The most breathtaking place you could ever visit sits on the shore of Lake Superior. Towering and colorful cliffs, gorgeous beaches, and jaw-dropping waterfalls can all be found at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan! You’ll find yourself surrounded by historical sites, 90 miles of trails, streams and bogs for fishing and boating, and numerous campsites to choose from. The 15 miles of cliffs were carved out by the glaciers millions of years ago and what it left behind is priceless.
Fifteen miles of cliffs ranging in height are the reason for the name of this National Lakeshore. When you gaze up at the beautiful sandstone cliffs you can see the different layers that were deposited over time. The colors include brown, yellow, black, and white with added color from minerals in them. Some of these cliffs rise up to 200 feet above Lake Superior and support countless different waterfalls. There are many different featured areas of this park.
Grand Portal Point
Grand Portal is one of the most popular areas of Pictured Rocks because it has a huge archway you can kayak through. It was once a much larger and higher arch that a small ship could sail through, but it collapsed in September of 1900, leaving a smaller arch behind. A second collapse happened in 1999 that brought down some rubble in the arch, but it’s still there and you can still get through.
One of the most famous formations in the park, Miners Castle, offers a gorgeous spot for picnics and photography. It used to have two turrets that stuck up off the top, but in 2006 one fell off into Lake Superior due to erosion. Because of the makeup of these formations, they are always changing in shape and size. Rock falls are actually quite common. If you visit often enough and take photos, you will be able to see the ever-changing scenery by comparing recent photos with photos from years past.
At the base of Miners Castle is Miners Beach. This is a one-mile long beach that offers a great spot for having a picnic or taking a stroll while watching the waves roll in off Lake Superior. This beach is so beautiful that Kid Rock filmed the music video for Born Free here.
Located on Chapel Beach, Chapel Rock is a rock formation that is the remains of an archway collapse in the 1940s. It looks like a pillar of rock with a tree on top of it. It’s a beautiful feature to visit while spending a day on the beach or hanging out by Chapel Falls.
Named so because it looks like the profile of a Native American face, this was once a gathering place for many Native American traders! This formation is best viewed by boat to get the full spectrum of its beauty. You can kayak or take a boat tour up to it.
Grand Sable Banks
Huge sand banks created by a dramatic drop in water level 500 years ago tower over the lake here. On top of these banks are sand dunes known as the Grand Sable Dunes. The winds that have come through this area push the sand up the banks to help form the dunes and make it a gorgeous sight!
This dome-shaped cave is striped with many different colors. Because of the cracks in the sandstone and water above the cave, water drops seep down into the cave. The inside of Rainbow Cave is always raining because of this and is an awe-inspiring sight!
A 200-foot archway above Lake Superior carved by wind, Lovers Leap is an impressive site from a boat tour or kayak. It was named from a legend of a Native American woman who leaped from it after her love did not return from battle. As with any of the rock formations, use caution if you venture under this archway as it is unknown where and when the next rock collapse will happen.
As you round the corner on your boat tour you will see an amazing set of rock formations. They look like a row of battleships ready to set out to war! Not only is the shape of these rocks breathtaking, but the colors will not disappoint either!
Featuring a unique shape, this piece of rock juts out into the lake and features a smaller bottom and a gradually larger top, hence its name of Flower Vase. The foliage tops this formation off perfectly and creates the look of a flower vase. This is another area you will need to view by boat to get the full affect.
One of the most impressive rock formations, this area sticks straight up out of the lake. Its name comes from the fact that this area will often host seagulls in search of food. This area is best viewed by boat.
This formation is actually three formations that come up and then connect at the top. From the water they look like a giant drum and have a few caves in them. You can see this from a boat or on a hiking tour, but the best view is by far from the water.
Numerous waterfalls can be found at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. These range from huge, thundering falls to small, petite falls no taller than a person. Each of these falls has its own individual beauty and are all worth visiting, but here are the largest ones within the park.
