Superior Places: Pictured Rocks
Posted on: September 5, 2019
Sea caves large and small dot the coastline at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. (Credit: Infosuperior)

It’s a place of stunning views, awesome colour and jaw-dropping scenery. It’s right here on Lake Superior, but the vast majority of people living around the lake have probably never heard of it. 

Pictured Rocks Map and Guide Side One

Pictured Rocks Map and Guid Side Two

Colourful Cliffs, Sand Dunes

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is just east of the town of Munising, Michigan towards the eastern end of Lake Superior. Two things make this place stand out – miles of sandstone cliffs laced with every colour under the sun and sand dunes, the largest anywhere around Lake Superior. This National Lakeshore is 42 mi. / 67 km in length. The cliffs comprise 15 mi. / 24 km of the lakeshore’s western shoreline while the dunes cover 5 mi. / 8 km of shoreline at the Lakeshore’s eastern end.

Colourful sandstone formations cover 15 km./ 24 km. Of Lake Superior shoreline at At Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. (Credit: Infosuperior)

Iron, Manganese and Limonite Provide Colour

The geology of the Pictured Rocks area dates back hundreds of millions of years. In these earlier geologic times, sediments were deposited in the shallow seas and near-shore deltas covering what is now northern Michigan. Elsewhere, these deposits were buried under a layer of glacial drift but at their interface with present day Lake Superior, they became exposed and eroded, resulting in the sandstone cliffs which run for miles along the Lakeshore. Water and associated mineral content draining through the rocks, over time, has streaked the cliffs with colour. Iron has provided the red, manganese the black and white, limonite the yellow and brown, and copper the pink and green. These colourful cliffs comprise about 15 continuous miles of the western portion of the Lakeshore.

Lake Superior’s Largest Sand Dunes

The eastern end of the Lakeshore should not be forgotten as it, too, is fascinating. Grand Sable Dunes is a vast area of dunes – Lake Superior’s largest such area – that was formed as prevailing northerly winds washed sand ashore and upslope over a glacial moraine. The dunes cover some five miles of shoreline and are actually perched atop the Grand Sable Banks which rise at an angle of about 35 degrees to some 300’ above Lake Superior. These dunes dwarf other large dune areas around Superior like Neys Provincial Park and the western side of Pic River mouth in Canada, all of which are fascinating, with fragile and unique ecosystems. 

Pictured Rocks Lakeshore is home to Lake Superior’s largest sand dunes. (Public domain. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Flikr)

Easy Access

Many locations around Lake Superior are beautiful, say the Slate Islands, Pukaskwa National Park or the Black Bay Peninsula on the Canadian side. For the most part, they are also extremely remote and only accessible to experienced travellers of Superior’s waters and wilderness hikers. Pictured Rocks is different.

Anyone who enjoys the beauty of the outdoors can easily visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Cruise boats of about 70’ in length and holding about 100 passengers leave the Munising City Dock several times daily. Take your choice of departure times. Tours are 2 to 3 hours in duration. Further information is available at [Suggestion – in mid-summer, evening sunlight hits the rocks from a lower angle, providing spectacular viewing – this is the light photographers seek].

Concession boat tour along Pictured Rocks NL Cliffs. (Public domain. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Flikr)

Cruises are excellent value. A coastline cruise may seem expensive but remember that other beautiful areas of the lake may be accessible only by expensive sailboat, motorboat or even kayak. Cruising Pictured Rocks is a deal in comparison to buying, equipping and maintaining a boat. At time of writing, prices range from $38 to $45 depending on the cruise taken. Prices for children are $10 for ages 6 to 12 and $1 for anyone under the age of 6.

Kayaking is a great way for the more adventurous types to observe the stunning cliffs at Pictured Rocks Lakeshore. (Public domain. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Flikr)

Book in advance. Demand for the cruises is very high and the vessels are often full. Cruise vessels are comfortable, seaworthy, very well built and in excellent condition. Commentary provided by the captains on each vessel is informative and entertaining, outlining area history, the science behind the coloured cliffs and information about points of interest like lighthouses and shipwrecks passed during the tour.

For those of a more adventurous nature, multiple kayak tour operators offer close-up views of Pictured Rocks. The tours are set up so that one needn’t be an expert to participate. Some operators bring participants to the most scenic portion of the Lakeshore by larger boat, prior to launching from a very stable kayak launch platform on the stern of the vessel.

An even cheaper alternative is to hike the coastline. A well maintained and marked trail runs the length of the National Lakeshore, allowing visits to the dunes and pictured rocks, including locations like “Miners Castle,” “Chapel Point,” “Grand Portal Point” and “Twelve Mile Beach.”

Chapel Rock, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. (Credit: Infosuperior)

The Most Beautiful Area on Lake Superior

If you would like to visit one of the most beautiful areas of Lake Superior, visit Pictured Rocks, the first National Lakeshore established in the U.S. (1966).

As noted at the outset of this article, views of the multi-coloured cliffs are absolutely stunning [Infosuperior staff have travelled to all corners of Lake Superior by sailboat, canoe, kayak, rowboat, motorboat, car, bicycle and on foot. Pictured Rocks is arguably the most beautiful area ever visited.]  

Infosuperior endeavours to bring Lake Superior to a couple of thousand subscribers each month. Pictured Rocks Cruises brings up to several hundred people to the lake, each day, from May through mid-October.

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