Trip #4: Grand Sable Dunes
At its east end the cliffs of Pictured Rocks give way to the Grand Sable Dunes. This tapestry of sand and water comes with a picturesque lighthouse and a coast littered with shipwrecks.
Check in to the North Shore Lodge tucked on the beach between Lake Superior and Grand Marais Bay in the charming beach town of Grand Marais. Get your bearings at the nearby Grand Sable Visitor Center then take in Sable falls and the Log Slide–a sandy precipice where lumbermen slid logs down to Lake Superior. Be back at the lodge for dinner–the whitefish is always famous but on Friday nights it’s an all-you-can-eat fry. Rooms at the North Shore Lodge start at $72 before Labor Day and $69 after. Reservations recommended. 906-494-2361.
Drive in to Hurricane River Campground and set up camp. Hike 3 miles to Twelvemile Beach for lunch. Lounge on the beach. Hike up the dunes. In the afternoon, hike back to Hurricane River for dinner and playing at the river mouth.
Pack your breakfast and make the easy 3-mile roundtrip along a flat two-track to the Au Sable Light Station. The route includes interpretive signs that point to remnants of shipwrecks on the beach and in the shallow waters. Those skeleton wrecks give meaning to the lighthouse complex that dates back to 1874 and includes the 86-foot whitewashed light tower, red-brick keeper’s and assistant keeper’s homes, fog signal building and boathouse. Be there by 5 p.m. Sunday, September 4, and you’ll catch the last lighthouse tour of the season.
Pictured Rocks By Boat
Pictured Rocks Cruises lets you see the cliffs from the water. September 1–5: 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m.; Through October 10: 10 a.m., 1 p.m.,4 p.m. ($29 adults; $12 children 6 to 12; under 5 free). 906-387-2379 or picturedrocks.com
Glass Bottom Boat Tours drift above shipwrecks. September & October, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ($25 adults; $11 children 6 to 12; under 5 free), 1204 Commercial Street, Munising. 906-387-4477 or shipwrecktours.com
Need to Know
What to Pack
All four trips require a tent, sleeping bag and cooking gear. You’ll need a backpack, water purifier and camp stove for trips 1 and 2 since you’ll be camping in the backcountry where your water source is Lake Superior and there are no fires allowed. Stock up on food before you head to both backcountry and drive-in campsites. Getting to a grocery store is a trek from anywhere you camp.
Bring along a map of the lakeshore. If you won’t be making it to either of the visitors centers in Munising or Grand Marais, download one from the website before you go. www.nps.gov/piro.
Weather in the Upper Peninsula is fickle–especially in September. Be prepared for everything from Indian summer to seriously foul. Wear footgear suitable for hiking. For more on what to bring, go to www.nps.gov/piro.
Stock up in Munising at Glen’s Market (425 East M-28; 906-387-2147; 6 a.m. to midnight every day). The Superior Shores Market & Hardware in Grand Marais (Lake Avenue; 906-494-2470; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Sunday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.) has everything you need right down to made-fresh deli sandwiches. You can also put in supplies at the Bayshore Market across the street (906-494-2581; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.) The Melstrand General Store in the Little Beaver/Chapel area (on H-58 at the intersection of H-52; 906-452-6324; 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 9 p.m.) is a U.P. classic chock-full of backcountry essentials like ring bologna and used 25-cent romance novels to read by the campfire.
Drive-in campsites (Little Beaver, Twelvemile Beach and Hurricane River) are $10 per night on a first-come, first-served basis (pay at the campsite). July, August and Labor Day weekend the sites fill quickly, so if you’re looking to nab one, arrive early–and have a backup plan.
Backcountry sites are $5 per night and a permit is required–to get one show up in person at either visitors center, Munising or Grand Marais, by closing time at 4:30 p.m. within 24 hours of your first planned overnight. You can reserve backcountry sites ahead of your trip for $15 and with two weeks notice–but you’ll still need to pick up your permit in person. For the how-to, go to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Web site or call the Munising or Grand Marais visitors centers.
For shuttle service, mail reservation requests and advanced payment (checks only) to: Altran Public Transit, 530 East Munising Avenue, P.O. Box 69 Munising, MI., 49862. Check out prices and schedules at www.nps.gov/piro or call 906-387-4845.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Web site is www.nps.gov/piro. Click on In Depth on the home page for the nitty-gritty details on shuttles, reservations and other how-to’s.
Contact the Pictured Rocks visitors center in Munising (906-387-3700); Pictured Rocks visitors center in Grand Marais (906-494-2600); Alger County Chamber of Commerce (906-387-2138).
Want more waterfront camping?
- Try Coastal Camping on Lake Michigan
- Camp on Arbutus Lake and its chain of lakes
- Wake up to water views from an island when you Hop the Ferry to South Manitou
- Check out these sweet little state campgrounds at Twin Lakes and Fife Lake
- Majestic water views and beaches among the cliffs are found in these Four Long Weekend Trips to Pictured Rocks
- Kayak and Camp the Manistee River
- Pitch a tent on Grand Isle, a Lake Superior Gem