trip report: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, May 2016

Spring is here and so is wedding season. We had back-to-back weddings to attend; one is Wisconsin and another in Buffalo. So being economical, we decided to do 3 one-way flights, a couple days of camping, and work remotely. The Upper Peninsula sounded like a great idea being 1.5 hours away from Appleton, Wisconsin. Even though this Michigander troll took cheaters route to go up north, it was well worth it.


the decision

Heading to Appleton Wisconsin for Tim and Betsy’s wedding would be the first time I visit Wisconsin. I really didn’t have a reason to go there first and I can say I’m not really that interested in returning. However, the wedding was in the northern part of the state with Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore only 3.5 hours away. Out of the many acres of forests in the UP, this area was both tops on my list to visit and least we had to drive.

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research and planning

The main purpose of our trip was to attend our friends weddings, so the trip over to Pictured Rocks was more of a side trip we were squeezing in. Furthermore, I needed to work the majority of the time while we were away.

We would first fly from Raleigh (RDU) to Milwaukee (MKE) Friday day and attend celebrate Tim and Betsy’s wedding Saturday and part of Sunday. Afterwards, I planned a little flexibility as our next flight from MKE to Buffalo (BUF) was on Wednesday. Based on the weather, we can drive up and camp a couple of nights and have a day or so to walk around. Overall, we would need to pay for 3 nights of hotels which would be Friday, Saturday, and 1 flexible night. We would had to rent a car anyways during our time here so we booked it to Wednesday. We would then celebrate Ashley and Derek’s Wedding on Friday and see Meg’s family and friends on Saturday. Once we were in Buffalo, we would stay with Meg’s Family. Shout out to Amy and Jerry for putting us up once again and feeding us.

Our flight back was Sunday morning from BUF to RDU. We’ve been luck to have Josh and Bethany in the triangle research area to hold on to our car and shuttle us to the airport every time we fly out from RDU, so many thanks to these guys.

I booked our flights with my Southwest points and Meg was able to fly for only the fees as I still have the companion pass for the rest of the year. The total for all our flights were 23,712 SW miles and $33.60. These weren’t the cheapest as I didn’t book until roughly a month out.

Other than our dress cloth for the weddings, we had our car camping gear. We thought about backpacking it, but that was more planning than I wanted to do and more time than we had. Pictured Rocks would have been great though and I’ll get to that in my final impressions.

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trip report

pre-trip transit and Tim’s Wedding

Our drive down to RDU and flight from there was uneventful. I routed our flight to Atlanta (ATL) rather than Baltimore (BWI) because we would be able to access The Club lounge for dinner in ATL for free with my Priority Pass membership that I have as part of the Citi Prestige card. The cost for the flight was 9011 miles and $11.20 total for both Meg and I with the SW companion pass and the routing did not cost use any more miles or time.

Once in MKE, I picked up my rental car from Budget and it cost us $124.84 for the 5 day rental. I used autoslash to get the best deal on the rental as the website will update your reservation if it sees a cheaper rate. I put my rental on my Chase United Mileage Plus Explorer card because it is one of the only cards that provide primary collision coverage in the US. This last part will be important for me as I was involved in a minor accident that left some bumper damage on our way to Tim’s wedding. We’ll see how it will play out.
Our first night in Wisconsin was free at the Candlewood Suites at Milwaukee Brown Deer with 10,000 IHG points. All those index cards and stamps back in January starting to payoff. The hotel is a basic extended stay suite that was clean and had a kitchen. Meg really liked the gym. A good tool to find hotel award booking prices is award mapper.

On both Saturday and Sunday, we ended up staying at the Hilton Garden Inn in Appleton as that was the hotel where all the wedding guests stayed and it was one of the cheaper hotels around as it cost me $91.08 and $72.68 including tax for each night respectively through the Hilton MVP site. My temporary gold status provided us free breakfast with custom made omelets. The cloudy weather forecast at on Sunday and Monday at Picture Rocks NC, along with GoT, gave us a good reason to use our hotel night on Sunday. I was able to get some work done Sunday afternoon and majority of Monday, with the late checkout. We enjoyed our stay at the Hilton Garden Inn with a nice sleep number bed, good breakfast, and fast Internet. Meg also enjoyed the Jacuzzi tub and free cookies.

