Munising, Michigan (Upper Peninsula)

Pictured Rocks RV Park

June 13, 2021

Once again, we had a long journey ahead of us before we could lay eyes on Munising and the pristine shores of Lake Superior. However, compared to some of our other recent drives, the 275 mile trek northeast on highway 41 was a walk in the park. The path to the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) first took us through Oshkosh, WI and along the shores of Lake Winnebago before turning north towards Green Bay (both the city and the body of water). The Michigan-Wisconsin border marked our halfway point for the day, so we opted to find somewhere to pull off and eat lunch next to beautiful Lake Michigan. After some quick Google Mapping, we settled on the OB Fuller County Park, which ended up being the perfect spot to relax for a bit and take in the scenery.

With our bellies and our souls properly nourished, we hopped back into the truck to bang out the remainder of our northern journey, which turned out to be rather uneventful and not particularly notable – other than miles and miles of largely uninhabited pine and White Birch forest. Thankfully, the rain held off until just outside Munising, however, after several years out in the arid Western states (including the previous summer when we basically didn’t see rain for several months), this phenomenon known as rain took some getting used to!

Our campground was the Pictured Rocks RV Park, located just outside of Munising in the town of Christmas, Michigan. Although this campground served us adequately during our stay on the Upper Peninsula, it definitely left some things to be desired as it was basically a clearing in the forest with gravel roads and hookups but no views of Lake Superior. If we were to ever come back to this area we would definitely stay in the nearby Munising Tourist Park Campground, the other large RV park in the area which is located right on the water. Sadly, it was all booked up by the time we were planning this leg of the journey.

Although our campground wasn’t right on the water, it was within walking/jogging distance to the lake, which gave us a good reason to get some exercise each day and make our way down to the shore for a little exploring.

In addition to the natural beauty, we were also drawn to Michigan (and the Midwest, in general) for social reasons. Sam grew up in the Great Lakes State and still has lots of friends/family in the area – most notably her two sisters, Miranda (Chicago) and Jessica (Detroit), both of whom were kind enough to make the drive up north and hang out with us for a bit, along with their respecitve boyfriends, Eric and Paul. Although there weren’t many lodging options right around our campground, the sisters were able to find an AirBnB that was about 20-30 minutes away, which was more than doable.

Now that the Murphy girls had assembled, we had activities to get to. The first major event on the itinerary was a trip out onto Lake Superior... via a rented pontoon boat. Now please understand, I never really had to think about wind conditions and the hazardous waves they can produce when given enough runway while growing up on the small lakes of Oklahoma. However, upon leaving the safety of the harbor, it took about ten minutes for me to realize that I had seriously underestimated Lake Superior. Unfortunately, this ten minutes was not only long enough for us all to get soaked (with 53° water no less). Thoroughly battered, drenched, and chilled, we decided to abandon the cliffs of Pictured Rocks in favor of the harbor and its calm waters.

After a long day out on the water, boozing, and hanging in the sun, we were in need of some sustenance so we made our way back to the AirBnB for a delicious carne asada dinner (courtesy of Eric) and a relaxing powwow by the campfire.

Although we missed out on Pictured Rocks the day before, we were determined to see the cliffs in some capacity, so our next best option was the Chapel Loop Trail, a 10-mile loop which takes you along the edge of some of the most beautiful cliffs that you will see anywhere in the world!

Once again, there was a reason that this hike had a perfect five stars on Alltrails – these views were absolutely spectacular! The hike begins with a long walk through the forest before reaching the lake at Chapel Rock (the “island tree” with roots reaching back to the shore).

I had never seen anything like this tree, and in my amazement, I guess I kind of just assumed that this was the climax of the hike. Boy, was I wrong. Once we left Chapel Rock, we continued west along the edge of the cliffs where we were continually blown away by each new vantage point. By now, Sam and I have gone on our fair share of hikes, but I can confidently say that this one was easily within the top five – easily worth the 10-11 miles required to complete the loop.

Sadly, it was time for the sisters and the boyfriends to leave us behind and make their way back to civilization. However, Sam and I still had a couple days left in the U.P., so we decided to Putz Around downtown Munising a bit before we were scheduled to make our way back south.

At this point, the most pressing item left on our Upper Peninsula checklist was to search out and sample the most famous Yooper dish of them all – the pastie (pronounced “pass-tee” NOT “paste-ee”, those are something completely different), a kind of meat turnover filled with beef, potatoes, carrots, and other veggies. Fortunately, the pastie shop closest to our campground had the best reviews in the area, so we made the quick trip over there for lunch on our last full day in Munising.

In a word: underwhelming (and almost painfully so). It tasted almost exactly like you would think ground beef, potatoes, and carrots would taste when wrapped up in a pie crust without any other sauce or gravy to speak of – dry and uninspiring, yet edible. In fact, the shop we went to even offered us ketchup as a condiment to spread on top. That’s the kind of flavor we’re talking about here…

Given that gluten-free pasties are nearly non-existent, we made our way into downtown Munising to find something that Sam could eat once I was able to finish mine. Following a brief exploration of the small downtown area, we ended up at a fun, cozy little coffee shop/book store known for its gluten free baked goods called Falling Rock Cafe.

After 11 fun days in the U.P., it was time for us to leave this mythical land and make our way south, first across the iconic Mackinac Bridge and then onto Mackinaw City – located on the very tip of Michigan’s “middle finger” where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan come together.