The Mackinaw City to Pictured Rocks route in Michigan is one of my favorite road trips! With ferocious waterfalls, pristine beaches, colorful cliffs, and epic hiking trails, there is no shortage of beautiful sights to see and things to do in this stretch of Michigan.
In this guide, I’m taking you on a road trip through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from Mackinaw City to Pictured Rocks. On top of where to stay and when to go, I’m going to share the best stops to make on your way from Mackinaw City to Pictured Rocks.
On this Mackinaw City to Pictured Rocks itinerary, you’ll chase some of the best waterfalls in Michigan, ride a clear-bottomed raft through the largest freshwater spring in the state, take some unexpectedly amazing hikes along Lake Superior, and even kayak under waterfalls and by some of the most picturesque cliffs in the country.
Ultimate Mackinaw City to Pictured Rocks Itinerary
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Getting to Mackinaw City
There are many small airports in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Mackinaw City area, but if you want to get to Mackinaw City without breaking the bank, I’d recommend flying into one of these major airports:
- MBS International Airport (MBS) in Freeland, MI – 2 hours 45 minutes from Mackinaw City
- Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR) in Grand Rapids, MI – 3 hours 45 minutes from Mackinaw City
- Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) in Detroit, MI – 4 hours 15 minutes from Mackinaw City
Book your flights to Michigan here. ✈️
You’ll also need to rent a vehicle for this Michigan road trip. Use Discover Cars to compare the best prices! 🚗
When to Visit Pictured Rocks
The best time to visit Pictured Rocks (and Michigan’s UP in general) is from June through October.
If your goal is to go hiking, camping, and boating, visit in June, July, or August. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is so far north that daytime temperatures in the 80s or higher are extremely rare.
If your goal is to see fall colors, visit in September or early October. People are often surprised at how colorful Michigan and the Lake Superior coastline are in the autumn months.
If your goal is to chase frozen waterfalls, go ice climbing, or snowshoe, visit at your own risk in the winter. Annual snowfall hovers around 200 inches, making the UP a winter wonderland, but many of the roads don’t get plowed.
Where to Stay
On your Mackinaw City to Pictured Rocks road trip, here are some of the best places to stay:
- Mackinaw City – Hamilton Inn Select Beachfront
- Mackinac Island – Grand Hotel
- Paradise – Tahquamenon Falls State Park Campground
- Munising (West Pictured Rocks) – Holiday Inn Express
- Grand Marais (East Pictured Rocks) – Twelvemile Beach Campground
Know Before You Go
- New Pictured Rocks entrance fees. Pictured Rocks has begun charging entrance fees. Effective January 1, 2024, the following fees are going to be collected (good for 7 continuous days): $15 per person that walks, bikes, or boats in, $20 per motorcycle, and $25 per vehicle. Show your America the Beautiful Pass to get in (to this park and 2,000+ other public lands) for FREE!
- Lake Superior is unpredictable. The weather on America’s largest lake can change in an instant. We witnessed this firsthand. Sunny and 80 turned into cloudy, windy, chilly, and stormy within minutes.
- Bring proper equipment with you on the water. If you don’t go onto the Great Lakes with an authorized tour company, it’s your responsibility to be prepared with life jackets and emergency supplies.
- Cell service is limited in the UP. We have Verizon, and we were unable to use cellular data on our phones in most of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Download maps using Gaia (trail maps) and Google Maps (road maps) ahead of time.
Mackinaw City to Pictured Rocks Itinerary & Road Trip Map
All of the points of interest and road trip stops that I mention in this Mackinaw City to Pictured Rocks itinerary are on this map!
Stop #1. Mackinaw City & Mackinac Island
The first stop on this Mackinaw City to Pictured Rocks itinerary is Mackinac Island! First, let me tell you the difference between Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island.
Mackinaw City is a village on the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The Mackinac Bridge, a 5-mile bridge that spans a body of water connecting Lakes Huron and Michigan, takes drivers from the Lower to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Mackinac Island is a vehicle-free island that sits in the middle of Lake Huron between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. An 8-mile ferry ride from Mackinaw City will take you to this 4-square-mile island.
