Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, located in the upper peninsula (UP) of Michigan, is one of the most picturesque areas of the midwest. The coastline here, lined with unique colorful cliffs, is absolutely breathtaking. Here you can hike, kayak or take a boat cruise along the serene and scenic Lake Superior Coastline to soak in all the views.
Likewise, if you explore further into the UP, beyond Munising which is the hub for visiting Pictured Rocks, you will be treated with more stunning scenery. From waterfalls to a historic lighthouse to a very blue natural spring, the upper peninsula of Michigan will not disappoint.
We spent 5 days exploring the Pictured Rocks and surrounding area in the upper peninsula of Michigan. We would recommend spending at least that much time in this area, if not more, if you want to explore beyond Munising. Here is our guide to making the most of your time visiting Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the upper peninsula of Michigan.
FYI: This post is written based on a trip taken in late September
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What to Do
Hike Chapel Basin Loop along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
10.2 miles, 770 feet of elevation gain
Although there are many options and different combinations of routes to hike on the trails in this area, we recommend hiking the Chapel Basin Loop (see map highlighted below). This hike gives you amazing views of the Pictured Rocks. The North Country Trail, between Chapel Beach and Mosquito Beach, is the only place you can see these unique multicolored cliffs from land. This hike will also take you past two waterfalls (Chapel Falls and Mostiquo Falls), to a unique rock formation (Chapel Rock) and to two beaches (Mostiquo Beach and Chapel Beach). If you are only going to do one hike in Pictured Rocks, do this one!
Arrive Early at the Chapel/Mostiquo Trailhead
When we arrived at the Chapel/Mostiquo parking lot at 8:15 am on an early September weekday, we were one of only 3 cars in the parking lot. However, by the time we finished our hike, the parking lot was completely full and many people were also parked along the road. If you arrive early, we recommend hiking toward Chapel Falls/Rock first to have the trail more to yourself. We hiked towards Mosquito Falls first and saw no people on the trail for the first 6 miles, making this section of the hike very serene and peaceful. However, once we got near Chapel Beach, we then saw dozens of people. If we did this hike again, we would hike it in reverse to avoid more people.
Other Chapel Basin Loop Tips
You have to drive on a primitive road, with lots of deep potholes, to access this trailhead so having a 4 wheel drive/high clearance vehicle is recommended.
Mosquito Falls and Chapel Falls are very minor waterfalls in comparison to seeing Tahquamenon Falls and some of the other waterfalls we outline in this guide. However, we recommend hiking past them as they do help break up the hike on the way out/back.
Budget at least 5 hours to complete this hike. We hiked the trail in less than 4.5 hours but it took us much longer to actually complete the hike because we had our 5 week old daughter with us and we had to stop frequently to feed/change her. Expose them to nature and hiking young, right?! For tips on hiking with an infant, see our How to Hike with a Baby post
No dogs are allowed on the trail here. The fee is a minimum of $180 so best to leave fido at home for this one. For tips on a Dog Friendly Vacation, see our Dog Friendly Door County, Wisconsin Guide.
Hike Beaver Basin Wilderness Trails along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Variable routes and lengths
This area of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is much less trafficked than the Chapel/Mostiquo area. There are several different hiking options in this area, all offering a little bit different scenery. You can combine these trails anyway you please. On the map below, highlighted is the out and back route we completed.
Hike to the COVES section
We hiked through the forest, past Little Beaver Lake and then west on the North Country Trail until the COVES group campsites. The section of the North Country Trail we hiked on here was really pretty and felt untouched. Throughout the COVES section, you can climb down into some of the different coves along the lake for even better lakeshore views.
The forest trail, leading out to the lakeshore, is really unique as well with lots of interesting rock formations. Alternatively, or as an add on, you could also hike around Beaver Lake and east on the North Country Trail.
Note, you cannot see the Pictured Rocks from this hike, you can only see those on the North Country Trail in the Chapel/Mostiquo area.
Again, no dogs are allowed on this trail.
Visit Miners Castle
Here, from the upper viewpoint, you can see the unique Miners Castle rock formation against the beautiful Lake Superior turquoise water. This viewpoint is only a very short walk from the parking lot and off a paved path. You can hike to a lower viewpoint but the view is not as good from close-up.
You can also hike down further to Miners Beach/Elliot Falls and on part of the North Country Trail along the Lake Superior Lakeshore. We opted not to do this as we had had more serene beach and waterfall views on our other hikes but this is a great option if you want to see the lakeshore with a relatively short hike.
