Swimming and Waterfall Hiking in Munising, Michigan
On our drive east to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore we were able to see wonderful views of Lake Superior from the road, whetting our appetite for some time spent on the water. Luckily that section of Route 28 contains multiple places to pull off and we found a perfect sandy beach to walk on that rimmed pale blue water.
Heading into Munising to acquire maps and information, we discovered that in addition to the town being a gateway to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, it can lay claim to more than a dozen waterfalls itself. I don’t know why we were surprised by the concentration of waterfalls here at this late stage of the trip around Lake Superior; everywhere we had passed through in Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan also had numerous rivers funneling water down to the lake. But even though we had neither anticipated nor planned any waterfall hikes, it didn’t take much to convince us that we should go see some of the local cascades.
Armed with the local waterfall map, we set out the next morning to Memorial Falls, a minor drainage that falls 30 feet over a sandstone ledge. [Side note: I loved that so many of the towns on the shores of Lake Superior had waterfall maps.] It’s about a mile walk to the falls through lush, damp hardwood forest and along exposed rock which strongly resembled the limestone cliffs and waterfalls of eastern Kentucky. The old-growth trees and electric green ferns along the trail made for a lovely walk but it was the beautiful clear water flowing over the lip of the gorge that made the hike fantastic. As a bonus, it’s possible to walk behind the waterfall: The harder sandstone capping the rose-colored sandstone has eroded at a much slower rate which results in a dramatic undercutting of the cliffs behind the cascade.
Hugging the cliffs, we encircled the gorge and passed a natural arch that looked like a keyhole in the cliffs before crossing into an adjacent gorge with a smaller waterfall of it’s own. I read later that both waterfalls are actually called Memorial Falls but that the second falls are most often dry, so it was fortunate that we were able to see the second falls at all. At this point we intended on hiking to the top of the gorge in order to look down on the falls – and to possibly connect to the Tannery Falls trail – but our plans were abandoned when we wandered off trail and ended up sliding down a steep gorge with loose soil that would have made backtracking difficult. But with plenty of waterfalls to be seen in the area we decided to continue following the ravine towards the direction of the road.
Hopping in the car, we drove down the road to the popular Munising Falls, located within the boundary of the National Lakeshore, but had to quick-step the short trail to the falls after realizing that Abby would have to stay in the car. In summary, it was larger and had more water than Memorial Falls, but was decidedly less pretty and crowded to boot. Agreeing on one more waterfall before an afternoon swim we chose Wagner Falls, located about ten minutes away. The quarter mile trail was delightfully unpopulated despite its proximity to the road and so we took our time walking along the pretty Wagner Creek before reaching the waterfall. We then briefly returned to camp to acquire lunch and grab our bathing suits before driving out to Au Train Bay, a beautiful beach we had passed the day before.
With only a few people on the mile long stretch of sand we mostly had the place to ourselves. The bay is a combination of soft, beige sand and shallow light turquoise water that was warm enough to comfortably swim in – which of course I took advantage of. But in addition to pretty water and soft sand, there are jumbles of picturesque boulders and thin, flaky layers of sandstone on the eastern side of the inlet that were really interesting. I also came across a section of the shallows where rhythmic wave action distributed lines of seaweed almost perfectly parallel to each other.