Pictured Rocks & More Lighthouses – Marquette/Munising, MI
For the second installment of our Great Lakes zoom-through we decided to hit the central section of South Lake Superior. This part of the Great Lakes is a laid-back area, thick with trees and miles of deserted shoreline, highlighted by two things that keep the place humming -> a University town and a rather unique formation of multi-colored cliffs. The former is in the bustling town of Marquette while the latter is just ~40 miles down the road in the sleepy city of Munising.
With no reservations to our “beastly” name, we decided to hit both places for a few days each taking advantage of another great overnight RV parking option = the wonderful world of free Casino camping. We’ve stayed at several of these spots over the years and although it’s rarely glamorous or scenic it’s usually easy and convenient. Here in Michigan some of the Casinos even provide (limited) free electric hookups, and if you sign-up for their Players Club you typically get some free play too. That’s like being paid to stay, which really can’t be beat.
Our first couple of nights we chose to stay at Ojibwa Casino just East of Marquette. It has 7 wonderful (think state park-like) electric sites, but also no stay limit so folks tend to dig in and hog up the sites. There were all occupied by what looked like pretty permanent campers when we arrived so we just parked in their very spacious (but also very sloped) lot.
Our next couple of nights were in the much tighter/smaller Kewadin Christmas Casino where we managed to snag one of the 7 electric sites in the early AM. Not much space here, but the park is literally right across the road from gorgeous Bay Furnace Campground where we were able to walk Polly and take her swimming in the lake everyday. Super neat.
From our convenient bases we were able to explore plenty of cool spots and curiosities around both towns:
Marquette Harbor Light – Marquette, MI
Our time in Marquette actually coincided with Paul’s Bday so we decided to load Polly in the car and make a day-trip out of it.
Our first and very much anticipated stop was the lovely 1866 Marquette Harbor Light. Another red brick beauty she’s super easy to access just north of downtown Marquette. Sadly when we arrived we discovered she could only be visited on a tour (no self-guided options), that the tours were only offered 3 times that day aaaand that the interior of the lighthouse was closed for renovations (no interior tour!). We decided to pass and just took a few shots from the beach north of the lighthouse. Sadly, this light was a bust 🙁
VISIT NOTES: Light station and museum open June-Oct from 11AM-4PM on Tues through Sun (closed Mon). Tours are $6 and were only offered at 11:30AM, 1PM and 2:30PM when we were there. Click for more info HERE.
BRING DOGGIE? NO. No dogs allowed on lighthouse grounds (or the beach north of the lighthouse) and since you can only visit on a 40-min tour there’s no easy way to rotate through even if there’s two of you.
Dog-Friendly Beach & Beer – Marquette, MI
To make up for our lighthouse bust we decided to head to a little-known spot that I’d discovered online as part of my pre-Bday research. Just 20 mins north of town are several green areas, one of which is known as Little Presque Isle Point where you can freely hike & play with doggie. We drove down CR 550, parked the car at the trailhead and enjoyed a good hour of doggie fun walking the woods and hanging by the practically empty shoreline. Superb spot!
Also being a University town Marquette has quite the selection of breweries and eateries, so to quench our thirst from doggie-beach we decided to sample one of the top-rated Yelp options with an outdoor seating area. What we weren’t aware of was how strict the dog-rules are here. Apparently Marquette (and much of the UP?) prohibit dogs even in areas with outdoor seating and no food…ugh! The strange “trick” to get around this is to find a spot with a patio where you can put your dog outside the official seating area on the pavement (so, you sit “inside” on the patio while the dog sits “outside” on the pavement). Very odd, but apparently that’s what works.
It turns out Ore Dock Brewing Company is just such a spot. It’s got an outdoor seating area surrounded by a chain link, so as long as doggie is officially on the other side of the link you can sit and enjoy your brew there. We got a flight of their excellent brews and totally enjoyed the experience. Not much in the way of dark beers here for me, but Paul was totally enamored by their hoppy Reclamation IPA and bought a growler of it for evening Bday consumption.
A good day out all-in-all!
VISIT NOTES: Little Presque Isle is a pay area managed by the MI DNR. You can buy a single day-use pass for $9 at the park (cash only).
BRING DOGGIE? YES. Little Presque Isle Point is dog-friendly (you do need to have a MI State Park pass or buy a $9 day-use MI DNR pass to visit). Ore Dock Brewery has an outdoor area where you can sit with doggie as long as you put him/her on the outside of the chain link.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Munising, MI
They say you can’t come to Michigan without seeing the Pictured Rocks and I have to admit they’re probably right. This 42-mile stretch of protected shoreline contains 15-miles of multi-colored sandstone cliffs that extend 200 feet above the lake. The geology here extends back 500-800 million years and the many layers of time and mineral deposits have created a tapestry of color that delights tourists to this very day.
