Seemingly rising from the foreboding waters of Lake Superior, Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the most breathtaking geological wonders in the state.
Now protected and preserved so that people can continue to enjoy the wonders of these layered walls for years to come, Pictured Rocks is an iconic Upper Peninsula destination and a must-visit area for people of all ages.
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. This national park in Michigan is a popular spot for day trips and extended getaways alike, making it one of the best things to do in Michigan!
About the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
The cliffs and rocky formations that make up Pictured Rocks stretch for more than 15 miles along the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
These formations are aptly named — the colorful sandstone makes them particularly beautiful to look at, and the interesting formations appear to resemble castle turrets, animals, battleships, human profiles, and more.
In 1966, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore became the first protected lakeshore in the country. Since then, only two more areas have been designated as such.
While Pictured Rocks is a popular tourist destination in Munising Michigan, it has played a critical role in life in this region for thousands upon thousands of years.
Formation of Pictured Rocks
When you take a look at Pictured Rocks, you are actually getting a snapshot of history. The colorful layers that create the beautiful formations that we see today showcase the development of these formations over millions of years.
Scientists and researchers say that you can see four geologic periods when you look at Pictured Rocks, including the Precambrian, Cambrian, Ordovician, and Quaternary periods.
As the water levels of Lake Superior rose and fell throughout ancient times, the rock formations changed. The layers that are easily seen today showcase how those levels changed, and the many sea caves and arches highlight just how powerful the waters of Lake Superior are.
Human History Along the Park
Native Americans and European settlers have long lived in the region surrounding Pictured Rocks. These rock formations played a pivotal role in both the maritime and logging industries. By the mid-20th century, community leaders thought it best to actively work to protect and preserve the lakeshore.
Pictured Rocks Today
The Pictured Rocks that you visit today are protected and preserved so that generations of people will be able to enjoy the mystical beauty. However, these rock formations are not set in stone.
Similar to a living being, the rock formations are constantly changing and shifting. Erosion continues to impact Pictured Rocks, often revealing new layers for people to enjoy and discover.
Weather Patterns at Pictured Rocks
The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is notorious for having extreme and unpredictable weather.
The dark, deep waters of Lake Superior have a major impact on the climate in the local region, and the rocks’ location in the far reaches of the Upper Peninsula makes it particularly susceptible to storms, harsh winds, and cool temperatures.
In the spring, fall, and winter you can expect winter-like conditions at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Temperatures often hover between 25 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and snow falls frequently.
Summer may be slow to arrive, but when it does, the weather is gorgeous in this region of Michigan. The average temperature is around 70 degrees, making it cool yet comfortable for Pictured Rocks boat tours.
Things to Do at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
From relaxing excursions to exciting outdoor activities, there is something for everyone to enjoy at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. These are the best things to do at Pictured Rocks throughout the year.
Visit Pictured Rocks Visitors Center
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 than you’ll have time for.
The Pictured Rocks Visitor Center is the main hub for visitors to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Located in Munising, the venue offers exhibits, educational programs, and information about the park’s history, geology, and wildlife.
The Pictured Rocks 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.
Visitors can purchase permits for backcountry camping and obtain information about hiking trails, scenic drives, and other park activities. The visitor center is a great place to start exploring the park and to learn about the natural wonders that make it such a unique and special place.
Embark on a Pictured Rocks Cruise
One of the most popular activities for tourists who are visiting Pictured Rocks during the summer and early fall is a tour with Pictured Rocks Cruises.
This seasonal excursion takes visitors onto the water to enjoy a boat ride along the lakeshore where they can see Pictured Rocks the way that it is meant to be seen.
According to UPTravel.com, most Pictured Rocks boat tours begin in Munising Bay and highlight East Channel Lighthouse, Grand Island, Miners Castle, the Painted Coves, Caves of All Colors, Lovers’ Leap, Rainbow Cave, Indian Head, Gull Rookery, Grand Portal, Battleship Rocks, Flower Vase, Indian Drum, Chapel Cove, Chapel Rock, and Spray Falls.
