As we drove from our previous stay at North Bay Shore County Park in Oconto, Wisconsin to Bay Furnace Campground in Munising, Michigan, we were awestruck by the beauty of the landscape of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — from the gorgeous views, homes, and towns along the shores of Green Bay and Little Bay de Noc to the northern coast of the peninsula on Lake Superior. We didn’t know much about Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which helped to keep expectations low, but I can honestly say that it’s in the top few destinations for one of the most beautiful places we have visited in all of our travels.
Our original plan for visiting Pictured Rocks was to stay at Kewadin Casino, which is located across the street from the Hiawatha National Forest’s Bay Furnace Campground. The casino is free and offers a few sites with electric hookups. However, when we were about to turn into the casino, we decided to take a spin through the campground to see if there were any available sites. About half the sites are reservable and the other half first come, first served. I had previously checked on recreation.gov and all of the reservable sites were booked. Reviews on Campendium let me know that this is a very popular campground in the area, so we weren’t sure what we’d find, but figured we could just stick with our original plan of the casino if nothing was available. We arrived in the area on Thursday, September 17th at around 1:00pm. There are two loops in the campground and we passed the first to drive through the second. We immediately came upon Site 2 on the left and it was empty. It looked like a fantastic site, so we snagged it. We then did a very quick walk around the loop and only found one other site available. Site 2 was large, deep, private, and level. Its only drawback — full shade. This meant we never got much sun to our solar panels, and even in the middle of the day with a cloudless sky, it was always dark in the Airstream. Small sacrifices to make for such a great site in such a great location. There are a few sites with a decent amount of sun to be found in each of the loops, but they all seemed to be reservable sites. Also, any of the sites with views of Lake Superior (this campground sits right on the cliff overlooking the lake) were also reservation only. However, those sites seemed to be quite a bit colder due to the wind off of the lake, and it was already pretty cold during our stay.
We didn’t realize it when we were there, but right before the campground sits the Bay Furnace Historic Site, which contains the ruins of a historic blast furnace that is the only thing remaining of an iron-making settlement called Onota that was destroyed by a fire in 1877. Apparently there’s a short trail around the furnace with informative signs.
Bay Furnace Campground – Hiawatha National Forest
E7900 W, M-28, Munising, MI 49862
- Mixture of Reservable and First Come, First Served Sites
- Dry Camping
- Water Available
- Dump Station
- Vault Toilets
- Fire Pits
- Picnic Tables
- Firewood for Sale from Camphosts
- Day-Use Picnic Area
After getting settled into our site, we drove about 25 minutes to the Miners Falls Trail. At 50 feet tall, Miners Falls is the park’s most powerful waterfall. The trail is about 1.2 miles roundtrip and has 140 feet of elevation gain. It’s an easy, popular hike that allows dogs, but when we went at about 3:30, there were few people. The trail is wide and well defined, but does involve some stairs towards the end in order to get down to the falls.
After the Miners Falls hike, we drove over to Miners Castle Overlook, which is the most popular spot in the park. However, at 4pm on a mid-September Thursday afternoon, it wasn’t overly congested, and pretty much everyone was wearing a mask. There are three different easily-accessible overlooks giving three different viewpoints of Miners Castle, which is probably the most iconic landmark at Pictured Rocks.
From there, we headed over to Miners Beach to get an up close look at the vibrant turquoise water. Miners Beach is about a mile long and reminded us so much of a Pacific Ocean beach!
On day 2 of our Pictured Rocks visit, we did the Chapel Loop hike. Many places list this hike as 10.1 miles, but pretty much every review agrees with our assessment — it’s longer than that. We clocked almost 11.5 miles roundtrip with over 830 feet of elevation gain. The full loop took us past Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, Chapel Beach and continued along the Pictured Rocks cliffs to Mosquito River and Beach, then past Mosquito Falls as we made our way back to the parking lot. It’s not a difficult trail, per say, just long. While it is a loop trail, there are a number of trails that branch off of the main trail to get to various overlooks, waterfalls, and campgrounds, and some times it’s not completely clear which way is the right way. We hit the trailhead a little after 8am on a Friday morning and there were only about 7 or 8 vehicles in the parking lot. However, when we left the parking lot around 1:30pm, the parking lot was full and there were cars at least a mile down the road. Speaking of the road, it was a really rough drive in. We were impressed that a paved road was both washboard and riddled with potholes — a feat we had never seen achieved before. When we left the parking lot after the hike, it was apparent someone had come in with many truckloads of gravel and fixed the road a decent amount while we were hiking. As a matter of fact, towards the end of the road, we ended up right behind the gravel trucks. I’m not sure if the road is always terrible and has to be repaired often, or if we caught the last day of it being crappy right before they fixed it.
Our assessment of this trail is that while there are beautiful views for about five miles of it, most of the trail is just a hike through the forest. Don’t me wrong, we love ourselves some forest hikes, but not 6.5 miles worth on an 11.5-mile hike. We went counter clockwise, which seems to be the way most people go, which means you run into few people if you do the entire loop. Some people seem to take the trail as far as Chapel Rock and then turn around, which is about seven miles roundtrip. If you take the loop in a clockwise direction, you deal with most of the elevation gain right away. We had high expectations of this trail because of how much people gushed about it on AllTrails, some even stating it’s the best trail they’ve hiked east of the Mississippi. After that kind of build up, we were disappointed, but most likely because we’ve had the opportunity to hike some amazing trails throughout the country with jaw dropping views and wildlife experiences.
After the hike, per recommendation from another RVer, we stopped by Muldoons to pick up some pasties (pronounced past-ee as opposed to paste-ee). Pasties are an Upper Peninsula thing and are basically a handheld meat or vegetable pie. According to the Muldoons website:
In approximately 1864, Finnish immigrants, along with Cornish miners, came to find work in the “Copper Country” of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Pasties were the perfect, hardy meal for the miners. Their wives were able to use the potatoes and meat from leftovers, and envelope them in a crust which could be placed in the miners’ pockets in the morning, and they would still be warm at lunchtime. Pasties came to be known as a “one-handed meal.” The miners, with their dirty hands, could hold on with one hand and eat their way through the pasty, leaving only a small crust left over. To this day, pasties remain a staple food and tradition for many Upper Peninsula families.
We also picked up a box of delicious home-made fudge for dessert!
Another way to explore Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is by boat through Pictured Rocks Cruises. Missy isn’t big on boats, especially boats on water as rough as Lake Superior was when we visited, so we opted to explore the area by land instead. There are definitely more hikes and waterfalls and shops and restaurants to experience in this area, but we feel we got a good feel for the beauty and serenity of Pictured Rocks. We 100% would visit again and would definitely try to stay at Bay Furnace Campground again.