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 is absolutely breathtaking, lined with unique colorful cliffs made from ancient sandstone formations. You can hike, kayak or take a boat cruise along the scenic Lake Superior Coastline to soak in all the views. Further, the surrounding area has many stunning waterfalls and other unique scenery to explore. Our guide on ‘What to do in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’ goes over seeing it all.
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FYI This post is written based off two different trips both taken in early September
What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Hike Chapel Basin Loop
Our first recommendation on what to do in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is to hike the Chapel Basin Loop. 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 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!
Beware that this hike is over 10 miles though so take into consideration your fitness level before completing it. Although there are out-and-back options on the trail, the shortest path to lakeshore is to complete it as a loop. For more detailed information on this hike see our Hiking Chapel Basin Loop Pictured Rocks Guide.
We have completed this hike twice. Once with our newborn daughter in tow and another with our newborn son as well as toddler daughter along. For tips on hiking with an infant, see our How to Hike with a Baby post.
What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Sea Kayaking or Boat Cruise
Our next recommendation on what to do in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is to experience the Pictured Rocks from either a kayak or boat cruise. We particularly recommend doing this if you are not hiking Chapel Basin Loop as these are the only other ways to see the Pictured Rocks in person. See more information on Pictured Rocks Boat Cruises and Paddle Pictured Rocks with these links.
What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Visit Miners Castle, Beach & Falls
From the upper viewpoint at Miners Castle, 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 along a paved path. You can hike to a lower viewpoint with some required elevation gain on the return trip but the view is not as good from close-up to Miners Castle. As parents visiting with a young toddler, we really appreciated the little windows they had at all of the viewpoints for our daughter to look out and see the viewpoints safely. The trails here were also very toddler friendly and paved, allowing our toddler to hike alongside us.
You can also hike down further to Miners Beach and on part of the North Country Trail along the Lake Superior Lakeshore. The North Country Trail is the longest trail in the National Trails System stretching 4,800 miles, across 8 states! It is pretty cool if you can say you hiked on part of it.
Be sure to stop and hike to Miners Falls while out this way (trailhead 2 miles before Miners castle parking lot, on the same road). This trail is 1.2 miles with 154 feet of elevation gain and is an out & back trail through the woods. We really liked this trail and found it to be very serene. Our newly 2-year-old daughter was able to easily hike it with us on her own two feet until we got to the viewing platform/stairs where we were glad we had our backpack carrier along. Dogs are allowed here on a leash.
What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Visit More Waterfalls in the Area
The area around Munising has many beautiful waterfalls. Beyond Miners Fall, below are some other waterfalls to see. Ranked from our favorite to least favorite waterfall.
Laughing Whitefish Falls
- 1.0 Mile, 121 feet of elevation gain, out & back
- Largest waterfall in the immediate area
- Dogs are allowed here on a leash.
- 0.4 Miles, mostly flat but optional stairs to climb, out & back
- Paved path
- Dogs are allowed here on a leash
- 0.2 Miles, out & back
- Dogs are allowed here on a leash
- 0.2 Miles, out & back
- Dogs are allowed here on a leash
What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Hike Beaver Basin Wilderness Trails
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.
Hike through 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/Mosquito area. You can hike to Spray Falls from this trail though and could continue on the North Country Trail to the Pictured Rocks section (although this would make for a very long hike – a great potential route for backpackers).
What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Day Trip to 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.
Day Trip to Tahquamenon State Park: 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.
Day Trip to Tahquamenon State Park: 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.
Day Trip to Tahquamenon State Park: 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 daughter 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 for a fee, 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 were on-point here.
Note: Tahquamenon Falls is about 1 hour and 20 minutes drive from Munising.
What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Paddle the Lazy Au Train River
A family friendly adventure floating down the lazy, mostly sand bottom, Au Train River. Paddle Au Train is a family run, 3rd generation UP business. Paddling this lazy river is a great way to enjoy the outdoors in the peaceful Au Train area.
What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Take a Ferry to Grand Island
Grand Island is located in Lake Superior, about a half mile off the mainland city Munising, Michigan.
Grand Island is a great place to spend part of a day or all day exploring. Here, you can hike, bike (20 miles around the island), kayak/canoe or take a bus tour. For more information on Grand Island rentals click here. For even more of an adventure, you can camp overnight here too.
What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Day Trip to 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.
Day Trip to Grand Marais: Au Sable Lighthouse
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 had 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. Dogs are allowed here on a leash.
Day Trip to Grand Marais: 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.
Day Trip to Grand Marais: Sable Falls
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 on a leash here with you.
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.
Note: Grand Marais from Munising is about 1 hour drive
What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: 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 for better water views, 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 scurrying about. 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.
Note: Kitch-Iti-Spring is about 50 minutes drive Southeast from Munising.
What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Take a Shipwreck Tour
Take a glass bottom boat tour to see the unique shipwrecks beneath Lake Superior as well as sandstone cliffs and caves along the shore. Get more information on these tours here. Open Memorial Day weekend through the end of September.
What to do Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Dine in Downtown Munising
There are plenty of different types of restaurants to dine at in Downtown Munising. If you only stop at one place, we recommend stopping at Muldoon’s Pasties to pick up a pastie (pronounced PAST-TEE) traditional UP delicacy (individual pie filled classically with meat and vegetables). Another favorite spot of ours was Pictured Rocks Pizza.
Where to Stay near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
After looking for the perfect place to stay as a family near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we were so happy when we found the Northwoods Resort in Au Train, about 10 minutes west of Munising. This resort is close enough to all of the activities in the area yet tucked away from the hustle and bustle. It is truly the perfect place to unwind after a day of exploring. This resort has been family owned and operated for 3 generations. It is family friendly and most of the accommodations are dog friendly. And with charming cottages and large lake houses, there is something to fit everyone’s accommodations needs. Located right on Au Train lake, it’s the perfect place to relax and drink your morning coffee/tea. For more on staying at this place, please see our Where to Stay Near Pictured Rocks post.
FAQs about Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
When to Visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore?
Visit in the summer, ideally June-September. The weather is best during this time and the most tour options/ businesses are open during this time as well. Outside of that window, tours offered are very limited due to cooler weather as well as less visitors.
Where to Stay near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore?
Is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Dog Friendly?
No. Most of the trails along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore do not allow dogs. However, many of the shorter inland waterfall trails in the area do allow dogs. Please see the waterfall, Miners Waterfall and Grand Marais sections above.
Pictured Rocks Map for Visual Reference of Area
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!
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