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Week Five of Seven Weeks
SEP 13 BAY FURNACE CAMPGROUNDS
Surprisingly, the monsoon quit sometime in the middle of the night. Surprising because a bright and shiny sun poked out by mid-morning and stayed brilliant for the rest of the day. We broke camp and hit the road by 9:00 am. As seasoned full-timers, we are getting good at breaking camp. Well, maybe not seasoned yet, but we are starting to get a bit cocky.
However, we returned to our amateur roots when we made what was supposed-to-be-a-brief-stop at the black hole, aka Walmart. We needed to exchange our Blue Rhino LP gas tank. Walmart carries Blue Rhino LP, and their price for an exchange is the cheapest anywhere. One hour and 100 dollars later, we rolled our grocery cart to the van. When trying to cram our latest unnecessary Walmart purchases into any tiny open spot available, I realized I forgot the Blue Rhino. Jeez, that place is pure VooDoo.
Pictured Rocks has several large campgrounds, but all campsites were reserved through October when I checked availability before leaving for this trip. The closest national campground to Pictured Rocks is the Bay Furnace campground just before Munising, Michigan, a cute town that calls itself The-Gateway-to-Pictured Rocks.
I was doubly worried as we approached Bay Furnace to test my Sunday-move-day theory. If the campgrounds in Pictured Rocks are so popular and already full, I figured the campgrounds just outside of Pictured Rocks would also be darn popular.
We rolled into Bay Furnace campground around 1 pm and discovered five open sites. We immediately grabbed the best one of those five. By the time Babs and Tom showed up an hour later, only one site was available. Ironically, it was right next door. We plunked down $10 per night for seven nights. Like Black River Harbor Campground, we had a beautiful wooded site with loads of green space - but no electricity. Unlike Black River Harbor, we did have water and a dump station. Setting up camp went smoothly. The day was still rather young, and the weather was superb. Other than taking advantage of the sunshine for a bit of laundry (Lavario washer, Ninja dryer, Honda Generator) , we just plain got lazy and did nothing for the rest of day.
The glass bottom shipwreck boat tour (more attractions in Munising) looked interesting - that's a maybe. The ferry to Grand Island, at $20/person for a short mile and a half trip, seemed pricey. Grand Island is enormous, but bikes or hiking was the only transportation allowed except for an equally costly tour bus. Again, maybe.
The boat tour along Pictured Rocks on a brand new 30 mph catamaran - yeah, baby. Now we're talkin'. With COVID, they are running at half-full capacity and on an open upper deck. Only a limited number of tickets were available during the time we were going to be in the area. There were four slots available for the 3 pm tour this afternoon. That changed our entire plans - so we wanted to talk it over first. By the time Tom and I conferred with the Wanda and Babs, maybe 6 minutes, customers bought those four slots online. DRATZ! In the time it took for the lady to tell us that tomorrow's 3 pm trip had four openings, the four tickets got sold online faster than we could pull out our charge cards. We did manage to seize the last seats on the 11 am trip for tomorrow.
The second half of the day was spent checking out the western portion of Pictured Rocks. Pictured Rocks National Shoreline and Park, established in 1966, is only one of three National Shorelines. The shoreline stretches for some 20 miles. It features mile-after-mile of incredible painted cliffs and tall sand walls. Various leeching minerals are responsible for the rainbow of colors etched into the cliffs. Iron leaves 50-shades of reds, oranges, and deep maroons. Dolomite and calcium leak white. Copper leaves bands of greens and blues. Manganese sheds ribbons of black.
Our first stop was at Miners Falls, a remote spot four miles inland from the Lake. The three-quarter-mile trail to reach the falls was almost more spectacular than the falls. The wide, gently rolling path through the tall canopy of mature trees sucked what little anxiety any of us might have had right out.
Miners Castle, an impressive rock tower on the coast at the end of the road, marks the park's western edge. Boardwalks, stairs, and wooden decks all served to give us nearly every angle to view the natural tower. Of course, tomorrow we will view the Castle from the water.
