Backpacking Pictured Rocks

The U.P. is one of few spots in the Midwest that I’m going to miss when I eventually move away.  I wish I had started visiting sooner and every time I leave, I think “I’ll come back one more time”  This is exactly what happened when I visited in July. It was a bit hot for my taste, so I decided to come back in the fall.  I thought Pictured Rocks would be a great destination for my first solo backpack trip.  I filled out my permit application about a month ahead of time, and waited for the confirmation.  (I thought I was being overly cautious by getting a permit ahead of time, but saw several folks at the ranger station having a hard time piecing together an itinerary with available campsites.)  Campsites at Pictured Rocks are spaced about 4-7 miles apart, along the 42 mile Lakeshore Trail (which also is part of the North Country Trail.)

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

One great thing about this hike is that there is a company that runs a shuttle bus up and down the park, where you can arrange a ride.  This turned out to be even more useful than I imagined, but in general the shuttle is one of the trickier logistics of planning a backpacking trip, so it’s one less thing to worry about here.

Sunday morning, I dropped Bailey at a kennel in town (no dogs allowed on the trail) and headed to the Munising Falls Visitor Center, where I would be hiking back to my car 5 days later. On the shuttle, I met two other backpackers, Jennifer and Lenore, who had a similar itinerary to mine.  After a 42-ish mile drive to Grand Sable Visitor Center, I started my hike!

Starting the hike at Grand Sable

I only had 7 miles to hike that first day, so it left plenty of time for pictures, and a leisurely lunch looking out at the Grand Sable Dunes.

Grand Sable Dunes

I arrived to the Au Sable East campsite with plenty of daylight left, and my new friends had saved a campsite next to theirs for me.  All available campsites were taken at this campground, so it was relatively crowded for the backcountry.  We had a nice dinner and a campfire, and even went down to the lake to check out the night sky.  I was hoping for Northern Lights on this trip, but we got a pretty cool full moon rising over Lake Superior instead.

Full moon over Lake Superior

Monday was another 7 mile day, so I again took my time and lots of photos – it’s a very scenic trail! Hordes of black flies around Au Sable lighthouse had me hiking a pretty fast pace for a while, though!  We stopped for lunch at TwelveMile Beach campground, and one of these ladies became pretty ill so they decided not to hike on.  Timing was pretty good for this scenario, as we happened to be at a car campground with a road in and out.  With the help of the campground host and her radio, they arranged for the shuttle company to pick them up the next morning, rather than risk illness further into the backcountry.

My new friends Jennifer and Lenore

I said goodbye to my new friends and continued on another few miles in the rain, to Sevenmile Creek campground.  To my surprise, there was nobody there!  Given the amount of people the night before, I assumed hikers would straggle in through the evening, but nobody ever showed up. I was all alone – 3 miles from the nearest people, with no cell service. In bear country.  Now, obviously I knew going into this hike I would be solo, but did not anticipate complete solitude.  I gotta say, I didn’t love it!  I’m an introvert, I am generally good without company for a long while, but having nobody around pretty much freaked me out!  I tossed and turned all night, especially after something rolled into the wall of my tent in the middle of the night.  I wasn’t sure I could handle 2 more nights like this – what if all the campsites were empty?!  Lenore and Jennifer have that shuttle coming in the morning, I could hike back to where they are….well, once that thought popped into my head, I couldn’t get it out.  I didn’t want to bail, but I didn’t want 2 more sleepless nights. Even as I put on my boots and pack in the morning, I wasn’t 100% sure which direction to go.  Ultimately, I decided to head back and meet the shuttle.  Yes, part of me felt like a big failure for not completing the hike.  But I kept reminding myself that many people, including most people I know, wouldn’t even try camping in the woods alone!  (Hell, I know people who won’t go to the movies alone!)

Lenore and Jennifer had meanwhile snagged a great site right on the lake at Twelvemile Beach, so we all agreed to meet up again and car camp that night.  After shuttling back to my car, I “stole” a shower from a campground in Munising, and hit up the local laundromat before springing Bailey from the kennel a few days early.  We headed back up to Twelvemile, where I let her run free on the beach for a bit.  (It’s pretty rare I let her off leash as she likes to pester people, but we were all alone and she loved it!)

TwelveMile Beach Campground

How great is this campsite?  Listening to the roar of Lake Superior waves crashing all night?!  I’m definitely coming back here!

TwelveMile Beach Campground

I wasn’t able to get a site at Twelvemile, but snagged one just a few miles up the road at Hurricane River.  We had another nice dinner, watched the sunset and then Bailey and I drove up to our site where we both slept really, really well!

TwelveMile Beach Campground

The next day, I decided to check out all the spots in the park that allowed dogs, so we visited the Miner’s Castle area, another beach, and a few drive-by waterfalls.  I had no plans or reservations, and decided to head south and check out Door County for a night.  Unfortunately, big storms were rolling in so we didn’t get to explore much here, and hunkered down in a cheap motel in Sister Bay for the night.  At this point, I decided to head back to Chicago, and reclaim a vacation day for another time.

