Right up there with Mackinac Island, Tahquamenon Falls, and the Porcupine Mountains, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the most popular areas of the Upper Peninsula, and for good reason! I’ve visited Pictured Rocks a few times, and because there’s so much to do and see there, I thought it’d be useful to write a “beginners guide to Pictured Rocks.”
First things first: Stop at the visitor’s center. I can almost guarantee there are way more cool things to see and do in Pictured Rocks and the Munising area then you’ll have time for. The visitor’s center not only has a ton of awesome free information (like a map, which you’ll need) but they can help you plan your stay so that you don’t burn yourself out by trying to do too much.
Where to Stay
Leave the hotels for Traverse City. When you come to Pictured Rocks, you’re camping. There are three campgrounds in the National Lakeshore and many state campgrounds right nearby. If you like to be near Lake Superior, I’d recommend grabbing a spot at either Lower Hurricane River campground or Twelvemile beach campground. Both campgrounds tend to fill up quick in summer, though, so get there early if you can. However, there is constant turnover so it can’t hurt to drive around and look for a spot even if you don’t roll in until later in the day.
What to Do
There are tons of great hikes in Pictured Rocks, so I’d recommend picking one with a length that looks right for your hiking ability (use the map that you got from the visitors center) and then hitting the trail first thing in the morning. It’s a great way to get active before the sun blazes down on you, and besides, there are fewer people on the trails in the morning. I like to hike along the beach to the Au Sable Lighthouse as well as the hike to Chapel Falls. Both of those are roughly three miles round trip.
And as far as what to do next, there are tons of options so I’ll just list a bunch. You take a cruise to view the Pictured Rocks cliffs either from a regular cruise boat, or a converted navy seal boat. Or, you could rent a pontoon boat and make your own tour! Since the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore is home to so many shipwrecks, a glass bottom boat shipwreck tour is a fun option. Or, if you’re into paddling, you could rent kayaks and go on a guided tour of the Pictured Rocks shoreline.
Now let’s talk about waterfalls. Pictured Rocks is one of those areas of the Upper Peninsula that has a high concentration of waterfalls. The waterfalls brochure I picked up from the visitors center lists twenty one separate waterfalls. Twenty one! I’d recommend picking two to five (depending how much you like waterfalls) and then trying to work your waterfall visits into other things you’d like to do. For example, if you hike to Chapel Falls, boom, you’ve got a hike and waterfall in for the day, just like that. I’ve only seen a few of the twenty one waterfalls so far, but I like Chapel Falls, Tannery Falls, Memorial Falls and Munising Falls. (Tip: the last three waterfalls listed are really close together, so you could see all of them in about an hour or less if you wanted.)
As far as general sightseeing goes, you should definitely check out Miners Castle, a cool rock formation that shoots up from Lake Superior. It’s easy to get to and just a short walk from the parking area to the viewing platform. Also easy to get to and equally awesome is the Log Slide overlook. If you’re up for a bit of a hike, Chapel Rock is another visual highlight of the park.
To summarize, unless you’re one of those lucky people roaming the country in an RV, there’s probably more to do in Pictured Rocks than you have time for. That’s okay! You’ll just have to hit the high points and come back again. With this guide and the free information you pick up at the visitors center, your first experience at Pictured Rocks is sure to be nothing short of awesome!