Although the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore wasn’t established until 1966, people have cherished the area for hundreds of years.
What are the Pictured Rocks?
Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula between Munising and Grand Marais, massive sandstone cliffs, caves and unique formations along Lake Superior shoreline, sand dunes, miles of incredible hiking trails, beaches, waterfalls, inland lakes, and wild forests make up the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Minerals from Lake Superior stain the rock face with magnificent hues of white, red, blue and greens as water seeps into cracks and crevices in the sandstone.
With boat and kayak tours of America’s first national lakeshore offered, the magnificent sandstone cliffs and formations are accessible to everyone without hiking for several miles … but it hasn’t always been that way.
Here’s a look at how touring the Pictured Rocks has changed over time:
Cruising the Cliffs & Caves
Although first explored by the Ojibwe tribe, formal tours of the Pictured Rocks didn’t begin until much later. In 1923, Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co. started providing cruises on the weekends. Their vessel, the “Ottawa”, was also used for transportation to Grand Island on the weekdays.
It wasn’t long until other boat companies opened in Munising. However, the majority of them eventually sold their vessels, retired, and moved out of the area because of the harsh U.P. winters.
Introducing Pictured Rocks Cruises
In the 1940s, Captain Everett Morrison offered boat tours shortly after World War II with the “Sea Queen”. He soon expanded his fleet to keep up with the increasing demand of visitors.
In 1946, after the war, Capt. Everett Morrison bought the Sea Queen and began to build his dream. That same year Claude “Tiger” Hanson came aboard with the Chippewa and the Mohawk. In 1949, he bought the Tiger Lady I and in 1958 he had the Tiger Lady II built.
What started out as Morrison’s dream is now Pictured Rocks Cruises, which was incorporated in 1971 and became a concessionaire of the National Park Service in 2009.
The Cruises’ now have six vessels, with “Chapel Rock” being the newest ship on board. The high-speed catamaran that’s named after one of the park’s landmarks first offered trips in 2019 and is used primarily for the Spray Falls Cruise.
While the first formal boat tours of the region had around a dozen passengers, Pictured Rocks Cruises boats now average about 150 people. As a top U.P. attraction, the Cruises has shown millions of people the splendors of the park since it was established. However, there’s another activity making a splash in Munising.
Paddling along the Rocks
Besides taking a boat tour or hiking for several miles, kayaking is another great way to see the gorgeous hues of the cliffs and Lake Superior. With Pictured Rocks Kayaking, paddlers take in the beauty of the shoreline during a relaxing boat ride before being launched into the water to kayak along gigantic formations and through sea caves.
Changes in the Rocks
Over the years, some features of the Pictured Rocks have changed due to erosion and the waters of Superior carving out the formations.
In April 2006, the northeast turret of Miners Castle – a popular feature in the park – collapsed into Lake Superior. One turret still remains. While the rockfall at Miners Castle was startling, such events are not uncommon along the cliffs.
Grand Portal Point
Once upon a time, steamships and sail boats glided through the archway of Grand Portal Point, another point of interest in the park. The great collapse occurred in 1906, putting an end to any ships getting through as rock sediment settled underneath, blocking the entrance.
See the pristine shoreline as it stands today and be a part of history in the making.
Book a Pictured Rocks Cruises or Pictured Rocks Kayaking tour today.