Planning the Hike
The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore section of the North Country Trail stretches approximately 42 miles from Munising to Grand Marais in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Campgrounds are located every few miles along the trail.
When planning our Pictured Rocks backpacking trip, we decided to hike the trail in four days:
- Day 1: Grand Sable Visitor Center to Benchmark (11.2 Miles)
- Day 2: Benchmark to Beaver Creek (9.2 Miles)
- Day 3: Beaver Creek to Mosquito River (10 Miles)
- Day 4: Mosquito River to Munising Falls Visitor Center (12 Miles)
A guide to camping, hiking, and backpacking the Pictured Rocks can be found on the National Park Service website. The backcountry camping section of their website offers links, mileage information, details on the amenities for each campsite, and more.
For topographical maps, which offer more detailed information such as mileage and elevation changes, check out the North Country Trail website.
Before heading out for your hike, please do yourself (and everyone else) a favor and read up on bear safety and leave no trace. I know that rules and safety tips are “boring”, but knowing this information is imperative in order to prevent your gear from being chewed through, yourself or somebody else from being attacked by wild animals, and to protect our parks and wildlife from being destroyed.
Planning my Gear
We planned our Pictured Rocks backpacking trip for mid May in the hopes of avoiding swarms of biting insects at the cost of cooler temperatures. On average, temperatures were in the 40s and 50s during the day, and in the 30s and 40s at night.
In addition to all of the standard backpacking items, here are a few things I found to be the most helpful when visiting at this time of year:
- Protective Footwear: Hiking boots or trail runners are a must to keep your feet from getting bruised on all the roots and rocks. Boots offer better ankle support, but are heavy, less breathable, and can feel quite rigid after a couple miles when your feet swell. Trail runners aren’t as supportive, but they dry faster and are more comfortable. Pick your poison.
- Protective Layers: The trail follows a lakeshore, so make sure you pack items that will protect you from rain and wind (rain gear), sun (sunscreen, a hat, and/or long sleeves), and bugs (treated clothing, bug spray, headnet). It can feel chilly at night, so think fleece layers and a down jacket for camp clothes.
- Trekking Poles: Although they’re probably not a necessity, they were extremely helpful in dealing with all of the mud and steep hills.
For the complete gear list I used for this hike, check out my Pictured Rocks gear post here.
Planning my Food
I am totally a creature of habit. Travel, including camping and backpacking, generally throws off my routine and messes up my hunger cues, especially if I’m moving all day long.
For me, the easiest way to know what I’m supposed to be eating in these types of situations is to plan my meals in advance. For our Pictured Rocks backpacking trip, I simply planned my meals around the appropriate amount of calories to consume each day, then organized everything into one zip top bag for each day.
Breakfasts: I am by no means a morning person, and I’m not usually hungry in the morning, like, at all. Consequently, I like to pack things that require very little (if any) effort to make. Here are a few examples:
- Pop Tarts
- Energy Bars or Protein Bars
- Oatmeal (Hot or Cold Soaked)
- Tea or Instant Coffee
Lunches/Snacks: Generally, it’s not easy or convenient to stop while you’re hiking to prepare an extravagant lunch. I usually find that I’m either in a rush trying to make miles, too hot to want anything, too cold to sit still long enough to wait for it, or just simply too lazy. So for me, lunch is typically some type of snack.
- Dried Fruit, Nuts, or Trail Mix
- Tortilla w/ Peanut Butter
- Snickers Bar
- Fruit Snacks
- Chips or Crackers
- Jerky (if you eat meat)
Dinners: Everyone might not agree, but for me, dinner is sacred. Unless there are truly craptastic weather conditions going on, if there’s going to be one time of day that I’m going to actually want to put forth the effort to prepare a hot meal and relax, it’s going to be dinner time.
- Backpacking Meals
- Ramen Noodles
- Instant Pasta or Rice Sides
- Tortillas + Dehydrated Beans
Generally, I like to throw a couple extra items in my food bag, just in case.
Tip: To enjoy side dishes with your dinner, put individual portions of quick cooking foods like stuffing, potato flakes, dehydrated soups, or chili into zip top freezer bags. Just make sure that whatever you’re packing is “instant” so it will cook quickly. If I’m having a side dish, I like to let my entree steam in this bowl with the lid closed, then mix up the side dish in my mug so I can eat the m all at once.
Planning the Logistics
Staying Organized: Everybody who knows me IRL knows that I like to keep detailed planners and notebooks so I have everything all in one place. I use the Erin Condren LifePlanner and I LOVE it. There are customizable layout options, notebook pages, and pockets, so I can keep track of everything I wrote down or need to print and keep. (If you’re into that sort of thing, you can get a $10 off coupon by clicking here.)
Hiking with Friends: My friends and I met up twice while we were in the process of planning our Pictured Rocks backpacking trip so we could make decisions as a team, coordinate our gear, and decide who was responsible for taking care of what. We also used group chats to coordinate details in between meetings.
Transportation: To help ensure the least amount of stress, we opted to park at the Munising Falls Visitor Center, then catch a ride to the part of the trail where we would begin our hike. If you’re solo hiking or carpooling, there are shuttle services available in the area. More information is available on the NPS website.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful. If you have any good planning tips, be sure to let me know in the comments below! Happy planning!
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