15+ miles – Sand Beach – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan.
Highlights: 12 miles of undeveloped Lake Superior shoreline.
Trailhead: This ride starts at the Hurricane River Campground in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The campground is about 12 miles west of Grand Marais on H-58. Here you will find 21 rustic campsites split between 2 loops. The lower loop is right by Lake Superior while the upper loop is closer to the road. All campsites are first-come, first-served in the National Lakeshore. Parking for this ride is at the picnic area by the Hurricane River at the entrance to the lower loop. There is also an overflow lot closer to H-58 that you will pass on your way in. In the campground there are pit toilets and potable water if you need to fill your bottles before your ride.
The Ride: From the parking area follow the path out to the shoreline. At the bottom of the short set of stairs go to left and immediately cross the mouth of the Hurricane River. Every time I have been here in the summer I have been able to find a spot to cross that is not more than a few inches deep. In early spring the water is probably a little higher. After the river, the smooth sand of 12 mile beach begins. Expect to find a mix of soft sand and small cobblestones along most of this route.
After about 0.7 miles you get to a section where the H-58 road runs right along the shore for just over a mile. You will be able to see and hear the road traffic and you are also likely to encounter more beach walkers and rock hunters in this area. In the middle of this section Sullivan Creek flows out to Lake Superior. Just before the stream crossing you will see stairs coming down from a new beach access that was opened in 2012. At the top of the steps there is parking for about 20 cars and a rustic restroom. This would also be a good access point for this ride.
After the road bends back away from the Lake you will likely have the next mile of beach all to yourself until you reach the Twelvemile Beach Campground at about 3 miles into the ride. This is one of my favorite rustic campgrounds in Michigan. There are 36 campsites on top of a sandy bluff overlooking Lake Superior. I encountered a few more people on the beach near the campground. After this I had the beach all to myself for the rest of the ride. The Lakeshore Hiking Trail also runs parallel to the shore for all of Twelvemile Beach, but I did not see any hikers during my ride.
At about 2.5 miles past the campground or 5.6 miles into the ride you will cross Sevenmile Creek. When I rode through it was only about 4 inches deep. Just before the creek a bald eagle flushed from top of a tree and flew up the shore in front of me. About a half mile later I saw him again and he did the same thing. On the third time he started up shore again, but then turned and headed way out over the lake and circled around behind me. I was lucky to get 3 close up encounters on the same ride.
The next 2.4 miles of beach after the creek is more smooth riding on a mix of sand and cobblestones. At 7.5 miles into the ride you come to a small point where there are some bigger sandstone rocks on shore. I tried to stop and take a break here, but I was immediately attacked by a swarm of biting black flies. It was a really cool spring and I think this pushed bug season in the Upper Peninsula into July on this year. From what I have heard the bugs are usually the worst from the middle of May through late June. I tried to out run the flies and when that didn’t work I decided that it was time to turn around.
I originally hoped to continue on another 4.5 miles and ride the entire entire length of Twelvemile Beach up to where the Pictured Rocks Cliffs begin. The biting flies changed this plan and also made the ride back a little less enjoyable. When I was heading out I didn’t really even notice it, but I was riding into a very light lake breeze. It must have been just enough to keep the flies from bothering me. After I turned around I think they were able to ride the breeze and keep up with me. For some reason they really liked my right shoulder next the strap of my Camelback. I must have taken at least 20 hits in the exact same spot.
Even with the flies this still ranks as one of my favorite beach rides on my fat bike. I can’t wait to get back up here and try to do all of Twelvemile Beach.
A GoPro time-lapse video of the ride.
Post Ride Beverage: Lake Superior Brewing Company is one of our favorite “up north” restaurants and we always make at least one stop here when we are in the area. The food is good, the beer is good and the atmosphere is perfect for relaxing after a day exploring Pictured Rocks. If it is a busy weekend they may be out of some of the beer and a couple things on the menu, but I think this is just part of the charm of a small town brewery.
In the Area: The Au Sable Light Station is a 1.5 mile hike (or beach ride) east of the Hurricane River Campground. You can either hike on the Lakeshore Trail or the beach to get here. Bikes are not allowed on the trails so please take the beach if you choose to ride out. I would recommend walking the beach because along the way you will pass the remains of 2 different shipwrecks on shore.
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