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Grand Sable Loop
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Grand Sable Loop

Grand Sable Loop

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Michigan, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 46.65410°N / 86.0627°W

Object Title: Grand Sable Loop

Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 2, 2008

Activities: Hiking

Season: Summer


Page By: dwhike

Created/Edited: Aug 29, 2008 / Aug 30, 2008

Object ID: 436838

Hits: 4050 

Page Score: 77.48%  - 8 Votes 

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The Grand Loop...

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a linear park. Loop hiking within the lakeshore is quite limited. The Grand Sable Loop along with the more popular Chapel Loop to the south are about the only two options for a good, long day-hike loop within the park.

The loop runs around a large piece of trackless piece of real estate known as the Grand Sable Dunes. A good place to start is at the Grand Sable Visitors Center just east of Grand Marais. There is a large parking lot for backpackers, water, and bathrooms at the center which are all nice things to have before a day out. From the visitors center you can head east or west. I chose to head west so I would be descending the dunes at the Log Slide instead of having to make a rediculously tiring ascent halfway through the hike. It also saved the more scenic part of the hike for the end which I always prefer.

Heading west from the visitors center the trail passes through forest and field for a bit more than a mile before breaking out along the shore of Grand Sable Lake. The trail is forced to follow the road here for about a mile as the dunes press in along the north shore of the lake. Once you arrive at the west shore of the lake the trail heads back into the woods for a pleasant walk along the lakeshore. Before long (within a mile) the trail climbs away from the lake and for the next few miles (with the exception of crossing H-58) is surrounded by the thick northern hardwood forest that is typical of this area of Upper Peninsula. The trail passes Masse Homestead backcountry campground about a mile from the Log Slide.

After hiking 6 miles through empty woodlands it may be a bit of a shock to break out into the crowds you'll likely find at the Log Slide. The views you'll find here though will ease your pain though...they're awesome. To the east the 300-foot high ramparts of the Grand Sable Banks rise out of Lake Superior at seemingly impossible angles. The secret of the Banks is that they are made up primarily of glacial debris (gravel) which can set at much steeper angles than dunes made of sand. The Grand Sable Dunes sit perched atop the Grand Sable Banks adding an additional 100 feet to their height. The blues of the big lake against the pale brown of the dunes makes for a stunning scene.

Now its time to head down to the lake. Watch your step on the way down. Like I mentioned earlier these dunes are made up in large part of gravel and it can be easy to loose your footing if you're not careful. If you fall here it will be darn near impossible to stop unless you've decided to bring along an ice ax. At the bottom take a look back up and be thankful that you don't have to climb back up! From the base of the Log Slide you'll simply be following the beach. This is not technically a trail but the beach is generally wide and open making for easy travel. For the first ways you'll be aiming for the high, barren dunes you see rising from the point in the distance. It's four miles out to that point which is farther than it looks. Keep in mind that for this stretch you are for the most part completely exposed to the elements. ***If you get in trouble you either have to backtrack to the Log Slide or make it to the trail at the Sable River.*** If you've picked a nice day and watch your step, however, you should be OK aside from roving bands of Stable Flies which can be a hassle on warm summer days.

As you near the point the beach turns from sand to gravel so walking gets a bit more tiresome but at this point you're only about two miles from the Sable River. After you round the point the dunes to your right lower significantly and you'll likely see people ahead enjoying the shoreline which means you're nearing the trail again. Don't worry about missing your turn at the Sable River you can't miss it. It's the first stream crossing of any significance you'll come to. Cross the stream (which shouldn't be a problem except during spring snowmelt) and you'll see the trail enter the woods to your right.

Once you're back in the woods the trail follows the Sable Creek for most of the remaining mile and a half back to your car. Along the way you'll pass Sable Falls which is definately worth a stop and a short side trail up into the dunes which give you your only real look at the dunes you've been circling the entire trip. I highly recommend the side trip. Past the dunes spur trail its less than a mile back to your car and those conveniences you'll miss so much...bathrooms and water.

Nuts & Bolts & Things to Consider...

Total Loop Length: ~12 miles (add a mile or so if you decide to do the Dunes Spur Trail)

Elevation Gain: Minimal unless you do the loop counter clockwise in which case you'll end up climbing the 400' sand dune at the log slide (I don't recommend this).

Access Points (east to west): Sable Falls Parking Area, Grand Sable Visitors Center, Grnad Sable Lake Overlook, and the Log Slide.

***Things to Consider***

Water - The only place well water is available along the route is at the Grand Sable Visitors Center. Along the inland portion of the trail you'll cross numerous streams as well as Grand Sable Lake which could provide water as long as it's filtered. There is no water for the six mile section along Lake Superior. You could try to filter from the big lake but without wading out into it this can be a pain (trust me, I've tried).

