Along the 42-mile-long lakeshore between Munising and Grand Marais, approximately 15 miles of mineral-stained, sandstone cliffs tower over Lake Superior. This ancient landscape creates Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore — America’s first national lakeshore (established in 1966). It is one of only four national lakeshores in the country.
History and background
Pictured Rocks was named for its mineral stain streaks scattered throughout the cliffs. Stunning rust colors appear when groundwater emerges from the cliffs’ cracks and drizzles down the rocks. The rocks’ beauty was so impressive to some that sandstone from the cliffs was quarried from Grand Island for buildings in the late 1800s.
When you touch these cliffs, you are feeling the Munising Formation of 500-million-year old Cambrian Period sandstone. Below that, you’ll find a red Precambrian sandstone of the Jacobsville Formation — the oldest rock in the national lakeshore. Above the Munising Formation is the hard sandstone of the younger Au Train Formation from the Ordovician Period. The streaks on these 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, to name a few.
Here, outdoor recreation meets Upper Peninsula beauty. Together, they account for several annual vacations and memories year-round. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is home to miles of beach, about 100 miles of trails and serene northern woodlands. Explore by foot or bicycle to discover waterfalls, wildlife, dunes, inland lakes and trout streams, deep green forests and bogs. Depending on the season, you can hike, canoe, backpack, kayak, sightsee, go birding, fish, hunt, view fall colors, go winter ice climbing, ice fish, cross-country ski, snowshoe and so much more. Simply viewing some of the more well-known spots and formations (like Miners Castle and Chapel Rock) along the lakeshore is plenty of fun! Visit the black-speckled sandy Miners Beach, where dogs are allowed on no more than six feet of leash.
On your trip, stop by the Munising Falls Visitor Center on the park’s western end or the Grand Sable Visitor Center near Grand Marais at the eastern end, for the best routes to explore Pictured Rocks. During the summer, you can join ranger programs to learn about the lakeshore’s history — including human influence. Historic resources include an 1874 lighthouse, early U.S. Coast Guard buildings and artifacts, a logging chute area and a Civil War-era iron blast furnace site.
Here are some recreational tours you can take to enhance your visit and view the history from Lake Superior:
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. You’ll also see a historic lighthouse, Grand Island and Munising Bay. One of the shipwrecks is a wooden sailing ship pre-dating the Civil War. It’s still fully intact and just a few feet below Lake Superior’s surface. It’s not uncommon to see North American Bald Eagles through the trip as they nest along the shoreline.
Paddle Pictured Rocks: Get up close and personal with the sandstone cliffs while kayaking Lake Superior. Steer through some of the sandstone caves, touch the mineral layers and peer into the crystal clear waters below. Your tour begins with a boat ride which will take you to your launch point. The boat remains present throughout the tour in case you need a break from the water.
Pictured Rocks Cruises: Hit several historic spots in one trip on a Pictured Rocks Cruise! Tours 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.
The park is open year-round, 24 hours a day. Cellular service is only available from Munising to Sand Point and Munising Falls area (west end) and Grand Sable Lake east to Grand Marais (east end). You’ll find WiFi at WiFi the Munising Falls Visitor Center year-round and Grand Sable Visitor Center during the summer only. Visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s website for more information.