Take a Hike: Hiking the Chapel Loop in The Pictured Rocks

Hi Friends! A happy happy Monday to you all! I got to sleep in this morning and can I just say it felt AMAZING?! I have so much I want to get done today, but so far, all I’ve done is try and learn the chorus to Despacito and watch Riverdale. #KillinIt

PS… if you haven’t watched Riverdale yet, you HAVE to. It’s so so so good. My cousin has been telling me I need to watch it and finally have and it is amazing. If you loved Pretty Little liars, you’ll love this just as much. I promise!

Alright… on to today’s post! My last two Mitten Mondays, I’ve shared posts on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Last month, I chased waterfalls, and visited the Pictured Rocks. And today, I’m sharing the one hike that I think you absolutely MUST do while you’re there.

When I started researching hikes in The Pictured Rocks, there were TONS to choose from. But there was one, that stuck out to me above the rest. So grab your hiking boots and pack some snacks. This 10 mile hike through the lush forest, to a beautiful rock along the shores of Lake Superior and down to a remote beach is about to knock your socks off.

I’ve been on quite a few hikes in my life, and to be honest, my top ones have all included tall mountain peaks and bright teal lakes. But, this one, is right up there with best. While it is hard to compete with snow capped peaks in my book, the natural wonder that is Chapel Rock is worth the hike on it’s own.

Now, before I start talking about all the beautiful things you’ll find along the path of Chapel Falls, there are a few things you should know.

Know Before You Go Before you set off on your hiking adventure, be sure you have prepared yourself. It’s important to note, that hiking in Michigan is different than hiking in other places around the world.  In Michigan, our weather is AWLAYS so crazy. It may snow in the morning but be 60 and sunny in the afternoon. With such drastic changes in our weather we have pretty distinct seasons. These different seasons bring different challenges to different trails. So you should always be prepared.

  • Wear Layers, no matter the season. Always dress in layers! It’s easier to take off a jacket and throw it in your bag, than it is to hike while shivering!
  • Bring Water. And Snacks. Hiking can be tough, especially if you’re a beginner. There is no shame in stopping for a snack break. Pack granola bars, sandwiches and other high protein snacks. Trust me. Your belly will thank you!
  • Wear the right shoes. No one should be trying to hike in flip flops. Wear sturdy shoes that will support your feet as you trek miles across through the forests. While I will always recommend a solid pair of hiking books, I actually choose to wear Keen sandals while hiking in Michigan summers. Why? Because 98% of the time, you’ll be on some type of sand dune, and the sandals are so much easier to hike in than boots. (I love these ones.)
  • Take a backpack. Things you should always have with you? Water, food, a jacket, bear spray, first aid kit, and a GPS locating device if you are hiking solo.
  • Don’t forget your camera. Less serious than the others, but just as important! You guys will LOVE the scenery and won’t want to be without a camera to capture the magical memories you are about to make.

And as for the trail itself? It’s long. The entire loop is just about 10 miles round trip. It’s technically part of the world famous Lakeshore Trail that follows along the tops of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. You can make it as long, or as short as you’d like (we did) and can even camp at a hike in camp ground while you make the loop. However, it really is an easy hike. You can access this hike in any season, but the summer will give you the best hiking conditions. (More on that later…)

There are two ways you can hike this loop, clockwise, or counter clockwise. You should base your direction on what you’re hoping to see. If you’re planning to hike the entire loop, it doesn’t really matter which way you choose. However, if you’re hoping to see the main attractions of the hike, like we were, you should hike the loop counter clockwise.

We began our day bright and early in the morning after a quick breakfast at our hotel in Munising. (Curious where we stayed? Click here.) It takes about 20 minutes to drive up to where the Loop begins. When we got there, the parking lot was empty! We were thrilled because that meant we beat out the crowds that we were promised to find. (They were there by the time we finished our hike.)

Our plan? Head towards Chapel Falls and Chapel Rock, and walk down to Chapel Beach before turning around and coming back to our car. We really would have loved to do the entire loop, but we just didn’t have time. We still were an hour drive away from where we needed to be for my cousin’s graduation party that evening.

It was early in June, and still really chilly up in the UP. So we grabbed our jackets, pulled on our backpacks and off we went on our approximately 7 mile hike.

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The hike begins wandering through the lush forests of the National Lakeshore. It was quite and serene and the exact change of scenery I needed from the traffic jams and honking horns of the city. Here, the only sky scrapers are old trees and the honking only comes from the birds flying past.

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Just about a mile in, you catch your first glimpse of Chapel Falls! I talked more about them in this post on waterfalls in Michigan. If you’re heading on this hike to specifically see the falls, don’t let this first glimpse for you. You’ll get much better views about another half mile in.

