Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
16 July 2012
I grew up in lower Michigan, never hearing much about the Upper Peninsula. It wasn’t until I was in High School that I finally had a lasting impression of anywhere north of the bridge, and that was Isle Royale. I’ll get to that in another article, but it left such a big impression on my life that I’ve wanted to return ever since.
When I couldn’t get to Isle Royale last summer, I decided to look around for other things to do in the Upper Peninsula. Though my original plan was to visit Whitefish Bay, somewhere in the planning phase things were skewed to the west, toward Munising and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Honestly, I’m not even sure how it happened, it just did. It’s not a place that anyone I knew had ever visited. It wasn’t a family thing with childhood memories, it was just something that sounded interesting.
But, I wasn’t prepared to see how incredible it really is. My part of Michigan is flat, much like over half of the mid-west. And that’s not to say it’s boring or ugly — quite the contrary. Pictured Rocks is different, however, different like walking into another country.
When you drive up to the park entrance, get out of your car and walk the pathway down to Miner’s Castle, it’s not obvious what you’re going to see. Even if you’ve seen photos, it really can’t be done justice. Right in front of you is a sheer limestone cliff that’s been eroded and colored by minerals as they seep into the water below.
Lake Superior is definitely worthy of its own series of articles. It’s gorgeous at every part of it I’ve ever visited, but Pictured Rocks is especially beautiful. You might as well be standing on the edge of the continent overlooking the ocean.
One of the best things about the area is that it’s practically untouched by humans. Sure, there is the occasional house, cabin, hotel, or restaurant, but like most of the other parts of the Upper Peninsula everything is very spread out and somewhat minimal. Driving to Miner’s Castle we were almost the only people on the road at any point. Once arriving, however, the parking lot was almost completely full. Thankfully it’s not like a lot of touristy areas where that can ruin your visit. Even with all those people it didn’t feel overly crowded once we reached the water. There are miles of beaches to share, after all.
Beyond Miner’s Castle there are other waterfalls to see in the area. Some of them are dry at certain times of the year, thankfully the owner of the Christmas Motel gave us some insider tips on which were worth seeing during the time of our stay. The area is perfect for those who like to hike and enjoy the outdoors. It’s a great mix of prepared trail but without feeling like someone dozed a section of the forest to put in a walking path.
As we planned the rest of the evening, we decided to take the sunset boat tour with Pictured Rocks Cruises. For a pretty standard tour price, we spent an hour boating up and down the coastline. If I have one recommendation for anyone taking the tour at sunset it would be to sit on the right side of the boat, on the top deck. The light from the setting sun almost makes the miles of limestone cliffs glow. You’ll see a lot more detail at that time, too, since you’ll also have the benefit of golden light. And because you’re sitting on the right side, you won’t have to look over the heads of other people to see most of it. Believe me, those boats get really full, so get there early to claim your spot in line. If you do take the evening tour, make sure you pack a coat. Lake Superior is almost always frigid to begin with, and sitting high off the water adds a cool breeze too.
The benefit of taking a boat is that you can see parts of the park it would take a very long time to reach on foot. And even if you did manage to get there on foot, you’d still miss the incredible view from the water. If you’re skilled with a canoe or kayak, there are places to launch too. In that respect it seems like a really great place to do an extended, more adventurous vacation.
There’s no doubt that we will return to Pictured Rocks. While it’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway for those already in Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Canada, the only thing I would do differently is plan a longer trip so that I could take in all of the waterfalls and beaches in the area. Though it may seem small on a map, it’s deceptively large and filled with incredible, natural beauty. I would recommend Pictured Rocks to my friends and family without hesitation.