Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

From Trailville
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Miners Castle Mosquito Falls

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is located on Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and contains some outstanding scenery and outdoor opportunities. With over 40 miles of incredibly scenic shoreline, Pictured Rocks provides some great paddling opportunities. But you don't need to be in a boat to enjoy the scenery here as there are miles and miles of hiking trails providing hiking, snowshoeing and backwoods skiing opportunities with plenty of views of the cliffs, sandstone formations, sea caves, and several inland waterfalls.

  • Terrain / Scenery: Most trails are fairly typical narrow hiking trails with a mix of mostly flat to rolling areas and some steeper sections. Scenery includes cliffs, sandstone formations, sea caves, waterfalls, ravines, Lake Superior, beaches, and dunes. Ski trails vary by location.
  • Fees / Permits: Fee required for cross country skiing on groomed trails.
  • Facilities: Depends on trailhead
  • Official Web Page: http://www.nps.gov/piro/ (map available for download)
  • Getting There: Pictured Rocks is located on Lake Superior between Munising, Michigan and Grand Marais, Michigan. See "Getting Around" for more details.

Getting Around

You can download a pretty nice map from the Brochures Page on the National Park Website http://www.nps.gov/piro/planyourvisit/brochures.htm . There is also a larger more detailed topographic map that can be purchased from the National Forest Headquarters in Munising (may be available in Grand Marais as well, but I'm not sure). I recommend purchasing the better map if you are going to do any serious hiking. The 40 mile long park is not designed to drive through. Instead there are various access points within the park. Many of the roads in the park are unimproved dirt/gravel forest roads so make sure you check the map legend close before you think you are going to just zip from one end of the park to the other. Many of the park roads are closed in the winter (converted to snowmobile trails).

For the most part, you need to decide if you are going to access the park from Grand Marais or from Munising. Munising is probably the most popular since that end of the park has the most spectacular scenery (cliffs, waterfalls). The Grand Marais end is mainly dunes and beach. I provide some more detailed "getting around" information in the Hiking and Scenery section below.

Hiking and Scenery

View from hiking trail near Grand Portal Point

There are some outstanding hiking trails in the park that provide access to incredible scenery. There are also some places where the lazier folks can drive up and just take a short hike to see some of the more popular attractions. I'm mainly familiar with the Munising end of the park (from Munising up to Chapel Rock) so that's what I'm going to cover here.

If you download a copy of the map, you can follow along as I describe some of the access points and trails starting at the far Southwest portion of the park in Munising. Be aware that I have not been here in a few years and am writing this from memory, so there may be some mistakes.

As you drive into Munising on Highway 28, you should see the forest headquarters on your right as you get to the lakefront (you need to turn right). I suggest stopping here and purchasing the larger park map (or at least picking up a copy of the free map). From there you can follow the lakefront a short distance to the Munising Falls Interpretive Center. There is a parking area here and a short easy trail to Munising Falls. I always go during the off-season, but I would assume this place is very busy in the summer. Munising Falls is a tall low volume water fall that at some times may not be much more than a trickle but is always scenic. I believe you can access the Lakeshore/North Country Trail from here, but I have never accessed it from this point. The Lakeshore Trail (the trail within the park) has been incorporated into the North Country National Scenic Trail, a thru-hiking trail that when complete will extend almost 5,000 miles from New York State to North Dakota. To keep things simple, from now on, I'm just going to refer to this trail as the Lakeshore Trail since that is what it has historically been called.

If you get back on the road and continue along the lakefront, you will reach Sand Point. There is a nice sandy swimming beach here and hiking trails on the east side of the road. The hiking trails here consist of a short nature trail around a wetlands area, but also connects up with the main Lakeshore Trail. To connect up with the Lakeshore trail you have a steep climb to get to the top of the bluffs (the Lakeshore trail runs primarily along the high ground above the bluffs and cliffs). You will connect up with the Lakeshore Trail near the northeast end of the Munising Cross Country Ski Trail System (you can download a map of the ski trails on the Brochures Page ) . From here you can hike northeast to Miners Castle (about 4 miles one way) or southwest back towards Munising Falls.

From Sand Point, you can drive back (Southwest) along the lake until you connect up with Highway 58 and then head east on 58. You'll shortly pass by the trailhead for the Munising Cross Country Ski Trails. Continue on to Highway 13 (Miners Castle Road) and go left (North). About 3 or 4 miles on Miners Castle Road and you'll see a road on the right that leads to Miners Falls. There is a parking area there and a short dead-end hiking trail (maybe a half mile or so) to Miners Falls.

Back on Miners Castle Road, continue on to the Lakefront to the main parking area at Miners Castle Point (you'll turn right then left). Here you have a great view of Miners Castle (photo at top of this page). This is a very popular tourist spot since access is just off the parking lot. You can also catch the Lakeshore Trail here. Heading east on the Lakeshore Trail will take you down along Miners River and a short scenic hike to Miners Beach. Access to Miners Beach is also available from an alternate parking area (that other road that went straight when you turned left). Miners beach is about a mile long and is sandwiched between Miners Castle and the beginning of the scenic cliffs that line a significant portion of the lakefront and give Pictured Rock National Lakeshore its name. The beach is mostly sand with some gravelly areas (as I recall). This is another nice beach for swimming or launching your canoe or kayak. From Miners Beach you can continue on the Lakeshore Trail back up above the cliffs towards Grand portal Point.

Or, you can drive back to Highway 58 and continue east (then northeast) to Chapel Road. Chapel Road is an unimproved road so prepare for a potentially bumpy ride to the next trailhead. From 58, you'll go another 5 or so miles on Chapel Road to the trailhead. There is a parking area here and you'll find the combination of the unimproved road and the longer hiking trails here will keep most of the "drive-up" tourists away.

