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Postcards from Michigan: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

An awesome family vacation - Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

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.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

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.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Tour the Au Sable Light Station 

Au Sable Light Station photo credit: cmh2315fl via Flickr

Au Sable Light Station photo credit: cmh2315fl via Flickr

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.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Visit the Log Slide

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

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.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Hike to Chapel Beach, Chapel Falls, and Chapel Rock

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

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.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

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.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

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!!

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

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.

I’m linking this post up with Photo Friday at Pierced Wonderings, one of my favorite online weekend hangouts. Hope to see you there!

Pierced Wonderings

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This is the ultimate budget vacation for outdoor lovers.

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  1. I absolutely love your photos! So stunning! The foggy ones look so mystical.
    Maria recently posted…The Foolproof Guide to Staying in Shape While TravelingMy Profile

  2. This looks absolutely stunning! Thanks for sharing. I’m always looking for some great places to go off the beaten path. Will put this on my list for when I finally go on my big US roadtrip 🙂
    Chantal recently posted…Trümmelbach Falls: An unparalleled force of nature in the Swiss AlpsMy Profile

  3. Debbie

    Your photos are stunning such a beautiful place to hike and have an adventure.

  4. Wow! Your photographs are astounding! The field with the red flowers looks like pictures on postcards and Christmas cards! Amazing!

  5. Wow that sunset sailboat pic truly does look like a postcard! Gorgeous!

  6. What a wonderful part of the country with amazing scenery. Some of the rock formations remind me of New Zealand! I do love the snake rock art!

  7. Looks stunning. I am hoping to visit Michigan for the first time in 2016, maybe late summer. Any suggestions? I really want to see Mackinac.

    • Michigan is just full of surprises, Melody! We only visited the U.P., and I’ve heard Mackinac is an awesome getaway – full of beauty and wildlife!

  8. I have read a lot about this area. There is definitely a lot to see and discover. I really want to visit more National parks this upcoming year. I have already started to plan some outings.
    Ruth recently posted…Travelling like a Supermom, FlightHub StyleMy Profile

    • Thanks for visiting, Ruth. I’d love to hear your national park plans for the year. We are looking forward to the Grand Canyon in April, but other than that we’re sticking close to Vermont.

  9. I’ve only spent a couple days in Michigan while on a mini road trip for a wedding to Chicago but I would love to spent a lot more time there!
    Vicky @ Avocdo Pesto recently posted…Holiday Broiled Chicken with Pesto and Romesco Sauce {GF, DF}My Profile

  10. Great post and makes me miss home (about 3 hours south of Pictured Rocks). Thanks for bringing some attention to the beauty of Michigan!

  11. WOW! Your photos are just stunning. Everywhere you post photos I want to visit, and these are no different. Beautifully done, thank you. 🙂
    Cassie recently posted…Earn Extra Money From Home – MMO SeriesMy Profile

  12. These are beautiful photos! thank you for sharing!

  13. Such beautiful pictures! Adding this to the list of places to visit!

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