Looking to go hiking at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore? In this guide we’re sharing how to hike the Chapel Loop Trail, which features waterfalls, painted rocks, blue water, and so much more!
The top spot we wanted to visit while on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. For years we had seen photos of the dramatic cliffs, blue water, and unique rock formations and wondered if it really was as beautiful in real life as in photos. Spoiler alert: it is JUST as beautiful, if not more!
We only had one full day to explore Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and decided to tackle the park by land, choosing the Chapel Loop Trail as our one major activity…and we were so glad that we did! This hike is not only stunning, but it has a wide variety of scenery, keeping it interesting the entire time.
Watch us hike the Chapel Beach Loop + explore other amazing spots in the Upper Peninsula!
While there are many things to do at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we highly recommend hiking the Chapel Loop Trail. And in this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know about the hike so you can experience it for yourself!
Looking for more things to do in the Great Lakes states? Check out our other guides and vlogs!
- Visiting Minnesota’s North Shore (the BEST things to do + road trip itineraries!)
- Things to do at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan
- Things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio
- Watch all of our Great Lakes Vlogs
- About Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- Chapel Loop Trail Stats
- How to get to the Chapel Loop Trailhead (+ parking)
- When to hike the Chapel Loop Trail
- What to bring to hike to the Chapel Loop Trail
- Things to know before hiking the Chapel Loop Trail
- Our Experience hiking the Chapel Loop Trail
- Where to stay near the Chapel Loop Trail
- More things to do near the Chapel Loop Trail
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About Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is located on the northern part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on Lake Superior. It was the first of the nation’s three national lakeshores and has 42 miles of shoreline, with 15 miles of it having the iconic “Pictured Rocks” that give the park its name.
These sandstone cliffs, which can be up to 200 feet tall, have streaks of various colors, which occur when groundwater seeps out of cracks in the rock and flows down the rock face. Each color is related to a different mineral, with the most common being iron (red and orange), copper (blue and green), manganese (brown and black), and limonite (white).
To view these cliffs, you have a couple options. You can either take a boat tour to get up close and personal to them, which is said to be the best way to see them. Or if you’re like us and love to hike, you can see them from land in a few places, with the best hike to see them being the Chapel Loop Trail, which we will share all about in this guide!
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
Chapel Loop Trail Stats
Elevation: 754 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
According to AllTrails, the Chapel Loop Trail is listed at 10.2 miles, but we recorded our hike to be closer to 12 miles and it took us a total of 7 hours and 15 minutes, with 5.5 hours of that being moving time. Unlike most hikes, where we tend to move quickly and not really stop for long breaks, we took our sweet time on this hike to enjoy every ounce of scenery it has to offer.
And trust us, there is a LOT it has to offer. Along the hike there are many things to see, including Mosquito Falls, Mosquito Beach, Chapel Beach, Chapel Rock, and Chapel Falls. Oh and the crystal clear, blue water that reminded us of Lake Tahoe!
You can do this hike clockwise or counterclockwise, but we suggest going clockwise for a couple reasons. Going this way allowed us to see the best views along the lake before it got too crowded, plus we got to Chapel Beach later on in our hike (vs. closer to the beginning if going counterclockwise), which was a nice spot for a break and quick dip on a muggy summer day.
How to get to the Chapel Loop Trailhead (+ parking)
There is one main park road along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which is H-58 (also called Adams Trail). This road has many side roads to take to different areas of the park and the road to the trailhead for Chapel Loop is off of 695, which is a 5 mile gravel road.
This road can be a bit rutted and have potholes, but it should be fine for any car, as long as you go slow. Plan to spend at least 15 minutes driving down this road.
Once you get to the trailhead, there is a good sized parking lot and our 22.5 ft van had no issues backing up into a spot. When we arrived around sunrise on a weekday in the summer, there were a few cars parked (likely overnight campers), but the lot was mostly empty.
However, when we got back from the hike, the lot was totally full and cars were parked along 695. You can park on part of this road, but there are some no parking signs as well, so make sure to read the signage.
When to hike the Chapel Loop Trail
You can technically hike the Chapel Loop Trail anytime of the year, but your experience will vary depending on the season you visit Pictured Rocks.
If you do not mind the cold and snow, winter can be very cool (literally!) time to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. With 140-200 inches of snow per year, you’ll definitely need to dress warm and be prepared for winter conditions, but in return, you’ll be treated to way less crowds.
