Stretching more than 40 miles between the Upper Peninsula towns of Munising and Grand Marais, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore protects a narrow corridor of jaw-dropping Lake Superior coastline. In the southern end of the reserve, 15 miles of spectacular, mineral-stained sandstone cliffs rise 50–200 feet above the lake, forming immense curtains and arches of colorful rock.
No surprise, then, that this section sees the lion’s share of park visitors—over 800,000 in 2018. Many arrive by powerboat, either on multi-deck tour ships or ubiquitous pontoon boats rented from area marinas. But on a calm day, paddlecraft provide a far more intimate perspective of the coast’s hidden sea stacks, caves, portals and passages.
Use good judgment and get a marine weather forecast before heading out on Superior. Strong winds, cold water and wakes from boat traffic can create hazardous conditions for paddlers.
Sheer cliffs amplify and confuse wave patterns, and make it impossible to get off the water in many places. In general, early morning offers the calmest conditions.
Where to Go
If You Want to go guided
Joining a boat shuttle-assisted tour allows you to see the park’s most superlative sights in a single day. Munising-based outfitter, Paddling Michigan, offers a guided kayak-and-hike experience that includes 14 miles of coastal paddling, taking in Bridalveil Falls, Lover’s Leap Arch, Grand Portal Point, Chapel Rock and Spray Falls. The eight-hour tour includes picnic lunch at Mosquito Beach and finishes with a three-mile hike out from remote Chapel Beach, where kayaks are picked up by barge.
For a less strenuous tour of the highlights with just five miles of paddling, Pictured Rocks Kayaking water launches guests from a dedicated mothership.
If you’re Into beaches
Pictured Rocks has no shortage of sandy shoreline—in fact, Twelvemile Beach and the Grand Sable Dunes dominate the lightly visited coastline beyond the cliffs. Put-in at Twelvemile Campground to explore the vast sand-and-pebble strand to the south. Land on the beach and follow short trails inland to a series of kettle lakes, remnants of vanished glaciers.
If you Want to paddle into the sunset
The Pictured Rocks’ vibrant color palette comes alive in the evening sun. Launch from Miner’s Beach picnic area and paddle 3.5 miles up the coast to Mosquito Beach. Leave ample time to stretch your legs at this quiet spot, then return southwest along the ochre cliffs with the sun setting behind Grand Island.
Wild beauty on the Lake Superior shore. | Photo: Virginia Marshall