Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
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The "Pictured Rocks" are 200-foot sandstone bluffs, famous among Indians and early Europeans explorers even before they became a national tourist attraction. Beginning eight miles east of Munising, they extend seven miles along Lake Superior from Miners Castle to the Grand Portal. The bluffs form the centerpiece of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, administered by the National Park Service.
This was the first national lakeshore designated by Congress (1966). In addition to the Pictured Rocks bluffs, the Lakeshore has many other points of interest, from sandy beaches to waterfalls, and a shoreline trail.
Mostly the Pictured Rocks are only visible from the water, though the artful trails at Miners Castle give a good sense of the sandstone formations up close. The red and yellow sandstone bluffs have been shaped by wind, waves, and ice into dramatic columns and watery caves. Then mineral-rich water seeping between sandstone layers stained the colored "pictures." The colors of the sandstone cliffs are subtle. Blues and greens are created by copper, the reddish hues by iron. (Midday on a glary day, however, the colors can look washed out.) Five fine waterfalls near the shoreline are additional spectacles.
Here are the sights of greatest interest along the shore, arranged from Munising to Grand Marais:
|Dramatic Munising Falls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a short way east of the town of Munising.|
♦ MUNISING FALLS. This slender, exceptionally attractive waterfall has a dramatic 50-foot drop into a small, rocky canyon. In winter the sight is equally spectacular when the column of water is frozen. A pleasant, 800-foot path leads to the falls. The excellent interpretive center at the parking lot, staffed in summer, gives historical perspective on the region's geology and logging history. It's next to the site of an 1868 blast furnace, which made 16 tons of pig iron a day. On H-58 about 2 miles east of downtown Munising and the intersection of M-28 and H-58. The center is open May 1 through Oct. 31, daily 8:30-4:30. It's staffed from June into September. Handicap accessible.
|Castle-building at Sand Point Beach, rated one of the country's top ten beaches. It extends west to within 7/10ths of a mile of Grand Island.|
♦ SAND POINT and BEACH. A point of white sand here offers a good view of Grand Island. The splendid beach just south of the point is one of Lake Superior's warmer swimming spots. A beach connoisseur named it one of the top five summer beaches in America, calling the water "perfectly clear and clean" in an "idyllic" setting. In the evening you can see the distant Pictured Rocks. (They're shaded in the morning.) The half-mile, barrier-free SAND POINT MARSH TRAIL crosses a scenic wetland that's alive with waterfowl, herons, beaver lodges, and water-loving songbirds. Signs explain what you're looking at. Come near dawn or dusk to glimpse the nocturnal creatures themselves. East of Munising a little over a mile on H-58, then left on Washington St. 1/2 mile to Sand Point Rd. North 2 miles.
|One of Michigan's most splendid views, Miner's Castle is best seen in late afternoon on a sunny day. Looking down into the clear aqua waters of Superior, you can sometimes see large fish.|
♦ MINERS CASTLE and FALLS. From a single great rock some nine stories tall you have a spectacular view down at an emerald-green Lake Superior cove. The water's clarity lets you see the rocky bottom even when it's deep. The Pictured Rocks cliffs are also visible, but it's not a great view. If you only have time for one Pictured Rocks excursion, this should be it, The setting is beautiful and the short trail artful in the way it reveals the striking landscape. The "Miners" name, incidentally, came from British fur trader Alexander Henry on his 1770s expedition in search of copper in the western Upper Peninsula.
The small Miners Castle Visitor Center by the parking area has restrooms, a little shop, and a summer staff person who can provide information about the National Lakeshore. Hours depend on funding. Take H-58 east from Munising. In about 7 miles, turn north on Miners Castle Rd. for 6 miles to Miners Castle. Wheelchair-accessible: overlook platform and trail to Miners Castle, also visitor center.
♦ Another trail well worth taking leads to gorgeous, mile-long MINERS BEACH with polished cobbles—a beach walker's delight—and to its picnic area, just northeast of Miners Castle. Take Miners Castle Road from H-58 almost to Miners Castle. Trail begins just east of the restrooms. It's one mile to the beach on an up-and-down trail, and another mile back. Some families split up and have the driver meet them at the beach and its parking lot. (It's also possible to take a drive down to Miners Beach; parking lots are on each end of the beachside T intersection.) Anglers come here to fish for steelhead at the mouth of the Miners River.
