What to Photograph in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the Munising, Michigan Area in Only 48 Hours
There are an abundance of things to photograph in Pictured Rock National Lakeshore and the Munising area. But, I had only 48 hours during the busy fall season to photograph this beautiful area.
I managed to photograph almost everything on my list and even made a quick trip to Marquette. In this blog, I thought I’d share information and tips on locations that I photographed, as well as general tips to photograph the area.
I’ve included the GPS location for the parking areas for each photo opportunity as well as its proximity to Munising to help plan your itinerary. I used the stoplight in the middle of Munising on M-28 for my distance calculations. Your distance may vary depending on your lodging location.
Tips on Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
- There are a lot of people here during fall leaf peeping season. Maximize the early mornings and evenings for your photography when the crowds aren’t out.
- Many of the restaurants in the Upper Peninsula close early. If you plan on photographing sunset, you may want to take a break during the middle of the day, have an early dinner, and then go out again in the evening. This will also allow the crowds to clear out.
- Make sure to bring a GPS, cell phone coverage is spotty for using phone navigation apps.
- Avoid the weekends if you can, the volume of people really gets crazy on the weekends during the fall color season.
- Bring layers of clothing. In the fall (late Sep, early Oct), it may be in the upper 30’sF at sunrise and in the 70’sF in the late afternoon.
- It may be difficult to use a tripod especially at some of the busy waterfall overlooks. If the observation platforms are busy, try using the observation deck railing to stabilize your camera for long waterfall exposures. I used the Live ND filter functionality in my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III to get the silky waterfall pictures without a tripod.
Best Places to Photograph Near Munising, Michigan
Sand Point Beach
GPS Parking Area: 46.453071, -86.606296 (4.5 miles NE of Munising)
I found Sand Point Beach to be a good sunrise location for photography and it is very close to Munising. It’s a nice place to walk the beach and look for compositions in the pastel morning light. You can also take photographs of the Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse and Munising from across the bay. You will need a long lens (at least 500mm) to photograph these subjects across the bay. About a ½ hour after sunrise, the sun will be high enough for good light on the lighthouse.
GPS Parking Area: 46.493311, -86.550939 (11 miles NE of Munising)
Miner’s Castle is a Castle Looking Rock Formation on Lake Superior in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Late afternoon is a good time to photograph Miner’s Castle when the sun will be hitting the rocks from the west.
The composition is better from the Upper (west) Observation area. I did not find it worth walking down the stairs to the Lower Observation area unless you want a distant photo of the sea arches to the east. Also look along the fence line between the Upper Observation area and the trail to the Lower Observation area. I found some nice compositions of Miner’s Castle with over hanging trees.
Miner’s castle is a popular spot that can get crowded so you may have to be patient in getting your shot.
GPS Parking Area: 46.497607, -86.532300 (11.8 miles NE of Munising)
Elliot Falls is a scenic, seasonal waterfall located on the shore of Lake Superior. It is located on the east end of Minor’s Beach not far from Miner’s Castle. When I was there during the fall leaf season, the water flow was just a trickle so make sure you research the water flow ahead of time.
It is only a short 1/4 mile hike from the parking area. Even without the water flowing, it is still a scenic area that could provide good compositions in the late afternoon. The rock formations can be used for leading lines in your composition. Tour boats also frequent the area and can also be used in your compositions.
GPS Parking Area: 46.474075, -86.542920 (9.8 miles NE of Munising)
Miners Falls is a scenic waterfall with a 40 foot drop and a good water flow even during drier periods. It is only a 1/3 mile hike to the falls from the parking area. These falls are a popular attraction so it may be crowded during the midday hours.
There are 2 viewing platforms for the falls. I found the composition to be the best from the lower observation area to the left which has 77 stairs to the bottom.
GPS Parking Area: 46.423623, -86.624633 (2.2 miles NE of Munising)
50 foot high waterfall that is very close to Munising. The water flow can be low during drier periods, but it is still a picturesque waterfall.
There is a short 80 foot trail to the falls leading to multiple observation areas. I found that the observation areas straight ahead and to the upper right are the best to photograph the falls. The composition isn’t as good taking the stairs to the upper left and some hikers told me that the trail that goes above the falls has now been closed.
Log Slide Overlook
GPS Parking Area: 46.650874, -86.110568 (42.7 miles NE of Munising)
The Log Slide was once used to slide logs down to Lake Superior for transport to the mill. I photographed the Log Slide Overlook at sunrise where you can photograph the sunrise rising above the Log Slide to the east and also a long composition of Au Sable Point Lighthouse in the morning light to the west. The Log Slide can also be photographed in the late afternoon light.
Since you will be photographing the sunrise rising over the Log Slide, you will want to use a graduated ND filter or shoot exposure bracketing / HDR for the high dynamic range.
You will want a long focal length lens to photograph Au Sable Point Lighthouse from the Log Slide Overlook. I photographed the lighthouse with both my 40-150 (80-300 full frame equivalent) and my 300mm f/4 (600mm full frame equivalent). The photograph below was taken at 110mm (220mm full frame equivalent) with about a 20% crop.
It is a ¼ mile hike to the from the parking area to the sand dune, from there take the trail to the left and then to the right of the fence. After a short hike you will find a couple small areas where you can photograph both the Log Slide and lighthouse. There are no observation platform or railings there, and it’s a long way down, so be careful.
GPS Parking Area: 46.666995, -86.013300 (48 miles NE of Munising)
One of the most beautiful waterfalls that I photographed on my trip. Sable Falls has a good water flow even in drier periods. There are 168 stairs from the parking area down to the falls. Along the way, there are several observation platforms where you can photograph the falls. I found the best compositions on the 2nd and 3rd observation platforms from the top.
