Memories of Cold Weather Camping: Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore, MI

I had brought a secret flask of bourbon – which we didn’t touch. I had insisted on bringing the wool blanket – which we used both nights, which I didn’t carry.

A late October trip in 2019 to Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore was our intro to cold weather camping. I’m thinking about it now because that particular weather has returned to the Midwest, bringing me some good feelings and memories. The low was 28 degrees. More like “not that cold” weather camping for Upper Peninsula locals. For us, it was cold enough. Chilly once the sun set, yet cozy in the tent. And it was a perfectly pitched tent, difficult to leave each morning. . . until my space heater/husband started packing up around me. But it’s still dark! Won’t be dark by the time we hike out. It’s too cozy. I’ve been awake for hours. The tent is set up so nice though – NO, not the blanket! Time to go.

What else do I remember?

We hiked in the Chapel Basin section, made camp at Mosquito Beach Campground the first night (really nice campsite, still unsure how we found it in the dark) and Chapel Beach Campground the next, checking out a bit of the North Country Scenic Trail along the way. Backcountry permits were required, but it was not hard to book a late season weekend on ReserveAmerica.

The trails were muddy, so it must have rained some days before. Only a light rain overnight during the trip. I can provide a general weather report a year later because it’s never felt so good to get my wet, warm socks off. That trail out was sloppy and I walked straight through the standing water instead of scrambling around. There was a spare pair of balled-up socks sitting in the glove compartment for me at the trailhead parking lot. And my moccasins, which felt strange to wear into the restaurant we went to just outside the park. No way I was putting wet boots back on! Turned out, not too strange – the walls of the place were covered in animal skins.

Leaves, of course. Just past peak.

Lots of yellow and brown shades in the forest, with enough fallen that they made a blanket on the forest floor for chirping chipmunks to poke in and out of, over and under. Those guys were active!

Two moments while leaf-peeping stood out; one that I photographed and another I started to draw at home. Neither really make it feel interesting the way I was interested in the scene at the time. I’ll try some words so at least you know what I’m talking about. On day two, I focused on the many golden leaves on Lake Superior’s surface swirling into rings by the meeting of wave and cliff. Heading back the final morning it was a single leaf, shaped like a maple syrup container I’ve kept around for years as decoration, plastered to a tree trunk along the trail. A lone trail marker showing us the way home?

It wasn’t the peeping that drew my attention from my feet when my toe got caught on a root and I fell to my knee. That was probably turquoise blue Lake Superior. Those darn water features get me every time. Or, since the account presented here is my memory of it, I like this better: I owe that bruise (which hung around for a week) to the simple excitement of getting going on a good brisk hike in the woods when cold weather returns.

Resources: https://www.nps.gov/piro/planyourvisit/camping.htm

Food: The Bear Trap Inn (Corner of H58 and H15, Munising MI 49862)

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