Long forest hikes, waterfalls and vast, sandy beaches
Pictured Rocks’ Chapel Beach, Lake Superior
Chapel Beach is a fitting name for this sublime sanctuary tucked in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s a place where trees grow from rock, roots twist across the ground and cliffs rise above golden sand that slides into the endless blue of Lake Superior. These natural wonders are only half the appeal. The other half? The journey in.
Park your car at the Chapel parking lot and rig up — bathing suit under your clothes, hiking shoes on your feet, camera in your pocket and a picnic in your backpack — you’re going in, and you’re going deep. The trail to Chapel Beach pushes through nearly three miles of forest. If you walk fast with few breaks, you can make the round trip in fewer than 3 hours, but who’d want to? This place is grand, and it’s meant to be savored. That said, make your first stop the restroom next to the trailhead; it’s the last one you’ll see today. Relieved accordingly, turn up the trail headed toward Chapel Falls.
You’ll course along a wide, slowly ascending path under a canopy so thick the air around you seems to breathe green. In about a mile and a half, you’ll come upon the falls, a 60-foot gorge of tumbling water. You can glimpse slices of Chapel Lake’s narrow blue through the foliage, but dedicate a few close-ups to the mossy undercarriages of rocks, fallen trees and wildflowers in the expanse of forest around you, too. From here, the beach is only another 11"2 miles. A sign that you’re nearing your goal? The trail narrows, the elevation increases, and with it, the number of switchbacks.Just when you’ve worked up a sweat, the trail breaks left along the perimeter of a modest cliff, then splits open into the sunshine. Below and beyond, the beach spreads out like a golden thread unraveled against mile-long reams of blue silk. Strip down, splash in the water, sprawl out on the sand. The day is yours.
You can head back from whence you came or, if you’re in the mood, stroll south along the shore to Mosquito Beach; its trail will route you back to the trailhead and bump your total miles hiked to nine.
To reach the Chapel Falls trailhead, turn left on Chapel Road from Highway 58, east out of Munising.
Stay the night:
- Stay at one of five public campgrounds within the national lakeshore or pick up a backcountry camping permit — available at the Hiawatha Forest Visitor Information Center. 906-387-3700.
- Sunset Motel on the Bay, all lakefront rooms, kitchenettes, $55+. Munising, 906-387-4574.