Nestled along the southern tip of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) a cascade of waterfalls and multi-colored cliffs come together to form Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. One of four national lakeshores, the park includes hundreds of miles of hiking trails stretching over forty miles of shoreline.
Pictured Rocks is a great example of why beautiful scenic areas should really be referred to as interesting geology, it might not sound as good on marketing materials but, what makes the area special is how Lake Superior’s waves carved grand arches into the sandstone and how the slow seep of minerals through the rock have created an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors.
On the northern edge of the park, you can see how windblown sand created the Grand Sable Dunes that make it look like you’re on the shores of the Mediterranean whenever you poke your head through the pines and look across Superior’s deep blue water.
The main entry to Pictured Rocks is through Munising, which is a quaint town located on South Bay across from Grand Island. Driving through the U.P., it’s easy to see that Munising has fared better than many of the small timber and mining towns in the area whose better days show through the old brick and stone buildings that lie empty and fallow.
By Land and Lake
When you travel to Pictured Rocks, ake the time to explore the park Paul Revere style, by both land and sea. Hiking through the park the big lake is never far away, at times it’s a small glimmer through the trees and other times you take a step through the woods and end up on miles and miles of white sand beaches.
When you explore by foot you have the chance to check out one of the area’s many waterfalls, lakes, and lighthouses. The waterfalls vary in size from a nice big drop to a light trickle and are accessible through trails that range from an easy stroll to a nice hike. In late summer keep your eyes open for wild blueberries growing along the trail that make a delicious mid-hike snack.
To fully appreciate Pictured Rocks, spend some time on the water. From the lake, multi-colored cliffs and stone arches rise hundreds of feet above Superior like a multi-layered cake topped with towering pine trees.
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For those looking for a leisurely cruise, Pictured Rocks Cruises offers tours throughout the day, buying tickets in advance is recommended. There are a number of outfitters offering guided kayak tours and rentals. Kayaking has become such a popular way to explore the area that on a nice day you might start asking yourself if a group of kayakers should be called a gaggle, a school, or a flock.
There also are pontoon rentals available that would be a lovely way to explore the lake on a calm day. It’s worth noting that the weather on Lake Superior can change quickly. On a recent visit, the boat tours were canceled for a day because of the wind and we heard about an incident a few weeks earlier when some of the tour boats had to help rescue a large school of kayakers who got stuck in a strong headwind.
Another great way to spend time is to take a swim and lay out on one of the white sand beaches. The shallow area along the shore allows the lake to warm up enough for the water to be swimmable, which is saying something for Lake Superior.
Pasties and Whitefish Are Delicious
When you’re eating around the Great Lakes make sure to eat lots of Whitefish. Whitefish is one of the few local ingredients that is only readily available around the Great Lakes. When cooked right Whitefish is light and flaky, similar to halibut or cod, but with a deeper, richer flavor that makes it delicious broiled, smoked, or deep fried. One of the best versions I’ve had anywhere is at 387 Restaurant and Beer Parlor in Munising, which serves theirs with a unique blend of herbs.
Another local delicacy is pasties, which are derived from the Cornish pasty, and are a baked pastry traditionally filled with meat and potatoes. Sometimes referred to as U.P. soul food, it’s easy to see why this wholesome meal wrapped in pastry was popular with the area’s early miners and lumberjacks. A good place to try pasties in Munising is at Muldoon’s.
A couple of other places worth stopping at are the Falling Rock Café that doubles as a bookstore and Bay Furnace Bagel Works that makes delicious bagels in-house.
And then there is Dogpatch, sometimes you run across a restaurant or attraction built around nostalgia and it evokes a feeling that things were better back in the day and other times you run across a place that reminds you that a lot of things that were popular once, were also pretty sexist and kinda racist. Dogpatch, a restaurant based on the fictional town of the same name from the Little Abner comic strip, has what may be the most misogynist menu in America, featuring Princess Minihahaskirt and The Urban Suburban Chicks sandwiches.
A Place to Sleep
There are little hotels, motels, and campgrounds scattered around Pictured Rocks that make it easy to find a place to lay your head down and rest after a long day of playing in the park. A couple of good resources to find a place to stay and plan your trip are Explore Munising and the National Park Service’s website for Pictured Rocks.
If you’re interested in through hiking the North Country Trail, which runs through the entire park, you’ll need to reserve a backcountry camping permit ahead of time.
In the end, a trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore isn’t about stepping back in time or finding a place to contemplate the meaning of life. It’s about appreciating the beauty around us and how natural forces can come together to create geology worth seeing.
For more pictures from Pictured Rocks check out our Facebook album.
The Sleepover are short stories about the places we get to visit in our travels
Mark is Umami's publisher