While spending this summer in Dallas, Texas – truly sweltering “dog days” – my mind drifts to recent summers spent in much cooler temperatures. One recent destination that fits this description was spent in Michigan. The UP to be exact.
You haven’t heard of the UP? Well, much the way other geographic regions of the United States use shorthand to describe themselves – you know, PNW for the Pacific Northwest and OBX for the Outer Banks. The UP is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Its that strip of land above Lake Michigan and below Lake Superior that connects the top of Michigan to the top of Wisconsin. And the people who live there call themselves “Yoopers”. And they’re darned proud of it!
This is an excellent area to spend the summer. The average temperature is around 75 degrees and everything is exceptionally neat and tidy. We surmised, that with such a short warm-weather season, (the average temp in the winter – Nov to March – is about 25 degrees(!) with an average of 96 to 150 inches of snow per year!) everyone is super happy to mow the lawn, plant flowers and generally make their yards look pretty!
There are plenty of things to see and do while visiting this lovely part of the USA. But, if you only have time to do one thing while passing through, we highly recommend taking a boat tour at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising, Michigan.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore located on Lake Superior consists of 42 miles of shoreline that includes 15 miles of towering sandstone cliffs as well as 5 miles of sand dunes. Not to mention beaches, waterfalls and forests! It was the very first lake area designated as a National Lakeshore by the National Park Service in 1966. While boat tours on the lake date back to the 1920’s, it wasn’t until 2009 that the National Park Services partnered with Pictured Rock Cruises as their authorized concessionaires for providing tours of the area.
No matter your preference or, should I say, desired activity level, when it comes to sightseeing – the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has you covered. From hiking the nearly 100 miles of trails, to camping, fishing, kayaking, boat tours or a leisurely afternoon picnic – there is truly something to satisfy everyone’s taste.
There are two Visitor’s Centers that provide exhibits to educate visitors about the lake, cliffs and woodlands. The Munising Falls Visitor’s Center is located in Munising, Michigan while the Grand Sable Visitor’s Center is located on the east side of the park near Grand Marais, Michigan. You can also find restrooms here and an assortment of T-shirts, books and souvenirs relating to the region.
Without a doubt, though, the best view of the massive sandstone cliffs that give the National Lakeshore its name – “Pictured Rocks” – is by boat. Pictured Rocks Cruises is conveniently located in downtown Munising, Michigan and is where you embark on this scenic voyage.
There are three cruises to choose from: the Classic Cruise, the Spray Falls Cruise, and a Sunset Cruise. These narrated tours cover approximately 40 miles on Lake Superior and last two to three hours. They conduct tours from late May to mid October and run $40ish for adults and $10ish for children ages 6 – 10. Kids under 6 are free. Be sure to make a reservation HERE as these popular tours DO sell out.
Once on board you will be treated to miles of shoreline along the beautiful Lake Superior featuring gargantuan sandstone cliffs sporting gorgeous colors – reminiscent of colors painted on a canvas by a famous painter! The colors are a result of water leaking from the rock wall face and depositing minerals as it streams down to the lake below. This process leaves streaks of color combos that only the great artist Himself could achieve with His almighty paintbrush!
Combinations of reds and orange left by iron deposits. Blues and greens left by copper deposits. Browns and blacks from manganese and finished off with white leftover from limonite. Stunning natural beauty.
In addition to the gorgeous color are the rock formations themselves, brought about by years of erosion. A few of our favorites are:
One of the more famous landmarks along the shoreline is Miners Castle. This popular rock formation was created by continual wearing away of the sandstone which continues to erode today. The castle-like structure originally had two “turrets” but one gave way to the elements and crashed into the lake in 2006. This is the only cliff area accessible by car. A paved walking trail leads from the parking lot to an observation point overlooking the Great Lake.
EAST CHANNEL LIGHTHOUSE and GRAND ISLAND:
This rustic-looking lighthouse was constructed in 1868 as a guide for those traversing Lake Superior on their way to Munising Bay. It sits at the tip of Grand Island National Recreation Area and is a scenic addition to your Pictured Rocks boat tour. The island is 22.5 square miles and is a popular destination for those in search of wild, untouched scenery. Camping is allowed on the beach and there are cabins to rent. Visitors must reach the island by ferry.
This structure was shaped and carved by thousands of years of high water – nearly 3,800 years ago! It was named “La Chappelle” or Chapel Rock by European explorers. There used to be an arch that connected the tower to the main land but it succumbed to erosion in the 1940’s. The iconic lone white pine that sits atop Chapel rock is around 250 years old.
This massive point is named due to what some say resembles the profile of a Native American. Hmmm. You definitely need to be far away to see the resemblance though. Some say the name pays homage to the Native Americans who spent time as traders on Grand Island. Hmmm. Nevertheless, it IS impressive and the huge vertical cliff walls remind you exactly how small we are in this great big world of ours.
This beautiful and imposing archway of rock – aka “Petit Portal” – is the most photographed structure in the park. It was carved over time by wind and towers nearly 200 feet high. Like many other places around the country that share the name “Lover’s Leap”, the local legend is that a Native American couple jumped from the arch, to their death, to prove their undying love for one another. Yup – heard that before. But that, they say, is how it got its name! One thing is for sure – kayakers LOVE this place!
The base of the cliffs continue to wear away creating caves and coves that serve to add to the natural beauty of the awesome cliffs.
The stunning blue water reminds me of places in the Caribbean. The temperature, however, is nothing like the Caribbean. The average water temperature of Lake Superior is around 45 degrees. That’s cold.
So whether you’re just passing through or making the UP your specific destination – don’t miss the spectacular Painted Rocks National Lakeshore. I promise – you will not be sorry! Contact Info: Pictured Rocks Cruises / 100 City Park Drive / Munising, MI 49862 / 906 387-2379 / www.picturedrocks.com / www.nps.gov/piro/index.htm
Have you ever spent time in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan? Have you ever had the chance to explore Painted Rocks National Lakeshore? Let us know how YOU liked this beautiful portion of Michigan in the comments below – we would love to hear from you! And, as always, thanks for “keeping up with us”!