The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has been on my radar for a while after seeing gorgeous photos of the sandstone cliffs, tunnels and caves in amazing blue water. Unfortunately for me, it was far too windy over pretty much the entirety of my time on the UP to explore by water on a boat tour or kayak, which would have been totally special. But hiking through and seeing the sights from the overlooks and beaches was pretty great, too!

Early in the morning the wind was pretty intense as I got my first glimpse of Miners Castle and the dramatic cliff drop offs. Luckily once I went back to the trailhead (which I had gone most of the way towards first thing in the morning, decided this couldn’t be right because it was so poorly marked and in garbage condition, but confirmed this was right at the map at this stop and kicked myself when by the time I got all the way back discovered the parking went at least a half mile up alongside the road from the full lot now. Note to self: always download the map because cell service will never be there when you need it) and started out the wind died down to nothing thanks to tree cover.

The trail to Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock and Chapel Beach (sense a theme?) is pretty easy and straightforward, winding through lovely forest until popping out on the cliffs by the lake. The water at the beach and along the rocks is a vivid blue, and I could spend hours watching the waves crash against the cliffs and boulders, and into the tunnels and caves eroding the rock face. Chapel Rock formation is visually stunning thanks to the colorful layers of rock visible, the view of course, but mainly for me thanks to a lone tree determined to make this rock its home. A tangle of roots reaches across the divide where the rock has crumbled away- it used to be connected with a little natural bridge- and a little window peeking through.

A gorgeous crescent of beach provides views of Chapel Rock to one side and the striated cliffs to the other, with a little campground above. It was hard to leave this spot, but back I went along the much less frequented path along the other side of the lake. I had my own beachside camping to get to! I’d booked a night at the twelve-mile beach campground in the park further along the water. I loved this campground! My site was at the end of the loop near a trail and while wooded was a minute’s walk to the beach. Perfect balance of protection and access. There’s nothing like falling asleep to the sound of waves.

The next day I continued on to Tahquamenon State Park, perfect for an overcast chilly day of muddy hiking along the river between the upper and lower falls. The falls, easily reached from parking lots, were moderately busy but the trail itself between the two was blissfully empty. Plus it’s right by the town of Paradise, so I got to go say I’ve been to Paradise and it’s in Michigan 🙂

My last stop in the UP was Sault Ste. Marie on the northern tip where you can normally cross over into Canada. Womp womp. There’s a canal system between the two nations and connecting Lakes Huron and Superior for water traffic, so I did a boat tour of the Soo Locks and got to ride through a lock on the U.S. side and then back through the Canadian side. There was some repair and construction going on to revamp two older small locks into one larger one, so we got to see a water digger thing scooping up earth from the riverbed, so that was pretty cool, and also saw a ship being unloaded of some steel making stuff.

As with many things, the difference between the two sides was evident. Our side of the river was almost entirely fenced off and controlled by the coast guard, border control and inspection, and a private power company- pretty industrial and uninviting to a civilian. The Canadian side was almost entirely open public park and recreation area with green lawn, walking paths, benches, statues, and a few museums and restaurants. People there were fishing and waving and walking dogs and jogging, while the few people I could see from the Michigan side were peering through a chain link fence. Just a different approach to access and land use. All in all, a very informative little tour and a very cold one- it was extremely windy and the high that day was about 50 degrees. Shock to the system!

And with that, it was back in the van and off toward the mitten. I had my first glimpse of the Mackinac Bridge and crossed over with only minimal cringing from the windiness and the odd feeling of driving over the metal grates built to help with the engineering and rain and whatnot. Good times, UP north!

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