Summer road trip to Michigan Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Isle Royale National Park and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Here’s our full route from Cincinnati: Michigan Trip
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Day 1-We set off (but almost didn’t) on our Road Trip
In the spirit of honesty I will tell you that this road trip did not start out very well. In order to get enough time off for our trip, I worked up until the day before we left. I’m a registered nurse and my shifts are long, meaning I leave my house at 6 AM and generally don’t get home until about 8:15 PM. I had worked the four days prior to our trip and this wears me out in the best of circumstances. Since long road trips (especially those that involve a backpacking trek) require a lot of prep, I had most of the gear out ready to be loaded. All the food, communal gear like the water filter, pots, stove and utensils, the two tents, and my pack were ready. I asked the rest of the gang to finish the rest. The kids and Dave each needed to finish packing their own last minute gear, the shelf hitch needed to be put on the car, and the house needed to be cleaned up. The plan was for us to leave at dawn the next day since we had a long drive to Pictured Rocks in Munising, MI. Somehow the message got mixed up, so when I got home on Sunday night the house was a mess and nobody was packed. I wish I could say I was patient and easy about it. After all, we were officially on vacation at this point. Ummm, no. I lost it. Lost it to the point I told Dave I was going without him. I attached the hitch and started throwing things in the Durango screaming like a crazy woman the whole time. Dave was yelling back, the kids were crying and I continued on my crazed rant. It was not pretty. Eventually I wore myself out and crashed into bed. (You can read Sophie’s version of the events HERE.)
Scrapped was the plan for the dawn departure. We were now packed and ready to go, but we would leave whenever we woke up- no alarm clock. We woke up around 9 and set off to leave an hour or so later- I still wasn’t speaking to Dave and he wasn’t speaking to me. Nice way to start a trip, right? Eventually we made a truce- ten hours in a car together gave us little choice! And by the time we made it to Munising, we were at least talking. What did I learn here? DO NOT plan to leave first thing in the morning after working long days before your departure day. It is vacation after all! Now we plan to sleep in and do a shorter day of driving for our first day on the road. This keeps us all happy (and sane).
After a Pit Stop at Cabela’s, We Arrive in the U.P.
So anyway, we started our trip around 10:30. Mostly we just needed to drive. It is a 10 hour trip to Munising, MI where Pictured Rocks is located. We stopped for lunch at a rest area and then at the Cabela’s in Dundee, MI since we needed to pick up an extra stove fuel canister and hiking socks for Dave. We also picked up a backpacking fishing pole and a few artificial bait since the kids wanted to try fishing on Isle Royale. If you are ever passing a Cabela’s on the highway, stop! It is a fun place to explore and the kids will surely be interested in the many stuffed animals and the camouflage dressed mannequins! I don’t even remember where we stopped for dinner. It must have been fabulous. We didn’t drive in to Munising until after dark. Once you get to the Upper Peninsula, the area is much less populated. We felt like we were driving into the middle of nowhere since it was so dark and there were so few other cars on the road. Eventually we made it to the Holiday Inn Express in Munising. We basically checked in to the family suite and went to bed hoping that tomorrow would be better.
The next morning we all woke up feeling well rested and ready to explore Pictured Rocks. We went down to the hotel breakfast, and it was great! The breakfast area continues to the back porch with beautiful views of Lake Superior. The hotel was a short distance from the Pictured Rocks Visitor center and it didn’t take us long to get there. We watched the orientation video and talked to the park rangers about how best to plan our day. The twins also picked up their Junior Ranger packets.
Our first stop was Munising Falls. It is a short easy 1/4 mile walk to the falls and we really enjoyed it. The waterfall is beautiful! Even in July, the breeze was cool in the early morning. The kids were all glad to be outside of the car and were having fun goofing off.
We then headed to Sand Point at the suggestion of the park ranger we spoke to. What a lovely beach! Having grown up in Deerfield Beach, Florida on the Atlantic coast, I am picky about beaches. Sand Point was really beautiful and we spent a few hours walking the shore, making sand castles and playing in the cold Lake Superior water. The water is crystal clear and almost looks turquoise in some areas. The weather was slightly overcast and temps were in the 80’s but Lake Superior water is COLD. The girls and I could only put our feet in but Dave and Garrett swam for real.
Grand Island National Recreation Area could be seen across the water. I would love to visit here one day! We also found the former Munising U.S. Coast Guard Station where an old U.S. Life Saving Service boat was housed with other exhibits about how water rescue on Lake Superior used to take place. In the water, a boat had been left to brave the elements and over time now looked like an old ship wreck.
We played for a little while longer at the secluded beach. Seriously, hardly anyone else was here. Garrett tried to make a big sand fort and then wreck it of course.
We later headed to the Miner’s Castle overlook trail. This boardwalk trail takes you to some beautiful views of the namesake Pictured Rocks. We walked along and enjoyed the amazing views. We didn’t get to do this, but I heard that taking a Pictured Rocks Cruises tour boat to the rocks is another great way to explore the area.
Relaxing at the Hotel
There is a picnic area at Miner’s Castle with several picnic tables and grills. We grilled out for a late lunch with steak, mashed potatoes, and fresh strawberries. It was all delicious and wonderful to eat such a nice meal outside. There is much more to see in Pictured Rocks, but we were all feeling worn out so we headed back to the hotel so the kids could swim. The hotel has a very nice pool area with a mushroom fountain, hot tub and sauna. We spent a few hours playing.
For dinner, Dave drove into town and picked up a few pasties from Muldoon’s. Pasties are an Upper Peninsula traditional meat pie and are super hearty. Stuffed with chicken or beef and tons of veggies, they filled us up. I can see where they would really hit the spot during the cold Michigan winter. We then went out to watch the sunset over Lake Superior. It had been a fantastic day in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore! Added bonus- we were all made up and vacation had officially started!
Update: We went back to Pictured Rocks. Read about our whirlwind say HERE.
Have you gone to Pictured Rocks? What should we do if we had longer than only one day?
Hi! So you remember if the biting flies were bad in July?
They were bad in certain areas. Definitely bring bug spray!
When during the year was this trip?
Alysia- We visited in mid July. 🙂
Nice pictures, nice blog and beautiful family !
Your blog made to go here – we are going there the next weekend
Have a great trip!