How lucky am I to live in one of the United States’ most beautiful states? I know, I know, a lot of people probably boast about how great their home state is, but Michigan is seriously the bomb diggity. There are just so many sights that will leave your jaw hanging to the ground in awe. One such place is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. These famed sandstone cliffs date back millions of years and are quite a sight as they jut out from the turquoise waters of Lake Superior. If you want to see one of this state’s most beautiful sights, here’s how to visit Pictured Rocks Michigan.
Photo by S. Carr
How to Visit Pictured Rocks Michigan
Start in Munising, MI
This is the biggest of the towns surrounding the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s a good place to fill up your gas tank and pick up a few maps of the area at the local visitors center. If you want to sign up for any boat tours, most will leave from this area.
What to See
The best way to see the Pictured Rocks, Michigan is to drive through it, from Munising up to Grand Marais, making several scenic stops along the way. Everything you see will depend on the amount of hiking you want to do. Many scenic stops are very close to a parking lot, but there are a handful that require a bit more walking.
These falls are located right off of M-28. You can pull off onto the shoulder of the road to see the falls a little better, but if there are not many spaces for multiple cars to pull off. This honestly isn’t the best waterfall you’ll see in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, so it’s up to you if you want to stop and see them up close.
Just around the corner from Alger Falls are the lovely Wagner Falls. There is a large parking area off the road, with a short walk to the falls’ viewing platform. The walkway begins with a well-packed dirt trail that leads to a wooden boardwalk. The falls are set back far enough into the woods that the walk brings the pleasant naturey filled smells of pine and moist dirt. Now is also a great time to douse yourself in bugspray.
One-way walk time: 3 minutes
Other travel guides for things to do in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore may mention Horseshoe Falls as another stop. It’s totally up to you, but apparently, you have to pay $6 per person to see them. Now, I enjoy a good waterfall as much as the next guy, but not enough to cough up the same amount it costs to devour a delicious authentic Upper Peninsula pasty…
Drive to Nelson Street in Munising and park your car on Cleveland Street (as the small sign requests). Walk back to Nelson and head towards the dead end. You will see a sign at the trail head marked “Twin Waterfalls Memorial.” The dirt trail leading to the falls has lots of roots sticking up and can get a bit slippery when wet, so walk carefully. When you reach a short wooden bridge, look over the edge and you will see the top of the waterfall cascading below you. If you continue down the trail, and down the wooden stairway you will get a full view of the fall.
One-way walk time: 8 minutes
Photo by D. Rice
There are supposed to be another set of waterfalls near Memorial Falls. But I wasn’t sure how to get there, and I was nursing a foot injury and didn’t have the desire to hike around without knowing where I was going. If you find these on your trip, tell me how to get there!
These are probably the most widely visited falls in the area. With a large parking area, an on-site visitor center, and a trail head for the North Country Trail, there are lots of good reasons to make a stop at Munising Falls. The trail leading to the falls is an easy walk to a large viewing platform. There are other trails in the area that will take you closer to the falls, and to the top of them for a different perspective.
One-way walk time: 3 minutes
Another waterfall? Heck yes, and this one is the best of them all. With a small parking area at the end of a dirt road, this waterfall is slightly less populated with tourists than most others. The wide dirt pathway makes a very gradual descent to one of two viewing platforms for this waterfall. Be on the lookout for wildlife here! We saw a mother deer and her two fawns, along with a woodpecker and lots of monarch butterflies! Take the stairs down to another viewing platform to get the best view of the falls. These are big and powerful and leave a slight mist in the air.
One-way walk time: 14 minutes
Okay, now it’s time to really see these Pictured Rocks you’ve been hearing about! Miner’s Castle is one of the most iconic formations of the Pictured Rocks. At the upper lookout, you’ll see the picture-perfect view of this rock formation, along with the pure turquoise waters that surround it. At the base of the rocks, you’ll find layers of yellow-orange which are believed to be around 500 million years old. This means that these rocks probably hung out with dinosaurs. And what’s cooler than dinosaurs? Practically nothing.
One-way walk time (Upper lookout): 1 minute
One-way walk time (Lower lookout): 3 minutes
This is a stretch of beach with clean sand, perfect for taking a break from all the walking. Dip your feet (or your whole body, if you’re ballsy enough) into the crystal-clear waters of Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake (in surface area). I’ll tell you now that the water is cold, but refreshing on the right day. You can also get a good view of the Pictured Rocks from this beach.
Chapel Falls and Chapel Rock
Chapel Rock is another iconic formation of the Pictured Rocks. Here, you’ll find fewer tourists due to the 2.5 mile hike it requires to get there. There is also a small beach here, which is a great place to rest from the hike. On the hike in, you’ll pass Chapel Falls which is a great, scenic resting point.
Twelve Mile Beach
This huge span of sandy beach along Lake Superior is a great place to rest for a while. Enjoy the soft sand and hunt for agate rock along the shoreline. This is also a lovely spot to watch the sunset at the end of the day.
Au Sable Light House
A 1.5 mile walk from Hurricane River Campground, this light house has been in operation since 1874. This is a great lookout point over Lake Huron, and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. On a clear day, you can see remnants of a shipwreck near the shore. In the summer, you can take a guided tour of the lighthouse for $3 per person.