There are also some nice rapids below the falls that can also be photographed. The trail continues about a ½ mile down to sable beach to the Sable Creek Estuary with possible photo ops of the creek estuary and river rocks. I photographed Sable Falls in the early morning with only a few other photographers at the falls.
GPS Parking Area: 46.519523, -86.461829 (19.3 miles NE of Munising)
The Mosquito Falls Trailhead shares a parking area with Chapel Falls / Beach Trailhead. The parking area is located about 5 miles down a dirt road. During busy times the parking area fills up quick. I got there around 10:45 am (my 3rd stop of the morning) and I had to park on the edge of the dirt road leading to the parking area. When I was leaving at around 1pm, cars were parked about a ¼ mile down the road.
From the trailhead, it is about a 1.1 mile hike (each way) to Mosquito Falls. It is a natural trail covered with exposed roots on several sections. There is also a muddy area where you have to walk on the edges of the path. There are some moderate rises in elevation especially near the falls.
Overall, I didn’t see any great compositions of the falls. I didn’t find a safe way to descend to the base of the waterfall and falls were covered by brush and fallen trees. While the falls themselves weren’t really worth the hike, I did find a variety of mushrooms along the trail that I photographed with macro gear that I brought along on the hike.
Shipwrecks Near the Mouth of the Hurricane River
GPS Parking Area: 46.665697, -86.166799 (37.6 miles NE of Munising)
There are several shipwrecks along the coast of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The wreckage from two of these shipwrecks can be photographed on the beach below the trail to the Au Sable Light Station.
The parking area is next to the Hurricane River Campground. Follow the trail to the Au Sable Light Station. Walk east thru the campground and thru a gate. About a mile past the gate there will be a sign that says “Shipwrecks 1,800 feet”. Descend down to the beach and continue walking east. You will find 2 sections of wreckage right along the beach.
These shipwrecks are in good locations to capture with the sunset in the frame. Another photo option is to use long exposures to capture the waves crashing over the shipwreck remains.
Make sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight if you plan on photographing the sunset as it’s a mile hike back to the car.
GPS Parking Area: 46.393091, -86.648151 (1.5 miles S of Munising)
Alger Falls is located right along the side of the M-28, right at the junction with M-94. There is no parking area, so you will need to park on the wide shoulder on the east side of the road. Alger Falls is located on the east side of the road facing west, so on a sunny day it would be best photographed in the morning to avoid blowing out the highlights in the waterfall.
Alger Falls is a seasonal waterfall with a light flow during drier periods. There are also a lot of trees and brush around the falls. But since it is right along the road near Munising, it’s worth stopping by to take a look. With a heavier waterflow and the right timing for fall color, there could be a nice photograph here.
I found the best compositions on the shoulder of the road near the top. However, there are some small rapids that can be photographed at the bottom.
GPS Parking Area: 46.388920, -86.649070 (1.8 miles S of Munising)
Wagner Falls is located on M-94 less than 5 minutes from Alger Falls. It’s a short ½ mile hike mostly on boardwalk to the viewing platform.
Wagner Falls has a good water flow even during drier periods. There are also a small set of rapids to the right of the viewing platform that can also be photographed using slow shutter speeds.
Due to its proximity to town and short hike, Wagner Falls is best photographed early in the morning before the crowds get out.
GPS Parking Area: 46.437067 -86.814854 (9.9 miles W of Munising)
Scott Falls is a small waterfall located on the south side Highway M-28 between Munising and Marquette, near the town of Au Train. There is a wide shoulder to park along M-28 on the south side of the road. There is also a roadside park across the street with views of Lake Superior and public restrooms. Be careful crossing M-28 as the speed limit is 65 mph with a lot of traffic.
Scott Falls is a small seasonal waterfall that is probably better photographed after a rain. It is north facing and can have mixed lighting on a sunny day. But since it is right along the side of M-28, its worth stopping and checking it out.
Au Train Falls
GPS Parking Area: 46.337802, -86.852969 (14 miles SW of Munising)
The water flow at Au Train Falls is controlled by the amount of water the power company is releasing from the Dam. If the water flow is low, it is still possible to get some shots of the cascades and rocks.
It’s a short, downhill hike to the falls. I photographed Au Train Falls in late morning and found that the best compositions were on the other side of the falls after you walk over the bridge.
Laughing Whitefish Falls
GPS Parking Area: 46.382142, -87.077348 (28.5 miles SW of Munising)
Laughing Whitefish Falls is a 100 foot tall, long slide. Even with low water flows some good long exposure photographs can be taken of the falls.
There are 3 observation platforms (upper, middle, bottom). It about a ½ mile hike from the parking area to the top observation platform. Shooting the falls in late morning, I was able to get good compositions from the upper and middle platforms. The falls had a lot of backlighting from the lower platform and would be better earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon.
A Michigan DNR Recreation Passport is required to visit Laughing Whitefish Falls.
Marquette Harbor Lighthouse and Museum
GPS Parking Area: 46.545579, -87.379681 (43 miles W of Munising)
I stopped in the museum and was told that I needed to pay $7 for the Lighthouse tour to photograph the lighthouse from the grounds. I paid the fee but didn’t take the tour and photographed the lighthouse on my own. With the tour, you can also go inside the lighthouse and have access to the pier to the north.
If you don’t want to pay the fee you can also photograph the lighthouse from the multi use path and the beach just north of the museum. The beach makes a nice leading line to the lighthouse.
Written by Martin Belan
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