterfall and sand dunes. We also stopped at a former log slide and got coffee from a trendy local shop. 

Day Trip to Grand Marais: Au Sable Lighthouse

Grand Marais: Au Sable Lighthouse

Our first stop in Grand Marais was a hike to the Au Sable Light Station along the Lake Superior coastline.  This lighthouse was built in the 1870s to help ships navigate after many shipwrecks had occurred in the area.  We visited on a very windy day with extremely large crushing waves on Lake Superior and it was very obvious to us why this lighthouse was needed.  This hike is 3 miles round trip and is very flat, wide and easy.  Dogs are allowed here on a leash.  

Day Trip to Grand Marais: Log Slide Overlook

Grand Marais: Log Slide Overlook

Next, we headed to the Log Slide Overlook. This overlook is a very steep sand dune that was used to slide logs onto ships in Lake Superior many years ago.  This steep log slide offers pretty views along the Lake Superior shoreline. You can hike down the log slide but we would not recommend that as it is exceedingly steep and people often need to be rescued while attempting to do this.   The overlook is just a short walk from the parking lot but be prepared to walk in the sand briefly.  Dogs are not allowed here. 

Day Trip to Grand Marais: Sable Falls

Grand Marais: Sable Falls

After the Log Slide Overlook, we hiked at Sable Falls. The short (0.33 mile) hike to this pretty waterfall is well worth the effort. You hike mostly down a wooden staircase. After the falls, you can continue down to the beach. It is less than 0.25 miles further down to the beach but note the beaches on the other hikes we did on this trip are, in our opinion, much prettier.  There is also a trail (0.5 miles one-way) to some sand dunes that we opted to hike on as well. Dogs are allowed to hike on a leash here with you.  

Other Grand Marais Tips

While in Grand Marais, be sure to check out the trendy The Dream Bean Machine for some coffee, tea, smoothies or baked goods.  This Volkswagon van turned locally owned small coffee shop is super unique and cute.  

Although we did not have time for it, another place to consider checking out is Lake Superior Brewing. Note, dining options are very limited in Grand Marais and many have limited hours.  Especially after peak season, be sure to check the hours prior to planning to eat anywhere here. 

Note: Grand Marais from Munising is about 1 hour drive


What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Visit Kitch-Iti-Kipi Spring

Kitch-iti-kipi Spring

Kitch-Iti-Kipi Spring is a large natural freshwater spring, located in Palm Books State Park.  The very clear and turquoise water is unlike any we have seen before.  At the spring, there is a self-operated pull raft, with the middle cut out for better water views, that takes you across the spring and allows you to get a close-up look at the spring.  It is neat to see the spring bubbling up and the fish that live in the spring scurrying about.  We would recommend trying to visit the Kitch-iti-kipi Spring on a weekday to avoid crowds.  It is a popular attraction as there is little to no effort required to see it. It is only a short walk from the parking lot on a paved path. 

Note: Kitch-Iti-Spring is about 50 minutes drive Southeast from Munising. 


What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Take a Shipwreck Tour

Take a glass bottom boat tour to see the unique shipwrecks beneath Lake Superior as well as sandstone cliffs and caves along the shore.  Get more information on these tours here. Open Memorial Day weekend through the end of September. 


What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Dine in Downtown Munising

There are plenty of different types of restaurants to dine at in Downtown Munising.  If you only stop at one place, we recommend stopping at Muldoon’s Pasties to pick up a pastie (pronounced PAST-TEE) traditional UP delicacy (individual pie filled classically with meat and vegetables). Another favorite spot of ours was Pictured Rocks Pizza. 


Where to Stay near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

After looking for the perfect place to stay as a family near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we were so happy when we found the Northwoods Resort in Au Train, about 10 minutes west of Munising.  This resort is close enough to all of the activities in the area yet tucked away from the hustle and bustle. It is truly the perfect place to unwind after a day of exploring.  This resort has been family owned and operated for 3 generations.  It is family friendly and most of the accommodations are dog friendly.   And with charming cottages and large lake houses, there is something to fit everyone’s accommodations needs.  Located right on Au Train lake, it’s the perfect place to relax and drink your morning coffee/tea.  For more on staying at this place, please see our Where to Stay Near Pictured Rocks post. 


