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Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Ultimate Guide

pictured rocks national lakeshore

Discover Michigan’s Beautiful Pictured Rocks

You’ve probably heard Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore?

These towering, colorful sandstone cliffs on the shores of Lake Superior are truly a natural work of art…and you have to SEE them to believe they’re real.

Located on a pristine stretch of Lake Superior coastline east of Munising, the Pictured Rocks are a Michigan must-see. Towering 50 to 200 feet above the lake, these dramatically beautiful cliffs are one of the top tourist destinations in the U.S, and with good reason, too.

It’s an amazing diverse area of enchanting natural beauty. You’ll find thick forests with waterfalls spilling over the rocks into the lake, and clear inland lakes and streams to explore. You’ll find cliffs, beaches and sand dunes, and lots of wildlife, too.

It’s no wonder that Pictured Rocks is one of the most-visited national parks in the country. If you’re seeking unique experiences, for a day trip or longer vacation, this United States National Park might be exactly what you seek.

Read on to discover MORE about Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

painted sandstone cliffs in pictured rocks national lakeshore

Explore Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Located on the Lake Superior Coast between Grand Marais and Munising MI, the Pictured Rocks shoreline is testament to the natural beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Imagine watching a performance of dancing northern lights from a beach campground, or taking a sunset paddle in a kayak around Grand Island National Recreation Area.

These are the types of memory-making moments made in the Pictured Rocks every single day.

Pictured Rocks national lakeshore

Must-See Spots in Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

1.Sable Beach Area
2. Sable Falls
3. Hurricane River
4.Miner’s BEACH AREA
5. Chapel Rock
6. Chapel Beach Area
7. Spray Falls
8. Sand Point Beach
The Pictured rocks in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Guide to the Lake Superior Shoreline

Pictured Rocks is one of Michigan’s most visited spots, with thousands of visitors from around the world journeying annually to this lakeshore backcountry miles west of Grand Marais, Michigan and with good reason.

This stunningly picturesque stretch of the Lake Superior shoreline is a geological marvel and a hub of outdoor activity all year long.

Throughout the summer and fall months, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a spot for boating, kayaking and exploration via the numerous hiking trails in area.

A trip aboard the Pictured Rocks boat, a tour that takes visitors out into Lake Superior to view the rocks from the water is a must, unless you plan to view the painted rocks by sea kayak.

In fact, Pictured Rocks’ kayaking is one of the most popular ways to take in the majestic beauty of the shoreline.

pictured rocks national lakeshore in the winter

Pictured Rocks in the Winter

In the winter months, the ice caves and ice along the shoreline bring tourists eager for a view of this United States national park on the lakeshore.

Winter activity includes crosscountry skiing; ice fishing; and ice climbing; as caves and ice formations are an irresistible draw for those seeking adventure in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

You might things about planning your visit in the fall, when the fiery fall foliage stands out against the brilliant blue Lake Superior. It’s a perfect spot for a Michigan fall color tour.

If you decide to visit, be sure and check out Munising’s interpretive center.

Pictured Rocks grand Island Ice caves

Frozen Pictured Rocks: Grand Island Ice Caves

Pictured Rock National Lakeshore is scenic all year round. But if you’re looking for a winter adventure, there are a few destinations to seek out.

Ice formations can be found all over the lakeshore during the winter, and the Grand Island Ice Caves are a sight to see.

When the ice bridge forms over Lake Superior, explorers are known to travel to Grand Island off of the lakeshore coast to see these incredible curtains of ice and snow.

Yet, not even the mighty roaring waters of the Upper Peninsula can outmatch winter’s power.

The impressive waterfalls throughout the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, like Miners Falls, Spray Falls, and Chapel Falls, will freeze. If you want to see time stand still, explore the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the wintertime.

As always, travel with lots of caution as Lake Superior is not always frozen, and roads can be slick in the winter.

kayaking in the pictured rocks

How Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Was Formed

The Pictured Rocks shoreline is part of the Munising Formation, an almost 2,000 feet-thick rock formation that juts out from Michigan into Lake Superior. Millions of years ago, mineral deposits created the rock formations off of Lake Superior that we see today.

Minerals like copper, iron, and manganese streamed down the cliff sides, creating brilliant streaks of color.

Glaciers cut through northern land masses creating a rugged, unique terrain. These became the picturesque Pictured Rocks.

Founded in 1966, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was the first established national lakeshore in the United States.

And for good reason: this is arguably the prettiest spot along the beautiful Lake Superior shoreline, and the views and serene landscape are second to none.

Even though the cliffs are the most famous spot, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has so much more to see and offers 15 miles of beautiful, unmissable scenery from Grand Island to Grand Marais.

If you’re into backcountry camping, you’ll find some fabulous spots for a campsite in Pictured Rocks.

Michigan's pictured rocks national lakeshore

What To See in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

The casual viewer can enjoy the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by land just fine; Twelvemile Beach and surrounding trails in Munising offer a chance to experience the beautiful area by foot.

However, if you don’t know about these highlights, you may be missing out on an even better experience.

Here’s everywhere you need to know to plan your visit to the Pictured Rocks.

Sable Dunes in pictured rocks

Sable Beach Area

The Sable Beach area is the gateway to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. At the eastern part of the lakeshore lies Sable Beach, a rocky shore on the edge of Lake Superior. It holds many not-so-hidden wonders, like the Grand Sable Dunes and Sable falls, which tumbles 75 feet over a rocky cliff into Lake Superior.

A few miles west of Grand Marais is Grand Sable Lake and the Grand Sable Banks and Dunes.