All in all, the trip didn’t go exactly as I had planned, but it was still a week in the Northwoods away from work, so I’d say it was a success.  I might even try solo backpacking again, although this time with my dog, and maybe just a 1 night trip for starters.

I do think Pictured Rocks is a great place for a beginner backpacker or first-time solo trip.  It’s nearly impossible to get lost, as you follow the lakeshore almost the whole way and if you veer too far south, you’ll hit a road.  There are established campsites along the way, all of them have bear boxes and poles, many have a vault toilet and potable water, and there are several “bailout options” as you pass through several day-use areas along the way.

I do recommend getting a map ahead of time from Michigan Trail Maps – the map I brought had much more detail than what the park provided, and I didn’t see any other map options in town.

For all of my photos from this trip, click here!

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My All-Time Favorite Hotels

When I was in Cambodia, I fell in love with my hotel and started thinking about how many hotels I’ve stayed in and which ones were truly memorable.  I love staying in hotels, especially nice hotels, but there are definitely a few standouts that make the cut as my all-time favorite hotels.  Many of these aren’t even fancy, but there was something special about them that seared them into memory.

Le Meridien Angkor; Siem Reap, Cambodia

This is the hotel that spawned this list in the first place.  From the second I walked through the entrance and was greeted by a cool washcloth and cold juice, I was smitten.  A gorgeous oasis to retreat from the heat of Cambodia.  Beautifully designed pool and spa area, excellent service and good food, too!

Le Meridien Angkor

Le Meridien Angkor

Renaissance Carambola; St. Croix, US Virgin Islands

My mom and I stayed here two Christmas vacations in a row!  After a late night arrival, waking up to this ocean view was such a treat!  I love a hotel room with outdoor space, and these screened in porches were perfect, not to mention the hammocks and uncrowded beach. This place is a great destination for a quiet escape from the real world.  I know we’ll be back again!

Davis Bay

Hacienda la Jiminita; Quito, Ecuador

We stayed here before and after our Galapagos cruise, and it was so charming, especially the resident French bulldogs, Francois and Maya.  I wish we’d had more time to explore the grounds, but it was another whirlwind trip! This is a place I’d love to return with a pile of books and just relax.  (we know my trips are never relaxing, but maybe someday they will be!)

Casa de Hacienda "La Jimenita" - we spent the first two nights at this cute hacienda near the Quito airport

Breakfast at the hacienda - the food was delicious, and fresh squeezed fruit juice!

Flanigan’s Inn; Springdale, Utah

Oh, Flanigan’s!  Someone on a backpacking forum recommended this place for its proximity to Zion National Park and I visited with my friends in 2008.  I then spent the next 8 years dreaming of a return until I finally made it back in 2016 after my Grand Canyon rafting trip.  On the 2nd visit, I also got to experience the spa and the hilltop labyrinth, which was pretty cool.  Honestly, I think there’s something in the air here that just captivates me.

Flanigan's in Springdale, UT - awesome place to stay!(Photo Credit:  Amy)

The pool at Flanigan's - I love that view!

Redstone Inn; Redstone, Colorado

We’ve been visiting the Redstone area for many summers, and in 2005, my mom, sister and I decided to fly out for Christmas at the Redstone Inn.  What a treat, and I think this started the Christmas travel tradition for us.  We had all our meals in the gorgeous lodge, enjoyed stunning views of the night skies from the hot tub, and even a horse-drawn sleigh ride to nearby Redstone Castle.  What an experience!


Photo Credit: Aspen Valley Film

Christmas Eve sleigh ride at the Redstone Inn

Freestone Inn; Mazama, Washington

My sister and I stayed here on a trip to Washington State, after seeing Dave Matthews Band at the Gorge.   The cabin-like rooms each had their own patio, the lodge was gorgeous, the location remote. I would love to come back here sometime.

Lake outside our deck at Freestone Inn

Heaton’s Guest House; Dingle, Ireland

I don’t even have a photo of Heaton’s, but the Dingle Peninsula was just stunning.  I think we only stayed at Heaton’s 1 night, on a whirlwind trip across Ireland, but it had the perfect location near town right on the water.  I remember saying it would be the perfect place to come back and just relax with a bunch of books.  It’s been 13 years, and I haven’t made it back there yet 🙁

Honorable Mention:

Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park, Texas

This place looked so great, and I really, really want to go back and give it a proper visit.  Unfortunately, when I visited I came down with a cold/flu and spent pretty much the entire time in bed.

Sunset from Skyline Drive(BW)

Far View Lodge at Mesa Verde National Park

I guess I have a thing for lodges?!  This was a short visit on a road trip to Utah and Colorado.  Super cute rooms, good food at the restaurant and of course, stunning scenery and history.

Mesa Verde - my last National park of the trip, and where I would meet my mom.

I have a feeling I will be adding a few more to this list soon!  Any suggestions?


Favorite Hotels


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