Winter Camping at Pictured Rocks
Our first night on the road during our cross country roadtrip was spent winter camping at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Our route from Tahquamenon Falls took us into the town of Grand Marais on Lake Superior and then west along County Road H-58. In summer, H-58 is a gorgeous drive that winds its way through the picturesque landscape of the Lakeshore. In winter, it is a largely unmaintained road buried by 3-4 feet of snow. It’s just as picturesque, but significantly challenging for a wheeled vehicle to drive down.
We didn’t make it far.
Following the road from Grand Marais, we passed the Grand Sable Visitor Center and reached the end of the plowed road. In front of us lay 10-15 miles of road covered by at least 3 feet of snow. The snow had been packed down for use by snowmobiles and it seemed fairly solid.
I was pretty confident in both my Land Rover LR3 and the new all-terrain tires I’d purchased before leaving Traverse City, but the thought of inadvertently driving off the packed snow and sinking axle-deep in a soft spot had my palms sweating. Hiking out to get help would have sucked. The resulting towing or plowing bill would have been even worse!
It was slow progress. I got out several times to test the firmness of the snow ahead of us. It always seemed solid, but I could feel the tires churning in the snow. About a mile of cautious driving took us along the shore of Grand Sable Lake and up a hill to a scenic overlook above the lake.
The weather was worsening, and we had over 10 miles of sketchy, snow-covered road ahead. Driving solo and lacking both snow chains and a winch, we decided it would be foolish to continue to our planned campsite, and instead made camp at the scenic overlook.
We didn’t have much of a view when we arrived due to the heavy snow. We quickly set up our tent, unpacked our sleeping bags and, after some difficulty due to the snowy conditions, got a fire going.
I’d been winter camping before and loved it. There is something special about it. The unearthly quiet caused by the snow’s ability to mute any sounds, the cold of the air, and the warmth of the fire combine to make snowy conditions a memorable camping experience. It never feels as cold as it looks.
Throughout the evening, the silence was broken only a few times by passing vehicles. These were either snowmobiles speeding across the lake or along the road, or snowcats grooming the snow on the road. Ours was the only vehicle we saw that had 4 wheels instead of tracks, so we felt pretty good about our decision to stop driving along H-58.
The next morning was quite bright, but very foggy. Our first order of business was coffee, made with our camping stove to boil the water and a small French press.
Sitting comfortably behind the tailgate of my car drinking hot coffee as the mist cleared revealing a bright sunny day, we took a few moments to soak in our surroundings: the view across Grand Sable Lake, the snow clinging to branches of the trees and lying thickly on the ground, and the tranquil quiet of this remote corner of Michigan in early spring.
What a great start to the roadtrip!