❓❗️BONUS: Ever wondered the reason why Mackinaw City is spelled with a “W” and Mackinac Island is spelled with a “C,” yet they’re pronounced the exact same – “aw”? The area was originally named Michilimackinac and was later shortened to Mackinac. When present-day Mackinaw City was founded, the British changed the spelling of the city to “Mackinaw” to reflect the correct pronunciation.
To get to Mackinac Island, you’ll need to board one of the two authorized ferries from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island – Star Line or Shepler’s. The total ferry time from the city to the island is between 16 and 18 minutes. There’s even a ferry route that travels under the Mackinac Bridge!
Since no vehicles are allowed on Mackinac Island, you’ll either have to walk or bike around the island! There are bike rentals conveniently located right beside the ferry docks. Or, if you’re feeling cute and touristy, take a horse-drawn carriage.
While you’re on the island, make sure to explore Michigan’s oldest state park, Mackinac Island State Park, and stop by the famous Arch Rock. Sample some fudge at one of the 13 fudge shops – make sure to try Murdick’s, it’s the crowd favorite and also the oldest candy kitchen on the island! And finally, hang out at the rocky beaches and grab some food from one of the vendors!
Did You Know? Mackinac Island State Park (which covers most of Mackinac Island) was once a National Park – for 20 years, believe it or not! Mackinac National Park was America’s second National Park, right after Yellowstone. It was “demoted” to the state of Michigan in 1895.
Stop #2. Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Continuing on your Pictured Rocks road trip, you absolutely must swing by Tahquamenon Falls. This stunning waterfall was a major reason I planned this entire trip in the first place!
Known to the locals as the “Rootbeer Falls,” Tahquamenon Falls is divided into two separate brown-colored waterfalls: Upper and Lower. To get to each, you either can drive from one to the other and view them from their respective overlooks OR you can hike the 5-mile (one-way) trail that connects them.
Aside from the famous brown falls, this state park is also home to multiple campgrounds, overnight lodging facilities, a boat launch, and more than 35 miles of hiking trails!
There is an $11 day-use fee for non-Michigan residents that will get you into both sides of the park (or any other Michigan state park for the day). If you are a Michigan resident, just show your recreation passport.
DID YOU KNOW? Tahquamenon Falls to Pictured Rocks is only an hour and a half!
Stop #3. Palms Book State Park
Kitch-iti-Kipi, or the “Big Spring,” is the perfect detour to add to your Mackinaw City to Pictured Rocks itinerary.
Located in Manistique in the bite-sized Palms Book State Park, the Big Spring is the largest natural freshwater spring in Michigan.
While you can’t swim, fish, or paddle in this park, you can hop on the observation deck and take a ride in an O-shaped, clear-bottomed raft across the spring! Crystal-clear turquoise waters make it super easy to see all kinds of fish from the surface all the way to the bottom of the 40-foot-deep spring.
Note that park rangers aren’t always stationed at the raft, so one or two passengers will have to hand-crank the raft across the spring and back.
On top of the raft ride, you can hike the short nature trail and have a picnic.
There is an $11 day-use fee for non-Michigan residents that will get you into this park and any other Michigan state parks for the day. If you are a Michigan resident, just show your recreation passport.
PRO TIP: If you visit Tahquamenon Falls and Palms Book on the same day, you will only have to pay the state park fee once!
Get directions to Palms Book State Park here.
Stop #4. Presque Isle Park
Presque Isle Park is situated in Marquette, about 50 miles west of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This small but mighty day-use park boasts sandstone cliffs carved into a forested peninsula with unmatched views of Lake Superior.
It’s a bit out of the way but it’s worth the detour if you have the time.
While you’re here, you can cliff jump, swim, drop a kayak into the water, go for a bike ride, or hike one of the many miles of trails.
There is no admission fee to get into Presque Isle Park! Enjoy this lovely lakeside park for free.
Note that the main park road, Peter White Drive, is a one-way street. There are many pull-offs along the 2-mile looped road, but parking is limited. Get directions to the park here.
Stop #5. Munising Falls
It’s finally time to explore Pictured Rocks! If you are heading West to East along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising Falls is the first stop you’ll come to.
Park at the trailhead and walk along the river for 0.2 miles until you reach Munising Falls, a serene 50-foot waterfall. Note that swimming in or around Munising Falls is prohibited.
