We started our hike around 9 a.m. in the parking lot for Chapel Basin at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Darin planned the route the night before, having successfully talked his nephew, Jared, and I into a 10-mile loop to the Superior shore. I knew a 5-mile hike in the northeast could tire my legs and feet, but I remembered the rolling hills of Isle Royale from my conservation crew days and trusted 8-10 miles were doable without crazy elevation changes.
Lo and behold, we met a well-maintained trail through a stunning hardwood forest. We heard many of the same birds who frequent the northern forests of New England. It was fun to notice the mushroom-filled beeches and the cool, dark, hemlock and spruce-lined areas surrounding waterfalls and streams. I loved seeing an open understory that let mid-morning light stream through. The cool morning temps were delightful.
After a while the air began to change. The only thing I could compare it to is a sea breeze. A steady wind caught my face and arms, giving me goosebumps. The light through the trees brightened as the end of the forest and blue horizon drew near. Suddenly, the view opened.
We made it to Chapel Beach just in the knick of time to enjoy a peaceful walk before a battalion of pontoon boats beached on the shore. We felt the softest sand between our toes and skipped seemingly infinite stones. Lake Superior is as cool as the Atlantic Ocean where I grew up in Maine, if not colder during mid-summer! I’ve seen Superior before, but never like this: colorful cliffs, white sands, polished rocks, shallow “sea-green” waters.
Every second of this trail was fun and breathtaking. The trail here literally follows the cliff shore for most of the way. I only had a 35mm prime lens with me that day, except for a few wider shots taken with my iPhone here. We were a step or two away from plunging down into the water peppered with giant boulders.
It was quiet and peaceful here, until we came upon backpacker groups near a campground and some absentminded hikers at an oddly placed half-walled pit toilet in the middle of the trail.
All in all, it was memorable and mesmerizing. Perhaps my favorite part was how Superior glistened in the corner of your eye at all times along the North Country Trail. Eventually our loop would bring us back inland, weaving through more open hardwoods and ending in a sumptuous dense pine forest along the river. By the time we got back to our car, my feet were sore but my spirits were high.