Often the best outdoor destinations require traveling off the beaten path. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is located in the remote upper peninsula of Michigan, but this scenic park is worth the time and effort it takes to travel there. One of only four lakeshores protected by the U.S. National Park Service, Pictured Rocks offers so much beauty for the whole family to enjoy. Today, Sara Lesire, mom of two and founder of Midwest Nomad Family, shares why your family should consider a visit to this amazing Michigan destination. If hiking to gushing waterfalls, exploring sugar sand beaches, or enjoying turquoise blue water sounds like a great trip, read on to learn the best tips and spots to visit while Exploring the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with Kids.

Best times to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Since Pictured Rocks is located in far northern Michigan, the weather can vary widely between seasons. Winter brings snow and ice, and travel can be limited. Spring can still bring plenty of snow, but late spring can offer a chance to visit before the summer travelers arrive.

Summer and fall are typically the best times for families. While Lake Superior never gets warm, hot summer days can allow kids a chance to splash along the lakeshore. More guided activities, shops, and restaurants are open during the summer tourist season. The downside to summer is that you may have to deal with biting flies.

Fall is also a good choice as it brings mild temperatures and stunning fall colors. We visited in mid-September and found the weather still warm enough but without any of the biting flies that summer brings. Fall color typically peaks in early to mid-October, and the park can be more crowded during peak color weekends. 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with kids

Tips to plan a visit to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

 1. Plan ahead for lodging

The two main areas to stay when visiting Pictured Rocks are Munising and Grand Marais. Munising is located on the west side of the park and offers more lodging and restaurant choices. This is also where boat tours of Pictured Rocks depart.

On the east side of the park, you can find tiny and charming Grand Marais. Both of these towns offer hotels, cabins, or campground options. There are also several campgrounds located within the National Park boundaries. As the area is more remote, the lodging choices are few, and it is best to book ahead of time. 

2. Bring a map

Cell service can be spotty in this entire area. It is best to download offline maps onto your phone, use a GPS device, or bring a paper map. The park visitor centers and the town visitor center in Munising are great spots to pick up maps of the area. 

3. Pack food and a cooler

There is no food sold inside the park boundaries, with the nearest restaurants being in Munising and Grand Marais. Bring along a cooler for a scenic picnic lunch and a large snack supply to keep the kids fueled up for exploring. 

4. Be prepared for conditions

The weather can be variable this far north. Packing extra clothing and lots of layers is always a good idea, as even the average summer high temperature is only 74 degrees. With the park focused along the Lake Superior shoreline, kids are bound to get wet, sandy, or muddy. Be prepared with extra clothes or shoes for the beach.

5. Pack insect repellant

Late spring and summer can bring swarms of biting black flies and mosquitos. I strongly recommend bringing along plenty of bug spray. Ticks can be present in wooded and grassy areas, but are less prevalent in this region. On hot and humid days with a south wind, stable flies may be present. Unfortunately, insect repellant does not work against these biting critters. Long and loose-fitting pants plus thick socks are the best defense as they target legs and ankles. 

6. Stop at a Visitor Center

There are two Visitor Centers for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The main center is located at Munising. The other Visitor Center is located near Grand Marais and is typically only open in the summer. Both of these centers offer maps, Junior Ranger booklets, and park passes.

Admission to Pictured Rocks is $20 for a 7-day pass. Annual passes such as the America the Beautiful pass are also accepted.  

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with kids

Best hikes at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers 100 miles of hiking trails. These scenic hikes lead to waterfalls, unique rock formations, beaches, and Lake Superior overlooks. No matter the age and ability of your family, be sure to check out a trail when visiting. 

1. Munising Falls

Munising Falls is one of the easiest and most kid-friendly hikes in the park. Located right in the town of Munising by the Pictured Rocks Visitor Center, a paved 1/4-mile path leads to the base of this lovely 50′ tall waterfall. Two other wooden platforms require climbing up stairs for a different viewpoint of the waterfall.

This is a great hike for the whole family as it is stroller and ADA-friendly. It is also one of the few park trails where pets are allowed. The road to the waterfall trailhead is kept cleared year-round so that the waterfall can even be viewed in winter.

2. Sand Point Marsh Trail

Another stroller and wheelchair-accessible trail is Sand Point Marsh Trail. This path is a 0.5 mile loop located across from Sand Point Beach. A wooden boardwalk offers a view of the park’s most beautiful wetlands. Try this one early or late in the day to increase your chance of seeing wildlife. 

3. Miners Falls

This 1.2-mile roundtrip hike offers a view of the park’s most powerful waterfall. The path is wide and mostly level as it travels gently downhill to the waterfall viewing platform. 

4. Miners Castle Overlook

One of the most popular spots in the park, this overlook offers an amazing view of the Miners Castle rock formation. This area is the only cliff area of the park that can be reached by vehicle instead of a long hike. There are three overlook platforms. The first two are short walks along a paved trail. The final overlook does require descending a set of wooden steps for a total 1/2 mile roundtrip hike from the parking lot. 

If you wish for a longer hike, another 1-mile trail leads from the cliff overlook down to Miner’s Beach below. You can also drive directly to Miner’s Beach from the overlook. 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with kids

5. Log Slide Overlook

The Log Slide Overlook is an interesting stop combining a scenic view and history. A 0.25-mile roundtrip walk leads to a dramatic overlook 175 feet above Lake Superior. Back in Michigan’s logging days, loggers built a wooden chute to slide logs down the sand dunes to the lake below. The logs were then floated to sawmills in Grand Marais. Today, you may see some brave (or just crazy!) people climbing down the steep sand dune to the lake. (Remember, what goes down, must climb back up!)