Get directions to the Munising Falls trailhead here.
TIP: If camping isn’t your thing, the town of Munising is the most convenient town to stay during your Pictured Rocks road trip.
Stop #6. Sand Point Beach
Sand Point Beach is a beautiful stretch of shoreline that boasts sugar sand beaches, rolling underwater dunes, and warm, shallow water.
This is a popular spot to sunbathe, swim, or launch a kayak.
Get directions to Sand Point Beach here.
Stop #7. Miners Falls
Miners Falls is a must-see in Pictured Rocks! Unlike its “neighbor,” Munising Falls, Miners Falls rages ferociously down a sandstone cliff and crashes violently onto massive boulders. This is one of Pictured Rock’s most powerful waterfalls!
The hiking trail is 1.2 miles out & back. 64 steps lead to the lower viewing platform. Just like Munising Falls, swimming in the falls is prohibited.
Note that this is a popular trail and the parking lot fills up quickly. Arrive as early as you can to snag a parking spot. Get directions to the Miners Falls parking area here.
Stop #8. Miners Castle
Miners Castle is one of the most famous landmarks on Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It is also the only cliff area in the park that is accessible by vehicle.
Three overlooks show you the famous castle carved into the rockface. At the end of the curvy cliff line is a turret resembling one on a castle.
A rockfall in 2006 changed the look of the castle. The northeast turret of Miners Castle collapsed, so only one turret remains. But it is still quite the spectacle.
Park at the Miners Castle parking area. Total hiking mileage from the trailhead to each of the overlooks is about 0.5 miles out & back. If you choose to hike down to Miners Beach, you’ll need to hop on the North Country Trail for another mile.
Get directions to the Miners Castle parking area here.
Stop #9. Bridalveil Falls
For this pitstop, you’re going to have to get into the water! There are lots of tour companies and boat rental outfitters in the area that’ll help you see the Pictured Rocks cliffs from the best vantage point: the water!
On our tour with Paddle Michigan, we started at Miners Beach and paddled along the shoreline of Lake Superior to Lovers Leap. We passed Bridalveil Falls and other seasonal falls along the way, one of which we got to paddle and splash under!
This impressive 140-foot waterfall slides from the clifftop down to the water, cascading down the face of the rock like a bridal veil. Hence, the name!
Bridalveil Falls is accessible only by boat; you can view it on the map here. I’d recommend launching your boat at Miners Beach (which is about 0.5 nautical miles from Bridalveil Falls) if you don’t go with a tour company.
Stop #10. Mosquito Beach
Speckled in giant rocks and backdropped by towering cliffs, Mosquito Beach is one of the most picturesque day-use beaches on the Pictured Rocks shoreline.
To get to Mosquito Beach, you have the option of hiking or paddling! We chose to take a kayaking tour, and one of the pitstops (where we had our lunch) was Mosquito Beach.
If you choose to hike to the beach, you’ll start at the Chapel Falls trailhead and walk 2 miles (one-way) to Mosquito Beach. Note that this parking lot is one of the most crowded lots in Pictured Rocks, so you’ll want to arrive as early as possible.
If you choose to paddle to the beach, you can drop your kayak in at many different points along the lakeshore or hire a tour guide to take care of all of the logistics for you! Popular launch points are Miners Beach (3-mile one-way paddle), Sand Point Beach, and Twelvemile Beach.
TIP: While you’re at Mosquito Beach, take the spur trail to Mosquito Falls OR hike the full Chapel Basin Loop. I’ll mention that later in this post!
Stop #11. Lovers Leap
Lovers Leap is another iconic piece of the Pictured Rocks lakeshore, and you’ll need to get in the water for this one!
Formally known as Petit Portal, but famously known as Lovers Leap, this natural sea arch was chiseled into the sandstone by the unrelenting waves of Lake Superior.
Legends swirl around its name. Was it a Native American woman who was so heartbroken after her husband failed to return from his hunting trip that she catapulted herself from the cliff? Or was it a couple who wanted to display their affection by leaping off the cliff, unaware that the water was only two feet deep?
Whether or not you believe the legends, you definitely must see this spectacular sea arch and paddle beneath it!
