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Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

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Colorful Cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore [1] is the first of the only four United States National Lakeshores. It is located on the southern shore of Lake Superior, stretching 42 miles (67 km) across the coastline of Michigan's Alger County. The National Lakeshore covers 73,236 acres (114 sq mi; 296 km2) and is bounded by the city of Munising at the western edge and the town of Grand Marais to the east. Known for its rugged coastline featuring colorful naturally sculpted rock formations and waterfalls, Pictured Rocks is one of the most popular destinations in the Upper Peninsula, particularly in the summer when the park is most accessible. Hiking, camping, kayaking, and canoeing are popular summer activities, and there are guided boat tours of the shoreline that run several times daily from May through October.

Understand[edit]

Like most of the Upper Peninsula, the area around the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is very sparsely populated. The park headquarters are located approximately 3 miles (5 km) northeast of the city of Munising, which has a population of only 2,355 (according to the 2010 census). However, because the local economy is heavily dependent on tourism in the summer months, visitors will find no shortage of campgrounds, hotels, and cabins for rent, as well as plenty of restaurants (fast food or casual, but nothing fancy), outdoor outfitters, and equipment rentals. Munising is a quaint place, but like many small town tourist destinations, it has its share of tacky souvenir shops and tourist traps. Visitors looking for a larger variety in accommodation, shopping, and cuisine (including formal and upscale) may decide to stay in Marquette, a city of about 21,000 which is located approximately an hour west of Munising.

History[edit]

The cliffs of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are composed mainly of 500 million year old sandstone known as the Munising Formation. On top of this sits the Au Train Formation, which is a much younger sandstone formation that acts as a cap on the older formations. The softness of the sandstone is what allowed for the creation of the many unusual rock configurations found in the park, including archways, turrets, caves, pillars, and even formations resembling human profiles. The term "pictured" comes from the multicolored streaks and patterns that are found across many of the cliffs along the shoreline. Contrary to many peoples' assumptions, these patterns are not man made pictographs, but rather naturally created works of art made by mineral and groundwater seepage. The groundwater in the region is rich with minerals, and as it drains and evaporates, it leaves behind vibrant colors - iron (red), manganese (black-white), limonite (yellow-brown), copper (pink-green), and more.

In 1966, President Lyndon B Johnson signed legislation which declared Pictured Rocks as the nation's first National Lakeshore. Today, it is one of only four, as well as the largest. It is one of two National Lakeshores in Michigan; the other is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore along the coast of Lake Michigan.

Landscape[edit]

Chapel Rock

Although the colorful cliffs are the most well known part of the lakeshore, they only constitute about 15 of the park's 43 miles of shoreline. East of the cliffs, visitors will find miles of sandy beaches and coastal wilderness. At the far eastern terminus of the National Lakeshore, one can visit the Grand Sable Dunes, a 5 mile stretch of sand dunes that reach heights of up to 300 feet. The dunes can be climbed by experienced and fit individuals, and are best accessed from Grand Marais, which also has a ranger station and visitor center.

Besides colorful cliffs, Pictured Rocks is also widely known for its abundance of impressive waterfalls. Just inland from the shore, the park has a handful of large waterfalls as well as countless smaller falls. Many of these can be accessed by car or a short hike, and should not be overlooked when visiting the area. In the winter, many outdoor enthusiasts attempt to climb the frozen waterfalls, but this should only be attempted by skilled climbers with proper equipment. The park also contains plenty of rivers, ponds, lakes, and gorges that can be explored via a network of inland trails.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Climate[edit]

The Lakeshore can be cold, even in the warmest summer months. Average summer lows hover below 50°F (11°C), and visitors, especially overnight campers, should be advised to bring appropriate attire. During the winter, snowfall averages up to 12 feet (4m) and access to most of the park is difficult if not impossible. However, the weather can be quite pleasant in the summer, especially for hiking as highs rarely exceed 75°F (24°C). As a general rule, the closer you get to the lake, the cooler the temperature will be.

