Best Hikes in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Top 8

Best pictured rocks hikes
Jennifer overlooks Lake Superior from one of the best hikes in Pictured Rocks Park.

It is widely known that the most iconic formations in Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are best experienced from the water, which leads some visitors to completely bypass the interior hiking trails. They do this to their detriment as the inland area is very beautiful and should be explored fully by visitors. There are no less than 20 beautiful waterfalls located in or near the park. Many of which can only be accessed via beautiful hiking trails through lush forests. There are also amazing trails that lead to gorgeous overlooks of Lake Superior and unique historic places. With so many trails in the area, visitors are often left wondering which ones are the must-do hikes. We have you covered with the Top 8 best hikes in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Top 8 Best Hikes in Pictured Rocks Park (East to West)

Best pictured rocks hikes
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  1. Sable Falls
  2. Log Slide
  3. Au Sable Lighthouse
  4. Spray Falls
  5. Chapel Loop
  6. Miners Falls
  7. Miners Castle
  8. Munising Falls

1) Sable Falls

Best pictured rocks hikes
Sable Falls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
  • Total Distance: 1/4 of a Mile
  • Type: Out-n-Back
  • Elevation Gain: 107′
  • Rating: Moderately-Easy (168 steps)
  • Trailhead: Sable Falls Parking Lot

As soon as you step out of your vehicle you hear the overwhelming roar of the 75-foot tall waterfall hidden in the lush forest beyond. It is a quick traverse through the trees to the staircase leading down to the edge of the creek just below the falls. Once at the small viewing platform the sound of water crashing becomes deafening. Continue along the boardwalk for a short distance and pass through the sand dunes to a stony beach. The beach is beautiful and it makes for a great spot to watch the sunset.

2) Log Slide

Best pictured rocks hikes
Jennifer looking into the deep foggy abyss atop Sable Dunes where the Log Slide once stood.
  • Total Distance: 1/4 of a Mile
  • Type: Out-n-Back
  • Elevation Gain: Zero unless you descend the dune.
  • Rating: Easy unless you descend the dune.
  • Trailhead: Log Slide Parking Area

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has a history of logging and smelting iron. The Log Slide is a historic site where loggers in the 1800s would push the giant timbers down the side of the 300 foot tall Grand Sand Dunes and into Lake Superior via a giant wooden slide. The enormous wooden structure was known to catch fire by the friction caused by the massive logs’ descent. While the slide is no longer there visitors can see the giant steep sand dune where the slide was located. There is also an enormous log cart located along the trail that would have been pulled by animals to transport the massive logs to the slide.

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For adventurous souls, you can slide down the steep sand dunes to the lakeshore. Just know that while the descent can take meer seconds the return is grueling and has been known to take upwards of an hour.

3) Au Sable Lighthouse

  • Total Distance: 3 Miles (1.5 miles each way)
  • Type: Out-n-Back
  • Elevation Gain: None
  • Rating: Moderately-Difficult
  • Trailhead: Hurricane River Parking Area (Adjacent to the Campground)

Lake Superior is known for being a ships graveyard. To this day shipwrecks can be seen in the shallow waters all around the Pictured Rocks coastline including off shore from the Au Sable Point. The waters can be rough in blustery weather and the fog can be incredibly thick making navigation difficult. In 1874 the 86′ tall Au Sable Lighthouse was built to help sailers stay off the rocks at Au Sable Point. It is a beautiful lighthouse and an easy hike. Tours of the lighthouse are given by park rangers but only on certain days.

While you can camp at the Hurricane River Campground there is also the Au Sable East Backcountry Campground that is located much closer to the lighthouse. I hear it makes a great basecamp for astrophotography.

4) Spray Falls

Best pictured rocks hikes
Spray Falls plummets 70′ into Lake Superior.
  • Total Distance: 8 Miles (4 miles each way)
  • Type: Out-n-Back
  • Elevation Gain: 487′
  • Rating: Moderately-Difficult
  • Trailhead: Beaver Creek Parking Lot

At 70 feet tall, Spray Falls is half the size of the tallest waterfall in Michigan but it is easily our favorite in the park. The tallest waterfall in Michigan is the 140 foot tall Bridalveil Falls. It’s also found inside the park but can only be seen from the water. It is often a lackluster trickle that slides down a section of sloped cliff wall into the lake. Spray Falls on the other hand is often a torrent of water that careens over the sheer cliff directly into the lake. It is a remote waterfall. A few boat cruises will take boatloads of people to the base of the waterfall. We prefer the view and solitude found on a rocky outcropping along the North Country Trail.

The 4-mile long trail itself is fairly moderate with only a few sections of short steep inclines. It is a beautiful traverse through the forest for the first half and then following the cliffs along the North Country Trail for the second half. Hikers are rewarded with views of Little Beaver Lake, hidden rocky caves, and overlooks of the coves and sheer cliffs of the Lake Superior shoreline. You can also walk the eastern edge of Twelve-Mile beach for a far as you like. Just make sure you wear loose clothing and bug spray because the mosquitos and biting flies can be overwhelming during the summer.

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Best pictured rocks hikes
A boat cruise can take you to the base of Spray Falls, but I enjoyed the less traveled trail to the cliffside overlook.