Farther inland is MINERS FALLS. It's also off Miners Castle Road, accessible from the road and parking area via the half-mile, self-guided MINERS FALLS NATURE TRAIL. The steep part is only the last 100 yards or less. A stairway with perhaps 70 steps leads to an overlook with views of the falls. (There is no trail along the Miners River to the beach.) At the falls, water drops some 40 feet. Spray bounces off the rock shelf and forms interesting shapes in the stone at its base. Towards the end of the trail to the falls, is a panoramic view of Lake Superior.
♦ The 45-mile portion of the NORTH COUNTRY TRAIL within the National Lakeshore follows the shoreline. It connects major sights with spurs to campgrounds. (A spur connects to Little Chapel Lake, a nice swimming spot.) Several designated backcountry campsites are along the way. For these campsites it's required to get a permit, available by reservation by mail or fax only from the Munising Visitor Center, Box 40, Munising, MI 49862. Fax (906) 387-4457. Reservations are taken starting January 1. They must be made by at least two weeks before the trip. Group campsites are busiest. Individual sites fill up during summer and on holiday weekends. Fall weekends are busy as well. Reserve at least a couple of months ahead. Trailheads are at Sand Point or Munising Falls at the Munising end, and at the Grand Sable Visitor Center near Grand Marais. Typical hiking time: three nights and four days. Hikers can now get from St. Ignace to Marquette along the completed off-road sections of the North Country Trail, over 200 miles long. Visit its extensive web site, northcountrytrail.org, and click on "Explore the trail," then "descriptions by state."
Alger County's Altran shuttle currently runs Monday, Thursday, and Saturday with a 10 a.m. pickup at Munising Falls and 11:30 a.m. pickup at Grand Marais. It's $20 a person. Call in advance (906-387-4845) if you're planning to use it. The shuttle will drop off hikers at any point along H-58. You could time your hike so the Altran bus can take you back. You might even ask if the shuttle could drop you off somewhere else. Shuttle service from Munising to Little Beaver Campground requires a 24-hour notice. No bicycles or dogs are allowed on trail except for Miners Castle. Hikers might well consider hiking part of the trail—say, from the Munising trailhead to Sand Point and Miners Castle (about 6 miles) and adding a mile through the woods to Miners Falls, for a 12-to-14 mile round trip.
|James Marvin Phelps|
|Beautiful waterfalls are abundant throughout the Pictured Rocks region. They're caused by the limey sandstone under the many rivers here. Upper Chapel Falls is at the end of a 1.5-mile marked trail off Chapel Road, 15 miles northeast of Munising.|
♦ CHAPEL FALLS, MOSQUITO FALLS, and SPRAY FALLS. These two waterfalls are on either side of the Grand Portal, which is a highlight of the Pictured Rocks. They are reached from the same parking area. Mosquito Falls is the less visited and probably the more charming. "The Mosquito River here slides, then cascades over layers and shelves of black rock, leaving small pools in its wake," writes Laurie Penrose in the extremely helpful A Guide to 199 Michigan Waterfalls. "You can wade in the water, and the ledges are a perfect place to sit and soak under the spray."
The volunteer-built Mosquito Falls Trail makes a 4-mile loop to the three sections of falls, a Lake Superior beach, and back, with several vistas on the way. Follow the general National Lakeshore trail map to see how it all goes together.
The 1.3 mile trail to Chapel Falls is so wide, it's almost like a road. The falls are seen from a bluff with a panoramic view looking down on the falls and forested river canyon. The same trail passes through a good blueberry area. In another 1.8 miles hikers reach Chapel Rock and a beautiful crescent beach on Lake Superior. It's yet another 1.5 miles via the North Country Trail to delightful, isolated Spray Falls, which makes a dramatic 70-foot drop from the forest directly into Lake Superior.
Some local hiking aficionados mention the WHITE PINE TRAIL area around Beaver Lake as their favorite regular hiking destination. Loons and eagles are sometimes seen along the self-guided nature trail. The 8-unit rustic Little Beaver Campground enables hikers to make this a base camp for hikes in two directions. Ask at the Visitor Center for details.
|Au Sable Point Light|
♦ AU SABLE POINT LIGHTHOUSE, Hurricane River Campground, Log Slide, GRAND SABLE DUNES, and Sable Falls are all most easily accessible from Grand Marais. Descriptions are in the "points of interest" after Grand Marais in the "Tahquamenon and Seney, Grand Marais and Whitefish Point" section of this book.
Most visitors see the famed bluffs on the Pictured Rocks Boat Cruise. Northern Waters' Sea Kayaking instructional excursions provide more dramatic views. Great care is advised to people without experience on Lake Superior who are considering an excursion in their own boats. Lake conditions can change quickly.
