MUNISING, MI – When people start making plans for a trip to the Munising area, their minds often wander along the spectacular coastline and dramatic cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. With its forested expanse hugging 42 miles of Lake Superior’s shoreline – and offering 12 miles of beach – it is no wonder many visitors put this spot at the top of their must-visit list. It’s indeed the area’s crown jewel.
But for those who make the trek here and then leave after exploring just the park’s attractions, they are missing out on a plethora of other wild and wonderful adventures.
“Pictured Rocks is our biggest attraction,” said Cori-Ann Cearley, president of the Munising Visitors Bureau. “But I like to think of things here as being so much more than Pictured Rocks.”
Like many U.P. spots, Munising has earned its reputation as an outdoor adventure destination with great trails for hiking and unbeatable Lake Superior views. But it has also carved out its own four-season niche in the Mitten’s upper hand by packing so many possibilities into one place. Whether it’s the 17 local waterfalls to explore, the extensive network of mountain biking trails, or the local restaurants now joined by a craft brewery scene, Munising is a buffet of options for outdoor lovers.
We’ll take you through some of the highlights so you can get started planning your own adventure on the shores of Superior, Michigan’s biggest “inland sea.”
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
We’ll be honest, you could spend more than a week exploring the deep forests, sandy beaches and unique rock formations of this 70,000-acre gem and still not see every bit of wild beauty is has to offer. And the options are staggering. This park can be the jumping-off point for multi-day backcountry camping trip, or a daytrip to a beach where the sand is colored pink by flecks of garnets swirled in. So if you’re only going for a day or two, pick a handful of things you know you want to experience. Here are some favorites:
· See the actual Pictured Rocks. These colorful cliffs, some towering up to 200 feet above Lake Superior, give the park its name. The hues actually come from minerals in the groundwater that seep through the cracks in the sandstone, and down the face of the cliffs. There are several spots to catch a great view, but the best place to see them is from the water. You can bring your own kayak or rent one for solo or small-group trips. You can also grab a seat on Pictured Rocks Cruises for a boat trip that lets you marvel at the sheer expanse of dramatic scenery the park is known for. The three-hour trips leave from Munising and include some history and fun facts about the area. There are also cruise options that include a sunset ride and a trip by the picturesque Spray Falls.
· Chapel Rock. This sandstone rock formation standing sentry along Lake Superior is topped by a lone white pine estimated to be 250 years old. This spot is so iconic, it landed as the image on the Michigan quarter released by the U.S. Treasury in 2018.
· Miners Castle. This is another spot people often recognize by sight because it is such a popular landmark. This is also the only cliff area in the park that you’re able to reach in a vehicle, so if hiking is not your thing – or you are pressed for time – it’s a great place to get some photos and just marvel at the force of the water and waves that created it.
For many more details on Pictured Rocks, its attractions, trails, beaches and camping guidelines, check the park website and our more in-depth coverage.
17 places you have to see at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
How to find these giant Michigan sand dunes you may not know exist
Boat lets Pictured Rocks kayakers launch into Lake Superior
Pictured Rocks at sunset: How to capture one of Michigan’s most marvelous photo ops
17 Waterfalls to Discover
There’s no shortage of cascading water and dramatic scenery when you get to Munising. For waterfall lovers, there are 17 to explore across Alger County. You can do a little research on this interactive guide with maps and pick your favorites. Some are located within Pictured Rocks, and others are closer to town. A few require a hike to reach and others, just a few steps. Here are a couple suggestions:
· Wagner Falls: Short and sweet is the descriptor for this one, geographically as well as visually. With a height of just 20 feet, this waterfall is easy to reach and fun to photograph. It’s located a short drive south of Munising. Once you park, it’s just an easy walk to the falls. It’s also near Alger Falls, in case you want to pack an extra stop into your trip.
· Laughing Whitefish Falls: This waterfall is more of a destination drive. Located nearly 30 miles west of Munising, it is one of Michigan’s tallest falls, measuring about 100 feet high. The area around it features observation decks overlooking the falls, a picnic spot, and about a mile of foot trails that let you stretch your legs. As with many U.P. falls, the water volume is the highest here in the spring.
Mountain Biking: The Secret is Out
For those who find their best days are spent on two wheels with a rugged route twisting in front of them, Munising has worked hard at becoming a place where mountain biking enthusiasts want to come to play – and stay. “We have amazing mountain bike trails that have just been built in the last several years,” Cearley said. There are four distinct areas that cater to this crowd, and one even requires you to hop a ferry to reach its island pathways. Here’s a quick outline, but check here for more details.
· Munising Mountain Bike Park: This trail system near downtown features three jump trails, a wooden skills park and a cross-country flow trail for those who crave more of a sweeping ride.
· Valley Spur Recreation Area: 12 miles of fast-paced single track. This one is more family-friendly with fewer trail obstacles to worry about, especially for younger or more inexperienced riders. But for those craving speed, it’s got some nice berms and rollers.
· Bruno’s Run: Want to go old-school single track? This 10-mile loop takes you past small lakes and deep into sections of old-growth white pine for a back-to-nature blast.
· Grand Island: You and your bike will need to take a ferry for this one. This island a half-mile off the coast of Munising is part of the Hiawatha National Forest. It has an outer biking loop that will take you anywhere from two to four hours to complete, depending on your pedaling speed and how many times you stop to gaze off the cliff tops and from the quiet beach spots you encounter along the way.
Hiking on the Wild Side
When you visit Munising, don’t forget to pack your hiking books, or at least a good pair of athletic shoes. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has 100 miles of trails crisscrossing its vastness. They can host your easy afternoon hike on a weekend, or become the home base for your multi-day adventure trip. “We are in the Hiawatha National Forest,” Cearley said. “We are surrounded by forest land. In the fall, we are just a blaze of color everywhere you look.” Check here for more hiking details.
Craft Beer and Local Eats
After a day spent flying down a single-track, hiking to a secluded beach or just taking in the natural beauty of waterfront cliffs, Munising’s local food scene will have a seat ready for you. While there are plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from, here are a few suggestions:
· East Channel Brewing Company: This pub has been open since 2016, long enough to pull together a solid mix of rotating microbrews, from IPAs to stouts. They’ve got a patio for those who like a breeze with their brew, and often host live music. Check their Facebook page for updates.
· ByGeorge Brewing Company: This brewery is the new kid in town, and its flavor profile runs toward the creative. Those who prefer a lighter beer can try their Maize-N-Grace, a “Yooper twist on a German Kolsch,” or go all contemplative with their Belgian Trappist Ale known as The Philosopher. Check their Facebook page for news of their latest pours.
· Tracey’s at Roam Inn: Located inside one of the area’s only boutique hotels, Tracey’s boasts a chef-inspired menu but feels like a casual dining spot. Expect a small menu filled with delicious items to try, from appetizers to a handful of entrees.
Planning a trip to Munising? 8 things not to miss
Never been to Munising? Here’s what you’re missing