Considering how popular it is there are surprisingly few roads that lead out to the cliff-edge and IMHO all of the easily accessible overlooks are only so-so. As a result there are only a few ways to *really* see the cliffs. One is to hike/backpack the many miles of shoreline trails (some of which do get pretty close to the cliffs) and the other is to see them from the water either with a kayak or an organized boat tour. Given our limited time and the fact that none of the trails in the park are dog-friendly we decided on the latter.
We chose Pictured Rock Cruises and decided on a “regular” 6PM tour instead of the much more popular 7PM “sunset tour”. That turned out to be a great decision, not only because it was waaay less crowded (we were able to board a mere 15 minutes before our tour time and still get a top-side seat while folks were already standing in line for the 7PM tour an hour and a half before departure!), but also because the late afternoon light was at the perfect angle to light-up the cliff-face and “pop” the colors.
The 2 1/2 hour cruise was perfect. Lovely, flat water (a bonus for sea-sick easy Nina) and plenty of fine light for the cliffs. My only trouble was actually photographing the darn things. It’s bleeding hard to get any kind of real perspective on these cliffs and most photos just turn out bland and uninteresting. My “winner” (the shot at the bottom of this blog post) came towards the end of the cruise after hundreds of less-than-interesting shots. I decided to try a hand-held multi-exposure shot against the setting light and finally captured something I could work with. Gotcha, finally!
VISIT NOTES: Pictured Rocks is free to visit by car/foot and there are many miles of hiking trails inside the park. Click HERE for a map of the park. To get the best view of the cliffs I recommend either taking a boat tour or renting a kayak.
BRING DOGGIE? Probably NO. No dogs allowed on the boat cruises and, apart from one exception (the trail to Munising Falls), none of the trails inside the Pictured Rocks are dog-friendly either. You can take your dog to a few of the overlooks and a couple of beach areas (specifically Sand Point & Miners Beach), so you can do a little day-trip in your car that way, but if you want to see the most scenic sections of the cliffs you have to leave doggie behind. See more doggie info HERE.
Au Sable Lighthouse – Munising, MI
I actually love lighthouses that take a bit of an “effort” to get to. Not only does it drastically cut down on the number of people visiting, but it also gives you a certain sense of achievement to get there and that makes the result all the sweeter when you do. Au Sable Lighthouse isn’t quite as serious as some (Dungeness Spit in WA comes to mind), but it does require a respectable ~1.5 mile hike (one-way) to get there and the tours only run at around hour intervals so you have to time it pretty tightly if you want to make full use of the trip.
I was pretty determined to see this gal having had her on my “bucket list” for a while, but we were stymied were two things. One was that the lighthouse trail was almost an hour from Munising and the other was that it did not allow dogs, meaning that if we both went we’d be leaving Polly behind for at least 5 hours during the day. Plus we were scheduled out again that evening for the Boat Cruise. That was too much doggie-away time for us, so Paul graciously passed on the lighthouse giving me the chance to do it on my own while he stayed behind with the dog (what a gentleman, eh?)
I arrived at the trail on a very humid, grey morning and trekked out along the wooded shoreline to the lighthouse in a record 30 minutes to make the first 11 AM tour. First lit in 1874 she is a wonderfully preserved girl and a testament to some of the heaviest & most treacherous days of shipping on Lake Superior. The tour was lovely, the 3rd order Fresnel lens in the tower (although no longer working) was quite pretty and being able to walk outside the tower and hang around the grounds was priceless. A worthy visit!
VISIT NOTES: It’s a flat ~1.5 mile hike to the lighthouse (one way). Free parking at the trailhead. Tours cost $3 and run Wed through Sun from mid-June through the end of September at 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. – 1 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.. No tours on Monday and Tues. More info HERE.
BRING DOGGIE? NO. No dogs allowed on the trail to the lighthouse.
Oh, the other thing we “discovered” in this part of Michigan? They’re famous for their Cornish Pasties here. Believe it or not pasties arrived in Michigan in the 1800’s with English miners who migrated to the state, and it became a staple in the local mines. There’s now a festival every year and 3 of the top 10 pasties in the state are just around the Munising area. We tasted one of the samples from Lawry’s and although I paid dearly for it later (wheat intolerance, you know) I have to admit it was quite authentic.
Where To Park Your RV:
If you decide to come this way you could do like we did and make use of the two free Casino’s in the area. Alternatively you can head on over to the Tourist Park (the one in Munising offered hookups and looked quite nice) or see if you can snag a site at one of the lovely forest service campgrounds in the area (Bay Furnace and Au Train Lake are primitive but offer large, private sites).
Useful External Links:
- Visit Marquette MI – Visitors website HERE
- Visit Munising MI – Visitors website HERE
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Official site HERE
- Marquette Harbor Lighthouse – Click HERE and HERE
- Au Sable Lighthouse – Click HERE and HERE
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