Most people never lose their fascination with beautiful displays of nature. Hugging the Lake Superior coastline for 42 miles, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (906/387-3700) is an archetypical example. Generations of writers, artists, and photographers have been inspired by the colorful hues of its escarpments.

For a full 15 miles, massive sandstone cliffs tower over the lake, some reaching heights of 200 feet.In 1820 the geologist Henry Rowe Schoolcraft visited Picture Rocks and described it as having “some of the most sublime and commanding views of nature.” In 1966 the U.S. Congress saw the need to protect this prized area and established Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore under the authority of the National Park Service.

Turquoise water at the shore at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Photo © Maciej Maksymowicz/123rf.

For a full 15 miles, massive sandstone cliffs tower over the lake, some reaching heights of 200 feet. Because of the multidimensional geology of the area, the colors of various minerals combine with the groundwater to create streaks of red (from iron), yellow-brown (limonite), and pink-green (copper). Other physical features lie within the park’s borders, including sand dunes and waterfalls, but for most visitors, the colorful cliffs are the main attraction. With a few exceptions, however, they can only be viewed from the water.

Mindful of this, local operators offer visitors of all abilities the opportunity to see and enjoy the cliffs. These include boat tours, sea kayaking, and hiking. While kayaking offers the skillful paddler-photographer the chance to get some truly remarkable shots from otherwise impossible angles, boat tours will certainly do for those less inclined to test their multi-tasking skills.

Pictured Rocks Cruises (906/387-2379, Memorial Day-mid-Oct., $36 adults, $10 ages 6-12, $1 under age 6) offers three-hour trips up the shoreline from Munising, sidling up practically close enough to touch the rock formations while giving you the perspective to comprehend the turreted shapes like Miners Castle. Though trips are offered up to seven times a day, plan for either the late afternoon or Sunset Cruises, when the sinking sun shows off the multicolored sandstone in its best light. The boats depart from the Munising City Pier.

Travel map of Michigan's Upper Peninsula (East)

The Eastern Upper Peninsula


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.