Michigan’s Rocky Shorelines

Milepost 7-1-13 

Michigan has more shoreline than either Florida or California.  And it has more inland lakes (about 11,000) than Minnesota, which is said to be “the Land of 10,000 Lakes”.  And Michiganders own more boats than the constituents of any other state.  I guess maybe it is the “Texas” of freshwater lakes.

  Much of Michigan’s shoreline is rugged and rocky, especially surrounding the upper peninsula where there are forest-covered cliffs and crags and boulders along many miles of the shore.  The lower peninsula is sandy along the entire west side bordering Lake Michigan, but the eastern shore, bordering Lake Huron, is a mix of stoney bars and sandy beaches.  You could generalize that if the beach faces west, it is sandy, and if it faces east, it is stoney.

The Lower Peninsula

  The only real stretch of rugged shoreline in the lower peninsula is at the tip of the Thumb where there is an outcropping of shale that stretches for several miles.  The most prominent landmarks are Hat Rock, Table Rock, and Turnip Rock.  These are accessible mostly from the water, as there is private property bordering much of this shore.

Turnip Rock is best reached by canoe or kayak.

  As the crow flies, Turnip Rock is a couple of miles east of the village of Port Austin, but the trip by water is much farther because there is a stone bar that extends almost 2 miles from shore, so the boater must add several miles of paddling to get around this formation, unless he is willing to portage across the stones to shorten the trip (wear heavy-soled sandals or sturdy water shoes).  On a nice day it takes about an hour-and-a-half, unless the wind is against you.  This upside-down “V” route takes you within a half mile of the Port Austin Reef lighthouse at the northernmost point.

Port Austin Reef Lighthouse is 2.5 miles from land.

  During my last visit there it seemed odd to me to be able to get out of my kayak and walk around on the flat shale bottom in only 2 or 3 feet of water… when I was 2 miles from the nearest shore!

  It’s a good idea to call ahead for availability of rental equipment at Port Austin Kayak Rentals.  After a hard day of paddling on the lake, I found Joe’s Pizzeria in Port Austin to be a welcome landing for delicious pizza and pasta and a whole lot more.

The Upper Peninsula

Michigan is rich in hiking destinations.

Michigan’s most famous shoreline in the upper peninsula is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore which is managed by the US National Park Service.  This impressive Lake Superior shoreline is dominated by sheer cliffs that reach over 200 feet high and are punctuated by arches, overhangs and caves.  There are hiking trails that follow the tops of these cliffs making it a popular backpacking destination.  

Hiking trails are perched atop the cliffs and call for caution.

A few campgrounds are scattered throughout the park, and it’s important to make reservations early if you hope to get a good campsite.  This is back country camping, so there are few water pumps to be found.  Most everyone dips water from the lake or stream and either boils it or filters it for drinking and cooking.

It is possible to see the Pictured Rocks from below by boarding a tour boat in the town of Munising a few miles to the west.  Also, kayaking is becoming an ever more popular means of getting up close to the caves and arches that undercut the huge cliffs.

Board the tour boat for an up-close look at the cliffs.
The cliffs are riddled with caves and natural arches.
Spray Falls drops 75 feet directly into Lake Superior.
Hikers get their fill of the spectacular grandeur from the vantage points along the cliff top trails.

  The Pictured Rocks are not the only picturesque shoreline along Lake Superior.  Among the other famous locations is Isle Royale, a large and remote rocky island that is home to populations of both wolves and moose.  Camping and hiking on Isle Royal is limited and requires working months ahead to reserve a spot on the ferry and a back country camping permit.

  Lake Superior waters are always cold even in the late summer, so swimming is not usually on anybody’s agenda.  If you’re kayaking, have a way to keep warm with a wetsuit or warm waterproof clothing.

  After your hiking or kayaking adventure, don’t forget to enjoy one of the famous north Michigan pasties at one of the local eateries like Muldoon’s Restaurant in Munising which always gets good reviews for its authentic Scandinavian cuisine.

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