Pictured Rocks in the Winter: Adventure Guide

Disclosure notice

Pictured Rocks in the Winter is a winter sports haven! As the chill of winter sets in, a serene transformation unfolds at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The already breathtaking destination turns into a winter wonderland. 

While the summer crowds have ebbed, the beauty and allure of the lakeshore remain. The park offers a unique and enchanting experience for those willing to explore its frozen splendor. 

I take a winter trip to my home state of Michigan every year. I’m always looking for things to do in the winter in Michigan and last winter, my journey took me to Pictured Rocks! 

Plan your trip to coincide with some local winter events like Dog Sled Racing in Marquette (about 45 minutes to the west of Munising) or the Ice Fest in Munising.

Unfortunately for us, the 2023 Dog Sled Race was canceled due to poor snow conditions. Hope to catch the race next year!

Are you ready to explore what is available in the icy landscapes of Pictured Rocks in the winter months?

Pictured Rocks General Winter Information

The National Park Service operates this park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The closest airport is about an hour away in Marquette. Pictured Rocks is open 24 hours a day, but visitor centers are closed during winter.

The bathroom at Munising Falls remains open during the winter season. Porta-Potties are available at other parts of the park.  

The 20-foot-high Munising Falls remains accessible during the winter. It can be accessed by walking along a quarter-mile paved trail that leads through a sandstone canyon along Munising Creek.

Munising Falls with icicles and some water still flowing through an opening at the ice.

The digital realm will connect you with the knowledge you need to navigate the snowy wonderland that awaits.

Pictured Rocks in the Winter: Road Closures

Sand Point Road is the only park road plowed in winter. Since almost all the park roads are unplowed in winter, snowmobiling is the primary way to travel through the national lakeshore during the snow season. 


Many of the unplowed roads lead to major points of interest within the National Lakeshore, notably Miners Castle and Log Slide. Consider bringing a snowmobile to get around, or consider renting a snowmobile in the area.

This map shows the road closures in the park.

Ice Climbing and Viewing

Ice climbing, where adventure and adrenaline meet winter's icy embrace. Pictured Rocks' frozen waterfalls and cliffs become a playground for thrill-seekers.

Year by year, the popularity of this sport grows, drawing enthusiasts eager to conquer the icy challenges presented by the landscape. 

I'm not crazy about repelling. I tried it once when I was a chubby little kid at Girl Scout camp – I didn't enjoy it in the least – I have no recollection why I didn't enjoy it, but I didn't.

I doubt it has anything to do with heights, as I've had to climb the silo on the farm I grew up on and had no issue.

Maybe I should try climbing again (at a climbing facility before venturing into the extra challenge of ice). On this trip, I stuck to the sidelines and enjoyed talking to those who were climbing.

Three ice climbers preparing to climb an ice column. A great Pictured Rocks in the Winter activity if you are up for an adventure.

The combination of frigid temperatures, abundant lake-effect snow, a profusion of waterfalls, porous sandstone cliffs, and the slow seepage of water through rock layers gives rise to awe-inspiring ice formations, including majestic ice curtains and columns.

Winter's icy embrace generally envelops the landscape from the second or third week of December through early April. 

The end of February was when I went, and it was great – plenty of snow and ice, and the temps were in the 30's (Fahrenheit).

Sand Point is a prime choice for ice climbing and ice cave viewing. 20-50 foot ice columns and delicate blue ice curtains adorn several points along the inland cliff escarpment, extending between Munising Falls and Sand Point.

An ice climber near the top of a curtain of ice.

The most convenient access point is from the Sand Point Beach parking lot.
Parking on Sand Point Road is prohibited. That didn't stop people from parking along the road – but be a rule follower and park in the parking lot!

Park your vehicle at the Sand Point Beach lot and venture down the road for approximately 1/4 to 1/2 mile to reach the nearest climbing zone. 

Don't worry if you're a newbie; there are guided tours and expert climbers to show you the ropes (literally!).

Bring enthusiasm and a hearty dose of courage—you can conquer those frozen heights like a champ! Or, be like me and just observe and maybe have some snacks!

Some smaller icicles over the sandstone ledge. One icicle is starting to form a column.

Tip: Avoid climbing in these areas directly along the lake due to potential hazards posed by proximity to the lake.

