April 16, 2024 | Allison Robertson

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan


An Outdoorsy Oasis

If you love being outdoors, add Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to the top of your summer bucket list.

This ancient, geological masterpiece is a must-visit for adventurous tourists, hikers, kayakers, and even photographers. 

Here’s a rundown of all the best spots in the park, including trails, waterfalls, caves, and more.

lake and kayaker split image

Location

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a recreation paradise in Michigan’s upper peninsula. It’s located on the southern shore of Lake Superior between Munising and Grand Marais.

Landscape Photo of the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreLe Do, Shutterstock

Lake Superior

Lake Superior is huge and wild and can be quite rough at times. It is encouraged that only experienced adventurers take their vessels out into the waters of this massive lake.

There are inland lakes available within the park as well that are better suited for casual water exploration.

Lake Superior Taken at Bluefin Bay, Tofte, Minnesota, on the North Shore.keeva999, Flickr

History

Pictured Rocks is the first designated national lakeshore in the United States (established in 1966). It is one of only three national lakeshores in the country.

Landscape Photo of the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreRichard Hurd, Flickr

Reputation

Pictured Rocks is known for the mineral-stained sandstone cliffs that give the park its name. They stretch for 15 miles along the Lake Superior shoreline.

Landscape Photo of the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreRick Briggs, Flickr

Beauty

Aside from the already stunning formations of Pictured Rocks, striking colors appear when groundwater from the cliffs’ cracks drizzles down the rocks.

Landscape Photo of the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreWayne Silver, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Colors

The streaks on the sandstone layers highlight the various colors as the minerals react to seeping water.

Red identifies iron, black and white mean manganese, yellow and brown show limonite and pink and green show copper.

Landscape Photo of the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreWayne Silver, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Water Views

The best way to see these colorful cliffs is from the water. Usually, the in late afternoon and during the early evening sunlight is the picture-perfect time to go.

Landscape Photo of the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreMr. Nixter, Flickr

Geology

The rock layers represent two widely separated intervals of geologic time, the Late Precambrian, Cambrian, and Early Ordovician Periods (500-800 million years before present), and the Late Quaternary Period (two million years before present to the present).

Landscape Photo of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshorejeffhutchison, Flickr

A Treasure

The beauty of Pictured Rocks was so impressive that sandstone from the cliffs was quarried from nearby Grand Island to be used in the construction of town buildings in the late 1800s.

Landscape Photo of the Grand Island East Channel, Lake SuperiorCharles W. Bash, Flickr

An Outdoor Paradise

The miles of cliffs are not the only attraction at Pictured Rocks, though. There are miles of beaches, woodlands, and over 100 miles of trails taking you through the park’s unmatched beauty.

Let’s explore some of the top sites in the park.

Landscape Photo of the White Pine Trail at the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreJames Marvin Phelps, Flickr

The Beaches

There are six main beaches within Pictured Rocks Park—and none of them have lifeguards. They all provide stunning views and pristine shorelines that are perfect for wading, reading, photography, and more.

Miners Beach at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper PeninsulaJoe Passe, Flickr

Sand Point Beach

Sand Point Beach is the most popular beach in the park. It is usually the warmest one, with shallower water and less waves—making it perfect for families.

This is the only beach with picnic tables on the sand.

Landscape Photo of Sand Beach at the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreJim Liestman, Flickr

Chapel Falls Trail

Chapel Falls Trail offers a 2.5-mile round trip hike along an old roadbed through an upland maple forest. It brings you to a breathtaking 60-foot-high waterfall.

Woman at the Chapel Falls of the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreHeather, flickr

Miners Castle

Miners Castle is easily the most popular spot in the entire park. Years of erosion created this interesting rock formation, that is sadly crumbling today.

A short walk from the parking lot will take you to three different viewing platforms.

Miners Castle at the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreJames Marvin Phelps, Flickr

Miners Castle: The Beach

You can go past the viewing platforms and extend your hike downhill to the black-speckled sand of Miners Beach—another favorite among visitors.

You can get to this beach through some of the trails in the park as well.

Miners Beach the Pictured Rocks National LakeshorePictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Flickr

Munising Falls Trail

The Munising Falls trail is a paved, accessible walkway that lengths about 800 feet and takes you to an observation deck to see the falls.

Munising Falls at the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreJim Renaud, Flickr

The North Country Scenic Trail

The North Country Scenic trail will lead you 42 miles through the park, offering stunning views along the way.