Lastly, Wanda and I drove on to the Chapel Lake (17 Waterfalls) area to scope out a highly recommended 10-mile loop of the trail. Getting to the trailhead was insane. It included a 5-mile stretch of bouncing down an ungraded pot-holed muddy road since the dawn of time. Top speed was 15 mph, with many sections forcing us down to 5 mph. Occasionally, we'd see a camper coming from the opposite direction, swaying and jumping from one hole to the next. I don't care how well their cupboards close; they will be finding pots, pans, glasses, and silverware for months in the various hidden crags of their RV rigs.
Ah, but all will be worth it because the highly touted trail will be our reward. We decided to sample a bit of the trail by hiking a 2-mile section to the dubiously named Mosquito Falls. The woods were spectacular despite the trail conditions - pure muck much of the way. We gutted it out, checked out the lovely Mosquito Falls, and headed back. Somewhere along the return trip to the trailhead, we both concluded that the drive and hike were not worth a return trip.
SEP 15 AU TRAIN
Oops! I think I said that we bought tickets for the boat trip to Pictured Rocks for today - it is for tomorrow. In retired life, the days melt together. Date-accuracy is not an exact science for the elderly.
The wind whipped up good-sized waves on the large Au Train Lake. With some scouting, we convinced ourselves that the Au Train River was deep enough for the kayak motors. Babs and Tom helped us set up a van shuttle so we didn’t have to walk back to our van at the end of the river trip.
The river was perfect for electric kayaks. We did the section through the National Forest. It was uniformly 2-1/2 feet deep, and the local outfitters had all the snags of brush and fallen trees cleared out. The current was swift without any shallow rapids. We just flew down the river, passing a dozen surprised kayakers, who cried out, “cheaters!” It was glorious.
The river was the centerpiece of the day, but we also checked out a few more places on our way back to camp.
The Au Train National Campground, is set in a typical, heavily-wooded, and beautiful setting with lots of green space between sites. There were only three sites available - and this was going to be our backup campground if Bay Furnace was full.
The Au Train River's landscape intersecting Lake Superior revealed a stunning landscape of white dunes and tall wispy grasses.
The tiny town of Au Train has a population of less than 1200. We did buy two thick, moist pasties with rutabaga and a wonderfully thin crust at the local convenience store. This time we took the pasties back to camp, where all the proper condiments were available.
It was another great day on the road.
SEP 16 PICTURED ROCKS
Ok, today is the boat ride along 16 miles of the tall colored cliffs jutting straight up from Lake Superior. Yesterday’s warm winds gave way to today’s brisk stiff breeze. Yikes! Not a good day for big-lake boating. Add another 30 mph boat speed, and it will be a test for the theory of layered clothing. The drab grey lighting will also test the beauty of the rocks.
The views of the cliffs, however, were enough to warm our hearts. The incessant crashing waves carved impressive caves and arches. They were spectacular with striped sandstone layers dripped and oozed with reds, oranges, greens, tans, whites, and blacks. The boat slowed to a crawl and nudged up close to the cliffs whenever an incredibly unique rock sculpture presented itself, and there were many. We all thought that the sunset cruise, all sold out, of course, must be insanely delicious.
After the 2 hour cruise, we headed for the Lakenenland Sculpture Park, a place that Babs and Tom had heard about through a friend. These sculptures were human-made. A local resident, Tom Lakenenland (say that three times fast - that extra “en” really throws you), bought a good chunk of land and started welding a bunch of scrap metal into a junkyard art-in-a-park. There were scores of large and small scenes along a road that you could drive along or walkthrough.
It was far better to walk the road. Most sculptures had a story or a theme, some with very subtle humor and some with a political bent. You needed time to ferret out the details of each piece. Naturally, while we were at Lakenenland, the skies cleared, and the temperature rose. Where was this when we were bobbing along in the tour boat?
SEP 17 MUNISING FALLS
So far, we had just scratched the surface of the expansive Pictured Rocks Park area. We plan to check the rest of the park, all the way to Grand Marais - the western gateway to the park.
Starting with Munising Falls, a tall waterfall just outside of Munising, Michigan, we had previously passed up. The 800’ trail to the falls had several people in the parking lot concerned. That cracked me up mainly since the trail was paved.