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with kids

6. Sable Falls

Sable Falls is yet another beautiful waterfall that can be reached with a short hike. The trail from the parking lot leads down a set of stairs with viewing platforms of this 75′ tall waterfall. The best viewpoint is from the bottom of the 168 steps. You can also continue hiking past the waterfall and down to the beach. This would make a total 0.4-mile roundtrip hike. 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with kids

7. Au Sable Light Station

The Au Sable Light Station at Pictured Rocks was built in 1873-1874 and stands 86 feet tall. The site today contains the keeper’s quarters, the lighthouse, and several outbuildings. The hike to the Au Sable Light Station is a little longer at 3 miles round trip. However, the trail is easy as you are hiking along a flat and wide roadway that is only open to park service vehicles. This trail can be prone to stable flies, so be prepared if hiking on a hot or humid summer day with a south wind!

Keep an eye out while hiking along the trail, and you will see a sign on the left about shipwrecks on the beach. Take the stairs down to the beach and keep following along the beach toward the lighthouse. Along the way, you will see the remains of several wooden ships right on the beach. Be sure to keep kids off the shipwrecks both to preserve them and for safety. Once you reach the lighthouse, another set up steps leads back up from the beach to the lighthouse. 

From mid-June through September, you can even take a tour and climb to the top of the lighthouse for a stunning view. The tours typically run between 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tours are $5 for anyone over 6. (Age 6 and under is free.) Be sure to bring cash and exact change. 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with kidsPictured Rocks National Lakeshore with kids

8. Chapel Falls

The Chapel Falls hike is located in the Chapel and Mosquito Basin area of the park. Hitting the trail early in the morning is suggested, as parking is limited in this area.  Reaching the trailhead requires driving 5 miles down an unpaved and potholed road. It’s typically fine in a regular car, but check conditions at the Visitor Center when wet or muddy. 

The trail to Chapel Falls follows an old road and is mostly flat and easy. It is about 1.2 miles each way to the overlook of 60-foot-tall Chapel Falls. 

Older kids and strong hikers may wish to continue further to reach Chapel Rock and Chapel Beach. This full loop runs about 6.2 miles but offers amazing cliffside views of Chapel Rock and Lake Superior. 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with kids

Best  beaches for kids at Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers many beautiful beaches to explore. Bring along the typical sand toys and buckets to allow kids to enjoy the sugar sand. Many beaches also offer a mixture of interesting rocks to examine or throw into the water. Just keep in mind that you cannot keep any rocks found within the National Lakeshore. 

1. Sand Point

Sand Point is located just a few miles north of Munising. This beach offers picnic tables and a wheelchair-accessible mat to the beach. The shallow waters at Sand Point mean the water is a little warmer than at other beaches. This is also a great spot to watch a sunset over Munising Bay.

2. Miner’s Beach

Miner’s Beach was my favorite beach we visited. The beach stretches for a mile between two towering cliffs on each end. A seasonal waterfall flows off the rocks at the northeast end of the beach. This beach offers a lovely sunset view. 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with kids

3. Twelvemile Beach

Closer to the east end of Pictured Rocks, you can find Twelvemile Beach. As the name suggests, this area consists of a 12-mile-long stretch of pristine beach. The beach is a short walk from the parking lot, but does involve descending stairs down from the bluff.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with kids

Water activities at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

While the beaches and hikes are a big draw at Pictured Rocks, don’t miss exploring the lakeshore from the water. Munising offers several types and lengths of tour cruises to view the red rock formations and cliffs of Pictured Rocks from Lake Superior. Glass bottom boat tours give visitors a chance to view the shipwrecks located under the lake. Families may also wish to rent a boat and explore the area on their own from one of several boat rentals. 

Older kids and teens may enjoy SUPing, taking a kayaking tour, or a scuba diving tour to view the many shipwrecks in the lake. The weather and currents of Lake Superior can be unpredictable, so these activities are only recommended for families with older children and an experienced guide. 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with kids

Why you should visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with kids

We have visited many national park sites, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore ranks right up there with our favorite destinations. The sugar sand beaches, historic sites, towering waterfalls, and dramatic red cliffs make Pictured Rocks a stunning destination for the whole family to enjoy. I hope you feel inspired to seek out this scenic jewel along Lake Superior.

Have you ever visited Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore? 

About the author

Sara Lesire has been married to her high school sweetheart for 17 years, and together they have two children. Sara spent many childhood hours outside on her grandparents’ farm and strives for her kids to have similar carefree kid adventures. Based in the St. Louis area, she loves to share on her blog and social media all the scenic and fun places to explore around the St. Louis area and beyond. Hiking is the most popular activity for her whole family, followed by hitting up the best local playgrounds. Photography is also a passion of Sara’s, and she continues to be amazed at the natural beauty and wonder of God’s creation. When she is not hitting the trail, Sara works as a civil engineer.

You can find more from Sara online in the following locations:
Instagram: @midwestnomadfamily
Facebook: Midwest Nomad Family
RWMC posts: Sara Lesire