Park at the Miners Beach parking lot. You’ll need to haul your kayak about 500 feet from the parking area to the beach. Lovers Leap is a 4-mile one-way paddle from Miners Beach.
Stop #12. Chapel Basin Loop
Out of the 100+ miles of hiking trails sprinkled across this NPS site, the Chapel Basin Loop is the most popular Pictured Rocks hike. Once you park at the Chapel Falls Trailhead, you can customize your hike to fit your schedule and fitness level!
Here are some of the routes you can take from the Chapel Falls Trailhead:
- Mosquito Falls – 2 miles roundtrip
- Chapel Falls – 2.5 miles roundtrip
- Mosquito Beach – 4 miles roundtrip
- Chapel Rock & Chapel Beach – 6.2 miles roundtrip
- Chapel Loop – 10.5 miles roundtrip
If you’re a thru-hiker, consider tackling the North Country Scenic Trail. This entire thru-hike is 4,800 miles but the Pictured Rocks portion between Grand Marais and Munising (formerly called the Lakeshore Trail) is 42 miles point to point.
NOTE: Chapel Road is a rough 5-mile backcountry road with potholes and washouts. Plus the lot at the end of the road fills up quickly, usually before 9 AM in the summer.
Stop #13. Twelvemile Beach
As the name suggests, this iconic beach has 12 miles of sand and shoreline. There are a few access points along Highway 58 that you can stop at, or you can enter the day-use area at the east end of the Twelvemile Beach Campground.
Unlike the other beaches, it’s easier to find solitude on Twelvemine Beach due to its enormous size!
Get directions to Twelvemile Beach here.
Stop #14. Au Sable Light Station
The lighthouse that stands stately on the southern shore of Lake Superior is a historical piece of Pictured Rocks. Standing at Au Sable Point, this lighthouse was built in 1873 and soars 86 feet high.
To get to the lighthouse, park in the day-use parking area at the Hurricane River Campground. From there, you’ll have to walk 1.5 miles (one-way) to the lighthouse.
There are ranger-led tours from Wednesday through Sunday from mid-June through the end of September. Guided tours cost $5 per person and last approximately 30-40 minutes.
Stop #15. Log Slide
Once upon a time, loggers built a long wooden chute on the dune slope to slide logs down into Lake Superior where they could be easily floated to sawmills in Grand Marais. Though the chute is no longer there, you can read the interpretive exhibits along the trail.
The reason why many visit this today is because of the difficult dune climb (nicknamed the Devil’s Slide). If you’re not willing to slide down the dune and scale it back up to the top, you can just admire the views of Lake Superior from the top instead.
The Log Slide area has a designated parking lot. Once parked, you’ll take a short walk past historic logging equipment and to the top of the sand dunes.
NOTE: I don’t have photos from the Log Slide because it was so foggy the day that we went that we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of our faces. We definitely didn’t attempt the Devil’s Slide because we couldn’t see the bottom of the dune; it appeared as though we’d just slide right into Lake Superior.🤣
Stop #16. Grand Sable Dunes & Sable Falls
The Grand Marais area marks the easternmost point along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Your final stop on this Pictured Rocks road trip (if you’re traveling West to East) is Sable Falls and Grand Sable Dunes.
What I love about this trail is that you can see a waterfall, hike along a creek, and visit the beach, all in one short 0.4-mile roundtrip hike.
From the Grand Sable parking area, you’ll walk down 168 steps to the best viewing area of Sable Falls. Sable Falls is a 75-foot waterfall that cascades down stairsteps of sandstone and empties into Lake Superior.
If you want, you can continue past Sable Falls to Sable Beach and walk west toward the giant Grand Sable Dunes.
Drive Back to Mackinaw City
It’s time to drive back to Mackinaw City to catch your flight back home! Hope you guys love this road trip as much as I do!
If there are any hidden gems that I missed along this road trip, let me know in the comments below. I’m ready to explore the Western part of Michigan’s UP including the Porkies and the uber-remote Isle Royale National Park!
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!
- Indiana Road Trip: 10 Stops For Outdoor Adventure
- Ohio Road Trip: 8 Stops For Outdoor Adventure
- Nelson-Kennedy Ledges: A First Timer’s Guide
- Indiana Dunes National Park
- Hocking Hills State Park
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