Lastly, congratulations to Tim and Betsy. Their wedding was great and we were able to catch up with Tim the following day and finally meet Betsy. We were able to spend some time with friends from back home while at the wedding as well.

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Pictured Rock National Lakeshore


We reached the Twelvemile Beach Campgrounds at Pictured Rocks around 6 in the evening. Being further north, there was plenty sunlight left. Twelvemile Beach Campgrounds is one of few first come first serve campgrounds at Pictured Rocks with Little Beaver Lake and Hurricane River as 2 other ones. However, if you do come during a busy time, there were plenty other campgrounds in the national forests around. The cost for camping was $16 for lakeside spot and $14 otherwise.

We camped the first night at campsite 18 and 25 the second night, as we packed up to have more flexibility.

Our campsite had a metal fire ring with cooking grates, picnic table, hook for a lantern, and sandy spots for a tent. There were plenty of trees around for hammocks. There were vault toilets and no water access during our visit. We were able to by wood on our way in from Munising for $5, which was enough for 2 nights. Personally, I liked 25 for camping as it had the best access to the beach and there were wooden seats so you can see the sunset,


but I slept better at 18 where we could hear the waves crashing more.


The one thing I didn’t anticipate was how cold it got at night, which was under freezing. I was using my old marmot synthetic bag and Meg was using the Kelty 20 degree down and we both felt the cold even though we had fleeces on. My main problem was I didn’t bring any long underwear so my hips got cold. At least all our food and beer stayed cold throughout even though we didn’t have a cooler.

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Mosquito Falls and Chapel Falls Loop

The cold kept us from waking up early the next morning, leaving the campsite later at 9 am. I didn’t plan too much ahead of time in terms of the specific hikes we should do, but I did glance at these web pages.

The general consensus was that the chapel trail and loop was something we should do. Since we didn’t have the resources to run a shuttle, we were limited to loops and in and outs. Another possible loop that I saw was around the Beaver Lake to the coast loop, perhaps next time.

trail information

  • name: Mosquito Falls and Chapel Falls Loop
  • type: loop
  • distance: 11.1 mi
  • elevation change: 1367 ft ascend and descend
  • time: 6 hours with a lot of stops
  • location: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
  • We did the slightly longer version by going to both the Mosquito Falls and Chapel Falls. There were alternative routes both heading in via the Mosquito River and back by Chapel lake. Backcountry camping is available, but a permit much be acquired from the ranger station in Munising. There were no fees for just entering the park when we went.

After consulting the trailhead map, we decided to the longer loop and headed down Mosquito Falls Trail. It took us through the forest and some wetlands while the trail was a little muddy. Right before you reach the creek, you will see some beaver dams. This is starting to remind me of my 4th grade project, live action audio recording of Paddle to the Sea from Paddle’s point of view.

After continuing by the creek, we reached the two cascades of Mosquito Falls.


We crossed the creek further up and started toward the coastline through a forest of flowering trees. Meg thought it was a bit fairy tale like with a billion chipmunks accompanying us. Either that or the beginning of a scary movie.


After passing a vault toilet and backcountry campgrounds, we reached the Lakeshore-North County Trail, which would be a great multi-day coastal hike.

A couple feet after turning east bound on the Lakeshore-North County Trail, we meet up with the mosquito river


and beach.


The layers of rock here were pretty amazing looking.


There are a couple of areas where you can walk closer off the trail and closer to the coast, but definitely be aware of the dangers. The rocks, dirt, and sand can be very loose and may not support your weight. It is recommended that you stay on the actual trail.


