Travel Stage: After Lower Michigan, before getting to Cait’s hometown
Date Range: June 17 – 19, 2016
Summary: Despite having grown up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Cait had never been to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore along Lake Superior. We double-towed a boat up with us from the Lower Peninsula which gave us an amazing opportunity to see the picturesque shoreline from the water.
I lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for 22 years and I had never been to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a 42-mile stretch of gorgeous cliffs and rock formations along Lake Superior. My family had spent time near Munising, the largest nearby town, and we even camped there when I was little. But we never went into the Lakeshore. Not that I blame them – most kids probably wouldn’t appreciate the beauty and awe of it anyway.
I had plenty of opportunities to go – Munising is on the way from my hometown of Houghton to the Mackinaw Bridge which connects the Upper Peninsula to the Lower Peninsula. I must have passed through dozens of times! All to say, it was time.
We rolled into our lake-side campground just west of the town around mid-afternoon, found a gorgeous spacious site, and unhitched everything. Double-Towing adds a few more steps to everything, and you can’t back up! After getting our fifthwheel in place, we rehitched the boat and went in search of a boat ramp and to inspect the water conditions.
The Big Lake They Call Gitche Gumee
When we first thought about bringing the boat to the U.P. with us we thought it would be awesome to be able to use it to see the Pictured Rocks. However, we were reserved about it, because if living next to the largest lake in the world teaches you anything, it’s that it can be just as unpredictable and dangerous as the ocean. I grew up listening to the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and hearing of people dying of hypothermia long before they’d ever drown. If the waves suddenly came up, our shallow little ski boat didn’t stand a chance. And the Pictured Rocks didn’t provide any havens and few shore points.
We cautiously put the boat in at Brown’s Addition Boat Launch/Ramp after seeing very calm wave action. That area is in the bay, which is pretty well protected with Grand Marais Island to the North. We had about 3 miles to the Pictured Rocks, where we would get out into the real Lake Superior. We followed a large tour boat out for most of the way, so we felt more secure having other boats around as well.
Pro Tip: Make a splash at these 4 Best National Lakeshores for Epic Days at the Lake.
The Best Way to do Pictured Rocks
Extreme caution aside, it was amazing. The view from the water is so spectacular, and you really can’t see the lakeshore any other way. Hikes along the ridge will give you views of the lake and some of the rock points, but not of looking back on it and seeing the reds and browns and layers.
We totally lucked out on the weather and had a beautiful evening motoring the scenic shoreline, and we weren’t the only ones. Tour boats, kayaks, pontoons (we were surprised to see how many pontoons there were), and other motor boats came and went, admiring the natural beauty.
Today was deemed to be a hiking day. The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is known not only for its rock cliffs and formations but also for having lots of waterfalls. We were going to go see some of the land-viewing sites.
The Pictured Rocks national lakeshore
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed landmark legislation that made Pictured Rocks America’s first National Lakeshore. Towering 200 feet above the world’s largest freshwater lake, the multicolored cliffs extend along 12 of the 42 miles of shoreline within the park.
The wind and waves of Lake Superior have shaped the soft sandstone into caves, arches, pinnacles and pillars that the lakeshore is famous for. Seeping minerals have stained the cliffs with a palette of colors; reds and oranges from iron, black from manganese; green from traces of copper. The park also boasts many waterfalls up to 75 feet tall.
We decided to hit a few of the big attractions: Munising Falls, Miners Falls, and Miner’s Castle. We also picked out a 6 mile hike to see Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, and Chapel Beach.
Located right next to the Munising Falls Interpretive Center down a .25 mile paved path, this is a pretty 50-ft waterfall.
The easy 1.2 mile round trip to see this 50-ft waterfall is worth it. Unlike the slender Munising Falls, this one has some force behind it!
Arguably the most famous rock formation along the shoreline, Miners Castle is an easy drive to get to with two viewing platforms: one from way above on the ridge and one right up close to the rocks. Several years ago Miners Castle lost one of it’s spires, so looks much different now than then.
Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, Chapel Beach
We chose a 6 mile round trip hike to see the falls, the rock, and the beach. 1.5 miles in we came to the 60-ft falls:
A few miles later we reached the lake where we found the famous Chapel Rock, which has a tree growing from it and roots draped across the empty space between.
This was a popular beach area. People had either hiked or boated to get here. There was a river that ran out into the lake, and the warmer river water made the ice cold Lake Superior bearable where they met. It was a hot day and we had 3 more miles to hike. While we like the hiking, we we jealous of all the boaters on the beach and wished we had spent this beautiful summer day to enjoy the boat and the lakeshore from the water. Oh well, you live and learn!
Our Campground – Bay Furnace
Bay Furnace Campground is located just 5 miles west of Munising along the lakeshore. Some sites are reservable and some are first-come-first-served. Because of a $5-6 online reservation fee, we decided to just walk up.
Campground Rate (as of 8/6/16): $18.00 Per Night, $126.00 Per Week
No hookups available, but a dumpstation and drinking water available. Dump station fee is $5.
Checkin Time: 3:00 pm Checkout Time: 2:00 pm
Considering that this is no hookups and you have to pay to dump, this really isn’t that good of a deal. However, all surrounding campgrounds are far more expensive. Luckily, there are plenty of large sites (room enough for the 33ft fifth wheel, a 16ft boat, and the truck!) and you are right next to the lake.
The Campground is named after a blast furnace used for smelting iron called Bay Furnace in the 17th century settlement of Onota. Remains of the furnace were partially restored and can be seen and read about on-site.
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