It’s also a chance to see the blue water of Lake Superior against the stark white snow. Or if it’s really snowy and icy out, you’ll get to see the lake covered in ice, as well as massive icicles coming down from the rocks.
In the winter, you can go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and ice climbing in the park. For this hike, you can snowshoe the trail, but the road to the trailhead is not plowed and may be impassible, so you may have to park and walk additional miles.
In the spring, there can still be snow at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, so make sure to check the conditions beforehand, as many roads are not plowed.
But once the snow melts, you’ll be treated to raging waterfalls and eventually wildflowers as well! This is still a slightly less busy time to visit, so if you want to experience this trail without tons of people, the late spring (May timeframe) will be a good bet.
Summer is the most popular time to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and is when we visited. The trails were totally snow free and while it was a bit warm and muggy, it made the cold waters of Lake Superior feel SO dang good!
To avoid crowds in the summer, we suggest starting early (around sunrise) and going on a weekday if possible. We went on a weekday in August and didn’t encounter anyone for the first half of our hike, but it was definitely busier during the second half.
Next time we visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore we want to go in the fall! The temperatures are cooler and the fall colors are gorgeous, which just adds another element to the already beautiful contrast of the sandstone cliffs against the blue water.
This will be a less busy time to visit, as kids are back in school, but the fall colors do bring more people and we’d still suggest visiting on a weekday and going early!
What to bring to hike to the Chapel Loop Trail
Since your time at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore will be filled with hikes and outdoor activities, you’ll want to bring plenty of outdoor gear and clothing. To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit.
But here are a couple additional items to consider bringing depending on activities you’d like to do and the month you’re visiting.
While a good chunk of this hike is forested or has some tree cover, there are a handful of overlooks that are fully exposed, as well as the beach, so you’ll want to have sunglasses, sunscreen, and/or a hat with you!
If you plan to take a quick dip into Lake Superior, which we loved doing on the hike, you’ll want to bring a swimsuit, or clothes you don’t mind getting wet!
During our hike in August, the biting flies and mosquitoes were pretty bad at times, so having some bug spray was a must for us!
America the Beautiful Pass
If you have the America the Beautiful pass, make sure to bring it! Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is managed by the National Park Service, so your pass will get you into the area for free!
We’d highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map before you go. There are some turn offs on the trail and we like to use the map to track our progress and ensure we’re going the right way. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership to download maps, which is $30 a year and so worth it!
Things to know before hiking the Chapel Loop Trail
Before sharing more about our experience on the trail, here are a few more things to be aware of before hiking the Chapel Loop Trail.
It costs $10 per car to get into Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which lasts for 7 consecutive days. If you love visiting National Parks like we do, we highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful pass which is $80 per year and will get you into any National Park, monument, or forest for free.
The parking lot at the trailhead can fit between 30-40 cars, but it does fill up in the summertime and as we mentioned above, there is one section of the road to the trailhead where you can park, but beware of no parking signs.
There are toilets in the trailhead parking lot, as well as some pit toilets near Mosquito Beach and Chapel Beach, but they are very…rustic. If you decide to use the restroom on the trail, please pack out any toilet paper and make sure to use a trowel to dig a hole for human waste.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is home to black bears! While we didn’t see any, if you plan to camp while in the park, especially in the backcountry, make sure to properly store food in your vehicle or in one of the provided bear lockers.
Dogs are not allowed!
Unfortunately dogs are not allowed on this hike, so please leave your furry friend at home or somewhere safe.
Campsites along the trail
You can backpack on the Chapel Loop Trail and stay at the Mosquito River or Chapel Beach campgrounds, or the group campsite near Mosquito Beach. You will need to get a backcountry permit, which you can get on recreation.gov.
Our Experience hiking the Chapel Loop Trail
After camping the night before inside of the park, we hit the road before sunrise to the Chapel Loop trailhead. As we mentioned earlier, there were a few cars in the lot, but we assume they were overnight backpackers, since we didn’t see anyone starting their hike.
The trail starts in the forest, with some river views, before reaching Mosquito Falls about 1 mile in. While not huge falls, there was a good amount of water, the rock walls surrounding it were pretty cool and there are many smaller falls up the trail as well.
After Mosquito Falls, we continued through the forest, which was very different from some forests we have been to. The trees were extremely tall, but not too bushy, so you could see between them. It was really beautiful, especially with the early morning light beaming between them.