Flowing from a 60-foot high ledge of sandstone, Miners River feeds Miners Falls and provides an amazing waterfall. This waterfall has the greatest volume of water of any in the park and you can find viewing platforms and benches to rest on near it. The water of this fall has a brownish orange tea color from the plants that live in Miners River and sometimes you can see white foam from the minerals that are in it.
Another tall waterfall in Pictured Rocks is Munising Falls. Fed by Munising Creek and dropping 50 feet, this waterfall is easy to get to. An 800-foot paved footpath leads up to it and there are restrooms and benches located near by. You can check this fall out from a few different viewing platforms and watch as it tumbles over the colorful rock formations.
Bridal Veil Falls
This waterfall is a little different and is only visible by boat. It flows down the side of the Pictured Rocks cliffs and into Lake Superior. There’s not a huge volume of water to this waterfall but it does fall 140 feet, making it Michigan’s tallest waterfall. This is actually a seasonal waterfall and is just a trickle in the summer and fall.
Chapel Falls can take over an hour to hike to but it is well worth it! This waterfall has about an 80-foot drop and is fed by Section Creek. It’s one of the most scenic waterfalls you can find and you can see a lot of wild flowers on your hike up to it. This waterfall is best visited in the early spring before too much foliage obscures it from view.
This exquisite waterfall seems to shoot out over the edge of a cliff and plunges 70 feet into Lake Superior. You can see Spray Falls by foot but if you want the best view you’ll want to get out on a boat and check it out. If you want you can hike to the top of the falls but you will want to use caution as the erosion that is causing all the rock collapses is still happening and making the edges of the cliffs unstable.
While Tahquamenon Falls is not actually part of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, it is only about an hour east and well worth visiting while you’re in the area. Tahquamenon also runs over the same rock as many of the waterfalls in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which is called the Munising Formation.
As you can see, the view from the water is one of the best you can get of Pictured Rocks. If you contact Pictured Rocks Cruises, you can see all of it from a great cruise ship. There are three options for the cruise with the standard cruise being a 2 1/2-hour journey. You can upgrade this cruise to include Spray Falls which adds another 15 minutes to the trip. The last option is to take the standard cruise at sunset for a romantic and beautiful sight. You can take the cruise as an individual or book a group rate. Private tours are available as well.
With 90 miles of trails and so many things to look at you may find it hard to believe that there is even more to do here than just take in the picturesque sights. If you get bored of sightseeing, give these activities a try:
With all the inland lakes, creeks, streams, and rivers, Pictured Rocks is a great place for fishing. You can find fish like smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, whitefish, smelt, yellow perch, menominee, and lots of trout! The different types of trout you can find are brook trout, lake trout, rainbow trout, and coho salmon. Before you get out the poles for the catch of the day, make sure you’re following all the rules and regulations when it comes to fishing in Michigan. You’ll need a license, some fish are only allowed in specific seasons, and there are creel limits on some of them as well.
If you’re into hunting you’ve hit the jackpot here. The Pictured Rocks area has amazing wildlife and permits hunting during the proper seasons. Just like with fishing, you have to get a license and observe any ordinances and seasons. You can hunt things like deer, grouse, woodcock, bear, and snowshoe hare. Make sure to use typical hunting safety precautions and stay at least 450 feet from any buildings or campgrounds.
Much of Pictured Rocks’ formations are best viewed from the water and the kayak is a great way to go! You will need to keep in mind that Lake Superior is generally pretty cold and can be rough so you will need to use caution. If you can get a sea kayak with a spray skirt it will work much better on the rough waters of this huge lake. Many of the backcountry campgrounds are accessible by water so you can come and go in your kayak without having to get in the car!