This is the prime trailhead for scenic dayhiking as it provides access to several waterfalls and the most scenic section of the lakeshore trail (this is my opinion even though I have not hiked the entire park). What's great here is you can make a nice loop that brings you to Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, Chapel Beach, Grand Portal Point, Mosquito Beach, and Mosquito Falls. I think this comes to about a 10-mile loop and if you factor in the time spent checking out all the sites here, you can expect to spend a big part of the day completing this hike.

Chapel Falls is a tall narrow waterfall. Chapel Rock is an interesting sandstone formation right on the lakefront. The trail from Chapel Beach to Mosquito Beach is an incredibly scenic hiking trail with spectacular views of the cliffs, formations, and sea caves along the Pictured Rocks shoreline. I've done a lot of shoreline hiking over the years, but nowhere else have I encountered so many scenic overlooks along a section of trail. You just find yourself constantly stopping to take pictures and enjoy the views. And every time you think you just saw the most spectacular view, you go another hundred feet or so and there is another spectacular view. Mosquito falls (photo on this page) is a smaller but still scenic waterfall.

Now for the bad news. Although these rugged hiking trails will keep the drive-up tourists away, Lake Superior provides an alternate form of access to boatloads of tourists. As I found one time as I emerged from the woods near Chapel Rock feeling like I was the only one out there (I didn't see anyone else on the hiking trail) only to encounter a large tour boat sitting there and about 50 people taking my picture. Fortunately these hordes are confined to the tour boat, but I have encountered smaller boats pulling up at some of the beaches and dumping off tourists complete with lawn chairs and giant coolers with wheels. So just be prepared to share your moments of solitude and spectacular scenery with brief moments of Disneyland.

This is pretty much where my coverage of hiking Pictured Rocks ends. I haven't hiked any of the area between Chapel Rock and Grand Marais (though I did ski some trails by Grand Marais) so I can't provide any additional detail other than to say that from Chapel Beach, the cliffs gradually turn into dunes as you get closer to Grand Marais.

There are backcountry campsites located along the LakeShore Trails for backpackers and paddlers exploring the shoreline. Check the main National Park website for more info (link at top of page).

Winter Hiking, Snowshoeing , and Cross-Country Skiing

Frozen Lake Superior along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

I've actually been to the Munising Area (and Pictured Rocks) more in the winter than in the summer. There is some great cross-country skiing in the area (not necessarily within Pictured Rocks) and great opportunities for winter hiking, snowshoeing, or backwoods skiing on the hiking trails.

Some important things you need to know before coming here in the winter. First, many of the park roads are closed (some are converted to snowmobile trails). Fortunately they have recently started posting a Winter Road Closure Map on their website at http://www.nps.gov/piro/planyourvisit/brochures.htm . Second, they get a lot of snow up here and following the trails can be very difficult in some areas, because unless someone familiar with the trails has been on them recently and left some nice tracks, you can very easily lose the trails. That being said, this is a great place for your winter adventure. The waterfalls freeze into ice formations and the lakefront completely transforms (though you should not count on Lake Superior being frozen). I have explored Pictured Rocks on skis on the hiking trails as well as on skis on Lake Superior.

There are groomed cross-country ski trails at each end of the park. The Munising Ski Trails are classic-only groomed ski trails that run along the high ground above the cliffs/bluffs just northeast of Munising. The Trailhead is located on Highway 58 a few miles from Munising. This is an enjoyable, but not outstanding trail system. As I recall it is not all that difficult (mix of easy and intermediate trails)other than the normal hazards that come with somewhat narrow classic-only trails. You can download a map of the ski trails on the Brochures Page. The nice thing about this trail system is that at connects up with the LakeShore Trail so you can use it as an access point for some backwoods skiing on the hiking trails. I have used this route to do a round trip to Miners Castle and back.

The other set of groomed cross-country ski trails is located just outside of Grand Marais. And though I skied there once many years ago, I don't remember much about it. Maybe that says something.

But the best skiing in the area is not within Pictured Rocks, but rather at the nearby Valley Spur Ski Trail (click link for more info). Outstanding grooming (both classic and skate lanes), plenty of miles, and lots of big hills makes Valley Spur an excellent ski trail system.


Cliffs along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Sea Caves near Miners Castle

Needless to say, Pictured Rocks offers some great paddling opportunities. I think the combination of cliffs, sandstone formations, sea caves, and sandy beaches pretty much says it all. From the Munising end of the park, you can carry in from Sand Point or Miners Beach (see map). For a day trip, Miner's Beach is the best choice since it is the closest point to some of the most scenic areas.

The high cliffs and bluffs combined with frequent southerly winds means that you have a pretty good chance of catching some calmer waters along the shoreline. Grand Island also provides some protection from westerly winds in the western portion of the park. The boat of choice here is a sea kayak, but I use my canoe for brief excursions when the conditions cooperate. September is probably the best time since the waters are warmer (relatively speaking), winds tend to be a little calmer, and much less boat traffic than during mid summer. Extra caution needs to be taken here due to the volatility of Lake Superior and the fact that the cliff-lined shoreline offers limited exit opportunities in an emergency.

There are backcountry campsites located along the LakeShore Trails for backpackers and paddlers exploring the shoreline. Check the main National Park website for more info (link at top of page).

Mountain Biking

As far as I know, there is no mountain biking allowed on any of the trails in the park. You can mountain bike the park roads though. Mountain biking is available nearby on Grand Island and on the Valley Spur Ski Trails. See the links at the bottom of this page.


External Links:

This page is authored and maintained by Dave Piasecki