Backpacking a 30-mile stretch along North Country Trail in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan has been on my mind a lot over the last few years. It follows the coast of Lake Superior and also lies in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
The 3-day 30 mile trip would begin at 12 Mile Beach campground and end at Munising Falls. We would have two nights on the trail at two different backcountry campgrounds.
Since I was going to be in the UP I decided a month or so before the trip to let my friend (Bryan Thompson) and his wife Chelsea know. I figured I could stop by and visit them as they had recently moved to Calumet in the Keweenaw Peninsula. To my surprise they said they wanted to go on the hike! We also picked up another great friend (Guy Burns) and now we had a foursome. Yay!
We all met up and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Munising on Friday, May 26. The hotel is great as it was not that expensive and lies right on Lake Superior and has a nice view of Grand Island. We had a beer or two, caught up and eventually went to bed. We awoke early on Saturday and after breakfast set out to shuttle cars. One we dropped off at Munising Falls (end point), One at Miner’s Castle (Guy’s end point) and one at 12 Mile campground (our starting point).
The first day was an 8 mile section that hugged the water and was surprisingly flat. The highs during our trip were expected to be in the low 60’s and lows at night in the 40’s. In my mind that is perfect backpacking weather. The one downside was that there was a lot of rain in the forecast. I considered this though just another test as it would be some thing I would encounter a lot in the years to come in the woods.
Our destination the first night was site #7 at the Beaver Creek backcountry campsite. When we arrive though we could not find site #7 so we set up a little ways away from the other sites. As it turns out the #7 on the reservation paperwork just means that we were staying at the 7th campsite along the trail. So……. campsites are first come first serve. The campsite has easy access to Beaver Creek or Lake Superior for filtering water. It does not have a pit toilet. Fires are allowed but only at a community fire ring.
I was not sure how I felt about the community fire ring but it turned out to be great as it brought everyone together and helped everyone pass on information about where they came from, weather and trail conditions.
The end of day 1 provided us with an amazing sunset that was chased away by a rainstorm over the lake (see above on the left).
As we started to filter our water in the morning it started to sprinkle so we had to quickly don our rain coats and pack covers. As it was just a light rain, we didn’t feel the need to get into our rain pants. The great thing about rain gear is that it keeps the rain out. The bad thing is that it keeps the heat in and makes you sweat more.
I was excited for day 2 because it was our “cliff day”. We would be passing a number of great cliffs and falls that I have only seen in photographs. It is 9 miles between the Beaver Creek CG and the Mosquito River CG, where we planned on spending our second night on the trail.
There are so many secluded beaches along the trail and I imagine would make for great places to swim later in the summer once water temps rise.
The cliffs are made of sandstone. This is a soft rock and leads to erosion and rocks falling into the water over time.
I loved seeing so many trees and plants thriving on the coast and at times making you wonder how they were able to cling to the cliff walls.
There were so many great stopping points along the trail. Having hiking partners and great views helped me stop more often to rest my feet, eat snacks, conversate, take pictures and rehydrate. All of which are important to me staying happy on the trail.
I was so excited to see Sprey Falls. So much of the Lakeshore is inaccessibble to the general public. You have to either hike in or take a kayak/boat tour. After years of visiting the area I was finally able to check off another waterfall from my bucket list.
Right around Chapel Rock we hit the highest section of the trail. The great thing about this is that you can go right up to the edge and take pictures! I have a weird infatuation with being on the edge of things.
The tour boats would zip in close in these coves and announce our presence on the cliffs. All the boat passengers would wave, I would wave back and I kept calling them my fans for the rest of the trip.
As the day progressed we heard a storm approaching. Thinking we were close to the campground Bryan and I hurried forward to see if we could reach the campground and get things set up before the rain hit. Sadly that didn’t happen but we were able to get our rain pants on quickly and stay dry for the last mile of our day.
Our campsite after day #2 was Mosquito River campground. I was so tired I didn’t even make it to the beach for sunset. I was one of my disappointments of the trip as I can only imagine how the light would bounce off the tiered sandstone “stairs” leading down to the lake.
Day 3 was our final day on the trail. It was also our longest. We planned on going about 12 miles. Guy had to be back to work Tuesday morning so he was going to hop off at Miner’s Castle (where we left his car).
We had lunch, took a rest, filtered water, dodged a thunderstorm and used the bathrooms at Miner’ Beach and finally headed up to Miner’s Castle.
The last section of the trail was about 7 or 8 miles. The rangers told us earlier that was all downhill. I think that they had never hiked that section as it was all up and down and nothing but mud, water and places to break your ankle. I called them adult obstacle courses as you encountered about 100 of them and they each had their own unique challenge of getting over/around mud and/or downed trees to climb over/under. Trekking poles are essential for this type of terrain and will not only help keep you from falling but also take about 30% of the stress off of your legs.
It really was one of the most challenging days of my life and a great mental/physical test for all of us. At one point Bryan said, “Am I the only person who is having multiple foot issues?”.
Bonding with yourself, meeting new people, reconnecting with old friends, unplugging from society and embracing nature are just some of the reasons I enjoy backpacking.
After returning home it only took 1 day before I started planning my next trip. =)