Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Photo: Gregg Bruff/NPS photo

The only remaining turret on Miners Castle. The pinks, the blacks, and the greens streaking down the Painted Coves’ sandstone walls. The arch that extends over the water at Lovers’ Leap. The vertical drop at the Gull Rookery. The turquoise water in the tight space at Chapel Cove. These are the breathtaking views along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. A kayak allowed you to get up close—and, at times, practically touch—the formations carved by glaciers.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore extends 42 miles along the southern shore of Lake Superior. The largest of the Great Lakes lies above Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This used to be the area where Algonquian tribes fished. Then the French claimed it, establishing missions and fur-trading posts, in the 17th century. It was ceded to Great Britain at the end of the French and Indian War. The Treaty of Paris eventually placed it under the control of the United States. The rural peninsula now covers 29—nearly one third—percent of Michigan. Only three percent of the Wolverine State’s population lives here, though.

Many people claim that the Upper Peninsula’s golden age was 1890-1920. This was when mining—for copper, iron, nickel, and silver—dominated the economy. Then most of the mines closed. Many miners became loggers. While the U.P. was largely ignored by the rest of the state. But tourism, especially during the summer, is now revitalizing Northern Michigan.

Munising is your home base on the U.P. The town, home to less than 2,500 people, is small, but it’s surrounded by beautiful scenery and lots of outdoor activities. The rock formations, the sand dunes, and the waterfalls along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is the biggest draw. Pictured Rocks Kayaking’s guided tour begins in Munising Bay. Grand Island National Recreation Area, just offshore, is accessed by a ferry. You can camp, fish, and hike on the 13,500-acre island. Seventeen waterfalls are hidden among the town’s dense forests. Munising Falls, which drops 50 feet over Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s westernmost sandstone cliffs, might be the most dramatic of them all. While beaches look like they’re along the ocean instead of a lake since they have real waves.

So there’s plenty to see and do on the U.P. The Fish Basket should be your first stop after being active all day. The casual take-out restaurant—it’s really just a trailer on the side of the road—serves straight-from-the-lake whitefish as part of its fish-and-chips baskets. Miners Pasties and Ice Cream scoops unique flavors (loaded French toast or Zanzibar mint, anyone?) a few blocks away. While East Channel Brewing Company, a friendly microbrewery, pours IPAs and red ales along its wooden bar. The only thing missing is a luxury lodge. All of Munising’s accommodations are fairly basic right now. Thankfully, you’re too tired from paddling to even notice.

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