It’s finally summer time and for my family, that means camping and exploring our beautiful state of Michigan. As soon as school was let out, we packed up the camper and headed north.
This trip was extra special because as a wedding photographer, I was traveling to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore area in Munising to photograph a wedding for a dear friend of mine – and the family got to come along on a Pictured Rocks boat tour!
We’ve slowly been making our way through the Upper Peninsula as the kids get older and can handle longer car rides. This time, we left home later at night, so we boondocked at the Walmart in Gaylord before making the rest of the drive to Munising in the morning.
The kids thought it was hilarious that we were “camping” in the Walmart parking lot – we’d never done that before, but if you are ever traveling with a camper and need a quick night stop, it’s legal to boondock in Walmart parking lots (the more you know!).
After a few hours of travel, the family dropped me off at my friend’s wedding ceremony location while they set up the camper at the Munising KOA Journey and got prepped to meet me and the wedding party at The Duck Pond Eatery & Beer Garden for dinner, drinks and a Pictured Rocks Grand Island boat tour.
The Duck Pond Eatery & Beer Garden
The road to the Duck Pond Eatery & Beer Garden takes you right through charming Christmas, Michigan where you can see Santa every month of the year. With tons of parking available, it wasn’t hard to find a spot.
Now, I can’t say how that would be in the warmer months, but for June, we didn’t have a problem on a Friday afternoon.
Every time we end up in the Upper Peninsula, I try my hardest to eat my weight in fresh whitefish (how can you not?!). The Duck Pond Eatery & Beer Garden did not disappoint, in fact, they offer whitefish appetizers, sandwiches, tacos, fish and chips, and a whitefish chowder.
I treated myself to a blackened whitefish sandwich with some sweet potato tots (yum!) and was not disappointed. I wish I wouldn’t snagged a photo of my meal, but I was so excited to dig in, I didn’t even give it a second thought. Just trust me – it was divine.
Outstanding Beer & Food Selection
Not only is the food delicious – did I mention they had sweet potato tots, cheese curds and poutine? – but the beer selection is outstanding. I chose the Blood Orange Haze from Big Lake Brewing while my husband went with a Michigan Amber. We sat and ate in the beer garden area.
When we visited in June, the air was still a bit chilly, so we enjoyed our meal surrounded by outdoor heaters, making the patio area super cozy.
Lots to Do at Paddler’s Village
After eating, we took a stroll around the property while waiting for our scheduled Pictured Rocks boat tour. In the parking lot of the Duck Pond Eatery & Beer Garden is the office to schedule tours – guided boat and kayak – or book a stay at their Paddler’s Village.
Throughout our summer travels, we love noticing how there are more all-in-one businesses in the upper lower peninsula and the U.P. than what we normally see in our area between Detroit and Flint.
We sure do love a general store, ice cream shop and tubing rental like we’ve seen near Burt Lake and we definitely are fans of the Duck Pond Eatery & Beer Garden where you can eat, drink, schedule kayak and boat tours and even stay overnight on the shore of the lake.
With about 1/3rd of a mile of lakefront available, guests are able to sometimes see the northern lights and can push their kayaks in right from their campsite.
Pictured Rocks Grand Island Cruise
The dock for the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Grand Island boat ride is about a ¼ mile walk from the restaurant, through Paddler’s Village and along the lake shore. Golf cart rides are offered to those who are not able to make the trek easily, which was perfect for a portion of the group that we were traveling with.
The boat doubles as a dinner cruise so guests are welcome to bring food and drink aboard – grab some takeout from the Duck Pond and enjoy it on the water!
Grand Island Fun Facts
Once we all met up at the dock, we boarded and were given a little safety lesson from the captain and his crewmate. This ride was pretty casual as we were with a wedding party, so there wasn’t a formal guided tour.
However, our captain was incredibly knowledgeable about Pictured Rocks and gave us tidbits of information and fun facts as we were on our cruise.
There are a few cabins on Grand Island – did you know that if there is no family to take over the home once the owner passes, the state leaves the home abandoned and lets nature take over? That’s just one of the facts that were shared with us and left me so surprised!
Bundle Up for a Pictured Rocks Boat Tour
If there’s anything I can tell you to prep for a Pictured Rocks boat tour, it’s to bundle up! Thankfully, our family was prepared with our winter coats for the ride. The temperature on land was around 65 degrees, but on the water, it was much chillier.
Even with our winter coats on, we were still a bit chilly. Plan on taking a blanket or two to make the ride that much more cozy!
Rock Formations and Waterfalls to Explore
Our captain guide was fantastic – not only did they offer information in a very casual way, but they were incredibly flexible when it came to taking photos and videos.
Now, for me, this was important as I was also trying to shoot some wedding photography coverage for my couple. If I envisioned a photo that included the sun over a rock formation, they were more than happy to maneuver the boat in such a way that I could capture the beautiful image.
Take the Sunset Cruise for Bold Colors & Serene Waters
Our crew was sure to take us into coves and right up to waterfalls as we circled the Grand Island. We drove so far into a cove once, you could hear the water dripping onto the roof from above!
The color of the water near the cliffs is unmatched, nearly Caribbean blue in color. While there are some tours offered during the daytime hours, I would highly recommend the sunset cruise if you love bold colors and the serene feel of the evening.
The cruise itself was about 2 hours long, taking us from shore at about 6:40 pm and returning to the docks around 8:45 pm. The lake was pretty quiet at this time – if you’re looking to take some photos of Pictured Rocks without kayakers in the picture, a sunset cruise is probably the way to go.