North Country Scenic Trail Along the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreAnapko, Flickr

Grand Portal Point

Grand Portal Point offers one of the best views in Pictured Rocks Park. It’s not only full of intriguing caverns and unique rock formations, but it also has a suspended archway, and a massive rock face that make you suddenly realize how small you are.

Grand Portal Point at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshoremalderink, Flickr

Spray Falls

Spray Falls is a remote waterfall and is considered one of the most picturesque aspects of Pictured Rocks. The water plunges 70 feet over the cliffs into Lake Superior, with an 1856 shipwreck at its base.

You can get to the falls by following the North Country Scenic Trail.

Spray Falls at the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreJim Liestman, Flickr

Lover’s Leap

Lover’s Leap is a favorite feature among kayakers. The imposing rock arch extends from the shoreline to an outcrop located directly in Lake Superior.

Lovers' Leap at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshorejeffhutchison, Flickr

Lover’s Leap: Folklore

Legend has it, a couple displayed their love for each other by jumping off the arch together. Please, do not attempt this. The water below the arch is only a few feet deep and not at all suitable for jumping or diving.

Lovers' Leap at the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreDavid Marvin, Flickr

Bridalveil Falls

Bridalveil Falls is a beautiful, seasonal waterfall that often appears on postcards for the park. It is best viewed from the water, or at a distance.

Bridalveil Falls in the Fog at Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreWildnerdpix, Shutterstock

Chapel Rock

This stunning sandstone formation was carved by the high water some 3,800 years ago and was dubbed Chapel Rock by French Explorers.

Chapel Rock at the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreAndrew McFarlane, Flickr

Chapel Rock: The Lone Tree

It once had an archway connecting it to the mainland, but that collapsed in the 1940s. The lone white pine growing on top of the rock is estimated to be about 250 years old.

Chapel Rock at the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreJames Marvin Phelps, Flickr

Guided Boat Tours

Pictured Rocks Cruises are available for visitors. This tour takes you around to see all the highlights of the park, including waterfalls, caves, cliffs, beaches, rock formations, a lighthouse, and more.

Landscape Photo of the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreChris857, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Paddle Tours

Kayak tours will take you by boat to a specific launch point where you will then steer through some of the sandstone caves, touch the mineral layers and glide over crystal clear waters below. The boat stays close in case you need a break.

Kayaking the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreAllieKF, Flickr

Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours

These tours happen daily from Memorial weekend until the second week of October and reservations are encouraged. Your two-hour trip will include a visit to two different shipwreck sites as you journey near rock cliffs and through caves, and numerous other stunning sights.

Shipwreck remains at the Pictured Rocks National LakeshorePictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Flickr

Boating & Kayaking

Boating and kayaking along the rugged Lake Superior remains a popular route for tourists looking to explore the lakeshore up close and personal.

Miners Beach Kayaking at the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreTony Webster, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Diving & Snorkeling

Pictured Rocks is one of the best places in the Midwest United States for diving and snorkeling. Both activities are permitted throughout the park.

Snorkeling at the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreNational Parks Gallery, Picryl

Fishing

There are multiple places within Pictured Rocks Park to fish, including Lake Superior, inland lakes, and numerous streams.

Popular fish caught here are smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye, yellow perch, whitefish and smelt. And various trout species.

Fishing Along The Miners River at the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreNational Parks Gallery, Picryl

Hunting

Hunting is also permitted in the park from after Labor Day to March 31st. You will find a variety of wild game in the grown-over farm fields, hardwood forests and cedar swamps along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Sable Falls the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreJim Sorbie, Flickr

Winter Activities

There is no shortage of snow in Pictured Rocks Park in the winter months. Visitors enjoy snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.

Sable Falls In Winter at the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreJames Marvin Phelps, Flickr

The Ice Curtains

One of the best places to check out during the winter is the ice curtains that tower up to 50 feet high between Munising Falls and Sand Point.

Ice Curtains at Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreNational Parks Gallery, Picryl

Ice Climbing

For those adventurous enough to try it, ice climbing is available along the escarpment between Munising Falls and Sand Point.

Ice Climbing At Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreNational Parks Gallery, Picryl

Final Thoughts

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is undoubtably Michigan’s most beautiful hidden gem, where vibrant sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, and pristine lakeshores create a breathtaking landscape that can be enjoyed on both land and water.

If you haven’t already, add it to your summer bucket list—and don’t forget your camera!

Landscape Photo of the Pictured Rocks National LakeshoreRick Briggs, FlickrSources: 1, 2


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