The hike to Chapel Rock is rewarding in so many ways. You’ll see several waterfalls along this route, a pristine beach covered with sand and shiny, smooth rocks, a beautiful forest, and Chapel Rock itself. It’s not a short hike — about six miles makes a good loop, and you can extend the journey in several ways. I decided to make this hike the biggest effort of my visit to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and I’m glad I did.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is located on the Lake Superior coast, in between the towns of Munising and Grand Marais. If you’re coming from Marquette, it’s about a 45 mile drive on M-28 to the Munising Falls Visitor Center. Coming from Interstate 75, you’ll also take M-28, then M-77, to the Grand Marais Visitor Center, about 100 miles. In between Munising and Grand Marais, Adams Trail, route H-58, runs inland, and side-roads provide access to many of the park’s destinations.
To access the trailhead for the hike to Chapel Rock, take H-58 14 miles from downtown Munising, then turn left onto Chapel Road. This 5-mile dirt road dead-ends at the trailhead.
I started my hike by heading towards Chapel Falls. It’s about 1.2 miles from the parking area to the falls…
… and the journey there is quite serene. It’s an easy trail through an idyllic forest that fills thick and dense, but wide-open at the same time.
Chapel Falls looks a lot like Munising Falls near the visitor center — the creek tumbles over a sandstone cliff. From the trail, the view is just slightly limited by the tree branches. But don’t worry, there are many more photo spots up ahead.
After your glimpse at Chapel Falls, the trail goes upstream just a bit to cross Section Thirtyfour Creek.
After you cross this small footbridge, you can hike downstream just a bit for a look at a small waterfall with the bridge in the background. Unfortunately, I was visiting around the first week of October, which was just a bit too soon in the season to see this area in brilliant fall colors. Inland, the leaves were changing, but this area is delayed somewhat due to Lake Superior nearby.
After the falls, it’s another 1.9 miles to the shore of Lake Superior, where you find the trail’s namesake rock feature.
Hike to Chapel Rock
Of course, you are not supposed to climb up onto Chapel Rock. It’s a fragile formation that will someday erode and crumble into the lake. So, stay back a bit, and enjoy the view from behind it, then hike down and see it from below, as well.
Now that you’ve completed the hike to Chapel Rock, you have to leave it behind and plan your return route.
Cross Chapel Creek, and then head down to the beach and look back. You’ll get a nice view of the creek as it tumbles into Lake Superior, and you can still see a bit of Chapel Rock in the distance. Then, turn around…
… and an incredible beach stretches out in front of you.
Walk down the beach for a while, and check out all the pebbles that are scattered on the sand. They were the most colorful rocks I had ever seen, and I really wanted to take some home, but it’s illegal to remove them, so I left them behind.
There are several places where a sandy path/ladder climbs the cliff and returns you to the loop trail. There’s also a designated camping area up here, above the beach.
From here, it’s a 3-mile hike back to the parking area, but this side of the loop is on the other side of Chapel Creek and Chapel Lake (although you will only catch an occasional glimpse of the lake, and it’s not especially impressive).
On this side, I saw an occasional splash of fall color…
… but for the most part, everything was still quite green.
This place, in particular, made me stop in my tracks. There was something about it that made the forest feel especially enchanted, almost magical.
Just 3/10 of a mile before you’re back at the car, you have a choice to make. You’ve hiked almost six miles so far, do you want to tack-on a couple more?
If you do, you can check out this spectacular waterfall. Mosquito Falls is 1.1 miles from the parking area. As you can see, it’s quite beautiful, but there is one… very big… drawback to hiking out here. And I’ll tell you about it on the next page, which is devoted entirely to Mosquito Falls.
Here’s a look at the drive through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Keep in mind, it just shows the drive, not necessarily the best views, which are often at the end of a trail:
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The Bottom Line
The hike to Chapel Rock is one of the best medium-length hikes that Pictured Rocks has to offer. You get to enjoy several waterfalls, a beautiful beach, and a landmark rock formation. The path is fairly level in most spots, so it’s not a difficult hike. I highly recommend it — especially if you can time your visit to see the changing leaves, probably in the second or third week of October.