Swimming & Diving
With all the beaches and bodies of water, Pictured Rocks is loaded with swimming options. If you want to swim in Lake Superior, be warned that the water is usually quite frigid, even in the summer. None of the beaches have lifeguards so take extra caution as the rough waters can create hazardous swimming if you’re not careful. Swimming in the streams and inland lakes are probably the best options for both warmth and safety. With all these cliffs it may be tempting to do some cliff diving. It is not recommended to do this at Pictured Rocks for a couple of reasons. The edges of the cliffs are unstable due to the sandstone erosion and can break at any time. You may find yourself falling instead of diving and that’s never a good thing. Also keep in mind that this place is called Pictured Rocks for a reason. The entire place is full of rocks and with collapses there are areas of rubble under the water. You may not be able to see these rocks under the water’s surface but you sure will feel them and they make diving very very dangerous.
Pictured Rocks isn’t just for summertime fun! There’s plenty to do here in the winter as well! You can enjoy cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and snowshoeing. You can even camp in the winter here and try some ice climbing, if you dare. Many of the waterfalls in the area freeze in the winter and make the perfect place for ice climbing. Just ensure that you only climb allowable waterfalls, as some that have smaller amounts of water may not be sturdy enough to climb.
There are an abundance of historic sites to be visited at Pictured Rocks. These include lighthouses, Coast Guard Stations, and shipwrecks that can still be seen underwater and visited by boat. If you’re looking for a history lesson, you'll find plenty of material here.
Au Sable Light Station
Keeping watch over the coast of Lake Superior, this lighthouse is located on Au Sable Point. It was constructed in 1873 with a light tower that is 87 feet tall and 16 feet wide at the base. In 1897, a fog signal building was added to allow for extra protection when the light may not be as visible. You can visit the lighthouse during the summer and tour it, learning about the history and what each area was used for.
Munising U.S. Coast Guard Station
Built in 1932, the Munising U.S. Coast Guard Station was added to help guard the rough waters of Lake Superior. Even with many lighthouses, these waters have claimed numerous ships. The addition of this Coast Guard station though has undoubtedly saved many lives. Not only were they there to watch over the water, they assisted in fighting fires on land as well. Eventually the station was no longer needed and was decommissioned in 1960. Six years later it was turned into the headquarters for the lakeshore and still remains there today.
Munising Range Lights
With such a large coastline, the need for lighthouses was abundant. The Front Range station was built in 1908 to help guide ships through the channel past Grand Isle and into the harbor of Munising Bay. The Front Range building included the light keepers quarters and a light tower that stands 58 feet and provides a 79-foot focal plane. They also wanted to add one further up on the hill, which was called the Rear Range Light. This tower stands 33 feet tall and provides a 107-foot focal plane for ships.
Grand Marais U.S. Coast Guard Station
Another Coast Guard station was added in 1938 to assist in overseeing the waters. It was called Grand Marais. This station is best known as making the last radio contact with the Edmund Fitzgerald before it sank in November of 1975. Decommissioned in 1985, it is now used as a ranger station for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Even with many lighthouses and Coast Guard stations, Lake Superior’s rough waters have claimed many ships. Today these ships remain under the water and some can be seen from the shore. For those that cannot be seen, you can take a boat (and even scuba dive) out to see them. These include the Edmund Fitzgerald, Smith Moore, H.E. Runnels, Mary M. Scott, and many more. Many years of history lie at the bottom of the lake.
Camping options abound in Pictured Rocks and offer a rustic experience. All campsites are rustic, on a first come first served, and cost between $14 and $16 per night. There are even handicapped-accessible campsites that are held until 6pm for those with disabilities. After that they are filled up with anyone looking to camp. So if you need one of these sites, be sure to get there before 6pm. In fact, the earlier you get there the better no matter what kind of site you’re looking for because they fill up fast. Sites include Little Beaver Lake Campground, Hurricane River Campground, and Twelvemile Beach Campground within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. There are also many other campgrounds near by.
When you visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, make sure you have lots of batteries and room on your camera so you can capture the magnificent landscapes that surround you. Remember to follow all safety suggestions when visiting. Stay off of Lake Superior unless you’re experienced and stay away from the edges of cliffs that are ever changing.