By mid-June of most summers, Cori-Ann Cearley and her counterparts in Munising’s travel industry would be in high-gear attending to visitors seeking outdoor adventures.
But this year, as Michigan finds its way back to normal from the global COVID-19 pandemic, the pace is a bit less hectic and a lot more thoughtful about how to have meaningful interactions with guests who travel for the beauty and attractions that line Lake Superior and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
“We’re all still coming out of this together, and we need to stay in it for the health and safety of each other,” said Cearley, the president of the Munising Visitors Bureau. “As a region with so much natural beauty to offer, Munising is a place where people can kind of hit pause and relax. It’s a great time to get away from it all and find comfort in your surroundings.”
“The outdoors – going on a hike or seeing things that bring you joy – are great stress-relievers. I think we’re all ready for something to take off that edge of what’s been going on in the world.”
While Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rescinded the statewide stay at home order and lessened restrictions on business for the southern Lower Peninsula on June 1, the U.P. has been open since May 22. The early release was granted because of relatively few coronavirus cases, and the timing allowed the region to practice and refine social distancing safety measures in public spaces.
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There’s no shortage of awe-inducing wonder at the 73,000-acre Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which offers 100 miles of trails along 42 miles of Lake Superior’s shore. The lakeshore’s trails and beaches have been open for day-use throughout the pandemic, but services, including visitor facilities, visitor centers, drive-in and backcountry campgrounds, and most restrooms, are scheduled to reopen on June 25.
Pictured Rocks is the prime location to take in the multi-colored sandstone cliffs – dazzling displays of red, orange, green and blue – from various vantage points and get your daily steps in at the same time, a win-win for mental and physical health.
Hikes vary in degree of difficulty, but there’s something for everyone with a variety of boardwalks, hard-packed trails and natural paths to discover and enjoy. The self-guided and self-paced walks lead visitors through old forests, former logging areas, sandy dunes and wetlands. There is an abundance of wildlife, isolated lighthouses and exposed shipwrecks dotting the shoreline.
These stunning phenomena are alive and well any time of the year, offering spring rejuvenation, summer’s lush landscapes, fall’s gorgeous colors and winter’s icy marvels that feel like one of the most beautiful places on earth.
“They will really take your breath away,” Cearley said. “The water’s noise is balanced by the quiet of nature. There’s really nothing like it.”
She recommends taking in these six sights:
Wagner Falls: A short walk on a gravel path takes you to a peaceful spot where visitors can see the 20-foot drop of the Wagner Falls. This is one of the most photographed falls as it features stepped areas with multiple rock ledges.
Miners Falls: The impressive 50-foot fall is a 20-minute walk from a parking lot of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. There are two platforms for viewing and the park service advises to take the time to enjoy the views of the Miners Basin.
Munising Falls: In the city of Munising, this 50-foot waterfall is only one-quarter-mile into the woods and is accessed via a paved trail and a viewing platform. Highlights include interesting rock formations and a dramatic drop. are
These more challenging hikes bring well-deserved rewards:
Chapel Falls: One of the larger straight drops, the 60-foot falls are at the end of the Chapel Road Drive and about a 2 1/2 mile hike to Lake Superior, where the famous tree and rock formation is found. Pictured Rocks boat tours are available to this majestic setting, one of the few where falls cascade into the Great Lakes.
Bridalveil Falls: A one-of-a-kind view is found on the 140-foot sandstone cliffs of Pictured Rocks and is part of an eight-mile loop that will also take you past the previously mentioned Chapel Falls. Boat trips from Munising will also grant you looks that will last a lifetime.
Spray Falls: A 70-foot waterfall located along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore can be observed by land or water. The remote area requires walking the trails along the cliffs and the Spray Falls are located 1.75 miles Northeast of Chapel Rock. If guests aren’t up for the hike, the falls are best viewed from a tour boat, kayak or personal watercraft.
Cearley has long maintained that the water is the place to be for visitors looking to find the best views of the Pictured Rocks.
“If you want the best experience and the most incredible views of the cliffs, you’ve got to get out on the water to see them,” she said. “Think about it. When you’re on a trail – and I absolutely think you should get out and hike – you’re only seeing it from the top down, or from a certain vantage point that has limitations.
“If you’re on the water, you’re looking at the whole thing and getting all of that beauty.”
The cliffs, which climb between 50 and 200 feet and flash stunning shades of red, orange, green and blue, stretch roughly 25 miles along the lakeshore. There are multiple Pictured Rocks kayak tours available and all feature the stillness and beauty that will be a highlight of your trip.
Experienced kayakers can head out on their own or there are guides who lead small groups and place visitors as close to the base of cliffs and caves as possible.
Hop aboard a narrated bus tour and learn about the 3,000-year history of Grand Island, a 13,000-acre bit of paradise in the Hiawatha National Forest that sits only a half-mile from Munising. The southernmost island in Lake Superior, this natural area is ideal for hiking and biking to white-sand beaches, stunning elevated vistas and an “I’m all alone in the woods” secluded sites that offer silence from the rush of daily life.
Visitors can get to the island via personal boat or ferry. The wilderness area offers unmatched scenery where travelers can see black bear and white-tail deer. Be sure to check out Echo Lake and bring a fishing pole.
Navigational advances may have diminished the need for the primary function of lighthouses, but the uniquely built structures remain a beacon for people interested in history and beauty on the shores of the Great Lakes.
Munising is the home of eight lighthouses, including the Au Sable Point light that can be toured and climbed from mid-June through Labor Day. Other lights have been renovated and can be seen up close while serving as the center for memorable vacation photos. Some lighthouses have been converted to dream-like private residences.
‘Take your time’
After such an unusual start to 2020, Cearley encourages visitors to explore, unwind and recharge.
“When you’re in Munising, you can really take your time,” she said. “If you’re looking for a nature zen moment, this is how and where you find it.”