While the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore usually gets all the attention, the mighty Grand Sable Dunes shouldn’t be ignored.

Located just near Grand Marais, the dunes tower 300 feet above Lake Superior; making it the highest point in the entire lakeshore.

Home to many rare species, the dunes are also designated as a Research Natural Area. If you’re looking to explore somewhere completely unique, and you’re not afraid of heights, you need to see the pristine dunes.

Hike the trails offered near the Grand Sable Visitor Center, or the North Country National Scenic Trail which cuts through Grand Marais.

These trails will give you a jaw-dropping view of the incredible sloping landscape.

Sable falls in the upper peninsula

Sable Falls

Just nearby, the Sable Falls are another can’t-miss destination. This gorgeous waterfall just near Sable Beach is a cascading wonderland. Hike the Sable Falls Trail for a better look, and take the long staircase down for the best view.

You’ll also be able to catch some amazing Lake Superior vistas from the Log Slide Overlook, located not far from Au Sable Light Station, a still-active lighthouse within the lakeshore.

hurricane river in pictured rocks

Hurricane River

There’s a beautiful area you won’t want to miss when you visit the Picture Rocks; a spot that’s thrilling in its raw, natural beauty. It’s the spots where the 6.4 mile-long Hurricane River empties into Lake Superior, and the contrast between these two bodies of water is spectacular any season of the year.

Pictured Rocks area Miners beach

Miners Beach Area

The waters of Miners Beach are crystal blue and completely enchanting. Right near the western edge of the lakeshore, this spot is unforgettable for a few good reasons.

It’s just a short trek through the forest to get to the shore, where you can kayak, swim, or marvel at the other wonders of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Get a glimpse of the Miners Castle Rock, one of the most famous formations on the entire lakeshore.

The mineral layers combined with the interesting winding shape of the rock is what gives it its name- miners castle. Although it’s still changing (a turret falls every now and then), it’s a stoic and timeless sight.

miners river in pictured rocks

Elliott Falls

Another trek back through the forest takes you to the Miners Falls, the most powerful waterfall on the entire lakeshore.

These falls stretch more than 50 feet high, cascading the water of the Miners River over gorgeous sandstone. Get the best view of the falls from descending the staircase to the lower viewing platform, and bask in your amazing surroundings.

Near Miners is Elliott Falls, a historic landmark. Although these scenic waterfalls only drop three feet, they have captured that hearts of travelers who return ,year after year to back in the natural beauty of the area.

chapel rock in pictured rocks national lakeshore

Chapel Rock

One of the more popular photo destinations, Chapel Rock is completely deserving of all the hype surrounding it. Hike to the famous Chapel Loop to get a look at the layers of sedimentary history.

This rock, a geological marvel, was formed by layers of rock and millions of years of watery erosion. Now, a lone 250-year-old white pine tree stands on the cartoon-like formation, perfect for photo ops.

Chapel Beach

The dramatic scenery of Chapel Rock and Beach can be explored from the 10 mile Chapel Loop trail, which passes through Mosquito Beach, the pictured cliffs, and the entire Chapel Rock area, including grand portal point and Indian head. But don’t go too close to the edge!

The Mosquito River, an almost seven-mile long Lake Superior tributary, opens up to Lake Superior in a calm and quiet bay here.

Secluded Mosquito beach provides a quiet and serene spot that is fun to explore.

Spray falls in pictured rocks

Spray Falls

Right in the middle of the national lakeshore is Spray Falls, another iconic waterfall. This one stretches 70 feet high, with its waters plunging directly into Lake Superior.

Beautiful, remote, and majestic, you should definitely take a moment to explore these falls.

You can start your hike at the Beaver Basin Trail, or get a view from below by boating or kayaking.

Sand Point Beach

Continue along the national lakeshore and you’ll come to Sand Point Beach and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Park headquarters, where you can find additional information to help you plan your trip.

sandstone cliffs in pictured rocks

Sandstone Cliffs

What makes the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore unique are the mineral-stained Sandstone Cliffs, the purest example of artistry in nature. Towering over the waters of the lake, every nature lover should visit the Sandstone Cliffs at least once in their lifetime.

Experience these ancient paintings by hiking, kayaking, or boat tours. The best view is from the water, so try Pictured Rock Cruises for narrated boat or kayak tours.

mosquito falls in pictured rocks

Waterfalls in and Around Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

As if the the sheer beauty of the Pictured Rocks wasn’t enough, there’s even more to see on your visit to the area. While you may have heard of the Upper Peninsula’s Tahquamenon Falls, there are actually more spectacular falls worth checking out on your visit.

Five additional waterfalls, some plunging as far as 70 feet over a rocky cliff into Lake Superior, are within easy distance of the Pictured Rocks in nearby Munising.

Here are five waterfalls that you should try and see during your visit to Pictured Rocks:

  • Bridalveil Falls
  • Laughing Whitefish Falls
  • Mosquito Falls
  • Munising Falls
  • Wagner Falls
Presque Isle Lighthouse in Upper Peninsula

More Upper Peninsula Spots to Explore

If you’re planning an extended visit in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, be sure to include time to explore some of the must-see spots in the area. They include the Porcupine Mountains, Keweenaw National Historical Park and Isle Royal National Park. You can read more about the Upper Peninsula HERE.

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About the Author-
Nora Rhein is a student at Wayne State University majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Theatre Management. She writes for publications like The South End student newspaper and Ease Up Magazine. She also serves as the Low Brass Section Leader in the Warrior Marching Band, and loves to explore Michigan’s beautiful parks with her greyhound, Skyrocket.