Backpacking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: 43 Beautiful Miles

So… you’re thinking about backpacking pictured rocks? All 42.4 gorgeous, picturesque miles along Lake Superior? Well you’ve got a great idea! AND you’ve come to the right place to get all the information/resources you may need.

I’ve visited Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in every season, the hot and humid summers, bone-chilling (but still beautiful) winters, crisp fall time and the awakening of beauty in the spring. There’s no bad season, except maybe black-fly season.

View between the trees at Chapel Beach Campground, pictured rocks cliffs are stretched out into the deep blue waters of Lake Superior while waves splash onto the sandy beach

But if you’re interested in backpacking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, first with what time of year works best for you!

April-May: expect varying temperatures, it could be 60degrees, it could be 30. Heading out by late May there should be full foliage and greenery without all the bugs yet.

June: this is bug month. I would steer clear.

July: early July can still yield black flies, always be prepared for the mosquitos no matter the season.

August: this is a beautiful month to enjoy backpacking Pictured Rocks. With temperatures usually still warm.

September-October: another time where it can be in the 70’s or dropping into the 40’s. Bugs are usually not too bad since the temperatures are dropping by this time. Bonus points for all the color change in late September/early October.

Once you’ve got down when you want to go, that will help for preparation in what to bring while backpacking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

When backpacking, some staples you’ll need are:

  • A tent

    • That is the one I use and I’ve use this for numerous camping/backpacking trips with no issues!

    • this is the one my sister uses, very lightweight!

  • Sleeping bag + sleeping pad

    • I invested in a NICE sleeping bag an had ZERO regrets – I personally hate mummy bags. Flares up my claustrophobia, they suck for side and tummy sleepers like myself. So when talking with an associate at REI I heard about the spoon bags, meant for side sleepers and have a less constricting feel.

    • For my sleeping pad I use is this one (sold out on Klymit’s website)

  • Water filter
    • This is by far the easiest one I’ve seen (and what I often see everyone else using) but it works!
  • Camp stove *
    • Not a necessity but if you like freeze dried meals, hot coffee, or need to boil water as a back up filtration it’s helpful! I got this super cheap stove set off amazon and it’s no joke lasted 5 years *similar set

And… speaking of the camp stove, here’s our breakdown of meals while backpacking Pictured Rocks!

For breakfast each day I would boil some water for some protein oatmeal (banana nut is my FAV). I would add some almond butter to the oatmeal for even more protein and calories. My sister ate the same. David would usually eat a breakfast bar and some pop tarts. I also made coffee each morning, I went with instant coffee for simplicity.

For lunch we kept it simple. David and I would eat tuna wraps, with a package of tuna and a whole wheat wrap, a date bar (here’s my favorite), usually some trail mix and possibly an energy gel. My sister would eat a peanut butter wrap (peanut butter and a whole wheat wrap).

For dinner we ate freeze dried meals each night to add some variety (and slight flavor). We absolutely loved the spaghetti with meat sauce from Mountain House. One that’s always a fan favorite for us is Mountain House’s chicken and dumplings. But a shocking winner was the chicken alfredo by Peak.

For snacks we had our favorite high calorie + high protein items:

  • Peanut m&ms
  • Jerky
  • Energy waffles
  • GU (specifically the birthday cake flavor which is the most superior flavor – thanks to my friend Haley for the recommendation)
Three people hold together "GU" Birthday Cake flavored packets while backpacking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

For clothes, less is more:

Layering up is always a good idea as temperatures can fluctuate so much in the UP. Plan to have an outfit to hike in and an outfit to sleep in. For me this is what I brought for our trip in late May:

  • Hiking clothes:
    • REI hiking leggings
    • Wicking/quick dry underwear (a pair for each day) and 1 sports bra
    • 3/4 zip under-armor long sleeve
    • REI down jacket
  • Sleep clothes:
  • Extras I brought:

I tend to be an over-packer, so having a couple extra items eased my anxiety. PLUS you can always use extra clothes as a pillow. I pack all of my clothes in packing cubes so I was able to put that packing cube under my sleeping bag for some extra support.

The only item that I didn’t bring (because I thought I wouldn’t need it) was a pair of gloves. Really would’ve come in handy for those cold evenings and early mornings.

So you’ll all packed and ready to go? But wait! Pictured Rocks requires a backcountry permit to camp AND you need to reserve specific sites ahead of time


Click here to access permits and backcountry information

Three people stand in front of a large map just completing backpacking pictured rocks national lakeshore. They have large backpacks.
Munising Visitor Center after completing all 42.4 miles!

We hiked from Grand Marais to Munising, which is what most people recommend! I second this! The hiking near Grand Marais involves a little bit on the road, not as scenic. It’s nice ending along the cliffs of Pictured Rocks.

We also hiked fairly fast. The NPS recommends no more than 10 miles a day, which totals out to taking about 4-5 days to hike. We ended up hiking 4 days and spending 3 nights. Here’s the breakdown :

  • Day 1: Grand Marais visitor center to Twelve Mile Beach campground
    • Mileage: 12 miles
    • Slept at Twelve Mile Beach campground
  • Day 2: Twelve Mile Beach campground to Chapel Beach
    • Mileage: 15 miles
    • Slept at Chapel Beach campground
  • Day 3: Chapel Beach to Cliffs
    • Mileage: 11 miles (I thought it was only 10)
    • Slept at Cliffs campground
  • Day 4: Cliffs to Munising falls
    • Mileage: 5 miles

Here are my thoughts about each campground:

Twelve Mile Campground

Absolutely loved this rustic campground. You can drive into it, and trailers are there! The sites are large, lots of trees, and right on the shores of Lake Superior. There are multiple vault toilets and safe drinking water. I’m so excited to come back and car camp here!

Chapel Beach

Probably one of the most popular backcountry sites and for a good reason! These gorgeous sites are set back from Chapel Beach where you can get some incredible sunset views. There are two vault toilets, you can grab water from the creek or from Lake Superior! Your sites are set right in the forest.


This was our last night (and the roughest night for me after a day I thought was 10 mile hike and we actually had an extra mile to go). This campground was set back in the forest with no views of Lake Superior. It was the warmest because we weren’t feeling the strong winds of Lake Superior but also the buggiest. This site also had a vault toilet (as all backcountry sites do) but this one was interesting. It was literally just a toilet in the woods, which I loved! The most peaceful pooping experience to this date.

Backpacking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is wonderful for beginners or experience backpackers! I cannot wait to come back and tackle this trail again!