Grand Island National Recreational Area
Grand Island, located just off the north coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, more than lives up to its lofty name. This spectacularly scenic isle is home to pristine beaches, towering sandstone cliffs, inland lakes, and old-growth hardwood forests. Grand Island is the perfect summer adventure destination. Ride and hike over 40 miles of challenging mountain bike trails and scenic walking paths. Kayak beneath soaring cliffs through Lake Superior’s crystal-clear waters. Camp beneath a dazzling blanket of stars or stay in a rustic cabin. Quench your thirst for unforgettable adventures on Grand Island!
GRAND ISLAND QUICK FACTS
Grand Island comprises 13,500 acres of National Forest land, and boasts a rich cultural and natural history.
Native Americans have long used the fisheries around Grand Island as a resource for year-round living. Artifacts from as early as 1300 B.C. have been uncovered.
The first settlers of European descent arrived in the early 1800s, and the first permanent settlement was established on the island in 1846 for the purpose of trading furs with the Ojibway Native American tribe.
The US Forest Service purchased the island in 1990, and incorporated it into Hiawatha National Forest.
Grand Island is located just one-half mile from the mainland community of Munising, MI.
Most animals found on Michigan’s mainland are also found on Grand Island, including black bears, which are generally afraid of humans and pose no danger.
Grand Island has no paved roads, and vehicles are not permitted, with the exception of the island’s summer tour bus.
The Grand Island North Light stands 175 feet above Lake Superior atop a cliff, and has been identified as the highest lighthouse above sea level in the United States.
Grand Island’s weather is temperate and humid during the summer and cold during winter months. The island averages 36 inches of rain and 153 inches of snow annually.
Getting to Grand Island
Whether you come for the day or overnight camping, you can access the island much of the year by commercial ferry or private motorized or non-motorized watercraft. While much of the island’s 30-mile perimeter is inaccessible by watercraft because of its rugged sandstone cliffs, there are several day-use areas and campsites with water access. Before going to the island, you need to pay the day-use forest and camping fees. You can find fee prices, a map and additional visitor information here.
Use the Grand Island Ferry Service.
The Grand Island Ferry Service runs regularly throughout each day between the Friday before Memorial Day and October 10. The mainland ferry dock is approximately 2.5 miles west of Munising’s blinking traffic light on M-28. Round-trip tickets include the Hiawatha National Forest access fee. Reservations are recommended but not required.
Arrive by private watercraft.
You can also access Grand Island by kayak or private motorized boat (no jet skis) when Lake Superior conditions are safe. No docks are available on the island, so you will need to beach or anchor your watercraft in a designated area at your own risk. Motorboats typically anchor in the bays. The island’s west side is subject to strong winds, so it is not advisable to moor or pull ashore there.
Reach the island in winter, too.
In the winter, you only can access Grand Island by snowmobile, skis, or snowshoes. You must travel across the ice at your own risk, as there are no guarantees that Lake Superior is solid or safe. Once you cross, you can enjoy Grand Island’s network of scenic roads and trails. If you want to rent a sled, cross-country skis or snowshoes, visit Munising’s snowmobile, cross-county ski and snowshoe shops before you go.
TOP 10 THINGS TO DO ON GRAND ISLAND
- Kayak along Grand Island’s lofty sandstone cliffs.
- Mountain bike Grand Island’s 21-mile perimeter trail.
- Take the Grand Island Interpretive Bus Tour.
- Explore Grand Island’s Ice Caves.
- Visit Grand Island North Light.
- Run the Grand Island Trail 50K, Marathon, or Half Marathon.
- Hike over 40 miles of trails and gravel roads.
- Go fishing.
- Camp under the stars.
- Swim in Lake Superior’s pristine, frigid waters.
Kayak along Grand Island’s lofty sandstone cliffs.Back to Top of List
If you haven’t kayaked around Grand Island, you haven’t kayaked. Take in memorable views of towering 300-foot escarpments, as well as stunning inlets and beaches, while kayaking the crystal-clear waters between Williams Landing and the East Channel Lighthouse. Rent your kayak at the gift shop, hop on the ferry, and upon arrival, you’ll be issued your watercraft. Full-day rental prices are available for single and tandem kayaks. Be prepared for jaw-dropping views and occasionally feisty Lake Superior winds and waves.
Mountain bike Grand Island’s 21-mile perimeter trail.Back to Top of List
Looking for adventure on Grand Island? There are few better places to find it than in the saddle of a mountain bike. Grand Island offers surprisingly strenuous singletrack that snakes through sand and forest around the island’s circumference. This route, suitable for intermediate and advanced skill levels, takes about 4 to 6 hours to complete, allowing time for stops to stretch and take in the gorgeous views along the way. Don’t have a bike? You can rent one at Williams Landing from the Grand Island Ferry Service.
