Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

4 days/3 nights/42 miles

When my friend Chris mentioned this past spring that he had secured group permits (6-12 people) for Pictured Rocks this summer I was 100% all in on the trip. I had never done a group trip, so that would be something new as well. 4 days/3 nights/42 miles in the wilderness with people you've never hiked with before could be awesome or a total disaster. We'd have the maximum of 12 people on this trip.

The trip was set up as a point to point affair. Everyone met at the Munising Falls Visitor Center so we could split up cars before heading east to the Grand Sable Visitor Center to start the hike.

Day 1

Grand Sable Visitor Center to Masse Homestead Campground - 4 miles

At around 3:00 pm we headed west from Grand Sable. The hike was easy, flat, and nondescript. Typical hiking for Michigan. Green tunnel. You get the idea. There is no water source near the Masse Homestead camp, so Chris advised us to pack in our water for the night. I carried in 3.5 L using my Platypus Platy Bottle plus a 1 L Smartwater water bottle.

We were greeted at camp by some rain showers, so I quickly pitched my Tarptent Rainbow, crawled in, and spent most of my evening staying dry. I was pretty tired from the 6+ hour drive up so dinner was cooked from the tent and I drifted off to sleep while reading a book.

Day 2

Masse Homestead Camp to Trappers Lake Camp -  13.8 Miles

Overnight the wind really picked up and large branches could be heard falling not far from the campsite. I awoke to the pitter-patter of rain on the tent. After a breakfast of s'mores pop tarts, oatmeal, and coffee we were packed up and back on the trail.

The trail would bring us to the shores of Lake Superior today, but the fabled Pictured Rocks would not be seen until day 3. A lot of great views were to be had though!

About 3 miles in we came upon the Au Sable Light Station where we stopped to take in the sights, have a snack, and I decided to set up my tent in order to let it dry. The winds coming off Lake Superior made quick work of any moisture left in my tent from the previous night.

Another mile and a half into the hike brought us to Hurricane River and then on through an area called Beaver Basin Wilderness. This section was mostly away from the coast and in the woods. The easy, flat hiking felt great after my trip to Mt. Rainier just a few weeks before!

One of the more interesting trail side discoveries was this ancient car that we came upon not long before making camp. All I could think as I walked the trail was "how did it even make it this far back here??"

When we arrived at Trappers Lake I had my first experience with campsite reservation drama!

The back country campsites at Pictured Rocks are reservation only. There are a very limited number of group sites that are quite large in order to accommodate 6-12 people. When you reserve sites your permit is given a site number or "G" for group. Upon arrival to Trappers Lake 2 different parties had made camp on the group site, possibly not knowing that permits were specific. One group of 4 women said they'd stay out of our way. I had to tell them no, we had 12 people and needed the space. Another group of 3 men refused to show their permit, so I assume they didn't have one, and then left the area with grumpy looks on their faces. It was a tense few moments, but after everything was settled we got to enjoy the beautiful campsite we reserved.

This was the only evening where we made a fire, so we stayed up a little later than normal enjoying the dry warmth of the fire, passing around some whiskey, and telling stories. It was a great way to get to know the strangers I was hiking with a bit better.

Day 3

Trappers Lake to Mosquito Beach - 12.2 Miles

Of all the days on this trip, this was the one with the spectacular views. Honestly, if you just went and hiked this section you'd basically be seeing everything you need to see.

Our morning started off with rain showers for about 30 minutes. This left everyone pretty soaked, but spirits were reinvigorated when we came across this beach and rocky area where we stopped for photos and snacks.

From this point on the sights were incredible. One after another. Spray Falls was up next.

I'd never describe this trail as difficult but it was around here that we encountered a couple of hills that made your heart pump a little faster.

Around the halfway point of our day we made it to Chapel Beach where we stopped for a 1 hour lunch. Taking my shoes off and getting them into the sand and cold water felt heavenly.

Unfortunately it was at this point that we learned that 2 of our hikers had decided to bail out of the trip. We were hiking in smaller groups at this point based on how fast or slow people wanted to go. One had left early in the day and the other just before Chapel Beach. Both were fantastic hikers, but injury took them out and they headed for the closest trailhead. Happens to the best of us!

The trail after Chapel Beach followed the coast high above Lake Superior and gave the best views of the trip. This is the stuff people love about this area and I'd love to check it out by kayak some day. Preferably when the sun is out. If you haven't noticed there was almost no sun on this trip. This seems to be the theme for my summer 2016 trips, actually.

After getting to Mosquito Beach and setting up camp I made it an early night. Bugs weren't a big problem on this trip, but as the name of this camp suggests there were a few around. I enjoyed a large helping of Sarah's home made chicken pot pie backpacking meal that she made using her dehydrator and tucked in for a nice, long sleep after reading a couple chapters from my book in the tent.

Day 4

Mosquito Beach Camp to Munising Falls Visitor Center -  12 miles

A 12 mile hike out when you have a 6+ hour drive ahead of you isn't the most ideal situation, but since day 1 had to be a short 4 miler the last day ended up making up for that. Everyone was up early and ready to go ahead of schedule. To make it back to Munising at a reasonable time (before 3:00 pm) the pace of the hike was going to be pushed up a bit. That didn't mean we wouldn't get in some fantastic views along the way!

Despite a couple of short climbs to get your blood pumping all of us really pushed hard the last day and I don't know about anyone else, but I thought it felt great. Maybe I just love crushing miles. Everyone ended up getting back to Munising by 3:00 pm with rounds of high fives. After getting people back to their car at the Grand Sable trailhead I was headed home.

Group backpacking trips with strangers can be iffy. You never know if you'll get along with everyone. This one ended up a great success. Everyone had a good time despite a few blisters here and there and most said they'd love to go on another one. I made some friends and new hiking buddies, which is more than I could have asked for.