Get in[edit]

If you are heading to Munising from the West (i.e. coming from Marquette, Houghton/Hancock, Northern Wisconsin, Minnesota) then you will take U.S. 41 South through the city of Marquette and turn left at the junction with M-28 in the town of Harvey. Follow M-28 for about 45 miles, and you will arrive in Munising.

If coming from the East (i.e. coming from Sault Ste. Marie, Mackinac Island, Tahquamenon Falls, the Lower Peninsula) you will travel West on M-28, which is exit 386 on 1-75. M-28 brings you directly to Munising, but if you wish to access the lakeshore via Grand Marais at the Eastern end, then you will need to turn right on M-77 in the town of Seney, which is approximately 36 miles East of Munising. Follow M-77 North for 25 miles to Grand Marais.

If coming from the South (i.e. coming from Escanaba, Green Bay, Chicago), you will follow US-41 North until you reach the town of Trenary (about 35 miles North of Escanaba). At Trenary, you will turn right onto M-67. Follow M-67 for approximately 12 miles, until you reach the town of Chatham. At Chatham, turn right onto M-94. Where M-94 intersects with M-28, turn left towards Munising.

Most of the hotels, rental shops, and the boat cruises are located in Munising. If you are heading directly to the park headquarters, follow M-28 into Munising and continue straight (if coming from the West) or turn right (if coming from the East or South) at the flashing yellow light. The road becomes Munising Avenue/M-58. Continue for about 1 mile, then turn left on Washington Street. Eventually, Washington Street will become Sand Point Road and you will pass the Alger County Heritage Center. After about 3 miles, you will reach the end of the road, which is where the headquarters is located.

Fees/Permits[edit]

There are no fees or permits required for entrance into Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Day hiking and boating also does not require a permit. Overnight camping does, however. Backpackers pay a fee of $5 per night, per person. Drive up campers at any of the park's 3 campgrounds pay $14 per night, per campsite. These permits can be obtained at the Interagency Visitor Center in Munising (400 E Munising Ave), or at the Grand Sable Visitor Center in Grand Marais (21090 County Road H58).

Get around[edit]

Your method of navigating the Lakeshore depends heavily on how much time you wish to spend, and whether you intend to do it by land or by water. There are several landmarks that can be reached by car, including Munising Falls, Miners Castle, the Log Slide, and Sable Falls. Consult a park map (available at the park headquarters and at [nps.gov] ) for driving directions. Be advised that many of the roads leading to points of interest in the National Lakeshore are dirt or gravel and may not be suitable for all types of cars. This is especially true of the roads around Beaver Lake and Beaver Basin.

If you want a relatively quick and relaxing opportunity to view the cliffs and rock formations from the water, a boat cruise is probably your best option. Pictured Rocks Cruises operates several tours daily from May until October. The boats used have an enclosed cabin as well as an open air upper level, and feature narration by a professional guide. The tours last just under three hours and cost $37 per adult and $10 for children 6-12. These ships only cover the Western half of the lakeshore.

More adventurous travelers may want to see the cliffs by kayak or canoe. Kayaking the lakeshore is certainly the closest one can get to the colors and formations of the cliffs. Be advised, however, that the waves can be dangerous near the cliffs, and proper safety precautions should always be taken. People should never kayak alone, and at least one person in the group should have sea kayaking experience. Kayaks can be rented in Munising and guided kayaking tours are available

Backpacking and day hiking are other popular ways of getting around the lakeshore. The Lakeshore-North Country trail runs the entire 43 miles of coastline, and many backpackers choose to follow it as it offers great views and a varied terrain. There are plenty of other trails that accommodate a variety of skill levels and time frames, both inland and along the lakeshore. Consult a park map when choosing the trail best suited to your desires. Also keep in mind that day hiking requires no fee, but overnight camping costs $5 per person per night.