Take the Grand Island Interpretive Bus Tour.Back to Top of List
If you’re short on time, have mobility constraints, or just want a fun, interactive overview of Grand Island, don’t miss the Grand Island Interpretive Bus Tour. This narrated excursion includes a total of nine stops at scenic overlooks, stunning beaches, historical buildings, and an old cemetery, and lasts approximately 3 hours. Several stops include short nature walks, as well, and give visitors the opportunity to see wildlife such as black bear, white-tailed deer, and sandhill cranes! The Bus Tour runs between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Explore Grand Island’s Ice Caves.Back to Top of List
One of the Upper Peninsula’s best-kept secrets, Grand Island’s Ice Caves often appear when the temperatures drop to bone-chilling levels. If you’re game for bundling up and crossing 3,000 feet of Lake Superior’s icy surface by snowmobile, snowshoes or skis, you’ll be treated to incredible views of icicles and other fantastic frozen formations. Guided, chauffeured tours are also available seven days a week, when conditions are right, through Lake Superior Ice Cave Tours.
Visit Grand Island North Light.Back to Top of List
A trip to Grand Island isn’t complete without a visit to its most iconic landmark, Grand Island North Light. This historic lighthouse, home to a yet-unsolved murder mystery, stands atop a 175-foot cliff at the north end of the island. The lighthouse’s first iteration was built out of wood in 1856, in anticipation of an increase in shipping traffic on Lake Superior thanks to the opening of the Soo Locks. In 1867, the wooden structure was replaced with the current brick lighthouse, a 40-foot tower and a simple keeper’s house. The light was automated in 1941, and the lighthouse and associated buildings are currently used as a private summer home.
Since the lighthouse sits on private property, it isn’t accessible by land. The best views of this historic structure are from the air, but if chartering an airplane or helicopter isn’t in the cards, views of North Light and the stunning cliffs it rests atop are possible by boat, as well. While you’re in the area, stop by the aforementioned North Light Beach, a beautiful crescent of sand that you just might have to yourself.
Run the Grand Island Trail 50K, Marathon, or Half Marathon.Back to Top of List
If you’re the kind of person who thrives on pushing your limits, sign up for a once-in-a-lifetime experience: the Grand Island Trail 50K, Marathon, or Half Marathon. They hold the race usually at the end of July in cooperation with the US Forest Service. Runners will experience spectacular vistas of one of the most beautiful shorelines anywhere in the Great Lakes region. Lush forest shade much of the race route, while breezes off of Lake Superior help keep sunny stretches comfortably cool.
This is not a course for beginners, and the race’s organizers expect participants to be well trained. Whatever your finishing time, you’ll set a personal record for the most beauty seen in one race!
Hike over 40 miles of trails and gravel roads.Back to Top of List
There’s nothing quite like exploring Grand Island’s network of trails and peaceful gravel roads on foot! Whether as part of a backpacking trip or a day hike, these trails provide you with unmatched views of wildlife, forests, water, and more. If you want to avoid sharing your trail with mountain bikers, a 4-mile stretch of trail in the northeast part of the island, as well as the 2-mile Thumb Trail, have been designated as hiking-only trails. While we can’t guarantee you’ll see a black bear, we can guarantee you’ll find peace in the rugged solitude and beauty of Grand Island regardless of which trail you choose.
Go fishing.Back to Top of List
Grand Island provides several great locations for anglers interested in a wilderness fishing experience. Echo Lake, the island’s largest inland lake, typically offers bass, panfish, and pike, while Murray Bay is renowned for its perch, pike, walleye, and rock bass. Trout Bay, as its name suggests, offers lake trout and coho salmon. Grab your pole, head to one of these beautiful destinations, and enjoy. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources does require that you obtain a fishing license prior to your trip, and special regulations for Echo and Duck Lakes apply.
Swim in Lake Superior’s pristine, frigid waters.Back to Top of List
Whether in the placid waters of Murray Bay or at Waterfall Beach, a rock-strewn destination on the island’s west side, Grand Island offers a plethora of spectacular summer swimming spots in Lake Superior’s crystal-clear, 50-degree waters. Trout Bay Beach boasts a long stretch of sugar sand, as well as great views of Lake Superior and Pictured Rocks, and secluded North Beach, though more difficult to access, is widely considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Michigan.
If you’re looking for 5-star accommodations, you won’t find them on Grand Island. What you will find, however, is a host of campsite and cabin options that are surrounded by natural wonders more beautiful than anything Hilton or Marriott could dream up. Grand Island offers a total of 21 campsites on the island, including 19 individual campsites and group campsites at both Murray Bay and Juniper Flats. Most of these campsites require a reservation between Memorial Day and Columbus Day, with the exception of Cobble Cove, Muskrat Point, and Flat Rock, which are first-come, first-serve.
Several cabins are also available on a reservation basis from Grand Island Cabins. These rustic, charming cabins accommodate 4 people comfortably, and come equipped with a picnic table as well as wall-mounted propane heater for those chilly nights. A gas grill and an outside fire grill are also provided, but plan on bringing your own equipment, including dishes, utensils, and sleeping bags.
Whichever lodging option you choose, you’ll be enthralled by the rich natural beauty all around you by day, and the blazing stars overhead at night.
PLAN YOUR VISIT TO GRAND ISLAND
While putting together your adventure travel itinerary for Grand Island, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Upper Peninsula Travel & Recreation Association for advice or information. Remember to reserve your campsite or cabin well in advance, as spots often fill up quickly during the summer months. Make memories that will last a lifetime on Grand Island, one of Upper Michigan’s true hidden gems.