At about 2.5 miles, we passed a bathroom and group camping area before reaching Mosquito Beach. There is a little pathway down to the beach right before the bridge going over the river. We went down to the beach, but quickly learned why it’s called Mosquito Beach, as a few mosquitoes tried to snack on us.
Once getting back on the trail, we crossed the bridge and then reached a staircase down to some rocks. We highly recommend making this detour! We had great views of the lakeshore, including back towards Mosquito Beach, where we could see some of the colors of the pictured rocks off in the distance, and off in the other direction, which is where we were heading next.
At this point, we were now on the part of the trail that goes along Lake Superior. We thought that the trail would be more along exposed cliffs and not in the forest, but it is still pretty forested.
However there are so many lookouts on this stretch, both small and more spacious, and we highly recommend stopping at all of them to see the cliffs, arches in the water, Pictured Rocks, and the INSANELY blue water. The water is such a deep shade of blue we felt like we were in Tahoe!
After about 5 miles we got to a very exposed cliffside, which we walked along to make it to what AllTrails says is Miners Castle Overlook (not to be confused with the one more southwest in the park you can drive to).
This is when the views get extra good! You can see so many of the Pictured Rocks and if we haven’t said it enough already…THE WATER! SO blue!!!
We sat here for a bit and enjoyed lunch while overlooking the water. When we got here, we had it to ourselves, but people started arriving and from here on out is when the trail got a bit busier.
The views continue to be amazing after this point, with a handful of more spacious overlooks where you can see the cliffs from different angles. We also saw kayakers out on the water and going into caves. Their colorful kayaks contrasted against the clear, blue water was gorgeous!
At about 6.8 miles, we reached Chapel Beach, which after a warm, muggy hike, it felt sooo good to run into the lake and swim around for a bit. The beach wasn’t too busy either, which was a huge perk! There is also a waterfall that rushes into the lake, which you’ll cross over in a bit.
Once back on the beach, we got a tad confused about how to get back since there are two options. One option is right by the pit toilets and will take you back to the parking lot, but you’ll miss out on some cool features. After figuring this out, we went back to the area where the stairs down to the beach were and continued following the trail we came on, going straight.
And we are glad we went this way because shortly after crossing a river, we made it to Chapel Rock. This rock is VERY unique! Once attached to the mainland via an arch, this archway collapsed back in the 1940s and it’s now a freestanding rock with a tree on top of it! The tree roots reach to the mainland and the tree is said to be about 250 years old. It’s wild!
From here, we turned right to get onto the trail to go back to the parking lot (you could keep going straight, but this will continue down the lakeshore and not take you back to the parking lot). The trail is once again mostly forested, with one more stop to see: Chapel Falls.
This 60 foot tall waterfall is the most impressive on the hike and there is a viewing platform to check it out. You’ll also walk on a bridge across the creek that feeds it
After this final pit stop, it’s under 2 miles through the forest back to the parking lot. As we mentioned earlier, when we got back it was a LOT busier, so we were so glad we started early.
This trail totally exceeded our expectations. I think we said “oh my gosh” and “wow” about 100 times! While we’d love to see the Pictured Rocks on the water someday, we loved this hike and it is a must-do if you want to see some of the beauty of the park, beyond just the Pictured Rocks!
Where to stay near the Chapel Loop Trail
Munising is the closest town to the Chapel Loop Trail and is about a 30 minute drive. It’s a small town, but has a grocery store, restaurants, and is right on the lake!
However, you can also camp in the park, which is what we did. We’ll list information about both options below!
Camping at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
There are three drive-in campgrounds with a total of 65 sites at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. All of these campgrounds are open from May 15-October 15, require reservations, are $25 a night, and do not have hookups or water (they do have vault toilets though). They also do allow dogs on leash.
We stayed at the Twelvemile Beach campground and loved it! The sites were tucked into the forest and we had great access to Twelvemile Beach, which seemed empty the couple times we walked down to it.
We decided at the last minute to book a campsite in the park (one week before for a Wednesday arrival) and were able to snag one, but we recommend planning ahead for weekends in the summer. The reservations open 6 months in advance!
Tip: One thing we didn’t realize is that for the Twelvemile Beach Campground at least, there was no one to check us in. And we didn’t print our reservation to put on the numbered pole at our site. So we just wrote our reservation number on some paper and attached it. We saw a camp host driving around, so make sure you have proof of your reservation handy.
As we mentioned earlier in this guide, you can backpack in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. There are 14 camping areas, each with 4-6 sites and permits are required.
Permits open up on January 1 for the year and have a $15 reservation fee, plus $5 fee per person, per night.
