Friday, August 12, 2011

Michigan Vacation: Pictured Rocks National Park & Munising

I am a big fan of national parks!  How could I not be since my dad worked at them for most of my life :) Pictured Rocks in Munising Michigan is a park that I am very familiar with due to my dads long time employment there until he passed away a few years ago.  It was like a giant playground to him!  Now, many of my dads family and friends make a trip to the park every June to remember my dad and share stories of him and this park that he loved.  In this blog post I will be sharing with you many of the things that I know about the park.  

There are always a variety of ages in our group so we try to do activities that are friendly to all abilities.  Since I have little ones, you will find that most of my blog will point out areas that are friendly to them not having to walk far or in rough areas.

Part 1 of park map

Part 2 of park map

First, we always start our trip with a stop into the visitors center.  The staff are very helpful when you are not sure what exactly you want to do or how to get to things.  There are a lot of hiking trails and campsites that they can also assist you with.  The center has brochures, restrooms, and a gift shop.  TIP:  don't forget to cover yourself with bug spray before heading out into the park!  

We love getting a picture of our group every year with Pam - our favorite Park Ranger :)

Our first stop is Munising Falls.  There are many waterfalls in the park that you should ask about at the visitors center.  We like this one because it's close to the visitors center and not a long walk for those that want to see a beautiful waterfall (1/4 mile round-trip hike)!  There are some steps if you want to explore more of the path but the main section is probably good enough to take a stroller or wheelchair down.  During the main park season you will find a small visitors center and restrooms near the parking area.

Minors castle is another great stop and it's another one that has close parking and not a lot of walking required.  If you choose, you can take a path that will lead you close to the point of the castle.  It's not a long or rough path but it is all up hill on the way back!  There are also restrooms at this stop.

Minors Castle from observation deck

This is our group on the wooden lookout to see Minors Castle

View from the water (see the observation deck?)

Minors beach is a beautiful sandy beach and it's kind of hidden.  There is a boardwalk to get there and there are stairs down to the actual beach.  

We always make a lunch stop at the Bear trap.  I think we surprise them every time because we are a rather large group to come in all at once.  We love stopping there though and it's generally in the middle of our day so it works out perfect.  They have great soup, burgers, and even a couple of vegetarian friendly menu options!

Au Sable Light Station!  When I was younger my dad took me there for a visit.  At the time we had to drive down a long sandy road, park at a campground, and then hike a couple of miles back to see the light station.  You couldn't go inside or anything but it was still a great thing to see.  Now, the road is paved, during peak season they have a scheduled shuttle that will drive you back and forth from the campground to the light station (for a small fee - instead of hiking), and they offer tours of the lighthouse!  We finally made the trip there this year.  Just make sure that you pay attention to the days the tours and shuttle are offered if you want to take advantage of these perks.  We usually visit Pictured Rocks the first Saturday in June (National Trails Day) but we moved it to mid June this year when the park was officially open - specifically so we could see the lighthouse.  It was worth it!!  There is a lot of great history!

It was a lot of winding stairs to get up!

The views from the top were amazing!

And then we had to walk all the way back down!
We have also explored some of the commercial boat cruises.  I highly recommend this one to get you started!

 As you can see by the trip map, it gives you a great view of the park from the water.  They will tell you about the sites and then you can plan what you would like to see up close from that.  I thought it was a great perspective!  And, of course, the boat ride was fun.

We choose to ride on the top (which I would do again).  It was a cloudy day but not cold - except on the boat!  So I recommend bringing a jacket or something just incase.

These birds were crazy!!!
Some were feeding them bread - very entertaining.

Some views from the boat:

Houses on Grand Island

Indian Head

Lovers Leap

Light House on the Island

We have also taken the glass bottom boat ride which takes you over ship wrecks.  It was very interesting but since it was early in the summer everything was still covered with "slim".  I recommend doing that later in the season when the busier boat traffic has cleared some of the view up for you.  

This is a small waterfall that isn't hard to get to.

I mentioned this scenic turnout in a past blog but it's worth mentioning again just incase you didn't see that post.  It's just North of Munising.

There is parking, outhouses, and picnic tables

Stroller and wheelchair accessible

Map of what you are looking at from the turnout

Great picture opportunity!

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