The entire National Lakeshore extends 43 miles east from Munising Falls just outside Munising to the village of Grand Marais. Its 70,000 acres encompass two sizable lakes, waterfalls, several stream mouths, Twelvemile Beach, and the spectacular Grand Sable Dunes. The North Country Trail (formerly the Lakeshore Trail; see below) goes the entire length of the National Lakeshore. A shuttle bus from Munising gives hikers a ride back or allows them to hike parts of the trail without making a round trip.(Half the Lakeshore, including the Grand Sable Dunes and the Au Sable Point Lighthouse, is to the east, closer to Grand Marais. See "Grand Marais/Seney/Tahquamenon" chapter.)
The National Lakeshore is a four-season destination. Its highlights attract considerable crowds in summer and in the fall color season, while year-round its diverse charms are subtle enough to bring back nature-lovers, waterfall enthusiasts, and backpackers again and again. Just east of Munising, the groomed MUNISING SKI TRAILS are 20 miles in 8 loops of varied skill levels, marked with blue diamonds. They wind north from H-58 to a little east of Sand Point and include several interpretive waysides. Search "Pictured Rocks ski trails" for tips, current weather info, and pdfs of the National Lakeshore trails. Maps are at trailheads on H-58 and on City Limits Road north of H-58. Snowmobiling is only permitted on roads open to the public in summer. Sledders can take H-58 from Munising to Grand Marais.
The National Lakeshore consists of shoreline and an inland buffer to protect its watershed. The National Lakeshore itself seldom extends inland over five miles. Often it's quite narrow. No road directly connects destinations within the National Lakeshore. That creates difficult logistics. Access to popular destinations like Miners Castle and Chapel Falls is via entrance drives that extend north off County Road H-58. It's a beautiful road, winding through forests with occasional Lake Superior views. It twists and turns for about 50 miles from Munising to Grand Marais through backcountry, often well south of the lakeshore. Drivers should still plan on spending about an hour between Grand Marais and Munising. H-58's rough sections keep extremely long RVs from using the national lakeshore's campgrounds.
Pictured Rocks and Michigan's other national lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes west of Traverse City, are the lasting legacy of Senator Phil Hart, Michigan's beloved U.S. senator from 1959 to his death in 1976. Read about it in a free, surprisingly interesting online book, Pictured Rocks: An Administrative History by Theodore J. Karamanski. He is a noted north woods and environmental historian at Loyola University. (Google the title to find it.)
Pets are not allowed on hiking trails or in backcountry camping areas. They could bother visitors, and porcupines could bother them. They are allowed at picnic areas, Sand Point Beach, developed campgrounds, and beaches directly in front of campgrounds. For details, see nps.gov/
Access to popular destinations like Miners Castle and Chapel Falls is via entrance drives extending north off County Road H-58. H-58 twists and turns for about 50 miles from Munising to Grand Marais. It goes through back country, often well south of the lakeshore. H-58 is paved for over 23 miles, with five miles recently paved east of Melstrand, up to just past Little Beaver Lake Road.
Return to Munising
POINTS OF INTEREST
Munising Front Range Light. Imposing 1908 58-foot white light tower is part of a system of range lights that guide ships into Munising's harbor of refuge. Behind & up the hill is the shorter but higher white round rear range tower. Boat captains lined up the two lights to steer safely into this harbor of refuge. ... more
Pictured Rocks Visitor Center. Recommended first stop for every new visitor—for maps, handouts, scheduled talks and walks on nature and history, and customized, impartial advice from a knowledgeable staff of adults who live here and know the area well. Also a nature bookstore ... more
Alger County Heritage Center. Munising's rich history revealed in many displays, including 1830s fur trader's cabin from Grand Island, vintage Munising Woodenware products, historic kitchen, old post office ... more
Munising-area Waterfalls. Avoid crowds and visit four delightful, secluded falls in and near Munising: Horseshoe Falls, a quaint private attraction; the Twin Waterfall Plant Preserve; and Wagner Falls off M-94 ... more
Munising Wi-fi Hotspots. • Chamber of Commerce has wi-fi 24/7 (can use in parking lot). 129 Munising Ave. (M-28) across from Subway. • Falling Rock Café & Bookstore has wi-fi. 104 East Munising/M-28 downtown, just east of Elm. ... more
Valley Spur Cross-Country Ski and Mountain Bike Trails. Artfully laid out, meticulously groomed, this 38-mile trail system is a favorite destination of dedicated cross-country skiers from far and wide ... more