Named for the 15 miles of colorful sandstone cliffs northeast of Munising, Pictured Rocks extends for 42 miles along the shores of Lake Superior. Reaching up to 200 feet above the lake, the cliffs have been sculpted into arches, caves, and formations. The preserve also features numerous unique sand dunes and picturesque waterfalls.
The unique colors that bathe the sandstone in hues of red, yellow, brown, and green come from groundwater leaching out of the rock and evaporating, leaving behind streaks of copper, iron, limonite, manganese, and other minerals.
Much like the artists who embodied the Romantic Hudson River School art movement in the 19th century, a series of American writers described their experiences upon reaching Pictured Rocks. Geologist Henry Schoolcraft remarked upon “some of the most sublime and commanding views in nature,” while fur trader Pierre Espirit Radisson noted that “nature has made it pleasant to the eye, the spirit, and the belly.”
Developers had planned a tourist resort adjacent to Pictured Rocks near Munising as early as 1850, but after the lumber boom ended in the early 1900s, much of the land ended up reverting to the state over unpaid property taxes. Through state and federal cooperation, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, America’s first National Lakeshore, was established in 1966.