There’s so much that I want to say about the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore that I have no idea where to start. Maybe all I need to say is that it’s my favorite place on earth, and that I really hope you get a chance to visit there soon. That would probably get me in trouble for unseemly minimalism, so here’s more:
The Lakeshore is located on the southern shore of Lake Superior between Munising at the west and Grand Marais at the east in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Pictured Rocks was the nation’s first national lakeshore:
During 1957-58, the National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior, conducted a survey of the Great Lakes shoreline to determine areas suitable for inclusion in the National Park System. Of the almost 5,500 miles of Great Lakes shoreline studied, the survey team identified 118 miles. â€œBy virtue of its unique and spectacular scenery unmatched elsewhere on the Great Lakes, the Pictured Rocks area of Alger County, comprising 43 miles of shoreline.”
The Lakeshore was authorized in 1966. It contains 73,325 acres that boast 111 miles of hiking trails, five lakes (Miners, Little Beaver, Beaver, Chapel, Grand Sable), several major waterfalls, countless smaller falls and rivers, public beaches, sixteen campgrounds (cool municipal campground in Grand Marais) shipwrecks, lighthouses and other maritime facilities and more opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, sightseeing and outdoor fun than can be imagined. The main attraction, of course, are the pictured rocks themselves: spectacular and towering sandstone cliffs (up to 200′ tall) that are composed of 500 million year-old Cambrian Sandstone painted a variety of colors by water running down the cliffs with oxides of copper, manganese, iron, and organic minerals. The cliffs are shaped by wind, ice and pounding waves that scour them smooth and also can shear off massive portions of the face.
Without further delay, here are 5 things to do at Pictured Rocks (please add other suggestions in the comments!):
Hike the trails. Although the NPS seems to be hiding the trails (PDFs with trail listing & trail map), there is no better way to see the Pictured Rocks than hiking along the park’s woodland trails. My personal favorite is the Mosquito Falls Trail which leads past falls, through multi-leveled woodlands and down to the driftwood-strewn, sand & sandstone Mosquito Beach. Chapel Falls/Chapel Rock is another great hike.
If hiking isn’t your game, consider a Pictured Rocks scenic cruise. The cruises are operated by Pictured Rocks Cruises and (especially on calm days) offer an incredible opportunity to see the rock formations. The price might seem a little expensive before the trip, but it probably won’t after you’ve seen them. There are also airplane tours (scroll to the bottom for a cool aerial tour!)
It might seem strange to take a boat tour of shipwrecks, but the glass bottom boat tours of wrecks in the Alger Underwater Preserve don’t view any glass bottom boat wrecks, so it’s probably safe. There are tons of wrecks to see this way (such as the Herman H. Hettler), on guided diving tours or just walking the shoreline.
You can also connect with the maritime history of the region by visiting historical sites like the Au Sable Light Station. It’s open for tours (check the times) in the summer and there are even bus transports on a few days for folks with mobility limitations. Other sites include the Munising Range Lights, the Munising & Grand Marais Coast Guard Stations and harbor and the Lighthouse Keepers House and Museum in Grand Marais. We promise not to tell if you take the extra jaunt to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point.
To borrow a line from one of my favorite web sites, go waterfalling! You can learn all about Miners Falls and other falls in the area from gowaterfalling.com and the Park web site lists some of the larger waterfalls. While some of them require a hike, there are some like Sable Falls that are a short walk. If you take that trip above to the Shipwreck Museum, you can also check out Tahquamenon Falls. It’s one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River and awe-inspiring, especially in the spring and early summer.
More Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Links
- Get started with the Pictured Rocks slideshow from the Absolute Michigan pool on Flickr.
- Absolute Michigan keyword Pictured Rocks has a ton of articles and links and there’s a whole lot more in our Destination: Michigan Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore feature!
- Photos & features at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Michigan in Pictures
- Pictured Rocks in Summer is just one of Lars Jensen’s amazing photo tours of the Pictured Rocks in all seasons.
- Pictured Rocks photos from the Absolute Michigan pool on Flickr (slideshow)
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore map (PDF) from the Park Service – we’ll try and get some Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore info on the Absolute Michigan Map of Michigan very soon!
- Wikipedia’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore entry may have a thing or two we missed.