The Pictured Rocks of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Miners Castle, Lovers Leap, Indian Head, Battleship Rock, Grand Portal, and Chapel Rock are just a few names of formations along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And the names do not do justice to the uniqueness of this section of the Lake Superior shore line.
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Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is comprised of 16,542 square miles and has about 1700 miles of shoreline on Lake Superior, Michigan, and Huron. The maximum east - west distance in the Upper Peninsula is about 320 miles with the maximum north-south distance being about 125 miles. There is much for the visitor to see and do in the UP. One of the most impressive natural attractions is its Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The thirty-five mile stretch of coastline along Lake Superior from Munising to Grand Marais has that designation of a national lakeshore – one of only four with that distinction. The other three are the Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan, the Indiana Dunes in Indiana on southern Lake Michigan, and the Apostle Island National Lakeshore on southern Lake Superior in Wisconsin.
The sandstone cliffs of the national lakeshore tower up to two hundred feet above Lake Superior’s surface. The cliffs are “painted” by the mineral deposits in the rocks. Because of the weather, the erosion, and the pounding of the water, the cliffs have been molded and carved to take on a variety of shapes, most of which have names, like those mentioned above.
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This section of the Lake Superior shoreline is a haven for tourists, pleasure boaters, tour boats, and kayakers soaking up the coast’s natural beauty. The best way to see the Pictured Rocks is by tour boat. In Munising the Pictured Rocks Boat Cruises operates tours of the coastline from May to October. The narrated boat tours last approximately two and a half hours and cover about thirty-seven miles. The times are posted on their website.
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On land many of the features of Pictured Rocks are accessible by a short hike or can be driven to for a different perspective. Miner’s Castle, for instance, is the most recognized of the formations. There is an interpretive area above Miners Castle with a picnic area, information center, and hiking trails. Most of the beaches, waterfalls, and other formations require hiking longer distances.
Munising should be the base of operations for exploring the Pictured Rocks area. There are plenty of services, including campgrounds, shopping, restaurants, and service stations. The visitor center for Pictured Rocks and the nearby Hiawatha National Forest is in the middle of the town at the intersection of State M-28 and Alger County H-58. Information on lake and trail conditions is available here. Many outdoor activities can be enjoyed around Munising (and most everywhere else in the UP). Kayaking, canoeing, hiking, biking, boating, fishing, and snowmobiling are just a few of the things to do while visiting.
The Hiawatha National Forest has much to offer visitors wanting to enjoy outdoors adventure while in the area. There are actually two large units of the national forest, but the West Unit is located near Munising and provides a playground for year round outdoor activity. There are twelve developed campgrounds and numerous undeveloped primitive camping areas in the West Unit. Some have hookups. Most do not. The visitor center at Munising can provide up to date information on the camping areas or check at the forest service campground website.
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Another option for camping is in the Lake Superior State Forest, which is also in the Munising vicinity. There are eighteen sites but no hookups are offered. The North Country Trail runs through this campground. It is a National Scenic Trail hiking route from North Dakota to New York and includes over 1500 miles in Michigan. Its total length is 4,600 miles stretched across seven states. Managed by the National Park Service, it is the longest hiking path in the United States and passes through ten National Forests. Information on the trail is available at its website.
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Lighthouses are always good destinations for visitors and there are several in the Pictured Rocks area. During the last century they were very important to mariners, especially in Lake Superior, due to the combination of rough water, extreme weather, and the rocky shoreline.
The Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse can be seen from the Pictured Rocks Boat Tour or by visiting Grand Island. For many years sailors dreaded the eighty miles of dark shoreline that stretched east from Grand Island Lighthouse to the light on Whitefish Point. Unmarked by any navigational light, these dangerous shores claimed dozens of ships. To fill the gap, a lighthouse was placed near Grand Marais on Au Sable Point in 1874. To reach the lighthouse, follow H-58 from Munising for about 12 miles to the Hurricane River Campground within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Park and follow signs along a trail to the lighthouse. It is about a 1.5-mile hike.
Whitefish Point, called the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes”, is the site of the first lighthouse on Lake Superior and also, appropriately, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. Within the museum are interesting artifacts of various shipping disasters, including the Edmund Fitzgerald, about which a song was written. The Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve is a section of the coastline to conserve shipwrecks and historical resources on its 376 acres. Also at this location is the Whitefish Point National Wildlife Refuge, which is on the migratory route of many species of raptors, water birds, and songbirds. The Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, an affiliate of the Michigan Audubon Society, operates a research and education facility at Whitefish Point.
Waterfalls are also plentiful destinations in the Upper Peninsula and the Pictured Rocks area. The waterfall at Tahquamenon Falls State Park is probably one of the most scenic in the UP and one of the largest. There are two waterfalls in the Tahquamenon River – the Upper and Lower. The Upper is the grander of the two with a drop of nearly fifty feet and a width of about 200 feet. There are trails for hiking in summer and for snowshoeing in winter. Wildlife abounds throughout the park. Tahquamenon Falls is located between Munising and Whitefish Point along H-28.
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Near Munising there are Wagner, Alger, Memorial, Horseshoe, and Munising Falls. Within the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, there are several others -- Miner, Mosquito, and Chapel Falls. From the boat tour Spray Falls is viewable and is a large waterfall emptying directly into Lake Superior.
Getting around the UP is mostly via two-lane highways. The only interstate in the UP is I-75 connecting Sault Ste Marie on the Canadian border with the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. It continues southward to the Everglades of Florida. The main east-west routes are US 28 in the north and US 2 in the southern part. US 28 connects I-75 and Munising.
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