Although the Lake Superior shoreline is certainly picturesque, one section stands head-and-shoulders above the rest. Located on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (www.nps.gov/piro) extends for 42 miles, from Munising to Grand Marais, and features a diverse and scenic landscape. And the good news is, there’s an ample collection of accessible trails, overlooks and windshield views along the route. So grab you camera, pack a picnic lunch and prepare to spend the day along the southeastern shore of this pristine Great Lake.
Water, Water Everywhere
Located near the west end of the lakeshore, two distinctly different water features are just a short drive from one another. Munising Falls is easy to find — it’s close to the National Park Service visitor center in Munising, where Washington Street becomes Sand Point Road.
Accessible parking is available near the trailhead, next to the accessible vault toilets. From there a wide paved 800-foot long trail follows the creek, winds through the forest and crosses a bridge, before it ends at Munising Falls. There’s level access to the viewing platform, and although there are steps to the top of the falls, you can get a great view from the platform.
Sand Point, which is just a mile up the road, offers a completely different look at the natural environment. There’s accessible parking near the Sand Point Marsh Trail, which follows a boardwalk out over the marsh. This half-mile loop winds through the forest and features interpretive panels and benches along the way. It was constructed by the Youth Conservation Corps in 1989, and this barrier-free trail lets everyone get a close look at the wetlands habitat filled with squirrels, pileated woodpeckers and noble spruce trees. There is also a level path to an accessible picnic table near the trailhead, if you’d like to enjoy lunch al fresco.
The Famous Rocks
No trip to Lake Superior is complete without a good look at the famous pictured rocks, and the best vantage point for that is at Miners Castle overlook. It’s located about seven miles from Munising, off Highway 58 on Miners Castle Road.
There’s plenty of accessible parking near the trailhead, with accessible restrooms nearby. A 100-yard long paved trail leads from the parking area to the visitor center and the overlooks. There’s ramp access to the visitor center, which is open in the summer; and level access out to the lower overlook, where you can get a good view of the pictured rocks.
These colorful cliffs take their name from the streaks of mineral stains that decorate the sculpted rocks. The streaks occur when groundwater oozes out from the cracks. This dripping water contains iron, manganese, limonite and copper, and it leaves colorful stains as it trickles down the cliff face.
You’ll also get a commanding view of Miners Castle from this overlook. This unique formation that towers over Lake Superior was named by Alexander Henry in 1771, when he was exploring the area for minerals. Although he came up empty on the minerals, the name stuck.
As you continue east, Highway 58 moves inland and travels through the Lake Superior Forest, before it returns to the lakeshore. This last part of the drive is just as scenic as the first, with some great windshield views along the way.
Make sure and stop at Lake Superior Overlook, which is located just east of Sullivan Creek. There’s accessible parking with level access to the main overlook, where you’ll be treated to an outstanding view of Lake Superior. You’ll probably even be able to spot a passing freighter or two. There are steps down to the lower observation area and the beach, but the view from the top is excellent. There are also accessible restrooms near the parking area.
If you continue along Highway 58, you’ll exit the lakeshore just after you pass the Grand Sable Visitor Center. From there, head over to Grand Marias, then take Highway 77 south to Seney, and loop back to Munising through the Seney National Wildlife Refuge on Highway 28. It’s an easy day trip, and the drive back is just as scenic as the lakeshore drive.