People come from all over the world to witness the picturesque splendor of colorful layered rock-face towering over the impossibly clear waters of Lake Superior in Michigan. One popular way to view the stunning cliffs is to take a boat tour of the shoreline. Another way is to visit the beaches. But to really grasp the majesty and scope of this natural wonder, the overlooks at Miners Castle are incomparable.
Awe-inspiring miles of colorful cliffs
The Miners area lies at the heart of Upper Michigan’s Pictured Rocks region of the Lake Superior shoreline. The name comes from the appearance of rich minerals that ooze out of the rocks, permanently staining them in bands of deep color. While mining here turned out to be a poor prospect, the name had already stuck. The sight of such a vast and colorful shoreline draws visitors in much the same way the Painted Desert in Arizona does. But here, there’s a major bonus feature – brilliant, blue fresh water.
The park is a 17 minute drive (10.6 miles or 17 kilometers) from nearby Munising. Paved roads will get you there all the way. Take Alger County Road H-58 east for 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) and then turn north on Miners Castle Road for 5 miles (8 kilometers). The park is well-marked. You can also follow Miners Castle Road for just one more mile (1.6 kilometers) and reach Miners Beach, a mile-long sugar sand beach dotted with tide-smoothed cobbles.
Miners Castle Overlooks are a visitor’s headquarters
The trails and overlooks of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are open year-round, 24 hours a day. The park is dotted with interpretive exhibits that give historical, biological, and geological information about the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore.
Modern restrooms sit by a large parking lot and grassy picnic areas. A visitor’s center is centrally located to provide guests with information, exhibits, and docents available to answer questions. The visitor’s center is open year round, from 9am to 4:30pm or 5pm, depending on the season. In summer, the center is open 7 days a week. From October to May, it’s closed on Sundays and major holidays. Leashed pets are welcome in the park, but not on the beaches.
At the park, there is trail access to the North Country Trail. Hiking enthusiasts can hike from here to Miners Beach (1 mile or 1.6 kilometers), or further, to Mosquito Beach and campground (4.4 miles or 7 kilometers) to the north along the shoreline. A trail also leads south (2.7 miles or 4.3 kilometers) to Miners Lake and Miners Falls. And taking the North Country Trail south (4 miles or 6.4 kilometers) along the shoreline will bring hikers to Sand Point. For those less enthusiastic about racking up the mileage on your feet, these points of interest can also be accessed via car, except for Mosquito Beach, which requires trail or boat access only.
Most of the Miners Castle area is accessed via paved and smooth gravel walkways, making almost the entire complex chair friendly (and stroller friendly). The only exception to that is the lower overlook, which takes guests down a series of wooden stairs and out onto the surface of Miners Castle itself.
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Caribbean blue water
When you arrive at the park, the pathways lead you first to a grand overlook of the bay and shore. The first thing that will really strike you is how unnaturally blue and vibrant the water is. You may want to check yourself to verify you haven’t somehow ended up in the Caribbean. The water seems electric, and the mottled variations from plant life and different sand depths paint a colorful canvas.
Storming the castle
The park is named after its most recognizable rock formation. Miners Castle is a stone outcropping framing in a small bay along the shore. This towering bit of sandstone once served as a great overlook location for indigenous people, and later for European explorers. Now, visitors are not permitted to climb to the top, for obvious safety reasons. But there is a lower overlook deck that brings tourists as close to the outer edge as safety allows.
For those who like to bend the rules a little, climbing past the guardrail is really not recommended. The Castle used to sport 3 turrets. In 2006, one of them crumbled into the water. Erosion has left the tip of the structure less than fully stable.
Miners Castle is a geological bounty. Here in the sedimentary stone, 3 major layers of Precambrian and Paleozoic sandstone lie exposed for the viewing. Over the eons, the rock face has been shaped by weather, sea level changes in Lake Superior, the movement of groundwater, and even glaciers. The various colors of the stone, here and all along the shoreline cliffs, are the result of minerals being left behind as ground water seeps through and eventually out of the layers of the rock. Red and orange from iron, and black from manganese are the most obvious, but on closer inspection, there are lovely streaks of blue and green, coming from the rich copper that Upper Michigan is so famous for.
Soak up Nature’s masterpiece
Here in this 40-mile stretch of scenic lakeshore, multiple elements of breathtaking beauty come together in a painted landscape. It has taken Nature all of the history of life on this planet to sculpt this place into the masterpiece it is today. So breathe it all in, and enjoy the awe!
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