Way back in the day, this sandy cliffside was used to send logs from the surrounding forest down to the ships waiting to transport them. Today, the actual chute they once used is gone, but you can still view the steep, sandy bluffs. This is also a great place to look out over the Lake Superior shoreline.
End in Grand Marais
At the northern tip of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is the small town of Grand Marais. With just a sprinkling of shops and buildings, this town is great for a quiet and quaint end to your time in the Pictured Rocks.
What to Experience
Really, the best way to see the Pictured Rocks up close, in all their glory is to see them via boat. Since they face outward, toward Lake Superior, there are many iconic rock formations that cannot be seen from anywhere else but the water. If you have your own boat, or kayaks, or canoes you can totally bring them and put them in the water. But if not, you’ll have to whip out that debit card for a tour.
Pictured Rocks Kayak Tour
There are a handful of different companies that offer kayak tours of the Pictured Rocks. They come with a fairly hefty price tag, but friends of mine went and said it was totally worth it. You can choose from tours that are two hours long, up to full day 7 hour kayak tours along the rocks.
Photo by C. Carr
Pictured Rocks Scenic Boat Tour
For a little less money, you can join a larger group of people on a scenic boat trip that will allow you to ride alongside the Pictured Rocks. I’ve heard that these boats can get quite crowded during peak season, so keep that in mind when booking.
Glass Bottomed Boat Shipwreck Tour
Lake Superior has claimed her fair share of ships, and many of them are visible thanks to the crystal-clear waters. If that’s something that interests you, you can go on a glass-bottomed boat tour to see some of the sunken ships along the coast of Lake Superior.
For more information on the different boat tours available in the area, see the Munising Visitors Center website.
Where to Eat
Muldoon’s (Munising, MI)
If you want an authentic Upper Peninsula staple, head to Muldoon’s for their pasties. A pasty is a U.P. tradition that started with the local miners taking their leftover meat, potatoes, and veggies and baking it inside a crust. Similar to a meat pie, these portable lunches were, and still are, a favorite among Yoopers. Boasting the title of #1 Pasty in the U.P., Muldoon’s offers the traditional flavors: beef, chicken, and veggie. Make sure to get the gravy too, to complete your meal!
Johnny Dogs (Munising, MI)
A favorite among locals in the Munising area, Johnny Dogs has a menu full of gourmet and slightly wacky hotdogs. With a cute outdoor seating area, this is a fun place to grab a meal on a warm day. I devoured ate the Dead Elvis, which was a traditional beef hotdog, topped with pulled pork, sweet and sour sauce, and a mango-pineapple salsa. And hot-dog! It was delicious!
The Bear Trap Inn (Shingleton, MI)
This is another place to get an authentic U.P. pasty. With more of a sit-down restaurant vibe, this is a great place to relax and enjoy your warm meal.
Lake Superior Brewing Company (Grand Marais, MI)
This small brewing company in Grand Marais is one of the few dining options the small town offers. The inside is quirky and definitely has that very small town feel about it. With locals chatting around the bar, you may stick out as a tourist, but you will be welcomed. While I can’t attest to the level of their brewing, their pizza is pretty dang good.
Grand Marais Tavern (Grand Marais, MI)
Another small restaurant in the small town of Grand Marais, the Grand Marais Tavern offers lakeside views and a charming rustic atmosphere. Their tap rootbeer was once of the best I’ve ever had!
Where to Stay
Camping is the most popular option for overnights in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. There are a few back-country camp sites that require reservations if you’re looking for something hella rustic.
For something a little less in the middle of nowhere, you can try getting a camp site at Hurricane River Campground or Twelve Mile Beach Campground. These sites are first-come, first serve, so you do have to get there early to claim a spot.
If all else fails, Grand Marais has a great campground called Woodland Park that offers many sites, decent wifi, and actual flushing toilets.
There are also several cabins for rent and small motels in the Munising area if camping is not quite your thing.
When to Go
The peak time to visit Pictured Rocks, Michigan is during the summer months, from June to August, when the temperatures warm up. Weather in this area can be fairly unpredictable so it’s best to be prepared for cool weather, warm weather, and rain. Many people also choose to visit during the winter, to take part in ice climbing excursions. Be warned that this area experiences very cold weather, and has many seasonal roads that become impassable during this time.
What to Bring
Your packing will depend on the type of lodging you choose. Obviously a full on back country camping trip is going to require different things than that quiet Munising motel. But, no matter where you are staying, there are a few necessities you’ll want to have on your trip!
- Good hiking boots/shoes – I am pretty faithful to my Merrell Brand hiking shoes. They’re really comfy and provide just enough support, without being heavy and clunky. I got mine from an outlet center, but these ones are pretty close to mine.
- A small backpack – I love my packable day pack from Eddie Bauer. This lightweight pack lets me bring everything I’ll need for the day
- A raincoat – The weather up here can change at the drop of a hat. Bring along a lightweight raincoat that is easily packable just in case Mother Nature decides to let it fall!
- Bugspray – Forests plus lakes equal great breeding ground for mosquitos. Avoid being eaten alive and spray yo’self.
- A reusable water bottle – You’ll need plenty of hydration when you visit Pictured Rocks Michigan. I’m a big fan of the Fit Bottle, and with its amazing filter you can safely drink water right from Lake Superior!
Looking for more beautiful places in Michigan? Try the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Glen Arbor!
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