The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a great summer destination in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We have only visited in the summer but it would definitely be beautiful in the early fall as well when the leaves are changing. Late spring would also be a good time once the weather has warmed up but we have heard it is more buggy earlier in the summer. When we went in August the mosquitos were not bad at all during out hike or at night while we were camping. Lake Superior is cold even in the middle of the summer so don’t expect warm water for swimming. But summer is definitely the best time to enjoy the lake, the beach, the hiking and some kayaking or other boat tour.
Munising is likely where you’ll want to stay to be closest to the hiking and the waterfront. This is a very small town, don’t expect 5 star hotels and restaurants. There are a couple hotels and a couple restaurants but that is about it. We camped during our trip so cannot recommend any specific hotel. There are a lot of camp grounds in the area. You can go very rustic and camp within the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. You will need a permit so planning in advance is necessary to stay within the park itself.
We camped at a nearby camp ground. You can find campgrounds ranging from ones with a bathroom, shower, grills , electric plug ins and picnic tables on site to more minimal vaulted toilets available or no toilets/showers available just depending on what you are comfortable with. We would recommend booking in advance as this is a popular destination in the summer and camp grounds do tend to fill up.
In order to see the rocks from land you do need to hike/walk through the National Forest to the lakeshore. There are several different options for where to start your hike and how far you want to go. We parked at the parking lot on Chapel road and started the trail from there. We went past Chapel falls, Chapel lake and Chapel rock before heading all the way to Spray falls. Spay falls is a waterfall that comes jetting out of the rocks and then down into the lake. This was our favorite waterfall we saw on this trip. There is an open area on the rocks where you can sit and enjoy the view before starting your hike back or continuing on further. We packed a lunch which we enjoyed at this location, taking in the view of the waterfall and the lake. The hiking is not strenuous with any huge hills to climb. The paths are fairly well marked as you go through and chances are you won’t be the only people hiking so expect to run into other hikers as you go. We did past one or two vaulted toilets in the park during our hike but they were not super clean so that is something to be aware of. We took a different path back going by Mosquito falls. We were not in any huge hurry and we stopped multiple times to take photos. The whole like took us 4-5 hours. We would recommend starting your hike in the morning so that if it does take longer than you expect you are not stuck in the park after dark if you aren’t camping there.
One of the best ways to see the Pictured Rocks is from the water. We did a kayak tour when we were there. We were bummed the morning of our tour because it was cloudy and rainy. Our tour guides assured us it is actually the best time to see the rocks because when they are wet from the rain it actually brings out the different colors much better. It sprinkled the first half of our kayaking but then the rain stopped and the sun actually did come out towards the end- so don’t let rain or clouds deter you. One other note on weather is that pending weather/water conditions they may take you to another location to kayak. You are dealing with Lake Superior so you don’t want to be stuck out there on a kayak in bad waves. There are several tour companies that offer kayak tours at various different lengths. We went through Paddling Michigan- https://www.paddlingmichigan.com/kayaking-tours/
You can do anywhere from a day long tour to a couple hours. You can also rent kayaks in the area and head out on your own. We did a tour that was a couple hours long and we felt it took us a good distance down the shoreline and back. It was nice to have a guide so we know what areas to stay further back from the rocks in case anything fell into the water and they told us when we were in areas where it was safe to get right up close to the rocks. Our tour group was about 8-10 people and most of us were in tandem kayaks. We had two guides with us to help keep the group together.
We would highly recommend kayaking while you are there, it was the highlight of our trip despite the rain! if you have a go pro definitely bring it with you. We got some great photos and videos while kayaking. The water is also super clear so you can see the bottom as you kayak along and get some great shots from in the water as well.
There is also a boat tour you can take which will drive along the shoreline offering views of the rocks. We did not take this tour so we cannot recommend a specific company but know that it is an option if you are not up for kayaking.
Waterfalls in and around Munising:
There are several waterfalls you can see very close to Munising. We had a car since we drove from the lower peninsula. We would recommend having a car for this trip. Because there is no major city there aren’t taxi services in the area and we aren’t sure if you can get uber or lift rides from Munising. On the rainy morning before heading out for our kayak tour we drove to some of the waterfalls close by. We visited , Munising falls, Alger falls, Miner’s falls and Scott’s falls. These 4 are all very close to each other, only a few minutes drive in-between each one so you can easily see them all in a short amount of time. All of these also have only a very short walk from the parking lot to the falls so there is really no hiking involved. Horseshoe and Wagner’s falls are also within the Munising area.
The pictured rocks is a great destination for anyone wanting to be outside and enjoy the beautiful Lake Superior lakeshore. It is a great place for an active summer vacation! A must see for anyone coming to Michigan.