Exploring Lake Superior’s Underwater Wonderland at Pictured Rocks

By Cassondra Scott

Lining the pristine shores of Lake Superior from Munising to Grand Marais, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a marvel of nature. It is a captivating destination, drawing visitors from around the world to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One of the most captivating activities available to visitors is the shipwreck tours, which allow visitors to delve into the underwater world of Lake Superior, home to numerous well-preserved shipwrecks.

The Allure of Pictured Rocks
Renowned for its towering cliffs, colorful rock formations, sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and diverse ecosystems, it’s no surprise that Pictured Rocks was designated as America’s first National Lakeshore in 1966. The largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, Lake Superior is also known as the Big Lake; the Chippewa people called it Gitche Gumee.

Where Pictured Rocks meets Lake Superior is pure Michigan magic, full of vibrant marine life and geological wonder. It is accessible by both land and water, offering a variety of adventurous options for those wishing to view and visit the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. From hiking to kayaking, boating, and diving, endless adventures await.

The Shipwreck Tour Experience
For a mesmerizing glimpse into the underwater world lying just beneath the Lake Superior surface, hop aboard a Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tour. This presents an unparalleled opportunity to explore the hidden depths of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and an up-close experience with the striking rock formations giving Pictured Rocks its name.

Shipwreck tours depart from Munising, a charming small town near the eastern entrance of the national lakeshore. The two-hour tour visits two different shipwreck sites, cruises along rock cliffs and caves, and passes the historic 1867 Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse. Passengers can admire and indulge in the exquisite beauty of Grand Island and Munising Bay.

The specially designed glass-bottom boats feature large viewing panels with transparent floors to peer directly into the clear waters below. As the marine landscape comes into view through the openings on the boat floor, it reveals a kaleidoscope of colors and textures. Riders are treated to a spectacle of underwater life as the boat glides through shallow waters. Schools of fish and aquatic plants sway gently in the current, creating a vibrant tapestry of life beneath the surface.

Massive painted coves with mineral-stained sandstone walls line the shores. Adorned with cascading waterfalls and intricate archways carved by centuries of erosion, each geological feature tells a story of Lake Superior’s tumultuous past.

Educational Insights
Beyond its natural beauty, Pictured Rocks also boasts a rich maritime history. Numerous shipwrecks rest on the lakebed below, preserved by Lake Superior’s frigid waters. The glass-bottom boats offer a unique perspective once reserved only for scuba divers; now, these underwater wonders can be explored without even getting wet.

Munising Bay is home to a treasure trove of maritime artifacts, providing fascinating insights into the American shipping history. Seventy-three shipwrecks have been discovered throughout Grand Island and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and many more are still missing.
Aboard the shipwreck tour, knowledgeable and entertaining narrators retell the tragic tales of ships lost to the treacherous waters of Lake Superior. See and learn about the Bermuda, a schooner that sank in 1870, and the Herman H. Hettler, a steamer that sank in 1926. These rare, fully intact wooden ships lay only feet below the viewing window. The water of Lake Superior is so clear that sometimes passengers can see up to 45 feet below the surface.

An Unforgettable Experience
A shipwreck tour at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore the hidden depths of Lake Superior. It’s a journey through time, revealing the stories of the ships and the people who sailed them. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or an adventure seeker, this underwater wonderland is sure to captivate your imagination and leave you with lasting memories of the Great Lakes’ maritime heritage and Michigan’s natural beauty.

Tickets can be purchased online and at the Shipwreck Tours gift shop in Munising. Trips are scheduled rain or shine, seven days a week, from Memorial Day until Sept. 30.

Reservations are highly recommended. Seating is available outside on the open-air deck and inside, sheltered from wind and weather. Wheelchair-accessible tours are available aboard the Shipwreck Express.

Pop and water can be purchased on board, and outside snacks are welcome and encouraged. Don’t forget a jacket and binoculars to spot North American bald eagles that may be nesting on Grand Island.

About the author: Cassondra Scott is a content creator, writer, and social media influencer at Cassondra Wanders——sharing small businesses and sights to see all over the state of Michigan.


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