5) Chapel Loop – The Best Hike in Pictured Rocks

Best pictured rocks hikes
Chapel Rock is one of the most iconic sandstone formations in Pictured Rocks Park.
  • Total Distance: 11 Miles
  • Type: Loop (counterclockwise recommended)
  • Elevation Gain: 760′
  • Rating: Moderately-Difficult
  • Trailhead: Chapel Basin Parking Lot

The Chapel Loop is by far the longest trail on this list but it is without a doubt the best day hike in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It has it all: beautiful waterfalls, lush forests, sandy beaches, unique rock formations, and overlooks of Lake Superior. Along with the cliffs and coves that make the park famous. The terrain is surprisingly flat and the trail wide and well signed making the most difficult part of this hike the distance alone. Many hikers will only traverse the trail to Chapel Beach and back. They miss out on some amazing coastline views and several beautiful waterfalls. A few of the highlights of this loop hike are Chapel Falls (60′ tall), Chapel Rock, Chapel Beach & Falls, Grand Portal Point, Mosquito Beach, and Mosquito Falls (2 drops of about 10′).

The 5-mile access road to Chapel Basin is made of gravel and dirt. It can be rough and muddy especially after rain. Regardless, the road is well maintained during the summer and smaller vehicles can make the journey. This is an extremely popular trailhead and the parking lot is small. It is not uncommon to find vehicles lining the access road for a mile prior to reaching the parking lot. Arrive early to secure your spot.

Best pictured rocks hikes
Grand Portal Point is one of many beautiful overlooks found on the Chapel Loop Trail. Even on a foggy day this rocky outcropping has a regal feel.

6) Miners Falls

Best pictured rocks hikes
The vie of Miners Falls makes the short trail one of the best hikes in Pictured Rocks Park.
  • Total Distance: 1.2 Miles (0.6 each way)
  • Type: Out-n-Back
  • Elevation Gain: 122′
  • Rating: Easy
  • Trailhead: Miners Falls Parking Lot

Miners Falls is a 50-foot high waterfall where the rushing Miners River careens over the cliff edge and crashes into the channel below. The river continues its flow and meets up with Lake Superior at Miners Beach east of Miners Castle. While there is an upper and lower viewpoint of the waterfall the upper view is overgrown with little opportunity to take in the falls. The lower overlook is found after a short easy stroll through the woods followed by a descent down 77 steps. It is a small platform and the trail is popular so it can often feel crowded. Regardless, this waterfall is beautiful and makes for one of the best hikes in Pictured Rocks Park. But we do recommend arriving early to get a parking spot.

7) Miners Castle

Best pictured rocks hikes
Miners Castle overlooking Lake Superior’s shallow coastal waters.
  • Total Distance: 1/2 a Mile
  • Type: Out-n-Back
  • Elevation Gain: 45′
  • Rating: Easy
  • Trailhead: Miners Parking Lot

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Miners Castle is one of the easiest trails and most recognizable formations in Pictured Rocks National Park. It is a sandstone cliff that has been eroded to resemble a castle with turrets. Sadly one of the two turrets slid off the cliffside and into the lake in 2006 highlighting the ever changing nature of the Pictured Rock coastline. It is still a beautiful rocky outcropping that should be seen when visiting the park.

The trail leads to two overlooks. The first is mere feet from the parking area and is the better of the two looking down over the shallow waters of a Lake Superior cove with the castle rising on the point beyond. Continue down the path and descend to the edge of the sandstone formation. This lower viewpoint puts you up close to the formation, allowing you to peer over the turret with beautiful views of the vast Lake Superior (the largest lake in the world by surface area) and Grand Island beyond.

8) Munising Falls

Best pictured rocks hikes
Munising Falls is a beautiful wispy waterfall during the summer months and one of the easiest and most accessible hiking trails in Pictured Rocks Park.
  • Total Distance: 1/2 a Mile (including both forks)
  • Type: Out-n-Back (Fork)
  • Elevation Gain: About 38′ for each fork.
  • Rating: Easy
  • Trailhead: Munising Falls Visitor Center

Munising Falls is perhaps the most accessible amongst the Upper Peninsula’s beautiful waterfalls. It drops 50 feet over a concave ledge. It is beautiful and can be taken in from three overlooks on this extremely short and mostly paved trail. The lower viewpoint sits adjacent to the creek with great views looking up at the waterfall. There are two upper viewpoints. One is on the north side which is found by hiking up a small flight of stairs from the lower viewpoint. The other upper viewpoint is found on the south side of the waterfall and is my personal favorite. The trail climbs a short distance and then follows the edge of the cliffs with small overhangs lining the trail. The hike is easy and very accessible making it often crowded. It is so accessible that the waterfall is a favorite for ice climbers during the winter.

Best Hikes in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Best pictured rocks hikes
While the 10 foot Mosquito Falls is one of the smaller waterfalls found in the park it is beautifully draped in moss. It is one of the many highlights of the Chapel Loop.

From the best waterfalls to iconic rock formations and amazing cliffside views of the world’s largest lake (by surface area) these top 8 trails reveal the best of the park. For more ideas of what to do, where to stay, and where to eat while visiting the park check out our guide to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We hope this guide to the best hikes in Pictured Rocks helps you have an amazing journey to this unique park.

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About the Author: Tung Chi