The Pictured Rocks Expert – An Interview with Bill Thompson

ice climbing at pictured rocks on the dryer hose - upper peninsula

Here’s Bill, climbing “The Dryer Hose” during our ice climbing trip this past winter.

Tips from a Pictured Rocks Veteran

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is without a doubt one of the most scenic shorelines in the entire United States, and probably the world. I’ve driven along both U.S. Highway 1 along the California coast and the Great Ocean Road in Australia and I have to say that Pictured Rocks is right up there with them in terms of scenic beauty.

But thankfully for those who like a little solitude, America’s first National Lakeshore area has no highway skirting the edge of its cliffs. In fact, the only sound you’ll hear as you hike along the North Country Trail is the lull of Lake Superior’s waves crashing into mineral stained sandstone cliffs.

Because there are so many things to do in this area of the Upper Peninsula, I thought I’d try something new and delve into it by first interviewing an expert. Following is an interview with Bill Thompson from Down Wind Sports, who’s been exploring this gorgeous area (in every season) for over a quarter century!

First off, would you please tell me a little about your various experiences with Pictured Rocks?

I have been exploring Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by foot, snowshoe and kayak for the last twenty six years.

Let’s say someone only has two days to spend in Pictured Rocks. They like to do short hikes, check out waterfalls, and see the sights. What things would you recommend they see and do?

If God forbid, I only had two days at Pictured Rocks I think I would choose the Chapel Beach/Mosquito Beach route.  It really gives you the best that Pictured Rocks has to offer….white sand beach, rock formations, waterfalls and a gorgeous sun set.  On my way out I would jump on the Pictured Rocks Boat Cruise to get a quick look at the park from the water and to start planning my next trip back!

What campground would you recommend for family camping?

Best bet for family camping has to be Twelve Mile Beach Campground.  Beautiful beach to hang out with the family.

What campground would you recommend for young adults?

Young adults I would steer to Chapel Beach.  Spectacular scenery, a beach to hang out on and it’s a great swimming area as well.

What are one or two cool things about Pictured Rocks that most people miss?

I think most folks forget about the eastern part of the park. Grand Sable dunes and the log slide seem to see less people then the rock formations closer to Munising.

Besides that, do you have any “insider tips” you could share?

I think the best advice I can give is to go during the off seasons.  The park is virtually deserted during early spring and late fall.  One can walk the entire length of the park and not see a soul!  I would also try some alternative activities like sea kayaking or ice climbing.  The park is a world class destination for both of these activities and offers people the chance to see the park like very few can.

What do you do to keep those pesky black flies from ruining your fun?

Black flies?  What black flies?  You know there aren’t black flies when you ice climb!  In the summer if they are out I keep walking (with my trusty head net) or I take to my kayak and hit the water.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would encourage folks to try different things like night hiking, winter camping, or if it’s too crowed hit Grand Island instead!

Thanks to Bill for all the awesome information!

I’ll be exploring (and writing about) Pictured Rocks all summer, so be sure to follow me on Facebook so you can be the first to know when the next Pictured Rocks post hits the blog!




14 Responses to The Pictured Rocks Expert – An Interview with Bill Thompson

  1. Patrick July 17, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    Hi Jesse – I will be up in the Michigamme area next week and we’re planning a trip to the rocks – I was wondering if you could give me some tips on boating Lake Superior and the Pictured Rocks where to launch and what wind conditions make for comfortable travels.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Jesse August 17, 2012 at 3:40 am #

      Shot you an email shortly after I saw this Patrick. Hope you got it!

  2. paige July 18, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    Heading to pictured rocks first week of august, trailer camper(28 feet pull behind). We have 3 boys, and we all kayak. Where do you recommend starting? Any must see spots? Any advice appreciated, thanks Paige

    • Jesse July 22, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

      Hi Paige! I’d recommend posting your question in my Upper Peninsula Travel Facebook group:

      I’m not able to offer individual travel advice (I’m not able to make the time to answer all the requests, unfortunately) but you’re sure to get a bunch of good advice from the group! And if I’m able I’ll chime in too!

  3. Mr. Anonymous November 21, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    I’m using this for a school project and I thought you did a really great job. :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):))::):):):):):)):):):):

    Also what time do you think you would be done with the two day hike on the second day

  4. Abigail Carlsen April 14, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    I really enjoyed your post, it was really helpful! I am planning a trip to Pictured Rocks this summer. My boyfriend and I are excited to check out the trails and do some kayaking. We do NOT camp though. Any advice as to where to stay near the park? We are more interested in renting a small cottage near the lake rather than stay in a hotel.

    Thanks for your help!


    • Jesse April 25, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

      Thanks Abigail! Glad to hear it!

    • Jesse April 25, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

      Hey Abigail! I’d recommend posting this question in my “Upper Peninsula Travel” Facebook group. I’m sure someone there will have some recommendations. As of right now I only have camping experience in PRNL, sorry!

  5. Sarah June 16, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    We are planning a trip to backpack this summer. First time doing Pictured Rocks and can’t wait. But one thing I have not been able to find out is, is there some place to take a shower once we are done? Don’t really want to ride all the way home without washing up first.

  6. J September 23, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    Awesome post Jesse! Thanks so much. Were heading up in two days and are having the hardest time deciding the best route to take. Didn’t realize miners beach had a small falls as well. This was very helpful to us. Hopefully there will be a site available during our time up there.

  7. Bob Nagy February 16, 2015 at 8:42 am #

    Hi Jesse, I’m looking for advice on a backpacking trip thru Pictured Rocks in late April / early May, what kind of weather conditions should I be prepared for? Do you have a suggested backpacking clothing / supply list for that time of year?

    I would appreciate any suggestions,



    • Jesse February 19, 2015 at 6:30 am #

      Hi Bob!

      I’d recommend a couple things. First, talk to the folks at Down Wind Sports. They could make some solid gear recommendations, though I’ll add this to my writing list as well because it probably warrants it’s own post/page. And second, you’ll probably find my U.P. Travel Facebook group to be a great resource. 5,000 + U.P. residents and travelers are already in there waiting to offer advice. 🙂


  8. Tara Wallace March 13, 2016 at 12:27 pm #


    What would you suggest for a honeymoon in the rocks? We have canoe, tent, and planning our honeymoon May 23-28, 2016. Any tips, or advice, will be greatly appreciated. Start to finish itinerary, if possible. We’re not afraid to hike, FYI.


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