As we continued eastbound on the Lakeshore-North County Trail, we saw plenty of cliffs and a few arches.


The water below also shown different shades of green and blue as it shimmered in the sunlight.


The grand portal point, which is now just a large outcrop of rocks, was our personal lunch spot while seagulls glided around us in the in wind.

We continued east after lunch continuing to cross the many dune cliffs


and trees starting to bloom.


After passing another arch, we saw some kayakers in the cold water pass us.


The trees at this point started to change to evergreens which gave the cliffs and coast a completely different look.


The trail curved around a few inlets before descending down to chapel beach with the many colorful rocks.


At the end of Chapel beach was the Chapel Creek, with Chapel rock in the background.


We continued up to get a closer look at interesting formation in Chapel Rock and Tree before turning off the Lakeshore-North County Trail onto the Chapel Falls trail.


Chapel Falls is a nice cascade similar to the ones here in Virginia.


We were a little disappointed that we couldn’t see Chapel Lake at all on this route, but that’s complaining because I can.


ratings (1-5)

  • view: 4. The cliffs were well worth the drive up. I will want to backpack the entirety of the Lakeshore-North County Route at some point. I think this may rival the Lost Coast and Kalalau.
  • difficulty: 1. Not a lot of elevation change, mostly a stroll
  • technical: 1. Signs were generally well marked and trail is clear. More difficult and dangerous if you head off trail.


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Miners Castle area

With still plenty of daylight left, we headed to the Minors Castle are to take a look around. This area seems to be popular with general tourists. There was an overlook with some nice view of the a section of the cliffs.


A road down toward the beach were you can hang out. There is not camping here though, but the picnic tables and fire pits makes me think this use to be an area where camping was allowed and might be in the future.

Lastly, there is a half mile walk to Miner’s Fall.


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Munising, MI

Before we headed back to set up camp, we decided to stop by the town of Munising at the west end of the park to check messages and grab a snack. We didn’t have reception in majority of the park, except here and there on the cliffs. We grabbed a Finnish specialty called pasties for a pre-dinner appetizer. It was a good hardy pie stuffed with a lot of potatoes, carrots, and some ground beef. Both Meg and I thought it could have used a little more sauce or some cheese to make it complete.


The next morning on our way back, we stopped at the bagel shop in town called Bay Furnace Bagel Works. Their everything bagel was perfect with the right amount of salt. Meg was also eyeing the large homemade cinnamon rolls, but decided against it. Their bagel sandwiches were legit.

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Ashley’s Wedding and post-transit

After driving the rest of the morning back to Milwaukee, we worked the rest of the afternoon at a Starbucks before catching our flight from MKE to BUF via BWI. That flight cost us 8099 Southwest miles and $11.20 total.

We spent the next few days working and seeing Meg’s family in Buffalo.

Of course, congratulations to Ashley and Derek. Their wedding was wonderful and we appreciated the many deserts and open bar. We didn’t know really anyone except the newly weds, so drinks definitely helps the mingling.

Our flight back was an early morning Sunday fight from BUF to RDU via BWI. It cost us 6602 Southwest miles and $11.20. After brunch with Josh and Bethany, who picked us up in Raleigh. We were on our way home.

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final impressions

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Wisconsin even though it was the first time there and I don’t know if my impressions of the placed changed much. It seemed like the Midwest I knew, but a little more country than the Midwest I knew. If you have suggestions of places worth the walk in Wisconsin, I wouldn’t mind hearing about it.

Pictured Rock National Lakeshore on the other hand was beautiful, but freezing. I would definitely like to go back and spend several days backpacking that Lakeshore-North County Trail and camping along the lake. I absolutely loved sleeping with the waves of Superior crashing on the shores. We did see Kayaks in the water and I wouldn’t mind doing that too as it’s suppose to be a much different vantage point of the cliffs. Plus you get much more up and personal with the arches. Even though we only got to spend one full day up there, I absolutely enjoyed it.




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