Typically, the cruises operate from mid-May until mid-October, and advanced reservations are recommended. Those who take a tour will enjoy a boat ride that lasts for about three hours, traveling 40 miles round-trip along the shoreline.
During that time, guests can listen to a tour guide narrate the journey and provide additional information about the geological history of the formations, the human history of the area, and more.
Visit the Famous Waterfalls Near Pictured Rocks
As if the sandstone cliffs aren’t beautiful enough, more than half a dozen cascading Pictured Rocks waterfalls are easily accessible to visitors. If you are looking for a waterfall tour during your time at Pictured Rocks, consider including these falls on your itinerary.
I’d recommend picking two to five (depending on 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.
Pro Tip: Tannery Falls, Memorial Falls, and Munsing Falls are pretty close together, making them an easy group to see in a short period of time.
One of the easiest waterfalls to visit in the area, Munising Falls can be accessed via a trail that begins near the city’s downtown area. The paved trail and viewing platforms make it a favorite among guests of all ages and skill levels.
If you are craving the sound of a crushing waterfall, then this is the stop for you. A half-mile gravel trail off Miners Castle Road will take you to these beautiful waterfalls, and if you would like to reach the lower viewing platform, steps are there to guide you.
Don’t miss this picturesque waterfall located in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is easily accessible by a short hike and offers stunning views of the surrounding forest.
Go Paddling Along the Edge of the Coast
Kayaking and paddling are two irresistible activities for those who seek adventures that allow them to connect with the natural world around them.
While kayaking is popular at Pictured Rocks, most park guides and staff members recommend seriously considering the risks beforehand. Kayaking solo along the shoreline can be dangerous — even the most experienced paddlers are not always prepared for the might of Lake Superior.
If you wish to enjoy this experience, your best bet is to book a guided tour. This will ensure that you have the equipment needed to safely traverse the waters and a trusted guide who can help you navigate along the way. When it comes to paddling along Pictured Rocks, there is strength in numbers.
Visit the Au Sable Light Station
Pictured Rocks has long stood guard over the waters of Lake Superior, and this lakeshore has played an important role in Michigan’s maritime history. Naturally, it made sense to design and construct a light station to guide the ships passing by the rocky waters.
Today, visitors to Pictured Rocks can stop by the Au Sable Light Station, which is the only lighthouse located inside the boundaries of the protected national lakeshore.
For more than 150 years, this lighthouse has been assisting mariners as they navigate the dangerous waters of Lake Superior. It was first built in 1873 and was operated by civil light keepers until 1945.
The Coast Guard maintained and operated the tower between 1945 and 1958, at which point it became automated. The Au Sable Light Station is still in operation, and visitors can access the lighthouse via a 1.5-mile trail.
During the summer, lighthouse tours are available on specific days and times for those who are interested in learning more about the history of the light, the keepers who operated it, and the role it continues to play today.
Step Into the Icy Waters of Lake Superior at a Nearby Beach
The beaches along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are considered some of the most beautiful in the Upper Peninsula. Known for its soft, white sand and incredible views, these beaches are ideal for a relaxing day at the lakeshore.
Twelvemile Beach is a stunning public beach located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It stretches for 12 miles along the shore of Lake Superior. The beach is surrounded by towering sand dunes, lush forests, and crystal-clear waters that are perfect for swimming, kayaking, and paddle boarding.
Also, visitors can enjoy hiking trails that offer scenic views of the beach and surrounding landscape. Twelvemile Beach is an excellent destination for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and anyone looking for a peaceful and relaxing getaway.
Sand Point & Miners Beach
Families who are looking for a place to swim for a bit will love Sand Point Beach, which has shallow areas for splashing. Sometimes, it has warmer water temperatures than other beaches.
Miners Beach is another large beach that attracts tourists who want to spend a day in the sun and sand.
Mosquito Beach is a secluded and scenic beach. It is accessible only by boat or a 3-mile hike from the Chapel-Mosquito Trailhead.
