MARQUETTE - July has come and gone, and the hazy, humid days of August have begun. The lake is finally warm enough to swim in without feeling numb and the days of summer in the Upper Peninsula are dwindling.
Now is the perfect time to experience a paradise that can be best seen from the water. One way to fully experience the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is by renting a pontoon boat. It gives visitors the freedom to cruise from one attraction to the next on their own time, making it possible to explore the caves beneath Castle Rock and swim under the giant force of Spray Falls. Some even let you bring your dog.
Ben DeLano of Marquette recently rented a pontoon with some friends for the day.
Pictured Rocks National Park. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
People relax at a sand bar in Munising Bay. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
Spray Falls in Munishing. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
Vibrant colors of Grand Portal Arch in Munising. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
The view of a cove from the water. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
Caves beneath Castle Rock. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
"It's a fun way to enjoy Pictured Rocks at your own pace," said DeLano.
Half and full day rates are available for rentals, and the capacity is around 10 people. It's a perfect activity to invite your friends, pack a picnic and spend the day on the water.
Leaving Munising on your boat, you can start off the ride by visiting the shipwreck of the Bermuda, a 150-foot wooden schooner that is just 12 feet below the surface. The water is so clear you can see the boat below you. For an even better view, bring your snorkeling gear.
Just beyond the shipwreck there's a sandbar in the middle of the bay, where you'll usually find fellow pontooners parked on the beach, relaxing and watching their children splash around in the water.
From there, follow the lakeshore and you'll catch your first close-up glimpse of the colorful sandstone cliffs, streaked with pigment from various minerals. The teal water is reminiscent of the Caribbean, sometimes making it hard to believe that you're in Michigan.
If you keep following the lakeshore for a few miles, you come upon Miner's Castle, a towering rock formation that makes for beautiful photos. If you're brave enough to explore its smooth sea caves, you won't be sorry, as it's completely breathtaking.
The next destination is the Grand Portal Arch, which is also a great place for a swim. The fiery orange color of the rocks next to the blue-green water is unreal, surrounding the giant arch and more caves. There is a massive slab of smooth rock which makes you able to touch the bottom.
Back on the boat, you can weave in and out of the coves until you reach Chapel Rock. This destination feels almost magical. A giant tree thrives on a rock formation where an archway collapsed, leaving its tree roots to span the divide. The bubbly Chapel Creek feeds into the lake here, and is inviting to your feet after walking on the hot, sandy beach. Chapel Beach is the perfect place for a picnic.
One of the last stops of the ride should be at Spray Falls, a 70-foot waterfall that can only been seen from the water. You shouldn't leave without swimming under the falls. It's quite humbling when you realize how small you really are under the pounding water.
Pontooning makes visiting all these sites possible in a day, or even a few hours. If you've never been to Pictured Rocks, or even if you've been there a dozen times, this is an experience you won't want to miss. Make sure you call ahead to reserve your pontoon, though, the popularity is catching on.
Danielle Pemble can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 256.