FAQs about Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore 

When to Visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore?

Visit in the summer, ideally June-September. The weather is best during this time and the most tour options/ businesses are open during this time as well.  Outside of that window, tours offered are very limited due to cooler weather as well as less visitors. 

Where to Stay near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore?

We recommend staying at the Northwoods Resort.   For more on staying at this place, please see our Where to Stay Near Pictured Rocks post for more details. 

Is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Dog Friendly? 

No. Most of the trails along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore do not allow dogs.  However, many of the shorter inland waterfall trails in the area do allow dogs.  Please see the waterfall, Miners Waterfall and Grand Marais sections above. 

Looking for a dog friendly vacation in the Midwest? See our Dog Friendly Apostle Islands Guide, Dog Friendly Door County, Wisconsin Guide and our A Day at Starved Rock State Park guides.  

Pictured Rocks Map for Visual Reference of Area

We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

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Where to Stay Near Pictured Rocks


Where to Stay Near Pictured Rocks

While planning our most recent visit to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we are so happy we found the Northwoods Resort.  Located right on Au Train lake (about 10 minutes west of Munising) with peaceful lakeshore views, this resort offered us the cozy northwoods lake cabin family vacation we were craving.  It provided us with easy access to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore yet was tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Munising.  This family friendly resort was truly the perfect place for us to stay at and relax while visiting Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with our family.  Here’s a run down of why we found the Northwoods Resort to be the perfect spot to stay while visiting Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore!

Located near Munising and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore 

Our top reason we loved staying at the Northwoods Resort is that the resort is close enough to all of the activities in the area yet tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Munising.  With being only a 10 minute drive from Munising, you have easy access to anything you may want to do there while being afforded the peace and quiet offered by staying a little west in quaint Au Train.   It is truly the perfect place to unwind after a day of exploring the area. Please see our What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for more information on activities in the area. 

Small Business and Family Friendly  

We always love supporting small and family run businesses.  This resort has been family owned and operated for 3 generations.  The owners, Erin and Jake, do a great job making sure you have everything during your stay.  Being a family run business, all of the accommodations are family friendly.  Most of the accommodations are dog friendly as well, making the resort a great place to visit with your whole family. 

Where to Stay Near Pictured Rocks

Where to Stay Near Pictured Rocks: Great Outdoor Space 

Located right on Au Train lake, the properties at this resort are the perfect place to relax and drink your morning coffee/tea. Some of the accommodations are right along the lakefront while others are just across the street.  At the cabin we stayed at, we had a private lakefront backyard with a pier, deck and fire pit.  Our favorite part of this was being able to wake up with lake views.  Our 2 year old daughter loved watching the ducks swimming in the lake from the big living room windows too. 

Where to Stay Near Pictured Rocks

Something for Everyone’s Budget and Needs 

With charming cottages and large lake houses, there is something to fit everyone’s accommodations needs and budget here.  We stayed at Wielands cabin right on the Au Train lakeshore.  This property is perfect for a bigger/extended family – 3 bedrooms with a loft and sleeps 8.  There are also smaller, less expensive cabins you can stay at as well.   See the Northwoods Resort website for more information and specifics on each cabin.  

Where to Stay Near Pictured Rocks

Activities Onsite 

The Northwoods Resort also owns and operates Paddle Au Train which is located just steps aways from most of the resort properties. Here, you can rent a kayak/canoe and paddle the Au Train river.  Paddling this lazy river is a great way to enjoy the outdoors not far from your accommodations. Likewise, less than 2 miles down the street, there is the Northwoods Outpost that has delicious pizza and ice cream.  It was so nice to have a dining option so close by.  

Onsite Staff

Unlike other online rental platforms, at the Northwoods Resort onsite office, there is always someone there from 9am-5pm daily to answer any questions or address any concerns.  The staff is also very responsive via phone call or text as well.  Being locally owned and operated, there is always someone nearby to help if any issues do arise, giving you peace of mind in case you do need something during your stay. 