The beach offers stunning views of the towering sandstone cliffs and crystal-clear waters of Lake Superior. Visitors can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking in this peaceful and serene setting.
NOTE: Keep in mind that Lake Superior’s shorelines are constantly shifting and changing the landscape of the beaches, so they can look different from year to year. And generally speaking, the water will be pretty cold!
Go Leaf-Peeping Near the Lakeshore
Fall is one of the most spectacular seasons of the year to experience the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Not only can you glance at the wonder of the rocks themselves, but the colors of the sandstone are amplified by the hues of gold, crimson, and orange that burst from the trees. The best ways to experience the fall colors at Pictured Rocks include:
- Taking a late-season Pictured Rocks cruise
- Spending a day on one of the beaches
- Hiking the trails to see the depth of the colors throughout the park
Try Your Hand at Ice Climbing
For a less-than-typical winter activity, consider ice climbing along the cliffs in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
However, we don’t actually mean the sandstone cliffs that rise from the waters of Lake Superior — while ice cliffs are common along Pictured Rocks, they are not safe for climbing. Safer spots to go ice climbing include:
- Sand Point, which is known for its curtains of blue ice formations
- Miners Falls, which is accessible only after a 3-mile snowshoe hike
Ice climbing is best reserved for those who have experience and who own the right equipment to safely enjoy the activity. For the most part, you will find ice cliff formations along the lakeshore from late December until early April.
Choose a Trail to Hike Through the Heart of Pictured Rocks
More than 100 miles of trails wind throughout the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, leading hikers into dense, forested areas along the sandstone cliffs and up toward waterfalls.
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 hike to Chapel Falls. Both of those are roughly three miles round trip.
Hikers will be able to find a variety of trails that suit their skill levels and allow them to enjoy the experiences that they prefer. Popular hiking trails in Pictured Rocks include:
- Sand Point Marsh Trail — 0.5 miles
- Grand Sable Dunes Trail — 2.5 miles
- Spray Falls Trail — 2.5 miles
- Au Sable Light Station Trail — 3.5 miles
- Mosquito Falls Trail — 3.5 miles
- Beaver Creek Trail — 7.2 miles
- Chapel Loop Trail — 10.4 miles
- Chapel-Mosquito Trail — 10.8 miles
- North Country Trail — 42 miles (section through Pictured Rocks)
Miners Castle Trail
One of the best day hikes in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is the hike to Miners Castle Overlook. The trail that leads to the overlook is less than 1 mile, making it easy for people of all skill levels to reach.
Once you get to the overlook, you will find three viewing platforms, so there is plenty of space to soak up the natural beauty that surrounds you.
Miners Beach Trail
If you are in search of a longer hike, you might consider the Miners Castle to Miners Beach Trail. Spanning for about 2 miles, this trail will take you down from the overlook to the gorgeous views of Miners Beach.
As you traverse through the forested areas, you will need to wade across Miners River. It’s a trail that is both rigorous and relaxing, making it a favorite among hikers with some experience.
Explore Chapel Rock & Chapel Beach
Chapel Rock and Chapel Beach are popular attractions in Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Chapel Rock is a remnant of Cambrian-age sandstone that was carved by Lake Nipissing high water some 3,800 years ago. The rock is a beautiful sculpture that was once connected to the mainland by an archway that collapsed in the 1940s.
Chapel Beach is a 6-mile round-trip day hike from the parking area at the end of Chapel Rd. The beautiful beach contains high bluffs, the mouth of the Chapel River, and the famous Chapel Rock. Pets are prohibited on Chapel Beach and all trails in the Chapel area.
Enjoy Fishing in the Upper Peninsula on an Inland Lake
There are several inland lakes near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. These include Chapel Lake, Beaver Lake, and Mosquito River Flowage.
These lakes offer opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and wildlife-watching. Also, visitors can enjoy hiking trails that lead to these lakes and offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
During the winter months, these inland lakes near Pictured Rocks are popular destinations for ice fishing in Alger County. These are just a few great places for ice fishing in the Upper Peninsula.
