This was it! The primary reason for taking this trip along the southern shore of Lake Superior was finally upon us! We had already visited the Apostle Islands and the Porcupine Mountains, now it was time for Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore! Just googling this area and perusing the breathtaking photos while planning our trip had us drooling with anticipation and excitement! We couldn’t wait to get there and see all the beauty this unique area has to offer. We had allowed ourselves three nights and two full days to explore the area before returning home from our week and a half long adventure on the road.
We had reserved sites at one of the few places to find electrical campsites in the area, Munising Tourist Park. The cost of a campsite, at this large open field of a campground, ranges from $35-$39 a night depending upon location and amenities (i.e. water, electrical, sewer hook-ups etc…). There are 100 campsites to chose from, with several options steps from a beach along the shores Lake Superior. We had been unable to secure two sites next to each other when making our advance reservations (we were traveling with my parents who had their camper along as well) so we had chosen one site on the water, the other directly across the way from it.
When we arrived we all agreed that my parents should take the site directly on the water. We tended to hang out in their campsite the most during the trip since they had the foresight to bring along a screen tent and a gas grill, also my mother is a wonderful cook who provided us with countless meals along the way!
Our campsite was awkward, to say the least. At this particular park you shared a water and electrical hookup with your neighbor which isn’t that big of a deal except our 25′ power cord wasn’t long enough to reach to the electrical pole. Thankfully, the woman at the front desk who had checked us in had warned us that that may happen and had offered to loan us an extension chord to mitigate this issue. We were just finishing setting up when the wind picked up and storm clouds began rolling in. My dad, Bobby, and Jack were trying to get the screen tent set up so we could have a dry spot to eat dinner that evening, knowing that the forecast was calling for rain for the rest of the day, but the wind had other ideas and in the end their attempts proved futile.
We had been on the road for six days at this point and we all needed to do laundry and resupply. The campground is a short 3 mile drive east over to the charming town of Munising, MI where there was a laundromat and a grocery store. We left as the rain began to fall and it was a torrential downpour by the time we arrived at the laundromat. Thankfully, Jack loves helping me with laundry (something Bobby had never witnessed before) so he was happy as a clam while we loaded up a washer!
Upon returning to the campground after laundry and a resupply at the local grocers we were greeted with a very unpleasant sight, our campsite was under 4-5 inches of water. The rest of the campground was just wet, but our site had become a small pond.
The following morning our camper was still surrounded by water, but thankfully the water levels had gone down and no longer went past our ankles when wading through. We started off the morning by stopping at the joint Forest and Park Service Visitor Center for the area located within town. We asked one of the rangers there if he could recommend a good day hike for the morning. While, we were grateful we went because we learned that dogs weren’t allowed in many of the areas we thought Latigo would be, we were also disappointed by the canned response we got from the ranger. We could tell he had seen the fact that we were traveling with a child and therefore assumed we could only do the most touristy of hikes.
After studying the maps we had gotten and figuring out how much time we had before the boat cruise we had booked for the afternoon we opted to check out Miners Castle.
We had parked (no parking passes are required at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore) and taken the short trail to the viewing area before walking down to the formation itself. This is an easy, short trail that can be done by pretty much anybody. While we were there we were disappointed to see that a father had somehow managed to get himself and his two sons over all the railings and warning signs and were climbing around the top of Miners Castle. This is strictly prohibited in the park and enforced by a hefty fine. It amazes me when visiting very popular sites the cavalier attitude taken by adults, parents, and children about the rules. These rules are in place to protect the resources, the experiences, and the visitors from harm and yet so many people seem to believe that the rules don’t, or shouldn’t, apply to them.
Thankfully, by the time we made our way down to the lower, and closer, viewpoint of Miner’s Castle the men had vacated the area and we were able to enjoy it in relative peace.
We hiked onwards from the area the 1 mile down the shoreline to Miners Beach, a stunning stretch of a sand beach, that probably would’ve been a lot more amazing had we actually been able to see the lake. There was rather a lot of fog lingering about.
As we sat on the beach eating our snack hikers and kayakers alike kept appearing as if from nowhere. It was very eerie and a little disconcerting.
We took the same trail back the way we had come and were pleased that it was such a nice trail. There were only a few steep sections to navigate and it takes hikers through two very distinctive forests. The first was mostly comprised of maple trees and after going up and down a slight incline you find yourself in a coniferous forest with a much more sandy soil. It was really neat to hike through. The wildflowers were out, and according to one backpacker, the flowers only come out for two to three weeks every year in the spring at this park and we were hitting it at peak!
We had a picnic of PB&J sandwiches, chatted with a father/daughter backpacking duo and shared some cookies with them before returning to town to catch our afternoon boat cruise that would give us some incredible views of this scenic lakeshore. The cruise was through Pictured Rocks Cruises and tickets can be purchased in advance online or at their shop in town.
While the price for a cruise is a little steep ($40 per adult, $10 children 6-12, and $1 for children 6 and under) I cannot emphasize enough how much you should take one if you are visiting the area. We had seen some of the cliff faces and formations during our hike but during this 2 hour and 45 minute boat cruise we saw them all, up close, and personal. Fog threatened throughout the cruise but we still had spectacular views of these amazing sites!
The cruise we were on was a little more expensive and a little longer as we also got to see Spray Falls, which, according to one ranger, was really flowing heavily that day thanks to the previous day’s downpour.
It was also really incredible to see the places we had hiked at earlier in the day from a new perspective. If you plan on doing both hiking and boating in the area I would definitely say, hike first and boat second! It’s really neat to see the places you went and all that couldn’t be seen from above that is lurking just below and out of sight.
The cruise really was the cherry on the top of this incredible trip! At almost 3 hours it was pretty long for our rambunctious 21 month old boy. Thankfully, having 4 adults to help care for him made the cruise bearable. I honestly don’t know if we would’ve attempted the cruise had my parents not been along to help.
Jack did eventually fall asleep in my arms for the final 45 minutes of the cruise, which we were very grateful for. Also, be warned that no snacks are offered on board so be sure to pack your own. Soda and water is sold by the helpful crew and food is allowed. There was an informative, and painfully pun-filled commentary given by the captain of the boat as we went along who named the formations we were seeing. Tipping at the end of the cruise is encouraged but not necessary. The top of the boat is an open deck while the bottom is heated for those chillier days. We began the cruise up top but quickly moved inside as the wind picked up. The benches are rather uncomfortable and I wished I had brought my little butt pad that I bring hiking for sitting on.
I want to say again, take a boat cruise when in the area. You won’t regret it!
2 days at Pictured Rocks definitely wasn’t enough. We’ll be coming back in the future as our children grow up to backpack the entire section of the North Country Trail that cuts through the park and to kayak along the cliffs so we can get even closer to the rocks and beaches.