Discover Michigan: Pictured Rocks

By: Kristyne E. Demske | Online Only | Published July 29, 2016

Looking for a way to find the beauty of Michigan and escape the heat? Head up to the Upper Peninsula, where Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers miles of beautiful beaches, more than 100 miles of trails and the beauty of the Hiawatha National Forest.

Iron, copper, manganese and limonite can be seen on the rocks, which soar 50-200 feet directly from Lake Superior and stretch for about 15 miles of the 42-mile length of the national lakeshore. The minerals mix with trickling water down the rockface to produce the beautiful colors the cliffs are named for.

“It was mind-blowing,” said Katie Cook, of Farmington Hills, who visited Pictured Rocks Memorial Day weekend. “The beauty that we have within our own state. The pictures don’t do it justice.”

Getting to the top of the Upper Peninsula, between Munising and Grand Marais is about 414 miles from Detroit, just over a 6-hour drive.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore includes 73,000 acres and a variety of trails and natural rock formations to check out, whether you have a few hours, a day or longer to see the park. A park map can be found at www.nps.gov/piro or by calling the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Visitors Center at (906) 387-3700.

“If you’re traveling to the Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks is definitely a must-see by boat,” said C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers.

The best shot for good weather is in late summer, he said, and recommends booking a sunset cruise, if possible.

“Go to the dock in Munising early,” he said. “It sells out fast because it’s just that amazing.

“It’s a treasure, even for lifelong Michiganders.”

Grand Portal: The highest point along Pictured Rocks, the Grand Portal’s beautiful arch can be seen for miles. Boat tours, pontoon boats or kayaks are a great way to see the beauty up close, although the remote areas are best kayaked with a guide.

Miners Castle: One of the most recognizable of Pictured Rocks’ formations, there is a visitors center at Miners Castle located 6.5 miles east of Munising on Alger County Road H58. Continue from there 5 miles north on Miners Castle Road to the parking area. From there, the visitor’s platform offers a great place to see the formation and take pictures.
Cook said Miners Castle can be touristy, but “you still had your own little part of nature.”

Trails: There are plenty of trails, from the 0.7-mile White Pine Interpretive Trail Loop beginning at Little Beaver Lake Campground to the Beaver Lake Loop, a 1.5-mile trail from the campground out to Lake Superior and back, where there’s plenty of wildlife to see in the water. Take H58 north of Munising for 20 miles, then head three miles north on Little Beaver Road to get there.

But for treks to places like Chapel Rock — which you can reach by driving 15 miles east of Munising on H-58 (a county designated highway), then heading north 5 miles on Chapel Road Drive and hiking 1.8 miles from the parking lot — Cook said be prepared.

“(Chapel Rock) was a really cool thing to see, but both my husband and I didn’t bring the right shoes,” Cook said.

Waterproof shoes were needed for that hike and what seemed like a short trip was longer than they expected.

“We just didn’t prepare ourselves that it was going to be a little bit of a hike. Planning ahead is definitely key,” she said.

Within the national lakeshore, there are a variety of drive-in and backcountry campgrounds, although lodging and other accommodations can be found in the nearby communities of Munising and Grand Marais.

Pictured Rock National Lakeshore sites offer a picnic table, fire grate and tent pad, with water from solar-powered wells and vault toilets. No reservations are accepted, so get there early if you want to stay at Little Beaver Lake Campground, Twelvemile Beach Campground or Hurricane River Campground.

Grand Island National Recreation Area is a half mile from Munising along Lake superior. The 13,500-acre addition to the Hiawatha National Forest is a great place to spend a day hiking, biking fishing and exploring with a variety of dirt and sand trails and gravel roads. The Grand Island Interpretive Bus gives an approximately 3-hour narrated bus tour on the island that includes scenic overlooks, beaches, historic buildings and nature walks.

Alger County offers a bounty of beautiful waterfalls to check out, from the privately run Horseshoe Falls that offer a gentle path with a stream and a pond full of fish that visitors can feed, to Mosquito Falls and Chapel Falls in the Chapel Basin area. For more information, visit www.munising.org.