See[edit]

Chapel Falls
  • Munising Falls
  • Miners Castle
  • Miners Falls
  • Mosquito Falls
  • Chapel Rock
  • Chapel Falls
  • Log Slide
  • Grand Sable Dunes
  • Spray Falls

Do[edit]

  • Northern Waters Adventures [2] - This company operates guided kayaking excursions to Pictured Rocks and the nearby Grand Island National Recreational Area. Visitors can choose either a day trip ($125 per adult) or overnight trips, which last 3-7 days and cost $365-635 per person. The company offers training and provides the kayaks and most equipment. No kayaking experience is needed for day trips.
  • Pictured Rocks Cruises [3] - Pictured Rocks Cruises offers several daily cruises between May and October. The cruises are conducted on boats with an enclosed cabin as well as an open air upper deck. They offer three different cruise packages, all of which run just under three hours. Cruises are $37 per adult and $10 for children aged 6-12.
  • Seaberg Pontoon Rentals [4] - Offers visitors the chance to rent a pontoon boat and see Pictured Rocks on their own, at their own pace.
  • Superior Pontoon Rentals [5] - Another company offering pontoon boats for rent.
  • Hiking, Camping, and Exploring - Visit the National Park website [6] for more information about hiking trails, campsites, accessibility, and conditions

Eat[edit]

There are no restaurants within the National Lakeshore, but there are several restaurants in the city of Munising.

  • Birch Tree Cafe
  • Dairy Queen (dairy only)
  • The Dog Patch - [7] - Seafood, steaks, and sandwiches.
  • Falling Rock Cafe [8] - Gourmet coffee and tea, homemade food. Also a bookstore.
  • High Fives Grill - Also a bowling alley
  • Johnny Dogs [9] - Hot dogs
  • Muldoon's Pasties [10] - Traditional Upper Peninsula pasties
  • Navigator - Nautical themed dining near the water
  • Shooters Firehouse Brewpub [11]
  • Sydney's [12]

Drink[edit]

Munising also has a few bars, but visitors looking for more exciting nightlife should head to Marquette, about 50 miles West.

Sleep[edit]

Lodging[edit]

There are no hotels operated within the park, but there are several hotels, resorts, and cabins for rent in and around Munising, and a a few in Grand Marais.

Camping[edit]

There are three campsites within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

  • Little Beaver Lake Campground - This small campground is located 3 miles north of Alger County Road H-58 and 20 miles northeast of Munising. It features 8 campsites.
  • Hurricane River Campground - This campground is located 12 miles west of Grand Marais on County Road H-58 on the shores of Lake Superior. It has 21 campsites.
  • Twelvemile Beach Campground - This campground is located 15 miles west of Grand Marais off Alger County Road H-58. It has 36 sites, located on a sandy plateau overlooking Lake Superior. It is the most popular campground in the park.

Campgrounds are operated on a first come, first served basis. There are no reservations. There is a fee of $14 per night, per campsite, except at Twelvemile Beach, which is $16 per night. The campsites are rustic and do not have electrical hookups or showering facilities. For more information, refer to the National Park Service's page on camping [13].

There are also several campgrounds outside the park, many of which are less secluded and have more amenities.

Backcountry[edit]

Backcountry camping is permitted in the park for a fee of $5 per night. Unlike the drive-up campsites, reservations CAN be made at backcountry campsites, but only in person at least 14 days in advance of the trip (and for a fee of $15).

Stay safe[edit]

Those rock formations aren't just pretty; they're dangerous. Falls from them have been fatal. Lake Superior waves can be rough, and kayakers should be aware of the dangers and always travel with the proper safety equipment. Normal precautions should be taken when consuming water from Lake Superior or from any of the inland lakes and streams (it should either be filtered or boiled to remove any possible pathogens). Any other outdoor safety precautions apply.

Get out[edit]

  • Munising - has a wide variety of other attractions besides the National Lakeshore, including Grand Island National Recreation Area and shipwreck tours conducted on glass-bottomed boats.
  • Tahquamenon Falls State Park - featuring one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, is a couple hours' drive to the east.
  • Marquette - is a popular tourist destination about an hour to the west, along the lakeshore.
  • Mackinac Island - a popular tourist destination about two hours East of Munising, located in the Straits of Mackinac between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas
  • Isle Royale - Michigan's only National Park, located off the northern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, roughly three and a half hours West.
  • Porcupine Mountains - a large state park in the Western Upper Peninsula known for breathtaking mountains and inland lakes. About three hours West.



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