Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Unexpected Michigan

Beautiful teal water at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Photo by Kelsey Dean
Beautiful teal water at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Photo by Kelsey Dean

As the journey continues, you can see the battered remnants of old ships that crashed. Rock arches jut out into the waves, and every surface has layers and layers of stripes or bleeding colors: ores and minerals that look like they have been painted on by some giant, over-saturated brush.

The Most Popular Pictured Rocks Beach

A castle-like formation marks Miner’s Beach, the most popular beach on the lakeshore for swimming, where the grains of sand are round like tiny pearls, and slabs of sandstone make platforms that hug the side of the towering rock castle.

Along the shoreline, there are several trails and campgrounds, and you’ll see distant kayaks, hikers, and beach-goers who pause to wave at the boats. The U.P. is full of incredibly hospitable people. You can ask any local about a food recommendation (like a local meat-filled pastry) or how to get to a campground and they’ll be happy to guide you. The characteristic friendliness of the Midwest is exaggerated up north, and surrounded by all the fresh air and stunning geological features, it’s not hard to see why.

The more time I spend on the lake, the happier I get. There is something cleansing about the U.P.; after vacationing there, I always feel reinvigorated.

The breaks in the cliffs are not only marked by crevices, rock formations, and beaches; there are several picturesque waterfalls along the route as well. Near Miner’s Beach, there is an unnamed, even less inhabited beach that is my family’s favorite. There is a nice stretch of sand, but large portions of the beach are layered sheets of sandstone. They form shallow steps down from a tiny waterfall streaming out of the forest. It’s lush and mossy, and the stone extends far out into the water. Besides being pretty, the stone also helps to warm up the shallows of the infamously cold lake.

The occasional fissures in the stone create mysterious crannies and sudden (but not very deep) drop-offs that, in the ocean, would likely house all kinds of unpleasant creatures — eels, crabs, sea urchins. But in Lake Superior, there is nothing to fear in the shadowed crannies.

Pictured Rocks, Details of the rocks. Photo by Kelsey Dean
Details of the rocks. Photo by Kelsey Dean

Later in the tour, you’ll find a small, inhospitable island with a single tree growing at its summit. As the boat adjusts its angle, you see that the tree’s roots stretch out far above the water to the mainland, where the soil is rich enough to sustain the tree. Every time I see it, my breath falters. The raw, untouched beauty of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore serves as a gorgeous demonstration of the power of nature, and reminds you that the Earth is so much older and wilder than we often imagine it to be. It leaves me thinking of the vastness of geological time, and how we fit into the land, rather than how the land fits us.

When the boat turns around and heads back to Munising, you get to see it all over again.

Once my feet are back on solid ground, I am always left satisfied, but half-wishing I could stay aboard for another tour. My grandmother felt similarly, after seeing that stunning shoreline.

“I guess I don’t have to go all the way to Thailand to see things like this,” she said. “Who knew?”

Now, you do. If you ever get a chance to explore Pictured Rocks, I promise that it is well worth the trip.

If You Visit the Pictured Rocks:

National Park Service

Pictured Rocks

Visit Munising

Author Bio: Kelsey Dean is a traveling English teacher currently residing in Seoul. She was born and raised in Michigan, but has also lived in Costa Rica, Korea, Italy, and Turkey, and has visited many other countries. She loves camping, swimming, and all the pancake-shaped foods of the world. Since she usually writes poetry and short fiction, her work is published in a wide variety of literary magazines.