National Parks of the Great Lakes — Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on mighty Lake Superior provides incredible recreational opportunities.
December 15, 2017 - Author: Steve Stewart, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Sea Grant
The United States National Park Service not only administers parks, it also is responsible for designated lakeshores, historic sites, battlefields, and memorials. In addition, it oversees historic and scenic trails located in the Great Lakes watershed. One of the most unique National lakeshores – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – is the focus of this second article in this series on the National Parks of the Great Lakes.
If you’ve ever visited Michigan’s Upper Peninsula between Munising to the west and Grand Marais to the east, you’ve probably seen the famous cliffs and formations for which this park is named. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore includes 42 miles of Lake Superior coast, with colorful sandstone cliffs – some reaching 200 feet in height – extending along 15 miles of shoreline. Impressive in themselves, you can also find where they have been sculpted by nature into arches, caves – both above and below the water’s surface.
Lots to do
But there is much more to this lakeshore than just colorful cliffs. Miles of lovely beaches and huge sand dunes, forest trails, shipwrecks, and waterfalls are also along this part of the Lake Superior coast. Campers and hikers will enjoy the 100 miles of hiking trails. The park’s website can direct hikers to short day jaunts or longer treks. Backcountry camping is available but permits are required. Also, it is important to be prepared so visit the website for many good suggestions on what equipment and safety precautions you should take while visiting the park as well as a calendar of events and how to plan your trip.
Interested in maritime history? You can learn about the U.S. Lifesaving Service, the U.S. Lighthouse Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard at multiple sites along the shore, such as the Au Sable Light Station. And don’t miss the Alger Underwater Preserve in Munising, which features shipwrecks, educational glass bottom boat tours, interpretive underwater trails, and sea caves (see Michigan’s underwater preserves offer unique views of Great Lakes maritime heritage for more on Michigan’s underwater preserve system).
Art in the park
One of the unique opportunities offered at many National Parks, including Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, is the Artist-in-Residence program. Residencies usually last 2-4 weeks and artists share their art with park visitors. This past summer Todd Marsee, Michigan Sea Grant’s senior graphic designer, served as artist-in-residence at Pictured Rocks. Todd shared his thoughts about his experience:
“Being chosen from a pool of applicants to be the Artist in Residence (AIR) at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was a huge honor. I was fortunate to have this time to focus on my painting – off the grid. In these days of constant digital chatter, I found it extremely rewarding, as I produced 20 paintings at the cabin, and 6 additional in the works. My camera was with me all the time, capturing the many moods of Lake Superior. These photos helped inspire many paintings and are also being used here at Michigan Sea Grant. I was able to experience the shoreline when the Lake was smooth as glass and when there were waves nearing 10 feet in the open water. I saw the juxtaposition of nature’s beauty and awesome power all in one place.
The North Country Trail is literally right on the edge of the Lake in many places. It meanders into the woods for parts of the hike, but you are rewarded with an amazing Lake vista every time the path meets back up to the water. Color was a big inspiration in the work produced during the AIR. When the lighting is just right, the Lake is a brilliant blend of greens and blues. Rock hunting also brings all sorts of bright colors.”
If you’re an artist, check into the artist-in-residence program at many of the National Parks. And even if you’re not an artist, you’ll find that Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers an incredible experience for you and your entire family. Contact the Munising Falls Visitor Center, 1505 Sand Point Road, Munising, MI (phone 906-387-4310) for more information.
Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.