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Chapel Loop: Exploring Michigan's Pictured Rocks

Updated: Dec 29, 2023


Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

Located on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the Chapel Loop will quickly show you why the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a must-see landmark. With the beauty and color of Lake Superior and the uniqueness of formations like Chapel Rock, you will already be planning your next visit.


 

Trail Info

Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

Know before you go

  • The trail is relatively well-marked, but there are numerous junctions throughout. In general, I found the trail easy to follow, but I did have to stop and check my map a few times just make sure I wasn't turning too early so I could stay on the full outer loop.

  • The bugs can be brutal, especially during late spring and summer. They may be black flies and/or mosquitoes depending on the time of year. I did this trail in early July and ran into a swarm near sunset. I'd plan your hiking gear (or the time of year you go) accordingly.

  • A dirt road leads to the trailhead, which can close during winter. While it is drivable in all sedans in good conditions, it's worth checking the NPS page for any updates.

  • This trail is extremely popular. During peak summer times, the lot will fill up early and you may be forced to park over a mile away from the trailhead. Keep that in mind as part of your planning.


Trail Modifications

If you aren't feeling the full 10+ mile loop, there are a few ways to modify this trail, with the tradeoff that you will miss a few sights.


  • You can take the interior paths of the loop to save an estimate 1.25 miles of distance. Follow the Mosquito River instead of the Mosquito Falls trails (~1 mile saved) and the Chapel Beach Trail instead of the Chapel Rock Trail (~0.25 miles saved). The downside is you will skip Mosquito Falls and the Chapel Falls lookout on both those routes.

  • You can follow the Chapel Beach Loop to see the epic Chapel Rock, probably the most famous landmark. However, you will miss the cliff section of trail that parallels Lake Superior.

  • Similarly, you could do the Mosquito Falls Loop to see Mosquito Falls and Mosquito Beach in an even shorter hike. Mosquito falls, in my opinion, are less impressive than Chapel Falls and you again miss that stunning cliff section.


So the SS Hot Take here is if you have the time and the energy, do the full loop!


 


The Trail


Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

After parking the car and revisiting the trail layout, it's hiking time. I did the full loop in the clockwise direction. This means I would follow Mosquito Falls-->North Country Trail-->Chapel Rock Trail. As mentioned, there are several junctions you will come across. This was the second junction in the clockwise direction, where I veered LEFT to stay on the Mosquito Falls Trail.


Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

The trail was very well-maintained. There were a few small bridges and boardwalks like this.


Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

But most of the trail looked like this, a typical dirt forest trail. I will say that there were a couple of sections where there was a minor amount of overgrowth that brushed the skin, but nothing too uncomfortable. However, it's probably not a bad idea to wear long pants on this hike, especially with all the likely bugs buzzing about.


Mosquito Falls along Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

Here is our first landmark, Mosquito Falls. The pleasant flow coupled nicely with the lush green backdrop. I snapped a few shots before moving on.


Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

The only junction I found slightly confusing was where the Mosquito Falls Trail links with the North Country Trail. Your intuition will guide you correctly here, you will need to head RIGHT to keep going on. However, if you head left on the North Country Trail for a few minutes, you can take a short detour to Mosquito Beach.



Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

Getting down to the beach requires you to walk/scramble down this cool looking rope ladder.


Mosquito Beach along Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

And arrive at this rocky beach. I found this beach to be quite unique. This rocks reminded me of those small colorful pebbles you find at other beaches around the world. Only these weren't pebbles, they were large rocks. It was as if someone had some enalargement device and supersized them.



Mosquito Beach along Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

Foot for scale.


Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

After backtracking to get on the North Country Trail, I began what I consider the prettiest part of the hike. This trail follows the cliff line, weaving in the trees to open lookouts like this.



Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

There's something so alluring about the emerald blue color of Lake Superior. You could see it so well looking down from these perspectives.


Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

While the trail does parallel the cliff, it never gets too close to the edge, except this section pictured above.


Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

Or this "optional" cliff section. (Note the official trail continues in the trees). This was a fun area to walk, but I wouldn't get too close to the edge if I were you.


Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

Because as you can see, some of these cliffs have collapsed. Just a reminder that nature can be an unpredictable place.


Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

Eventually, you will arrive at Chapel Beach, which is what I would consider the major landmark of this hike. If you want, you can head down this ladder and hang on the beach. You could even go for a swim if you can handle those frigid temps.


Chapel Falls at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

But the real excitement is a little further down at Chapel Beach Falls and Chapel Rock. The falls were a nice steady flow that came from the forest down into the lake.


Chapel Falls at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

But what was even more captivating was just beyond the falls, Chapel Rock. It's a really fascinating structure, a lone white pine tree sitting a top an eroded rock.


Chapel Rock at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

By following the trail over the falls you can get a close perspective of this unique formation. I marveled at the sight for a few minutes before finally moving on.


Chapel Falls at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

We're not quite done yet! We've still got a few more things to see. The first being Chapel Falls. While it's not the tallest falls you'll see it was still impressive and you could hear how that flow could make it all the way to the lake.



A lovely flow!


Chapel Lake at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

And stop number 2: the Chapel Lake Overlook. I was so amazed by how many individual bodies of water there were on this little peninsula.


Chapel Loop at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan

With that, it was time to continue on the last bit of trail as the sun started to fade behind the trees. I needed to make sure I got my rest tonight, because tomorrow I would be visiting the entire area again, but this time by kayak!



 


SS Reflections (and a bonus story!)

This was my first time in the state of Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. But I had decided to make the detour on my road trip cross country to move my belongings to my new home in Colorado. I honestly hadn't thought much about Michigan as a beautiful destination, but the Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes made me realize what a gem this area is. Being able to walk along such beauty, staring into the depths of Lake Superior and it's vivid colors was quite magical.


But the core memory I formed here wasn't on this hike, but the next day during my guided kayak trip. It started out as a typical guided tour. We slowly paddled along the towering cliffs, soaking it all in. But then, we all began to hear a shrill and repeated cry. And what we saw sunk our hearts. In a small cavern with barely enough land to fit three people was a baby deer. Apparently, the deer had fallen from the cliffs and swam to the alcove to safety. However, it had no easy way out as we were far away from the nearest beach. If left there, it would surely starve to death.


And so commenced the wildest rescue operation I've seen. Our guide approached a nearby pontoon boat and asked if they could assist. If she could get the deer on her kayak, she would transfer it to the boat, so they could drive and release it on one of the beaches. They agreed to the plan. Unfortunately, the surf was rough enough and the area just rocky enough that she couldn't land they kayak. After several attempts, they had to come up with a new plan.


Instead, one of the men in the pontoon decided in a courageous (or maybe foolish), way to do this by hand. He stripped his shirt off, leapt into the frigid water and climbed into the cavern. Of course, the deer's survival instincts kicked in and when the man reached out to try and grab it, the deer sprinted to the other side of the cave. And so it went like that for the next 10 minutes. The man approaching the deer only at the last minute to have it bounding away to the other side of the cave. The dozens of kayakers watching were getting anxious.


Finally, the deer began to tire and on one lunge the man got the deer in his arms. A minor struggle ensued, but a few seconds later the deer gave up, clearly exhausted. With no hesitation, the man did the most daring thing yet. He leapt back into the water, deer under one arm, and swam to the stern of the boat, where his friends were ready to grab the deer, and hoist it onto the boat and drive it to safety.


It's not every day you see something like that. And while the beauty of this area was amazing, nothing stands out quite like humans working together to save another living creature. Usually, you have to pay double for that kind of action Cotton.



Other Helpful Resources

  • The NPS page covering all the trails at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore



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