Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Updated: May 7
Why Pictured Rocks is great for kids and families:
There are multiple waterfalls in the area with small hikes that are easy for kids and families
Multiple beaches allow for space to enjoy playing in the sand and water
With over 100 miles of trails throughout the park system including the North Country Trail there is something for every family
Overlooks and views that amaze at every turn. Whereever you go between Munising and Grand Marais you will find memorable landscapes that are only available here.
Kayaking is available in Lake Superior and their are many tour companies that can help you with guided tours and gear.
Boat Tours of Pictured Rocks are offered by many companies as well. Google Maps even has a virtual tour of the park from the water.
My wife and I have been hiking since before we had kids. As a brood, we now hike more often. Our first big hiking experience with kids was with our oldest at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We hadn't considered an RV at the time so we rented a house on Powell Lake near Munising. Pictured Rocks stretches over 40 miles from Munising on the West edge to Grand Marais on the right in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
According to the NPS, Pictured Rocks was the first national lakeshore established in 1966, includes 15 miles of sandstone cliffs and over 100 miles of trails. There is a lot to do in the area and it is difficult to find one location that would allow you to explore the whole park. Years later we took the whole brood to the Eastern end of the park to see the log slide and Sable Falls. We will discuss that below.
From Munising we were able to visit many of the tourist stops and viewpoints as well as some longer hikes. You will need to do your research on pets. Dogs are prohibited on all hikes. However, we were able to take them to the beaches. We spent one morning hiking Mosquito Falls and Mosquito Beach trails. The loop is about four miles and provides great hiking through the forest with some of the trail along Mosquito River. We ate breakfast on the rock outcropping on the East side of the beach overlooking Lake Superior.
The hike to Chapel Beach, Chapel Rock and back to Chapel Falls is approximately six miles. Chapel Rock is cool because there is a tree growing on the rock and the root system leaves the rock and spans across to land. The view from the beach is really cool as seen below, right. The guess is that there was more ground and rock when the tree was growing and the ground washed away under the root system leaving the root to suspend across. The falls are about 60 feet tall and the hike offers spectacular views. The beach is equally amazing with soft sand, panoramic views, and fresh, cool, crystal clear water. You will want to pack swim shoes for going into the water as some of the beaches do have stone.
Many of the best hikes are through the woods. We would walk for a long time just taking in the views of the forest with not much to see but ferns, trees, and the sun's rays finding holes in the canopy to create cool shadows. Then like a wonderful surprise the trail would lead us to a cliff edge where we could see the Pictured Rocks and Lake Superior. Some of the overlooks are sandy beaches in the sky. You'll want to get close to the edge and then remind yourself of the loose footing and drop into Lake Superior. Some venture closer we decided to keep a safe distance. We also found a "beach in the sky" where beach sand has settled on top of one of the cliff faces.
Miners Falls and Miners Castle/Beach are easy to get to. Miners Falls is a 1.2 mile round trip hike with only 140ft elevation gain. The Falls are 40 feet high. The hike is accessible with a jogging stroller and due to it's ease is heavily populated with people in search of waterfalls. There is room to step aside on the trail but, the viewing area can get congested. The Falls are beautiful and worth dealing with people and the short hike. Miners castle is a rock outcropping the towers high above Lake Superior. Miners beach is in the same location but the castle is not visible. The beach has a lot of room, is great for laying out and spending time wading in the cool waters.
Grand Marais is a coastal tourist town with a couple of restaurants, a gas station\convenience store, a campground, and a few other shops and bars. The big attractions are the log slide and Sable Falls. The 300ft log slide cliff was used by loggers to deliver logs to boats on Lake Superior. People can easily view the log slide dune via a short hike from the parking lot. The loggers would team up horses to drag the logs to the cliff and then send the logs over the edge of the bluff and into the lake. There are some historical lean-tos with equipment for history buffs and for us these artifacts were a nice 5-15 minute viewing. Unfortunately, there are no known photos of the log slide in existence. Based on various sites they describe a structure that was like a chute constructed.
Sable River, Falls, and beach are accessed via two-thirds round trip hike starting at the sable falls hiking area. About half way to the beach there is a nice viewing area of the Falls. The hike is fairly easy but does include stairs and sandy areas. We spent about an hour at the outlet of the Sable River moving rocks, making dams and pools, and generally just passing away time. The kids really enjoyed discovering how they could redirect water with their actions. As you can see it was a little cold that Summer day.
As you can tell, there are a lot of opportunities to make great memories and take breathtaking photos. We find a lot of variety for everyone in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. If you make the trip to the Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks is a required stop. There are many places to visit in Michigan that are worth your time. Pictured Rocks may be the one that is required. In Munising, you can also view shipwrecks and the town is a tourist location that is fun to explore. Definitely look up shipwrecks in the area to see a few you can view from shore and others you can view via boat tours.
Here is a brief shopping list of must take items into the park
Mosquito spray - It really depends on the time of year, the year, time of day, and location. However, don't get caught without deet.
Sunscreen - Even though it could be cool, anytime during the Summer you will want sunscreen as the cool breeze could hide the fact that the sun is secretly burning your skin.
Binoculars - There are islands in the distance, cliffs that are far away and lake and bird life worth checking out. Binoculars are a great way to keep kids occupied.
Digital cameras - We took a lot of photos. I wish we had taken more. The views are spectacular and you never know what wildlife you might discover on your hikes.
If we go back we need to go kayaking. Also need to look into what campgrounds would be good for quick trips into Pictured Rocks. We should also research biking as the roads and surrounding area should have great cycling available. When we went both times it was cool and in the low 70s. Great for hiking and decent for the beach. We were very lucky to have little rain and great weather.