We hope this guide helps you plan your stay near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.   We can’t wait to visit again.  Visit the Northwoods Resort website or call (906) 892-8114 to check availability and book your stay.  Erin, one of the owners, is a great resource while visiting the area and during your stay as well.  She is a fantastic host, allowing you your space yet is available for any questions!  


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First Backpacking Trip Tips


In the summer of 2019, we went on our first backpacking trip (with another couple) in the Porcupine Mountains (State Park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan).  Experiencing nature in this serene setting was great for the soul and very rewarding. We gained a sense of accomplishment by overcoming different challenges we encountered while backpacking for the first time, as well as the meditative benefits from continuously hiking in nature.  We had an awesome first backpacking adventure and made memories that will last a lifetime, but we definitely made some rookie mistakes.  Here are some things you can learn from our first backpacking trip. 

Backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains
First Time Backpacking at Lake of the Clouds in Porcupine Mountains State Park

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you! 


1. Do NOT Underestimate Mileage on your First Backpacking Trip

On our 48 hour trip, we ended up hiking 11-12 miles more than we had planned.  THAT IS A LOT–especially when you are carrying a 30 lb+ backpack.  We had planned to hike about 2-4 miles less each day.  We did not take into account the mileage of the connecting trails and at one point, we accidentally took a wrong turn and hiked 1.5 miles in the wrong direction (3 miles extra total).  This brings me to our next two points…

First Time Backpacking in Porcupine Mountains State Park

2. Independent Verification with turns on the trail and planning

Everytime you take a turn on the trail, have each person in your group independently verify that you are turning in the right direction.  When we took our wrong turn on the trail, everyone in the group trusted that the one person looking at the map was directing us correctly.  Rookie mistake.  

After that incident, everyone looked at the map EVERY time we came to a fork in the trail so that each of us was independently verifying that we were going in the right direction.  Also, only one person in the group planned our trip route and without independent verification, it was not caught that we had not taken into account the connecting trails in our mileage plans until we were already hiking. 


3. Do NOT try to hike as many miles as possible each day on your first backpacking trip.  Plan some flex-time.   

We hiked 11-12 miles the first day, 13 miles the next day and 7 miles the last day.  We’d recommend planning to hike about 6 miles per day, especially if this is your first trip.  This will allow you time to relax at the campsite and provides extra time in case you do take a wrong turn.  The first day, when we took a wrong turn, we were hiking right until the sun was setting.  We were literally racing against sunset to make it to our campsite and thankfully, we made it.  Setting up camp/cooking in the dark is not the easiest activity and we wouldn’t recommend it (but it does make for a better story and a very memorable experience). 


4. Bring extra food on your first backpacking trip

Since we hiked about 12 miles more than expected, we needed more food than we had anticipated. Each mile you hike while backpacking, you burn somewhere between about 100-300 calories.  That means, at minimum, we needed 4800 more calories worth of food for the group than what we had anticipated.  By the end of the trip, we were running out of food.  We’d recommend bringing extra food, something dense in calories (such as extra trail mix or nuts) just in case you do end up needing more fuel.  


5. Bring a reliable and fast water filter. Test it out before you go. Bring iodine purifying tablets or a LifeStraw in case your filter stops working.

Our water filter, the Sawyer Squeeze, was terrible–and that is putting it generously.  This filter was so slow and difficult to use.  Basically, to use this filter, you filled the bag of the filter up with water and then attached it to the filter cap. You then squeeze the water through the filter cap but for minutes of squeezing, you might only get a drop or two of water.  Very frustrating and unsatisfying.  

Theoretically, this filter should have worked better than this but we would recommend using a pump filter instead.   There are many options on the market and outdoor stores have a great selection. We recommend using the MiniWorks EX Water Filter. Pump filters like this one are more expensive than the squeeze filters but they are also much more reliable and user friendly.  Think about it though, WATER IS LIFE and without water, you die, so it’s definitely worth the extra money.  Also, bring iodine purifying tablets or LifeStraw just in case something happens to your filter.  Thankfully, we had iodine tablets and were able to use these to treat our water bottles and have ample water to drink. 

