Presently, kayak and boat tours of the Pictured Rocks are offered in Munising, the park’s westernmost gateway community. While hundreds of thousands of people flock to the area to bask in the serenity, the magic of the colorful cliffs, sea caves and sandstone formations in the Pictured Rocks park is still untouchable after all these years.
Photo: Douglas Fulton, Miners Castle at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, n.d. [1960s], Pictured Rocks Folder, Box 9, Douglas Fulton Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was established on October 15, 1966 as the first designated national lakeshore in the United States. Prior to that, the remote area in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula had been cherished for hundreds of years by Native American tribes, explorers, and early fur traders.
Ever wonder what the park looked like years ago? Take a step back in time and check out the following historic photographs of the Pictured Rocks:
Chapel Rock, a landmark in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, in the mid-1900s. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.
The earliest known documented account of Pictured Rocks was in 1659 by Pierre Esprit Radisson, a French fur trader who captured the beauty of the area. “We go along the coast, most delightful and wonderful,” Radisson wrote. “Nature has made it pleasant to the eye, the spirit and the belly.” According to Radisson’s account, Native Americans would give gifts to the rocks, stating that they’d “fling much tobacco and other things in its veneration.”
The Schoolcraft Blast Furnace, now where Munising Falls in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is located, is pictured. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
The Schoolcraft Blast Furnace was one of 29 furnaces that operated in the Upper Peninsula during the iron ore boom and was responsible for the early development and prosperity of Munising. In its heyday, the furnace could produce upwards of 20 tons of pig iron per day. Munising Falls now flows where the blast furnace was located. Visit the Munising Falls Visitor Center for a ‘blast’ from the past to learn about the furnace and how it changed the area you can walk in today.
A boat cruises along the Pictured Rocks in the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of the Alger County Historical Society.
When a Marquette pharmacist in the 1890s wanted to show his young bride the famed Pictured Rocks, he was obliged to hire a tugboat to make the trip. At a civic celebration in Munising in 1902, excursions were offered on the steamer Hunter for “the large number of visitors in the city who have never had an opportunity for viewing the Rocks,” according to a National Park Service publication. However, the Pictured Rocks were little known and seldom seen by out of state visitors until after World War II. You can still tour the cliff line during the summer with Pictured Rocks Cruises and Pictured Rocks Kayaking.
Loggers at a lodge or camp in the Pictured Rocks park. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
There were no paths to the scenic overlooks in the 1800s and early 1900s in the Pictured Rocks park like there are now. The only trails were from loggers in the area. Located at the eastern end of the Pictured Rocks park near Grand Marais, visitors can now stand in the very spot at the Log Slide Overlook, where loggers sent logs down a large chute over the Grand Sable Sand Dunes to Lake Superior.
Before and after one of Miners Castle’s turrets collapses. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
In April 2006, the northeast turret of Miners Castle collapsed into Lake Superior. One turret remains on Miners Castle, the best-known feature of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The collapse was reported via cell phone by fishermen in the area, according to NPS website. There were no injuries. While the rockfall at Miners Castle was startling, such events are not uncommon along the cliffs. At least five major falls have occurred over the past dozen years.