For a full list of hikes in Pictured Rocks, see the National Parks Service Pictured Rocks Hikes webpage.
Visit Tahquamenon State Park
Tahquamenon State Park, located along the Tahquamenon River, is rated as one of the best state parks in Michigan. This is because this park is home to the very large and impressive Upper Tahquamenon Falls.
Upper Tahquamenon Falls
This 50 foot waterfall, with its grandeur, will not disappoint and can be viewed from several viewing platforms. It also can be viewed from a paved path but the best views are at the viewing platforms. The walk to each of these platforms is about 1/3 mile on a paved path as well as wooden stairs. To get up close with the falls, go to the upper viewing platform. For more encompassing views, go to the lower viewing platform. We recommend going to both. Each is about 100 stairs to climb up and down but completely worth the effort.
Lower Tahquamenon Falls
The Lower Falls is a series of smaller waterfalls but equally beautiful. Here, you can walk down the path and onto the wooden viewing platform, about 0.5 miles, to see all the cascades in this area. You can also hike through the forest around the falls as we did. Another option here is renting a rowboat to ride out to a small island among the falls. On this island, you get contrasting views of the falls and can go for a short 0.5 mile hike through the forest on the island itself.
Tahquamenon River Trail
You can also hike between the Lower Falls and Upper Falls along the Tahquamenon River trail. This trail is 4.8 miles one-way or 9.6 miles roundtrip. We hiked a mile out and back of this trail, starting at the lower viewing platform from the Upper Falls. The trail was beautiful! When we visited, the weather was questionable and we did not want to be stuck in the rain on a 9+ mile hike with our 5 week old so we opted not to do the whole trail but that would be a pretty way to see more of the park.
During peak season (not when we were visiting on a weekday in early September), there is a shuttle (Jordan’s Shuttle Service) that runs between the Lower Falls and Upper Falls. This shuttle will take you back to where you started your hike, at either the Upper Falls or Lower Falls, so you would only have to hike the trail one way.
If you hike between the falls,you may have the trail all to yourself. When we hiked part of the trail, we saw no other people on it (granted it was on a weekday, not during peak season and questionable weather). Most people drive between the two falls (about a 10 minute drive).
Other Tips on Tahquamenon State Park
Between hiking and exploring at the Upper Falls and Lower Falls areas, we ate at the Tahquamenon Brewery. This restaurant is very conveniently located in the Upper Falls parking lot. We’d highly recommend you break up your visit this way. The food and brews are on-point here. See more in the Where to Eat section below.
Tahquamenon Falls is about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Munising. You could camp at this park but we would not recommend that as it is more east than most of the activities recommended in this guide.
Explore Grand Marais
Grand Marais is home to a very pretty section of coastline along Lake Superior and a cute little town. Here, we hiked to a lighthouse, a waterfall and sand dunes. We also stopped at a former log slide and got coffee from a trendy local shop.
Au Sable Light Station
Our first stop in Grand Marais was a hike to the Au Sable Light Station along the Lake Superior coastline. This lighthouse was built in the 1870s to help ships navigate after many shipwrecks occurred in the area. We visited on a very windy day with extremely large crushing waves on Lake Superior and it was very obvious to us why this lighthouse was needed. This hike is 3 miles round trip and is very flat, wide and easy. Unlike most of the other hikes on this trip, dogs are allowed.
Log Slide Overlook
Next, we headed to the Log Slide Overlook. This overlook is a very steep sand dune that was used to slide logs onto ships in Lake Superior many years ago. This steep log slide offers pretty views along the Lake Superior shoreline. You can hike down the log slide but we would not recommend that as it is exceedingly steep and people often need to be rescued while attempting to do this. The overlook is just a short walk from the parking lot but be prepared to walk in the sand briefly. Dogs are not allowed here.
After the Log Slide Overlook, we hiked at Sable Falls. The short (0.33 mile) hike to this pretty waterfall is well worth the effort. You hike mostly down a wooden staircase. After the falls, you can continue down to the beach. It is less than 0.25 miles further down to the beach but note the beaches on the other hikes we did on this trip are, in our opinion, much prettier. There is also a trail (0.5 miles one-way) to some sand dunes that we opted to hike on as well. Dogs are allowed to hike with you here.
Other Grand Marais Tips
While in Grand Marais, be sure to check out the trendy The Dream Bean Machine for some coffee, tea, smoothies or baked goods. This Volkswagon van turned locally owned small coffee shop is super unique and cute.
