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One of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places in Michigan is the legendary Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This 42-mile stretch of Lake Superior coastline is known around the world for its colorful cliffs, rock formations, waterfalls, and immense sand dunes.
Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, east of Marquette, Pictured Rocks stretches from Munising to Grand Marais. Both of these small cities serve as gateways to Pictured Rocks, and each offers a unique vantage point for exploration of the area.
Positioned at the East end of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the town of Grand Marais offers closest access to Sable Falls, Grand Sable Lake, Grand Sable Dunes, and the historic Au Sable Light Station. The Grand Sable Dunes, perched high atop the 300-foot tall Grand Sable Banks, are a 5-square mile, glacially formed spectacle of pristine, barren sand, punctuated by a forest of Jack Pines. The Banks themselves slope drastically toward Lake Superior at a steep 35 degrees.
Stretching Westward, the Grand Sable Banks give way to the site of the old Log Slide, a scenic favorite of Pictured Rocks visitors. Here, where loggers once used a chute to move timber down to the shoreline, visitors have an excellent view of Grand Sable Dunes to the East, and the Au Sable Light Station to the west. Accessible just a few short miles outside of Grand Marais, this entire area can be explored by way of several well-marked trails, including the North Country Trail, that wind their way through this scenic area.
From the West end, Munising offers the best access to the cliffs and formations that give Pictured Rocks its name. The town is also home to the Pictured Rocks Visitor Center.
From Munising, explorers can enjoy a boat tour of some of the most famous formations, including the Indian Head, Miners Castle, and the Grand Portal. The Munising area is also home to Munising Falls, Miners Falls, and the Sand Point Marsh Trail, among others. As with attractions near Grand Marais, the entire area can be accessed by wooded trails, hiking paths, dedicated scenic drives, and specially constructed boardwalks and lookout points.
The cliffs of Pictured Rocks, many of as tall as 200 feet above lake level, are composed of three definable formations, each from different historical periods. The oldest of the three, the reddish Jacobsville Formation, is made or Precambrian sandstone. Along much of the Pictured Rocks Shoreline, only the top few feet of the formation is visible above lake level.
Above the Jacobsville Formation sits the Munising Formation, light gray to white in color. The Munising Formation is similar in age to the Jacobsville sandstone, forming over the Mid to Late Cambrian period between 500 and 800 million years ago. The Munising can be classified into three distinct categories: a basal conglomerate, the hard sandstone of ChapelRock, and the sweeping, crumbly beds of sandstone that compose Miners Castle.
Acting as a cap on the Munising Formation for most of the Western half of Pictured Rocks is the Au Train Formation, a light brown dolomitic sandstone that functions as a protective barrier for the easily eroded layers below.
The colors featured in the cliffs and rock formations are both the result of the sandstone types themselves, and mineral deposits left behind by evaporating water. Some of the most common minerals/colors are: manganese (black and white), and limonite (yellow and brown), iron (red), and copper (pink and green).
One of the most popular ways to experience Pictured Rocks is by kayak. A variety of put-in points, including Sand Point, Twelvemile Beach, and Grand Island Landing are great places to start your Lake Superior kayaking adventure. Kayaking can be dangerous, however, and there are several safety points that should be considered:
Guided kayak tours (and rentals) are available in Munising. Most guided tours do not require any previous experience.
Because of the natural beauty and generally "outdoorsy" feel of the Pictured Rock experience, many visitors choose to spend their nights camping at one of the multiple campgrounds in the area. The most popular campgrounds include Twelvemile Beach Campground, Huricane River Campground, and Little Beaver Campground. Of course, there are dozens of private campgrounds near Munising, Grand Marais, and the surrounding Hiawatha and Lake Superior National Forests. Most campgrounds range from $10 to $20 per night. Private camping destinations will sometimes take reservations, though the federally affiliated sites listed above are first come, first serve.
When planning your visit to Pictured Rocks, be prepared for some of the potential hazards of the area. When hiking the trails, stay away from cliff edges. Loose sand and gravel are common – be prepared for a variety of terrain and hiking conditions. For kayakers and canoers, rock falls can happen at any time. Be aware of your proximity to cliff walls.
The temperatures/weather in Upper Michigan can be unpredictable. While the summer months are usually warm, cold, rainy weather is not entirely uncommon. Make sure you are prepared for a range of conditions, from cold and rainy to warm and dry.
In the spring time, black flies and mosquitos can be a serious nuisance (and a potential health hazard). Come prepared to protect yourself for these airborne biters with netting and insect repellent – please, however, be considerate of the environment when making your repellent choices.
Below, you will find a list of notable destinations along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Beginning with Munising and moving East to Grand Marais, these are the most popular, and the most breathtaking examples of the natural beauty of Pictured Rocks:
Be aware that each of these locations may have different restrictions for bicycles and pets. These restrictions may also include the trails leading to each destination. Plan ahead for you trip to Pictured Rocks – trail maps are readily available both online and on-site at visitor’s centers in Munising and Grand Marais. Explore and enjoy!.
Kayaking the cliffs of Lake Superior is an adventure! Frigid water, no ladders and jagged rock faces make this a top Michigan thing to do.
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