First Time Backpacking in Porcupine Mountains State Park

6. Map out where you will have access to water on your route  

On our route, we thought we were going to have access to clean water at Lake of the Clouds (a tourist spot that you can drive up to) but to our surprise, we did not.  Because we thought we were going to have access to clean water here, we did not completely fill up on unfiltered water at our campsite the night prior (especially with how difficult our filter was to use).  The next time we encountered unfiltered water next was about 5 miles later and at this point, we had nearly run out of water.  Again, WATER IS LIFE.  Fill up on water when you can and research your route beforehand to find out when you will have access to water (both clean and unfiltered). 


7. Don’t bring things you really don’t need  

Everything extra you bring is extra weight you have to carry on your back.  We paired down what we were bringing by laying out all of our gear prior to the trip and packing our bags together.  This helped ensure we were not bringing excess since we could work together as a team to bring different items.  

First Time Backpacking Trip

For example, only one of us needed to bring a cookstove and we could split up our food between the four of our packs. The only extra items we brought that were not needed were books.  We thought we were going to have time to relax at the campsites and read, but in reality, we spent most of the day hiking.  We find it very comical in retrospect that we thought we were going to have time or energy to read. 


8. Bring a compact sleeping bag and other compact gear

Our friends, Kellie and Nick, thankfully, let us borrow a lot of their compact items and these items really helped conserve space as well as weight in our bags. We’d highly recommend investing in these compact items.  Had we brought our normal sleeping bags, almost all of our backpacks would have been full of just those. 

Backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains for the First Time

9. Bring quality, sweat wicking clothes

Hiking 30 + miles in 48 hours will definitely give you blisters if your socks don’t fit and you learn very quickly if your gear is subpar.  Make sure you have quality socks and clothes.  Natalie wore a cotton shirt the first day and after it rained, she started to get an abrasion of her neck/shoulder from her backpack and shirt rubbing against it.  When she changed into a moisture wicking shirt, the problem was solved but this abrasion was uncomfortable the whole trip.  Also, the moment you start to feel any rubbing on your toes, change your socks.  Blisters do not bode well for a trip where hiking is your mode of transportation.  

Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 7+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


10. Have an exit plan (just in case something goes awry)

We had numerous exit plans that thankfully we did not have to use.  If someone rolls an ankle and can’t walk or someone gets seriously injured or ill, you want to be able to get help and know where to get it.  Map out alternate exit routes to shorten your trip and where you can exit to main roads if necessary.  Better to be prepared.  


11. Stay at a remote campsite that can only be accessed by hiking

These remote campsites we stayed at were SO cool. Especially our campsite right along the Lake Superior shoreline. This is something we definitely did right.  It was very serene to be out on the shoreline by ourselves. 

First Time Backpacking at Lake Superior Campsite in Porcupine Mountains State Park

12. Have cold beer (or beverage of choice) and snacks waiting in the car for when you are done backpacking for the first time

Just trust us–you’ll have earned these and will be SO happy to have them.  Our friend Kellie had planned for snacks to be waiting for us in the car and we have never been more excited to see snacks.  Our friend Nick nearly proposed to Kellie (again) because of these snacks.  Backpacking in general makes you more grateful for the little things and these simple snacks are a great example of that.  


13. ENJOY YOUR FIRST BACKPACKING TRIP

Experiencing nature that has limited human interaction is quite serene. The methodical nature of hiking allows for a natural meditation in a calming environment. “Roughing it” also gives you a greater appreciation for the little comforts in life, such clean water.

Backpacking for the First Time in the Porcupine Mountains

We hope this helps you plan your first backpacking trip.  Learn from our rookie mistakes and from the things we did right.  Backpacking is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the day to day grind and gain gratitude for the conveniences we are afforded in modern day life.  

Looking to visit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan? See our Complete What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Guide for more information.

Do you have any other first-time backpacking tips?  Anything you’d add to our guide on a first-time backpacking trip? We’d love to hear your feedback.  Please leave us a comment. 

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!


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