Although we did not have time for it, another place to consider checking out is Lake Superior Brewing. Note, dining options are very limited in Grand Marais and many have limited hours. Especially after peak season, be sure to check the hours prior to planning to eat anywhere here.
Visit Kitch-Iti-Kipi Spring
Kitch-Iti-Kipi Spring is a large natural freshwater spring, located in Palm Books State Park. The very clear and turquoise water is unlike any we have seen before. At the spring, there is a self-operated pull raft, with the middle cut out, that takes you across the spring and allows you to get a close-up look at the spring. It is neat to see the spring bubbling up and the fish that live in the spring as well. We would recommend trying to visit the Kitch-iti-kipi Spring on a weekday to avoid crowds. It is a popular attraction as there is little to no effort required to see it. It is only a short walk from the parking lot on a paved path.
Indian State Park
This state park is located less than 10 minutes from Palm Books State Park where Kitch-iti-kipi Spring is located. We stopped here to do a short 1 mile loop that goes along the lake and through the forest. The lake is pretty but there is nothing particularly unique about it. We stopped here to break up our drive a bit more and get some activity as there is no hiking at Palm Books State Park. Unlike at the popular spring, we saw no other people while here, making our visit very peaceful.
Pictured Rocks Cruise
A Pictured Rocks Cruise is a great way to see the unique and colorful Pictured Rocks from the water. This option is especially great for anyone who is not inclined to hike the Chapel Basin Hike we recommend above. We chose not to take a cruise because we saw stellar views of the Pictured Rocks on our hike. Natalie also saw one of the cruise boats off shore swaying quite aggressively despite being quite a sizeable vessel and was also concerned for sea sickness. See post on How to Prevent Motion Sickness While Traveling and Flying if you too experience this unfortunate feeling.
Kayak Pictured Rocks
Kayaking offers, in our opinion, the best way to see the rocks from the water. However, we had our 5 week old with us so this was not an option. Beware though, Lake Superior is powerful and only strong kayakers/swimmers should consider doing this. Paddle Pictured Rocks is the most highly rated company in the area that leads these tours.
Where to Eat
Tahquamenon Falls Brewery
Tahquamenon Falls Brewery, located in the parking lot of the Upper Falls at Tahquamenon State Park, offers a nice setting to eat, drink and recharge while visiting the park. The brewery was a nice surprise for us as we did not know it existed prior to visiting. It is also not very obvious that it exists from the main area of the parking lot, so be sure to venture up by the giftshop to find it. We have never seen a brewery located within a state park either so that made the experience a bit more unique. We enjoyed the food and brews here, getting a flight of beers to taste.
Pictured Rocks Pizza
Pictured Rocks Pizza in Munising has delicious brick oven pizzas. We enjoyed a build-your-own pizza here. Be sure to check the hours when visiting as it was only open 12p-5p daily during our stay.
The specialty food item of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is the pastie. A pastie (pronounced PAST-TEE) is essentially an individual pie filled classically with meat and vegetables. We tried this UP delicacy at Muldoon’s Pasties (but you will see signs advertising them at different restaurants all over the UP). These reminded us of a pot pie but all top crust encompassing the fillings. At Muldoon’s, they also have fruit pastie options. We tried both the traditional savory and sweet. We both agree that the savory pasties are better than the sweet. These pasties are very large and one is certainly enough, even for our healthy hiking appetites. If you want to try both the savory and sweet, get the sweet ones to go for later.
Where to Stay
We recommend staying in/around Munising. Through Airbnb, we rented a very clean modern camper, placed on a local’s property, outside of Munising. The Pictured Rocks Camper had a full kitchen as well as a firepit and swing outside. This location was the perfect base for the two of us and our infant. However, if there were more people than that, it would feel quite cramped.
There are other Airbnb options, VRBOs and hotels in the area too but they are limited so try to book as far in advance as possible. With limited options in this rural area, rentals are a bit pricer than we expected. The most economical way to explore the area is to camp. There are campsites within Pictured Rocks at Little Beaver Campground, as well as along the North /country Trail, and at Tahquamenon State Park. Be sure to book any sites within Pictured Rocks as early as possible as those tend to be more difficult to secure.
Another great way to see this area is backpacking. When our daughter is a bit older, we plan to take her backpacking along the North Country Trail. We loved our time on the less trafficked parts of this trail and think a backpacking trip along here would be very serene and rejuvenating. For tips on backpacking, see What you can Learn from our First Backpacking Trip.
We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment!
And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!