Backpacking with Kids

Solar Outdoors

Some SOLAR members, non-members, and young kids embarked on a multi-day backpacking adventure this summer. Destination: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. What a great place to take young adventurers!

We parked at the Chapel Road Trailhead. Warning: get there early in the morning or plan to park along the long road and walk to the trailhead. This is a very popular spot for day-hikers and backpackers alike. After a quick meet-and-greet with lunch at the trailhead, we lined up for a group photo and hit the trail.

We opted for the shorter route to Mosquito Beach, which meant skipping the picturesque Mosquito Falls but getting into camp a little earlier to enjoy the lakeshore. The trail was easy, sometimes covered in boardwalk to keep hikers out of the mud.

When we reached camp we set up our tents (a squatter without a permit gave us no problem about moving off a site we needed). The kids – without prior discussion – had each brought a stuffed animal along for the trip. The stuffed animals had a great time hanging out together while the humans visited the beach. Some of us even had dinner on the beach!

This beach is probably not what you think of when you hear “beach.” All of the sand was far away from the water, with very interesting rock (sandstone?) ledges to walk across before getting to the water. The waves would crash upon the rocks in a soothing, rhythmic pattern. It was beautiful.

Kids being kids, they found fun ways to explore and test themselves. Jumping off the sand cliff was their favorite – forwards, backward, twisting, face-first… lots of options!

A word of warning: the micro-bears at the Mosquito Beach campground will stop at nothing to get your food. Especially if you have sunflower seeds in your GORP. They got into the bear-proof locker, tore holes in a food bag, and tore into the trail mix. One of them tried to attack a heavy-duty dry bag that was hanging from a bear pole, nearly chewing through at the seam before it apparently fell off.

The next day, we hiked the 4.5-mile trail along the shoreline to Chapel Beach. This beach is what you think of when you hear that term, which explains the popularity of boaters and day-hikers alike.

We set up camp, enjoyed dinner together, and roasted marshmallows on Jeff’s small twig-burning stove. It rained overnight and into the next morning. We had set up a tarp in a small copse of trees, which became the place to hang out and play cards, read books, etc. (An UNO deck is worth its weight in gold with kids around!) The afternoon cleared up, allowing for more adventure. Some went for a hike to Spray Falls (insider tip: not worth it, it’s best seen by boat), some played on the beach, some took naps or read books. It was a lovely, relaxing day!  We reconvened to eat our dinners together, then hit the sack.

The next morning we started our hike out. The McWilliams crew had a long drive ahead of them that afternoon, so they moved quickly back to the trailhead. The Tislerics crew planned to “hotel camp” one more night in the U.P., so we took our time exploring things as we hiked out, with stops at Chapel Rock and Chapel Falls to admire the scenery and learn about nature.

This is a great trip to do with young kids: plenty of natural entertainment and easy hiking. Both campgrounds are about 2-3 miles from the trailhead if something urgent comes up, or if you forgot something at the car. Be sure to make your reservations online with the DNR early – campsites fill up quickly.

Our 12-year old niece and 6-year old nephew are looking forward to their next backpacking adventure. I’d call this trip a success!

~ Jennifer Tislerics