A few rules for backpacking. You MUST have your permit on you, so make sure to print it out. You also MUST stick to designated campsites and stay in the site assigned to you. Unlike the drive-in campgrounds, dogs are not allowed.
We would love to do this in the future, it would be a great way to enjoy more solitude while exploring the lakeshore!
Lodging in Munising
Downtown Munising Apartment (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom): This apartment is located right in town and is walkable to so many places!
Pictured Rocks Apartment (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom): This would be a great spot for a family, as it sleeps 5 and has a kitchen for meals after adventuring!
Getaway by the Bay (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom): This Airbnb is in a great location and can sleep 6 total!
More things to do near the Chapel Loop Trail
Looking for more things to do before or after your hike? Here are some suggestions!
Explore more of Pictured Rocks
While we only did this hike while in the park, there is a lot more to see!
- Get out on the water on a boat tour or a kayaking tour!
- Visit the overlook for Miners Castle, which is a short, paved walk from the parking area and does allow dogs.
- Lay out at Miners Beach or Twelvemile Beach.
- Chase some waterfalls! A couple options are: Miners Falls (1.2 miles, dog friendly), Munising Falls (0.4 miles, dog friendly), and Sable Falls (0.6 miles, dog friendly).
- Visit the Au Sable Light Station, which is an 86 foot tall lighthouse built in the 1800s.
- Go to the Log Slide Overlook, which got its name from logging companies who used to slide logs down the dunes to Lake Superior. Today you can see dramatic views of dunes from above or go down the dune, which is steep!
Eat a pasty
Pasties (past-tees) are an iconic Upper Peninsula food item and a baked pastry, typically filled with meat, potatoes, and vegetables.
This convenient food item originated from Cornwall, England and in the 1840s, Cornish immigrants came to the Upper Peninsula to mine and pasties were the perfect, hardy, one-handed meal for the miners. Their wives were able to use the potatoes and meat from leftovers, and wrap them in a crust which were portable and stayed warm for a long time or could easily be reheated by placing them on a shovel and over a candle.
The wives would put the miner’s initials on the crust of the pasty so the miners would know which was theirs. And the miners, with their dirty hands, would hold the pasty by this crust, with it acting as a handle. They would leave the crust in the mines for the mine gremlins to eat, which was a good thing, as their hands often had arsenic on them and by not eating the crust, they wouldn’t consume arsenic.
There are many places to try pasties on the UP, but we went to Muldoon’s in Munising after we completed the Chapel Loop Trail. We thought they were pretty good, maybe a tad bland, but ketchup or gravy is supposed to help solve that.
Located a little more than an hour south of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is Kitch-iti-kipi (located in Palms Book State Park, $9 entrance fee), which is Michigan’s largest natural freshwater spring, spanning 200 feet across and 40 feet deep.
The name Kitch-iti-kipi means “big cold spring” in the Ojibwe language, as it’s 45 degrees year round, and the spring brings up 10,000 gallons of water per minute from fissures underneath the limestone.
You can see the spring from a boardwalk, but the best way to experience it is to ride on the observation raft across the spring! And the coolest part, in our opinion, is that it’s self guided and the passengers get to be in charge of turning the wheel to help it travel along the cable across the water!
We hear on weekends and later in the day the line can be up to 2 hours to ride the raft, so come early! We came on a Friday, right before they opened, and had the entire raft to ourselves and even were able to ride it a second time!
The raft is open in the middle and under the clear, vibrant water you’ll see ancient tree trunks, lime encrusted branches, and fish. It was so crazy to “drive” the raft ourselves (without any attendant) and we had SO much fun riding on it and seeing the CRAZY views of the spring below.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park (1 hour, 45 minutes from Pictured Rocks) is the second largest state park in Michigan and is home to one of the largest falls east of the Mississippi, dropping almost 50 feet and with a span of more than 200 feet. And what makes these falls a bit unique is that they are root beer colored, which comes from tannins extracted from plants along the river.
You can see the upper falls (the most iconic) from various overlooks along this trail, as well as see the lower falls on this trail. You can also hike between the upper and lower falls, which is 10+ miles round trip or take a shuttle one way!
Another unique thing about this park is that it has a brewery on site! The Tahquamenon Falls brewery has 4 of their own beers on tap, plus homemade root beer, which is what we enjoyed.
Ready to hike at Pictured Rocks?
Pin this guide to hiking the Chapel Loop Trail to help plan your trip!