Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Part 1: Sunset Cruise Along the Cliffs

At the end of our first full day at Pictured Rocks we boarded one of the cruises that tour the western section of the lakeshore. Hoping to see the evening sun on the cliffs we chose a 6pm cruise but as the evening wore on the clouds began thickening, shading sections that otherwise should have been brilliantly illuminated. But no matter – we had a fantastic time on the 3 hour boat ride and thoroughly enjoyed views of the towering 200 foot cliffs, incredible streaks of color on the sandstone, interesting erosion patterns, rock formations, and the lovely turquoise of the water. Waterfalls, forested bluffs, and stretches of sand completed the perfection.

Though there is an immense beauty within the boundary of the 42 mile long lakeshore, the area is most known for the unique streams of minerals that decorate the bluffs facing Lake Superior. The groundwater, carrying manganese, iron, copper, and other trace deposits, seeps down through the limestone caprock atop the sandstone cliffs here, eventually oozing through cracks and falling to the lake below. In the process, the water trails leave amazing vertical stripes of multiple colors that are in some places over a hundred feet in height.

More than a couple places on the lakeshore have more significant amounts of water flowing through these breaks in the rock which creates waterfalls and cascades that stain the cream Cambrian-era rock. In other sections of the cliff face the 500-million-year-old sandstone has eroded into formations that resemble faces, human profiles, and castle turrets. What Tom and I both found most incredible however was the single tree atop a sea stack whose roots stretched across 20 feet of open air to the mainland soil.

In addition to all these sights there were of course spectacular eroded shapes, caves, inlets, and arches. Pictured Rocks is most definitely a unique place, otherworldly in its stained rock faces and dramatic formations, and I highly recommend taking a cruise along the coast as a way to see a good chunk of it. For us, it was a beautiful and relaxing end to a day of hiking, waterfall hunting, and swimming, but it was really a treat in and of itself.

Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Miner's Castle, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Miner’s Castle, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Mineral stains on cliffs, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Mineral stains on cliffs, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Caves and alcoves, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Caves and alcoves, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Arch at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Arch at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Another arch, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Another arch, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Closeup of the green copper stains from inside an alcove, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Closeup of the green copper stains from inside an alcove, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Tree roots extending to sea stack, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Tree roots extending to sea stack, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Spray Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Spray Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Tom and I on the cruise, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Tom and I on the cruise, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Setting sun warming the sandstone, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Setting sun warming the sandstone, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Cliff erosion and opague turquoise waters, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Cliff erosion and opague turquoise waters, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Caves and arches, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Caves and arches, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Clouds over an arch, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Clouds over an arch, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Stains and erosion, Painted Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Stains and erosion, Painted Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Bridal Veil Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Bridal Veil Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Sunset on the way back to camp, Munising, Michigan

Sunset on the way back to camp, Munising, Michigan