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Backpacker Magazine – May 2000

Pretty As A Picture

The blaze of fall color in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is unequaled.

by: Alan Kesselheim

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Beginning in mid-September and extending until the end of October some years, the blaze of fall color in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is unequaled. But that's only half of the autumnal attraction.

Sheer sandstone cliffs drop 200 feet into the crystalline waters of Lake Superior, the largest lake in the world. And the trail of choice is the Lakeshore Trail, where you'll see some of the last remaining stands of virgin timber on Michigan's Upper Peninsula as it winds along the precipice. In a storm, the wild lake sings out in a beautifully violent chorus, slamming against the ancient, eroded rocks, pounding into narrow alcoves, and shooting spray dozens of feet up the cliff.

Standing above all the fury, try to imagine desperate ships out there on the big lake, fighting through a dark night seething with 50-foot waves and freezing spray. You'll be happy to be a landlubbing backpacker.

Your best bet is to start your hike at Miner's Castle and ascend to the top of the cliffs, then into overarching groves of giant yellow beech, birch, and hardwoods aflame with autumn colors. Small streams drop off the edge in threadlike waterfalls, cascading directly into the lake. Eventually, the cliffs peter out and you hike along miles of sandy beach before turning inland at the junction with the Beaver Lake Trail and completing the 15-mile route.

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