Below the falls, the river cut a narrow gorge into the sandstone. There were three well laid-out viewing angles, two of which required an elaborate labyrinth of stairs and boardwalks. Just before the ascent, a lonely grandma in a wheelchair waited while her family skittered around the climb. It seems sad to be so dependent on others.
The next stop along the twisting H58 Highway was the Kingston Lake primitive campground. Kingston Lake is a lot like Crooked Lake, where we immensely enjoyed electric kayaking. The lake is entirely wild with lots of bays and channels. We mentally noted it for possible future exploration. The campground was on a peninsula jutting into the lake. There were only 2 or 3 sites available. This camping thing is sure getting popular.
We checked out a modern Pictured Rocks campground, Twelvemile Beach Campground. It was full, as we knew it would be, but it was impressively picturesque, arranged along a section of a forested Lake Superior beach. We also dilly-dallied walking a mile stretch of unforested sandy beach and unexpectedly got hooked on looking for the best Lake Superior stones. By the time we reached the van, my pockets were full of rock-gems. Later, in Munising, Wanda bought a souvenir container so we can display our rock memories in our home.
There were a fair number of agate hunters on this trip. Funny, everyone that I inquired about their success in finding agates admitted that they not only didn’t find an agate but also couldn’t identify an agate if it hit them in the head. And some rock hunters looked serious with special buckets and scoopers. (The AgateLady Blog)
What turned out to be the centerpiece of the day was next - Au Sable Point Lighthouse Trail. This incredible 3-1/2 mile round-trip walk along the lake was both an easy walk through spectacular cedar woods on a flat paved walking path made with crushed limestone free of tree roots. The Au Sable lighthouse was lovely, as far as lighthouses go. The vistas of the upcoming sand cliffs of Pictured Rocks is outstanding.
By the time we completed this walk, it was time to head back to camp. Sadly, the sand cliffs and Grand Marais were sacrificed - too much time spent rock hunting, I guess.
SEP 18 SENEY WILDLIFE RANGE
Forty miles southeast of the camp is the Seney Wildlife Range, an expansive bog with a series of large shallow ponds maintained to provide a migratory bird habitat, much like the giant Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin. I love the name of the bog - Strangmoor Bog. It has a mythical misty British bent.
Marshes are beautiful in their way but difficult to explore. Seney (Seney Wildlife Brochure) has a nice 1-1/2 mile walking trail laid out, along with a 7-mile driving trail. We did both. The fall colors are just beginning to touch the marsh ferns and bushes. We did see a handful of majestic white swans.
The protected wild Fox River flows through Seney's tiny village and heads south, which is counterintuitive, being so close to Pictured Rocks and Lake Superior to the north. A 27-mile path leading north of Seney parallels the river and ends up on Lake Superior in the Pictured Rocks Shoreline Park. We sampled a couple of miles of the trail. We just can't get enough of Lake Superior hiking trails.
SEP 19 SAND POINT BOARDWALK RANGE
Boy, are we getting slow. Granted, the weather, forecast to be pleasant, never fulfilled its promise. And I was way behind on journaling and sending out my emails, mainly due to a near internet access blackout.
So, what did we do? A bunch of chores to get ready for moving tomorrow; sat in the van behind a closed public library to ride the fastest wifi network I have ever experienced and hiked the fabulous Sand Point Marsh Boardwalk.
The wheelchair accessible boardwalk, built by the YCC (Youth Conservation Corp) in 1986, is a half-mile zig-zagging marvel through a beautiful cedar swamp. There are areas of cattails, areas of tall swaying grasses, and areas of thick marsh brush. Wherever a tiny bit of ground rose above the groundwater level, cedar trees, with their snake-like roots, grab on for dear life.
The boardwalk loop is a spur of the North Country Trail as it heads toward Pictured Rocks along the coastline. We decided to walk a mile or so along the sandy beach. One beach area was a boneyard of driftwood heaved up on the sand. Driftwood is not quite the correct term. These were giant trees, root systems, smoothed by wave action, and bleached by the sun, all tangled up in a huge mess. Think of the table and lamps a gifted artistic wood maker could make with this resource.