Adventure Guide: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Hiking, Kayaking, and Camping

So you want to take a trip to ‘dah UP eh? If you’re looking for beautiful colored sandstone cliffs, clear water, and waterfalls you’ve come to the right place! Here I’ll lay out the best spots in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for Kayaking, Hiking, and Camping.

I’ve broken up this guide by length of stay as well as included an “adventure rating” so that you can accurately gauge what kind of adventure you are signing up for. The key for the “adventure rating” is at the bottom of this post.

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Pictured Rocks Cliffs from the water

Weekend at the Cliffs

A weekend in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is an awesome way to get a feel for the region.

Adventure:

  • Hike to Spray Falls: IntermediateDepending on the route you take, the hike from the Little Beaver Creek trailhead to Spray Falls is between four and six miles round trip. There are plenty of swimming holes along the way if you’re willing to brave Lake Superior’s cold! This trail offers some of the best Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore hiking.
  • Take a Ferry Tour: Beginner. Taking a ferry tour lets you get up close and personal with much of the cliff line. If you’re torn between the tour of the traditional Pictured Rocks Cliffs and the Grand Island Cliffs, I have been told by locals that the Grand Island cliffs are much bigger and more dramatic. Since the cliffs face the west, picking an afternoon or evening tour will show the cliffs light up by that late day sun.
  • Hike to Miner’s Falls: Beginner. A one mile well maintained trail will take you out to Miner’s Falls, where you can appreciate a lovely waterfall from a nice viewing platform.

Eat:

  • Visit Pictured Rocks Pizza in Munising for a fun lake front snack
  • Head over to East Channel Brewing to sample the local beer
  • Stop by the Bear Trap Restaurant for that Northwoods diner feel

Stay:

  • Camp: A lot of the National Parks campsites will fill quickly and be crowded, so look instead at the State Forest Campgrounds in the area. My favorite is the North Gemini Lake campground, a great place to camp near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I’ve camped there multiple times and it’s always been clean and never crowded, with some of the most stunning stars I have seen.
  • Hotel: Munising’s Holiday Inn Express has the best view you’ll find in the area and excellent ratings.
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Pictured Rocks Cliffs from a sea kayak

Three to Four Days on the Lake

Three to four days is the perfect amount of time to really get into some adventuring and hit the hiking and kayaking highlights of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore!

Adventure:

  • Hike the Chapel Basin Loop: Intermediate/ Advanced. Between 10 and 13 miles round trip, the Chapel Basin Loop is sometimes treated as a beginner’s backpacking loop, and offers some of the most varied scenery in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This hike can also be done as a day trip. Pack up a lunch and head out to see three waterfalls and hike along the cliffs!
  • Visit Munising Falls: Beginner. Near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Visitor’s center and the town of Munising, this quick hike will take you to some beautiful falls. This might be the best trail in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for people of all ages.
  • Explore Grand Marias and the Grand Sable Dunes: Beginner. Cruise east toward the sleepy town of Grand Marias and check out sand dunes that tower hundreds of feet above Lake Superior.
  • Day Paddle the Pictured Rocks Cliffs: Intermediate. Paddling the Pictured Rocks cliffs gets you up close and personal with some of the most impressive features in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, one of the best kayaking venues in North America if not the world. Northern Waters Kayaking  (thanks Ryan!) is the guiding company I would recommend (see comments: one of the outfitters is not known for good safety practices).

NOTE: the ONLY kayaks safe on Lake Superior are sea kayaks. If you are not an experienced sea kayaker, you may want to hire a guide or go through a guiding company to ensure your safety. Lake Superior has been known to create 30 foot waves and is a hot bed for hypothermia. You should absolutely have a spray skirt on. If your outfitter doesn’t recommend a spray skirt, don’t go with them. For more information, click here.

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View from the tops of the Cliffs into Superior

Week in Pictured Rocks

A full week great amount of time to experience everything the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore region has to offer!

