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Pictured Rocks: Chapel Basin Loop
The Lakeshore Trail is one of Michigan's classic backpacking treks, a 42.4-mile walk from Grand Marais to Munising. But if you don't have four to five days to spare or the desire to haul a backpack for 40-plus miles, the Chapel Basin Loop is the perfect alternative.
The hike begins and, more importantly, ends at Chapel trailhead parking lot, 14 miles east of Munising. The entire loop is a 10.4-mile walk over generally level terrain, making it either a long dayhike or an easy overnight outing. There are also several ways to shorten this trek, but in doing so you'll miss the extraordinary scenery that has made this national park so famous and the loop such an exceptional walk.
The first leg of the loop is a hike to Lake Superior followed by a 4.7-mile segment of the Lakeshore Trail. You complete the loop and return to your vehicle via Mosquito Falls. Along the way you enjoy the most stunning stretches of the Pictured Rocks and pass five waterfalls.
There are also two backcountry campgrounds along this route to set up camp for the night. If you arrive in the morning, you can easily hike to the Mosquito River campsites, a trek of 7.8 miles. If you arrive in the afternoon or even the early evening, you can stop at Chapel Beach campsites, making the first day a walk of only 3.4 miles.
For a description of the Chapel Basin Loop and other walks in Pictured Rocks click here to order a copy of Backpacking in Michigan by Jim DuFresne. Click here to order a detailed map of the Lakeshore Trail, part of MichiganTrailMaps.com's Classic Trails of Michigan series.
From the trailhead parking area you have a choice on how to reach Lake Superior and the Lakeshore Trail; Chapel Falls Trail or Chapel Lake Trail. The vast majority of people chose the trail that passes the falls.
Chapel Falls Trail begins as an old road that heads north into the woods and makes a gentle but steady half-mile climb through a dense woods. In less than a mile from the trailhead you reach an overlook where you can gaze at Chapel Lake below and at Mile 1.3 you arrive at Chapel Falls, one of the most impressive in the park.
From the second observation deck at the falls, the trail swings north as a narrow path that uses planking to cross wet areas. In less than 2 miles from the falls or at Mile 3.1, you descend sharply to Chapel Rock and a view of Lake Superior. The sandstone pillar is impressive while just 0.2 mile to the west are the Chapel Beach campsites.
For backpackers arriving late in the afternoon at the trailhead, this is the ideal place to camp. The 15 campsites are located on a wooded bluff above Chapel Beach, a half mile of beautiful sand with colorful sandstone cliffs at one end and a waterfall leaping into Lake Superior at the other.
From Chapel Beach it is a 1.6-mile walk to Grand Portal Point and from there another 2.9 miles to Mosquito River. Along the way you pass some of the most stunning scenery in the park. Don't rush this segment. You reach Mosquito River backcountry campground at Mile 7.8 where there are 10 sites in the woods above the reddish rocky shoreline of Lake Superior. This is a beautiful place to spend the night as you can view towering Pictured Rocks in both directions of the shoreline.
There are two routes back to the Chapel parking lot with Mosquito River Trail being the shortest, a walk of less than 2 miles. Mosquito Falls Trail, one of the newest trails in the park, is longer at 2.7 miles but the extra mileage is worth it. This trail is much more interesting as it passes three cascades along the way, including its namesake waterfall.
From the campsites descend to cross the foot bridge over Mosquito River and to the well-posted junction of the Mosquito Falls Trail. Head south (left). The trail begins with a steady climb as you gain more than 150 feet in the first half mile. When you top off, the trail swings east for a spell and then resumes heading south.
At Mile 9.4, the trail descends a small ravine to cross a branch of the Mosquito River, climbs out.and then quickly reaches the main branch. You actually hike south past Mosquito Falls to cross the river further upstream and then hike north past them again. The main cascade is where the river slides and drops 10 feet over layers of black rock. Continue along the trail and you’ll spot two more smaller falls in the next 200 yards.
The trail continues north but eventually swings away from the river and at Mile 10 arrives at a junction with Mosquito River Trail. Head east (right) and within 200 yards you’ll arrive at a junction with Chapel Lake Trail. Head south (right) here and you’ll be back at your vehicle in a third of a mile.
Both campgrounds have backcountry toilets and bear poles but neither has safe drinking water. Bring a filter. These are also two of the most popular backcountry camping areas in the park. Reserve your site well in advance during the summer.
A backcountry permit is required for camping and available at the Interagency Visitor Center (906-387-3700) in Munising and from Memorial Day to Labor Day at the Grand Sable Visitor Center (906-494-2660) near Grand Marais. Permits must be obtained in person and are available the day of your trip or one day prior. If arriving after business hours, you must wait until the next day to pick up your permit and then begin your hike. There is a nightly, per-person $5 fee for the permit.
Reservations for backcountry campsites are accepted beginning Jan. 1 for that year and a random drawing is held on the third Thursday in January. Reservation requests received after that are filled on a first-come-first-serve basis. There are no phone or internet reservations.
A Backcountry Reservation Form can be obtained by calling a visitor center or from the park website. Either mail (Backcountry Reservations, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, P.O. Box 40, Munising, MI 49862-0040) or fax in (906-387-4457) the form. There is a $15 fee for each reservation request; pay by credit card (Visa or Mastercard), check or money order. All reservations must be postmarked or faxed at least 14 days prior to the first day listed on the backcountry itinerary.
From the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore/Hiawatha National Forest Visitor Center in Munising head east on County Road H-58 for 14 miles and then turn north on Chapel Road. The trailhead parking lot is at the end of Chapel Road, reached in 6 miles from H-58.
Transportation from Munising Falls to the Chapel Road trailhead is available through Pictured Rocks Shuttle Service and Alger County Transit-ALTRAN (906-387-4845). Shuttle service should be reserved during the peak months of July and August.
The best source of information while planning a trip is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore website or the Interagency Visitor Center (906-387-3700) in Munising.
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