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Potato Patch Falls empties into Lake Superior
Lollygag on a Lake Superior beach deep in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore long enough and you'll be conjuring up marooned-on-a-deserted-island stories. The phenomenon is particularly strong in September, when the beaches are empty of other people (and even better, empty of stable flies, those evil little biters that stalk the Upper Peninsula in summer). The craggy cliffs, eerie caves and dark skeletons of shipwrecks lying just offshore bring to mind classics like Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island. By the time you're peeling off your clothes to sneak a skinny dip in a rock-lined pool of crystal-green water (bracing though it may be), you'll be fast-forwarding to Blue Lagoon.
The isolation of Pictured Rocks does lend an island feel--look north and you're almost never without a Lake Superior view on this splendid 42-mile stretch of earth. Along the park's southern hem, forest-covered cliffs are as effective an isolator as any open-water passage. But the same land-and-lake barriers that keep out the masses also make it tricky for you to reach the heart of the park.
You may think you've arrived when you roll into one of the lakeshore's two gateway towns--Munising on the west and Grand Marais on the east--but you haven't. You must still buck and bounce down the park's main artery, Highway 58, a (mostly) dirt washboard that only vaguely approaches your chosen stretch of shore.
Still, the backcountry navigation only sweetens the rewards--bidding summer a September farewell from a cliff above an aquamarine freshwater sea, rolling up your pant legs to walk up a waterfall or letting your hair down in the crystalline air swept in from Canada. You'll need at least three days and a smart itinerary to pull off this magical feat. We might not be able to get you that Friday off, but we've made sure you have what you need to make the most of your getaway. Here are four trips, each designed to get you intimate with a section of the lakeshore. We've given you miles of awesome trails but kept the backpacking to a minimum and mixed the primitive camping experience with the not-so primitive--all geared to make sure you come away rejuvenated.
Head out along the cliffs that the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore is known for. From atop sandstone precipices so high they'll have you curling your toenails into terra firma, you'll look down into the colorful shallows of Lake Superior--buff, green, cerulean blue. The ridge is pocked with caves shaped by millions of years of wind and waves. Minerals leaching through the sandstone stained the cliffs with a spectrum of colors--hence the name Pictured Rocks.
Reach the Pictured Rocks Visitor Center in Munising before 4:30 p.m. to pick up your backcountry permit for the Mosquito Campground. (Late? Get your permit first thing the next day.) Check into the Sunset Motel, then head over to check out Munising Falls up H-58 a short piece. Return to the motel in time to catch the Lake Superior sunset from this mom 'n' pop motor court where all the rooms face west. Grills are another Sunset Motel amenity, so make dinner on the beach. Rooms from $64 Labor Day weekend; $50 post-holiday. Reservations recommended. 906-387-4574.
Snag a home-cooked breakfast at Sydney's (400 Cedar Street, 906-387-4067), then park your car for the night at Miner's Beach, load up your camping gear and backpack in 5 miles to your campsite at Mosquito. You'll be hiking up a steep escarpment so you'll want to be in shape for this trek. As you peer east along the ridge, watch for delicate Bridalveil Falls—a spray (but a trickle during drought years) of water that plunges straight down the cliff. Take a break at lovely little Potato Patch Falls. After a picnic lunch on Mosquito Beach, play around at the lacy river mouth, climb the stone outcropping, or stack some stone art. When you're rested, leave your heavy gear behind and load a daypack for the 3-mile roundtrip along the Mosquito loop that leads along the river and past gentle falls.
Backpack to your car at Miner's Beach and explore this popular, accessible area of the park.