Insects - It's the North Woods, anytime between snowmelt and September some kind of biting insect is likely going to be out hunting for blood. Bring bugspray of the highest DEET concentration you can tolerate. Also, during warm periods Stable Flies can be a real nusance along the lakeshore. Bug spray doesn't work on these demonic little creatures and they have the ability to bite through multiple layers of clothing. If you're travelling to the area during a period of unusually warm and calm weather you might do better just to avoid this hike.

Lake Superior - Ol' Gitchee Gumee is notorious for its grumpy moods. Watch the weather closely before you head out on the six miles of beach you need to cross. With the exception of only a couple spots the beach is wide enough to be followed in all but the worst of weather. Remeber this though, you'll be exposed for nearly the entire time you're along the lakeshore. If a storm comes up you'll have precious little shelter to hide in. Trust me, climbing the dunes away from the shore just isn't an option.

Photo Journal...

Grand Sable Visitors Center
Grand Sable Visitors Center

I started from the Grand Sable Visitors Center just west of Grand Marais. Parking, water, and toilets are available here. Also, you can register here though it's not required for day-trippers...

Trailhead @ Grand Sable Visitors Center
Off We Go

I would be heading west from the visitors center. Technically, this is the northern terminus of the Lakeshore Trail though an extension takes it as far as Lake Superior below Sable Falls...

Open Fields Along the Lakeshore Trail
Open Fields

Heading west from the trailhead the Lakeshore Trail passed through a mix of fields and hardwood forest on its way to Grand Sable Lake...

Grand Sable Lake
Road Hike

Arriving at Grand Sable Lake, I began the mile or so hike along H-58 between the dunes and Grand Sable Lake. Normally I don't like road hikes but his section was nice and scenic...

Common Milkweed
Common Milkweed

There was tons of Milkweed growing alongside the road as I passed Grand Sable Lake, quite common for Michigan...

Common Mullien
Common Mullien

Common Mullien was growing all along the lakeshore. This plant has very soft leaves that pioneers and native americans used to use to pad and insulate their footwear...

Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy was everywhere, particularly along the west shore of Grand Sable Lake...

Along Grand Sable Lake
Shoreline Hike

After following the highway it was nice to get dirt under my feet again. The trail follows the west shore of Grand Sable Lake for a while. There were some fisherman trolling the waters near the shore and, though they hadn't had any luck yet, agreed it was a near perfect morning...

Grand Sable Lake Inlet
Lake Inlet

This shot was taken as I rounded a small inlet along the west shore of Grand Sable Lake...

West Shore of Grand Sable Lake
Grand Sable Lake

Just before the trail headed back up into the woods you start to get some nice views back towards the dunes. The highway I walked earlier passes along the base of them...

Shelf Fungi
Shelf Fungi

As I wound my way up away from the lake I noticed this interesting fungi growing on a maple. I know, just fungi, but I thought it was interesting...

Lakehore Trail Along H-58
Crossing H-58

At about the halfway point between the start and the Log Slide the trail crossed H-58 again. I decided it would be a good spot to stop and eat some grub...

Spotted Touch-me-not
Spotted Touch-me-not

Continuing on, the trail stays deep in the woods. Being late summer the main wildflower season had long passed but every so often I was treated to some color...

Grand Sable Dunes
Green Dunes

Between the highway crossing and the Log Slide the Lakeshore Trail follows the southern edge of the Grand Sable Dunes. I decided to make a quick side trip up out of the trees to check them out. Expecting barren dunes, I was quite surprised to find that the dunes, in fact, are covered in grass and trees...

Hoary Puccoon
Hoary Puccoon

I'd really like to know how this plant got its name! It was growing in large quantities all over the dunes...

Masse Homestead
Masse Homestead

I knew I was getting close to the Log Slide when I reached the Masse Homestead backcountry campground. This is one of the few backcountry sites I havn't had the pleasure of staying at in Pictured Rocks. Looks like a rough place to stay though, the nearest water is a mile away...

Lakeshore Trail East of the Log Slide
Trees Everywhere

There really isn't alot to see for the four miles between Grand Sable Lake and the Log Slide. I was VERY thankful, however, that bugs were not an issue this day. I never had to break out the bug dope. This is the trail as it closes in on the Log Slide...

Log Slide Overlook - Looking East
Grand Sable Banks

After a brief break for lunch I wandered over to the Log Slide Overlook. The fog shrouding the banks surprised me a bit. It seemed like too cool a day for it as it was only about 65 degrees. As it turned out the fog would burn off shortly after I got down to the lakeshore...

Log Slide Overlook - Looking West
Au Sable Point

This view is also from the Log Slide Overlook, just looking west. The Lakeshore Trail continues out from here and around the point passing by the Au Sable Lighthouse just barely visible in this shot...

Descending the Log Slide
Caution, Steep Grade

This cute little sign warns that getting down can be easier than getting back up. 300 feet of descent over 500 feet of travel works out to a 60% grade...on sand...