More Things to Do Near Pictured Rocks
The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is the premier attraction in the Munising Michigan area, but there are a few other places worth visiting in the nearby area.
Spend a Day at the Pictured Rocks Interpretive Center
The Pictured Rocks Interpretive Center can be found in a historic building in the heart of downtown Munising. If you are looking for an in-depth look at the history of Pictured Rocks and the people who have long called this region home, this museum should absolutely be included on your itinerary.
The interpretive center is open daily, and visitors can enjoy self-guided tours of the facility that include narrated videos, artifacts, photographs, and a gift shop.
See Pictured Rocks From a Different Perspective on Grand Island
For a taste of the Upper Peninsula’s wild side, consider taking an excursion off the coast of Munising to the Grand Island National Recreation Area. This tiny island in the waters of Lake Superior showcases the rugged beauty of the Upper Peninsula wilderness.
From white sand beaches along the icy waters of the lake to densely wooded areas that can be explored by trail, Grand Island is a haven for those who love to be outdoors. With several lookout points, it’s also one of the best places to absorb the full scope and beauty of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Restaurants Near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Many of the best local restaurants near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore can be found in nearby Munising, which is the closest town to this preserved and protected area.
The full-time residents who live in the area love to welcome visitors to their establishments after a day of adventures along the shores of Lake Superior. As a result, many casual, family-friendly restaurants offer a comfortable respite.
Whether you are taking a quick cruise along the coast or planning to spend multiple days exploring the trails within Pictured Rocks, you will surely want to fuel up at some of these locally-owned restaurants in Munising.
Of all the places to choose from, Dogpatch is probably the most famous local restaurant in Munising. Located in a cabin-style building downtown, it’s easy to find this community treasure.
It is best known for its legendary vittles — meaning that it has an extensive menu filled with American-inspired comfort food that is perfect after a day of hiking, swimming, or paddling along Pictured Rocks.
Tracey’s at Roam Inn
Visitors who are searching for something reminiscent of a fine-dining experience will love Tracey’s at Roam Inn. While each meal is crafted with locally sourced ingredients and is designed to take your taste buds on a trip they won’t soon forget, the restaurant itself is still welcoming and casual.
The home-like atmosphere creates a sense of peace and tranquility, but the quality of the dishes makes this destination worthy of a celebration.
If you would rather grab a quick burger than sit down at a family-style restaurant, then you might want to head to Eh! Burger in downtown Munising.
Committed to elevating the typical fast-food experience, this restaurant serves artisan burgers crafted from locally raised meat, making them some of the most flavorful and indulgent burgers in the Upper Peninsula.
Gallery Coffee Co.
Some people need caffeine to get their days going, while others require a strong cup of joe in the afternoon to get them through. No matter when you prefer to have your cup of coffee, you will find exactly what you need at Gallery Coffee Co.
This locally owned coffee shop found its home in a 19th-century building and has renovated it according to modern standards without compromising the integrity of the architecture. Its menu features coffee made from fresh-roasted beans, and a variety of bakery items is available as well.
Mama Cow’s Ice Cream Shop
For a frozen treat, consider heading a little bit outside of Munising to Mama Cow’s Ice Cream Shop. Located in Rock River Township, this unassuming ice cream shop is the perfect place to take a break after a hike through the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
ByGeorge Brewing Co.
There is no better way to reward yourself after a day of exploring than with a handcrafted beer. In Munising, you will find that ByGeorge Brewing Co. is a local favorite, largely because of its extensive tap list.
Specializing in flavorful stouts and American beers, it offers a little something for everyone. It even has non-alcoholic beer on tap. And, it’s only one of the many breweries in the Upper Peninsula.
Where to Stay Near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
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.
Little Beaver Lake Campground
For drive-in camping, you might consider booking a site at the Little Beaver Lake Campground. This intimate campground only has eight sites, so it gives you the feeling of being one with the wilderness. Because of its proximity to the wilderness reserves, pets are not allowed at this campground.
