pictured rocks national seashore michigan

Pictured Rocks: Michigan’s hidden jewel along Lake Superior

In the collection of our nation’s protected natural resources, this place lies hidden inside a fog bank of obscurity. Even residents in other Great Lake states may look puzzled at its mention. But what a surprise! Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of our all-time favorite destinations that wasn’t on our bucket list, followed closely by Dinosaur National Monument on the border of Utah and Colorado.

Located near Munising in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, this national park unit is America’s first designated national lakeshore. In conversations about Michigan destinations, Picture Rocks can be slighted by more high profile places such as Isle Royale National Park and Mackinac Island.

I hope to convince you to find a way to visit this northern gem. It’s loaded with beauty and outdoor activities.

Pictured Rocks cruise boat
Pictured Rocks Cruises provides visitors great views looking into shore.

Pictured Rocks Cruises on Lake Superior

In general, I prefer to look up at cliffs versus staring down from them. I know, that’s a little quirky, but I could have weirder tendencies. To really soak up this national lakeshore’s geological wonders, you should view Pictured Rocks from the shore. You can glimpse them from hiking trails and scenic overlooks; however, you’ll get robbed of viewing the expansive, etched tapestry along this 40-mile stretch of Lake Superior’s shoreline.

Pictured Rocks Cruises offers a variety of daily options including a sunset trip. I’ve seen Lake Superior before but these views topped anything I experienced in the past. I was overwhelmed by the textures and colors of its 200-foot cliffs and weathered rock monoliths. While our cruise narrator lack enthusiasm, the overall experience was worth every penny. The boats depart from the harbor town of Munising, where we stayed.

You can also views the cliffs from sea kayaks, if the weather cooperates. We saw a lot of kayaks when we visited in August. The National Park Service website includes a section on water safety, so be sure to review it if you’re interested in seeing the cliffs while paddling. Local outfitters may be a great option for you.

Pictured rocks hiking trails waterfalls
Pictured Rocks offers a great hiking trail network including a trail to Miners Falls.

Hiking and exploring

Pictured Rocks includes 100 miles of hiking trails ranging from short and easy to long and challenging. We hiked to several waterfalls within the national lakeshore’s boundary: Chapel and Miners. Of the two, Miners Falls was more scenic and easier to view. We also hiked to several other falls near the national lakeshore, including Munising and Wagner. Both of those involved short walks and I’m glad we included them during our trip.

Other highlights include lighthouses, dunes and fishing. Two iconic rock formations draw tourists: Miners Castle and Chapel Rock. We saw both from the cruise, which is the best way to view them. You can also hike to Chapel Rock, about 10 miles round-trip. And you can drive to the Miners Castle overlook and take in Lake Superior from the viewing platform.

trumpeter swan michigan seney national wildlife refuge
Trumpeter swans nest at Michigan’s Seney National Wildlife Refuge.

Nearby Seney National Wildlife Refuge

I always search for national wildlife refuges near our main vacation destinations. They can be a great “add-on” to a trip. I carefully research refuges to make sure they’re accessible and to gauge if wildlife might be prevalent during the season we visit.

That led us to Seney National Wildlife Refuge, about 45 minutes from Pictured Rocks. The refuge features a self-guided auto tour around the ponds and through the forests – we drove slowly and occasionally walked to take in the scenery. We saw trumpeter swans and loons with chicks, sandhill cranes, eagles, hawks, cedar waxwings, American bitterns, wildflowers and other marvels of nature. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff at this refuge visitor center were engaging and fun.

Pictured Rock cruises boat tours
Minerals seeping from the rocks produce a geological tapestry.

What the heck is a pastie?

When the culinary experiences are unique, I like including them in my articles. My family and I ate twice at the Swedish Pantry in Escanaba, a city we passed through on our journey from Wisconsin to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The first stop resulted from good online reviews. The second meal resulted from the Swedish Pantry hitting a home run during our first visit when several of us tried the meatballs. They were spheres of deliciousness! So were the Swedish pancakes with lingonberries. And the perch were oblong spheres of tastiness. Okay, I’m done using geometric shapes to describe our food.

Have you ever paid to eat in someone’s garage? We did, at The Fish Basket in Munising, which served people from its food truck and hosted them right next door in a garage with tables and summer Christmas decorations. Great food, especially the fried whitefish from Lake Superior. I like “ quirky” and this qualified as a memorable dining experience.

I heard of “pasties” growing up in northern Wisconsin. They sounded vile to the “kid me.” After this vacation, I wish I hadn’t waited so long to try one. They’re dough pockets filled with vegetable and meat magic, offered in several varieties. We ate at Muldoons Pasties in Munising where takeout food was flying out the door during our visit. Several of my relatives created makeshift coolers so they could transport pasties back home. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a “pastie maker,” but I want one for my next birthday.

Take the autumn tour

During our visit to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we already started daydreaming about a return during the peak of autumn colors. And while it’s tucked away in the northern United States, Picture Rocks National Lakeshore is oh-so worthy of your bucket list no matter where you live.