Ready to pay a visit to the shores of America’s largest, deepest, and coldest lake? Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore encompasses more than 70,000 acres and 42 miles of rugged and wild shoreline on Lake Superior. This awe-inspiring landscape was sculpted by the power of mighty winds, colossal ice sheets, and pounding waves. It is protected and managed by the national park service, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016. What a great excuse to make this the year of America’s awesome national parks.
The Best Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Adventures for Families
You could spend weeks and weeks at Pictured Rocks and not run out of things to do. Here are our favorite adventures to help you make the most of your visit.
Tour the Au Sable Light Station
Built in 1874, the Au Sable Light Station sits on Au Sable Point near a picturesque beach about 12 miles west of Grand Marais. Ranger-led tours are offered from June to September. The trail from the parking lot to the light station is about a mile and a half. It’s an awesome hike for kids, with steps and trails leading down to the beach around every corner. Remains of shipwrecks dot the shore, making this short hike seem like a grand adventure. Dogs aren’t allowed on this trail.
Visit the Log Slide
Climb down (and back up) if you dare. This used to be the site of a steep log chute, where lumberjacks would push timber into the lake for transport. What’s left is a giant sand dune that you can climb, run, or tumble down. Just remember that you’ll have to get yourself back up. A nearby sign warns visitors that a 5-minute run down the slide will be followed by a strenuous climb that could take an hour or more. If you don’t want to exert yourself with those shenanigans, no one will fault you, but you should still check out the view from the top — it’s one of the most beautiful in the park.
Hike to Chapel Beach, Chapel Falls, and Chapel Rock
So much to see in one 5 mile hike, this part of the park is very easy on the eyes. The hiking is easy too, even with a packed picnic. You’ll pass Chapel Falls and Chapel Lake on your way to the beach, after about 1.5 miles of walking. The falls cascade steeply more than 60 feet into Chapel Lake. There are several viewing platforms and photo opps along the way. After another mile or so, you will spot Chapel Rock and Lake Superior. This is a great place to while away the day. Swim in the frigid waters, bask in the sun, and indulge in a picnic before heading back to your car. You can also make use of a few primitive backcountry campsites along the beach. Just be sure to pick up a permit from the visitor center (and leave your dog at home).
Camping at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
While I can’t vouch for all the campgrounds at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we LOVED Twelvemile Beach Campground. Each campsite is perched on a tree-covered embankment overlooking the lake, and most sites include a private little trail down to the water. There’s a nice picnic table at each site, a hanger for your lantern, and a fire ring. The bathrooms are clean, but fairly primitive.
Is the beach really twelve miles long? I don’t know, but you can walk and walk and walk along the shore, which is lined with the most beautiful rounded pebbles of every color imaginable. We were so tempted to bring a pile home with us, but alas, the signs warn people against taking souvenirs for yourself. In fact, there’s talk of a curse that will follow, should you pocket treasures from the shore. We did bring some rocks to our campsite to admire, but left them behind for all of you to enjoy.
Tips for Visiting and Camping at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- Bring warm clothes, even in the summer. The weather can be really fickle, with rain, wind, and cold temps coming on all of a sudden. Make use of your inner boy scout and be prepared.
- The biting flies can be a deal-breaker. We visited at the end of June, so I can’t speak for the rest of the year, but man, those flies loved us. The were most abundant right on the beach, and just dive-bombed every bit of skin we left exposed. Bug spray didn’t seem to work. At our campsite, we happily handled the mosquitos, who didn’t like our bug spray or our campfire.
- The water is FRIGID. 50 degrees at the end of June. Rowan went in anyway, and the lake spit him right out after just three seconds. If you want to swim, visit in August.
- This isn’t the best park for dogs. They aren’t allowed on most trails or buildings. They are, however allowed in all drive-in campgrounds and at a few designated trails and beaches.
- There is no entrance fee, and waterfront camping is only $16 per night, no reservations accepted. It’s a budget vacation!!
Ready to don your hiking boots and your swimsuit and head out to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore? Don’t forget your camera, and please tell us about your favorite trails, beaches, and adventures in the comments below. For more secret adventures, check out this post on Great Lakes Camping.
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