Adventure:

  • Backpack the North Country Trail: Intermediate/Advanced. The North Country National Scenic Trail winds from New York all the way out to the Dakotas, and an impressive section follows the Pictured Rocks Cliffs, marking some of the best hiking in Michigan. Take shuttle out to one end, and backpack along the cliff line towards Munising in a bucket list worthy trip.
  • Circumnavigate Grand Island by Kayak: Circumnavigation of Grand Island is a bucket list item for any paddler, with beautiful sandstone cliffs that rival the Pictured Rocks themselves. At 26-28 mile trip, for the most advanced paddlers with the right conditions it can be done as a day trip. If you’re looking for the backcountry paddling experience, take 2-3 days to circumnavigate the island. Click here for guided trip information, or here for trip details.
  • Day Trip to Paradise: Paradise, Michigan is home to the Tahquamenon Falls, Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, and Whitefish Point. This region of Superior is known for its record setting waves, and is near the infamous wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
  • Swim at Miner’s Beach: Brave the Lake Superior cold on a white sand beach. Hike less than a mile down the beach to see the small falls and the beginning of the cliff line. Miner’s Beach is one of the best beaches in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, access to great hiking included!

Notes:

*None of these are affiliate links; all are honest opinions formed after visiting the area multiple times, personal experience with guiding companies and guides, and research via TripAdvisor and Facebook Reviews.

**I CANNOT recommend taking out personal kayaks or kayaking without a guide. If you are not an experienced sea kayaker, then you need a guide. Experienced kayaker and sea kayaker are not the same thing. If you do not have a sea kayak, you should not be on Superior. People die every year doing this. I don’t want that to be you. More questions? Click here.

***There are a few ethical concerns/complications regarding certain outfitters in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore area. I will not call out outfitters by name, but the outfitters linked here seem to be the ones that follow the best safety practices and do not choose profit over environmental impact or safety of participants. I have worked as a kayak guide, and have only recommended companies that are up to industry standard on safety practices, as reflected in their reviews, gear used, and policies.

ADVENTURE RATINGS KEY:

Beginner: Perfect for families with younger children, or people looking for a nice starting point before launching into more physically exerting adventures. This rating still assumes a baseline level of physical fitness such as the ability to walk at least three miles, but otherwise assumes beginner level of outdoor experience.

Intermediate: Perfect for people who like spending time outside, and are excited about the idea of immersing selves in nature. Assumes some experience hiking, paddling, camping, or a flexible and positive attitude. Assumes no shoulder injuries and ability to lift at least 50 pounds.

Advanced: Perfect for people who have experience with outdoor recreation, and are prepared to tackle more strenuous hikes and adventures.

Where to next?

How to Catch a Great Michigan Sunset

One of the questions I get asked the most—next to “what is it you do exactly?”—is “how do I get a good sunset picture?” Luckily, I have a few tips for catching a good sunset, and most of them are pretty easy! Here are a few things to keep in mind:

The Sun Sets in the West

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Okay, so this one seems obvious, but there have been times when I have completely envisioned watching the sunset over a lake only to realize the lake/beach in question does not at all face west. Moreover, the sun sets more to the North or more to the South depending on the time of year, so be sure to keep in mind exactly where the sun is setting.

Sun Set Time

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Sunset time is usually available online, but keep in mind that the 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after can also have some pretty dramatic clouds.

Watch the Weather

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Speaking of clouds, partly cloudy days tend to yield the coolest sunsets—storms can also lead to a pretty dramatic show, but can be a little more unpredictable. In general, clear cloudless days won’t lead to a crazy sky, and on completely cloudy days you might not catch the sunset at all.

Clearings and Elevation

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If you can get up high or somewhere clear, you get less of the sky blocked by trees and more foreground. This is good especially for photography, because a strong foreground makes an image a lot more interesting.

Find Water

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Reflections of sunsets are often almost as good as the sunsets themselves, and lakes, rivers and ponds are the ideal spots for this. Different water holds light differently, so there is something new to appreciate every time.

 

So where do I like to catch a sunset from?

Overlook No. 9

In the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Overlook No. 9 puts you 450 feet above Lake Michigan looking out to the West. 

Alden, Michigan

Torch Lake’s waters range from glassy Caribbean blue to stormy, but either way the small town of Alden is a beautiful place to take a dip and watch the sunset from the marina.

From a Kayak

There’s nothing like a sunset from the water, particularly when there’s no one but otter and eagles for miles around. This sunset picture was taken at the Big Island Lakes Wilderness Area in the Upper Peninsula, but watching the sunset from a boat anywhere can be phenomenal.

The Coves

Hidden in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, this area off the North Country Trail has some of the best swimming in Michigan as well as the best sunsets if you are willing to brave the Lake Superior cold.

The Side of the Road Somewhere

The best sunsets I have ever seen I’ve caught pulled over on the side of the road or driving somewhere—like this sunset off the side of a road near Grayling, MI.

What great sunset spots did I miss? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know or reach out to me through Instagram!