Hiking and Camping at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Meet Guest Writer Tara of Back Road Ramblers

Tara is a freelance writer and travel blogger with a passion for outdoor adventures. She currently blogs at Back Road Ramblers, where she shares travel tips, adventure destinations, and family vacation ideas for the wanderer in everyone. Her goal is to help families connect with the world and each other by stepping out their front door and embarking on journeys big and small.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Explore America’s Largest, Deepest and Coldest Lake

If you’re looking for a unique outdoor vacation on the shores of America’s largest, deepest, and coldest lake, you will love the wild seclusion of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It is one of only four national lakeshores in the United States, with 42 miles of Lake Superior coastline and 12 miles of beautiful beaches, not to mention 100 miles of trails, massive sand dunes, incredible waterfalls, and remote lakes. You could spend a week at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and not run out of things to do!

Even with uncooperative weather during our most recent visit to Pictured Rocks, we still enjoyed camping near the beach and a lot of hiking. We’d love to share our favorite trails with you, as well as some tips for visiting this incredible place.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

When to Visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Summer is the best time to camp and hike at Pictured Rocks. If you want to avoid the high-summer crowds, visit in June before the kids get out of school or in September, after they go back. Lake Superior will likely be too cold for swimming, but even in the middle of July, the lake is frigid! During a June visit, our son, Rowan dove right in feeling brave, but just seconds later, Lake Superior spit him back out, and that was the end of all swimming during our week-long visit.

While we’ve never visited Pictured Rocks in the winter, we’ve heard that the 100 miles of trails are fantastic for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. If you’re feeling brave, you can camp at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore year-round. 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Camping at Twelvemile Beach

And speaking of camping, we LOVED our stay at Twelvemile Beach Campground. Each campsite is perched on an embankment overlooking Lake Superior, and most sites include a private trail down to the beach. Campsites are equipped with a picnic table, a lantern hanger, and a fire ring. The bathrooms are clean but primitive.

There are two other drive-in campsites, which we can’t vouch for — Little Beaver Lake and Hurricane River. All of the campgrounds at Pictured Rocks are primitive (no electric, water, or sewer hookups). 

All campground stays require a reservation, even in the winter. The cost is $20 per night in the summer and $15 per night in the offseason. 

Is the beach at Twelvemile Beach really twelve miles long? Yes! You can walk for hours and hours along the shore, and much of the lakeshore is incredibly secluded. The beach is lined with the most beautiful rounded pebbles of every color imaginable. During our visit, we were so tempted to bring a pile home with us, but alas, there are signs warning people against taking souvenirs for themselves. In fact, there’s even talk of a curse that will follow, should you pocket treasures from the shore. We did bring some rocks to our campsite to admire but left them behind for the rest of you to enjoy!

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Tips for Camping at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

  • Bring warm clothes, even in the summer. Rain, wind, and cold temperatures are common on Lake Superior, even in July. Be prepared with warm clothing or be prepared to be miserable!

  • The biting flies can be a nuisance. These guys were terrible and nothing we did kept them away, except covering up. The biting flies were most abundant right on the beach, and dive-bombed every bit of skin we left exposed. At our campsite, we happily handled the mosquitos, who didn’t like our bug spray or our campfire.
  • This isn’t the best park for dogs. Dogs are not allowed on most trails or beaches, or in any of the buildings. They are, however, allowed in all drive-in campgrounds and on very few designated trails and beaches.
  • Cell service is very limited. We only got service in one area of the park, and even that was dependent on the weather.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Our Favorite Pictured Rocks Hiking Trails

We explored Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with kids, so all of the hikes we tackled were pretty easy. Here are our favorites.

  • Chapel Falls, Rock, and Beach –  There is so much to see on this beautiful five-mile hike, this part of the park is very easy on the eyes (and very busy too). The trail takes you past Chapel Falls and Chapel Lake on your way to the beach. The falls cascade steeply more than 60 feet into Chapel Lake, one of the loveliest waterfalls in the park. Chapel Beach is a great place to while away the day. Swim in the frigid waters, bask in the sun and indulge in a picnic before heading back to your car. You can also make use of a few primitive backcountry campsites along the beach. Just be sure to pick up a permit from the visitor center (and leave your dog at home).
  • Miners Falls Trail – This is another easy trail totaling 1.2 miles. The trail meanders through a mixed hardwood forest before opening up with views of an incredible waterfall. There are upper and lower platforms for your viewing pleasure.
  • Mosquito Falls and Beach – This is a 4.5-mile loop that includes a small cascade and a gorgeous beach surrounded by rock cliffs. Pack a picnic for this one, and yes, there are lots of mosquitoes in the summer!
  • Au Sable Light Station – This 3-mile hike begins at Hurricane River Campground and travels on an old access road to the Au Sable Light Station, where you can take a guided tour in the summer. Built in 1874, the Au Sable Light Station became fully automated in 1958 and transferred from the Coast Guard to the National Park Service in 1968. Take time to explore the beach, where you’ll find the remains of several shipwrecks. 

Pictured Rocks is a fantastic destination for a weekend getaway, especially if you enjoy hiking, camping, and getting out on the water. Enjoy the serenity of the Northern Woodlands and the splendor of America’s largest and most magnificent lake!

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