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We continued on towards the falls, crossing creeks and babbling brooks. This is when we began to notice that there seemed to be quite a bit of standing water laying around. We didn’t think a whole lot of it, and kept on trekking. (MAJOR foreshadowing here guys!)

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My favorite thing about the hike towards the waterfall were all the little paths that people have made over the years that lead you out to different vistas in the woods. We took a few that gave us just views of the forest or Chapel Lake off in the distance. However, I encourage you to find the one where you can hear rushing water in the distance. Follow it and you will be SO happy you did. Why? Because you’ll be able to sit on top of Chapel Falls!

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You guys… I could have sat there for HOURS. I loved just dangling my feet listening to the rushing water. (Ugh. What I wouldn’t do to be sitting there again right now instead of on my couch in the air conditioning because it’s 95 degrees outside.) It took some serious convincing from my parents to pry me away from this special place.

We made it back to the main trail, and before we knew it, we made it to the main Chapel Falls overlook. It really is a stunning waterfall… but I was kind of disappointed in this overlook. You’re just SO FAR AWAY from it. I showed this on my waterfalls post and I’m going to show you again… The first photo is with my moms awesome camera lens. But what you actually see is the second photo, taken for Snapchat on my iPhone.

It’s still pretty, of course. But I was expecting this look out to be similar to that of Hidden Falls in Jackson Hole. 

After snapping a few photos of the falls, we continued on with our hike. This is where we began to find that the trail is not well marked. There was a clear definition of a split in the trail, and not a single indication which way to go. I ran down the more “straight of way” and found that it led to a dead end. So we turned around and took the sharp right to continue on the trail towards Chapel Rock.

This is when we started to hit some serious water. It’s not secret that this area of the UP gets pounded with snow every year. It’s also no secret that it takes a bit longer for it to melt. Never did we dream though, that we’d be stuck with the melted mess in early June. But there we were, trying to cross trails that looked like this…

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And guys. This wasn’t even the worst of it. In some spots, I was up to mud PAST MY ANKLES. This put a serious damper on the awesome time we had been making so far. (Seriously. The first part of the trail was so easy, we actually thought we might be able to complete the entire loop. We had made it to Chapel Falls in just under and hour.) It took us SO LONG to make it through all the muck. We trekked through the woods, crawling over and under tree limbs when we could, but sucked it up and went ankle deep into the muck for most of our trip.

After what seemed like YEARS, we finally saw our glimmer of hope. Lake Superior’s bright blue was shining in the distance, so we knew we were almost to Chapel Rock.

You guys… Chapel Rock is SO COOL. It’s literally a rock with a tree that’s growing on top of it. But what makes it so special is that this tree has adapted to it’s surroundings by growing it’s roots to the main land to get the nutrients it needs.

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I love that you can see Chapel Rock from above like this before you head below it towards Chapel beach. I mean… it’s so gorgeous!!

After viewing the rock from the top, we started walking down towards Chapel beach. Here is where you can see the rock from below. Please enjoy this shameless vacation photo of me smiling like an idiot in front of Chapel Rock.

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At this point, you’ll be almost to Chapel Beach! Chapel Beach is awesome because it is so remote. The only way to get there is by hiking back to it, or stopping by on your boat. It’s not over crowded with tourists and beach goers. And… Chapel Falls ends at Chapel Beach. So you can play in a waterfall while you’re there. How great is that?!

To get to Chapel Beach, you walk just past the rock along the Lakeshore Trail. Eventually, you’ll find a little bridge that takes your across the bottom of Chapel Falls so you can reach the beach on the other side. You’ll be treated to views like these…

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It was here that we made a decision I’m still regretting… it was time to head back to the car. I wanted to finish the Loop SO BADLY. Like so so so so so badly. I had seen so many beautiful pictures and I just was really bummed we didn’t have the time we needed to complete it. (Thanks a lot, mud.)

We found a map and it showed us that we could cut through the campground and hit a mini trail that would take us back to the main loop just before the parking lot. We decided to try it… because the way we came had been so bad.

Lucky for us, it was even muddier than the first one. At least got a few views like this before we headed back into the woods… (cue heart eye emoji!)

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While the mud was less than desirable, the rest of the hike was perfect. If you only have time for one hike while you’re in the Pictured Rocks, this is one you should do.

Are you a hiker in Michigan? What other hikes should I try? Comment down below!

Alright loves. I’m off to finish the first season of Riverdale and then complain about how I have to wait ’til October to find out what happens next 🙂

Join me tomorrow as I share the first location in my Bucket List Travel Series! I’m SO FREAKIN’ EXCITED about it!

Xx.
Savannah

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