Backcountry camping is a popular activity in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, offering visitors a unique opportunity to experience the park’s natural beauty and wilderness firsthand. There are 13 backcountry campsites scattered throughout the park, accessible only by hiking or paddling.
Permits are required for backcountry camping, and visitors are required to follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize their impact on the environment. Backcountry camping in Pictured Rocks is an excellent way to explore the park’s remote areas and enjoy a peaceful and immersive outdoor experience.
Both campgrounds tend to fill up quickly 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.
Pictured Rocks Hotels & Vacation Rentals
But if you’re looking for something a little less rustic, we’ve got some Pictured Rocks hotels and vacation rental recommendations, too.
Once you have arrived at Pictured Rocks, you are going to be so captivated that you are going to want to stay a while and soak up the beauty that surrounds you. Fortunately, there are many options for lodging in Munising and nearby towns.
Visitors who prefer to stay in a local hotel will love that there are several boutique hotels and inns in nearby Munising. With its spring green exterior and home-like setting, Roam Inn is one of the easiest hotels to find near Pictured Rocks.
Featuring 18 rooms and a variety of common amenities for guests, this inn is a favorite among those who want to enjoy the best that the city has to offer while still having easy access to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Waters Edge Vacation Rental
If you would rather have a home-away-from-home experience near Pictured Rocks, perhaps you might consider a short-term vacation rental. Many properties near the entrance to the lakeshore offer spectacular views and cozy amenities.
One available rental is this Waters Edge vacation home. Featuring one bedroom, this cozy cottage is the perfect romantic retreat near Pictured Rocks.
It offers unparalleled elevated views of Lake Superior, and guests can reach the water’s edge by walking down a small flight of stairs. This is just one example of the many vacation rentals available near Pictured Rocks.
FAQS About the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
What is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore?
Pictured Rocks consists of sandstone cliffs that rise 50 to 200 feet above Lake Superior.
Mineral seepage creates the cliffs’ vibrant colors, which are best seen from the water. Red and orange are iron, green and blue are copper, black is manganese, and white is limonite.
What is the best way to view Pictured Rocks?
A National Park Service-authorized concessionaire offers a two-hour, non-stop boat cruise along the colorful sections of the Pictured Rocks cliffs.
Guided kayak tours are also available. Significant portions of the cliffs may be reached via hiking, particularly the 10-mile Chapel-Mosquito loop trail.
What are some distinct rock formations within the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore?
The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore features several distinct rock formations, including Miners Castle, Battleship Row, Indian Head, and Lover’s Leap. Miners Castle may be the most recognized rock formation.
What happened to Miners Castle in 2006 at Pictured Rocks?
In 2006, Miners Castle lost one of its two turrets through erosion.
What types of landscapes can be found in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore?
Sandstone cliffs, beaches, waterfalls, sand dunes, inland lakes, deep forests, and wild shorelines are all features of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
What is the Chapel-Mosquito loop trail at Pictured Rocks?
The Chapel-Mosquito loop trail is a 10-mile hiking trail that offers access to significant portions of the cliffs in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Are there any restrictions for visiting the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore?
Pets are not allowed on any of the beaches or backcountry areas of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Additionally, visitors are not allowed to climb on the sandstone cliffs or rocks.
What is the best time of year to visit the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore?
The best time to visit the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is during the summer months, between June and September, when the weather is warm and the water is calm.
However, fall is also a popular time to visit because of the stunning fall foliage.
Are there any camping options within the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore?
Yes, several camping options are available at Pictured Rocks, including drive-in, backcountry, and group campsites. Reservations are strongly recommended.
Can visitors swim in Lake Superior at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore?
Yes, visitors are allowed to swim in Lake Superior at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. However, the water can be cold and the waves can be rough, so visitors should use caution and be aware of their own swimming abilities.
Start Planning Your Visit to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
This coastal destination along the northern edges of the Upper Peninsula offers something for everyone to enjoy.
Whether you are seeking to enjoy the views from the top of Pictured Rocks, or you want to experience the majesty of the cliffs from the rolling waters of Lake Superior, you will find that the effort is worthwhile.