Grand Sable Banks
Heading Down

Looking towards Grand Sable Point on my way down the Log Slide. It was going to be about a 4-mile walk out to the point once I got to the bottom. Looked to be a nice walk...

Au Sable Point
Au Sable Point

Needless to say the view back towards Au Sable Point was pretty nice also...

Along the Beach
On the Beach

Once down on the beach I stopped to empty my boots and take a look ahead. The sand along the water line was nice and firm so it looked like I could make good time along this section. I got this feeling that others at the bottom saw me walk off and were thinking, "Where the heck is he going?"

Water Seeps

Every so often I passed what looked to be washed out areas at the bottom of the dunes. From what I can figure these are places where groundwater from above is seeping out from beneath the dunes. Very cool...

Gravel Dunes
Sand vs. Gravel

You can see here how the Grand Sable Banks are unique. The gravel can sit at steeper angles while the sand falls off to the base. This is also why the dunes are so difficult to climb, they're just SO freaking steep!


A little over a mile from the Log Slide I passed the remains of an old shipwreck. Back in the 1800's this area was referred to as Lake Superior's shipwreck coast due to its barren shoreline and lack of navigational aids...


This pretty flower is found all over the northern Great Lakes usually in disturbed areas. It was a nice surprise to find so much plant life even in such a barren environment...

Signs of Water

As you can see here, every so often I'd pass a tree-choked ravine in the dunes. These were areas where water was escaping out from beneath the dunes allowing plants to grow. I used these areas to just get a bit of shade...

Waves on the Shore

Lake Superior was behaving nicely this day...just a hint of a breeze keeping the temps refreshing and no Stable Flies to torture me...it just doesn't get any better...

Deserted Beach
Deserted Beach

It was really an incredible feeling to have miles and miles of beach to myself. About two miles yet from Grand Sable Point I decided to break for a bit and enjoy the solitude. For the next three miles the route would be completely exposed so it was a good chance to soak up the shade also...

Exposed Shoreline

The three miles or so of beach as you round Grand Sable Point is very exposed. This wouldn't be a good place to be caught if Lake Superior started acting up or a severe line of storms blew through...

Gravel Beach
Gravel Beach

The beach became more rocky as I rounded Grand Sable Point. For a good two miles you have the choice of walking on soft sand or soft gravel...it got real tiring after a while...

Rounding Grand Sable Point
Grand Sable Point

I passed a couple of jet skiers (groan) enjoying the beach at the point. Not slowing down I noticed the dunes were getting considerably lower. In the distance, a little under two miles away, I could make out the treeline that marked Sable Creek where I'd join the trail again...

Sable Creek
Sable Creek Outlet

It was nice to get back to the trail at Sable Creek. The shoreline walk was stunning but something inside me was anxious to get back beneath the trees...

Sable Creek
Sable Creek

Heading away from the lake the trail simply follows Sable Creek inland. I was only about a mile and a half from my car at this point...

Sable Falls
Sable Falls

Sable Falls is always a nice stop. It always amazes me how powerful this falls is despite the seemingly timid stream that forms it. The sun I had enjoyed all day wrecked havoc on my pictures here though. Fast and light means no extra camera equiptment..

Small Cranberry
Small Cranberry

Like I say in the caption I'm 99% sure that's what this is. There was a bunch of it growing alongside the trail just up from Sable Falls...

Dunes Spur Trail
Spur Trail

About 3/4 of a mile from the Grand Sable Visitors Center a nice side trail heads up onto the dunes for some nice views. For the entire route you don't really get a good topside view of the dunes so it was a worthwhile side trip...

Beach Pea
Beach Pea

Beach Pea is a fairly common plant of Michigan dunes. It's a bit late in the season for them, though, which is why these flowers look a little rough...

Grand Sable Dunes
The Dunes

Getting above the trees I could get an idea of the terrain I had covered today. As I mentioned above I had spent the whole day hiking around the dunes but never got a real good look at them. The shot doesn't do it justice, this was a really cool view...

Grand Sable Dunes
Inland Dunes

Looking more to the south from the same spot as the above photo the dunes continue inland and become increasingly forested. All the property you see in these two photos is completely untracked...

Sable Creek
Edge of the Dunes

Climbing back down off the dunes I countinued along the trail for the final 3/4 of a mile back to the car. The trail follows Sable Creek which in turn closely follows the eastern edge of the dunes. It was a nice, peaceful end to a unique day on the trail...


Log Slide Overlook - Looking EastShelf FungiDescending the Log SlideVermillion Waxcap MushroomSpotted Touch-me-notGravel DunesSable Falls
Common MilkweedFireweedDunes Spur TrailLog Slide Overlook - Looking WestGrand Sable DunesWest Shore of Grand Sable LakeAlong the Beach
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