Cross Country Skiing

Imagine gliding on glistening snow through 20+ miles of trails that wind through the diverse landscapes of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

These trails lead you through a magical tapestry of habitats and terrains—beech, maple, hemlock, conifer forests, rolling farm fields, and rugged hills shaped by ancient glaciers.

With the region receiving an annual average of over 140 inches of snow, skiing has become a popular winter pursuit within the park.

person entering the woods on cross country skis

Each trail area offers an array of loop lengths, catering to leisurely day skis and invigorating workouts.

It's important to note that all lakeshore ski trails are designed exclusively for diagonal stride skiing. Skating is not permitted on these trails.

To help preserve the groomed tracks, the following are not allowed on the ski trails: pets, winter camping, snowshoeing, bicycling, or walking.

Maps, conveniently placed at trailheads and intersections, guide your way. Always adhere to the indicated direction of travel, as some trails are designated for two-way skiing.

man looking back as he enters wooded trail on cross country skis

Keep a watchful eye and ear out for grooming equipment during your skiing, ensuring your safety and the maintenance of the tracks.

During your journey, you'll encounter interpretive wayside exhibits on several Munising trail loops. Catch your breath and take a short break to learn about the natural and human history of the area.

Snowmobiling

Rev up your winter excitement with a snowmobile adventure. The unplowed roads become a snowmobiler's dream, allowing you to zip through a winter wonderland like no other. 

person riding snow mobile during daytime

But remember to adhere to safety guidelines, respect wildlife, and keep your camera ready for the awe-inspiring sights.

Be familiar with the State of Michigan Snowmobiling Rules and Regulations before riding.

Designated Snowmobile Routes within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore include:

  • Trail from the park boundary off E. City Limits Road southwest to the Becker Farm, and down to Sand Point Road.
  • Down Miners Castle Road from Alger County Road H-58 to the roads and parking areas for Miners Falls, Miners Castle, and Miners Beach.
  • Down Chapel Road from H-58 to the Chapel Beach/Mosquito trailhead parking area.
  • Down Little Beaver Lake Road from H-58 to the day-use parking area.
  • Road from H-58 to the Twelvemile Beach day-use parking area.
  • Road from H-58 to the Hurricane River day-use parking area.
  • Road from H-58 to the Log Slide parking area.
  • Road from H-58 to the Sable Falls parking area.
  • The frozen surfaces of Lake Superior and Grand Sable Lake.
(as noted on the park website):

Tip: There are so many things to do in Munising and the Pictured Rocks. Be sure to return to the park in a different season when the roads are open and accessible!

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing is your answer for those who seek a quieter communion with nature. Strap on those snowshoes and step into a world of untouched beauty.

There is only one marked snowshoe trail at the park, but other trails not groomed for skiing are available to make your mark. A 2.65-mile forested pathway that gracefully loops back on itself offers a delightful winter escapade.

I love snowshoeing – the calm winter air creates a peaceful oasis that allows you to observe nature's beauty and ponder life. Or maybe that's just me?

person wearing snow shoes

The trail is tucked away at the end of E. City Limits Road off Alger County Road H-58 on the east side of Munising.

To begin your snowshoeing expedition, park your vehicle in the ski trail parking lot near the road's end. A brief walk of a few hundred yards will lead you to the trail's starting point.

Look for the wooden fence—a marker of your impending adventure. Beyond the fence, the snowshoe trail unveils itself, marked by inviting blue posts that guide your path.

Tip: Leashed pets can accompany you on this snowshoeing adventure but are not allowed on groomed ski trails.

Pictured Rocks in the Winter Camping

Winter camping might sound like a paradox, but it's an experience that will forever change your perception of the season.

Picture yourself snug in a well-insulated tent, wrapped in a sleeping bag, gazing up at the stars while the crisp air lulls you into a deep slumber. 

I've personally never experienced this, but my husband has many times growing up as a Boy Scout. The stories he tells really sound exciting; maybe if I were 20 years younger, I'd give it a try. Maybe I should add this to my bucket list!

tent on snow field

And when morning comes, you'll wake up to a frosty wonderland just beyond your tent flaps. It's like camping but with an extra sprinkle of winter magic.

Winter camping is permitted at designated backcountry campsites. You can enjoy a winter hike, snowshoeing, or skiing along hiking trails to reach the sites. Expect deep snow as you make your way to the campsite.


Backcountry Winter Regulations:

  • Backcountry winter campers need a reservation AND a permit (see the Backcountry Camping page for instructions).
  • Winter backcountry camping is permitted only in existing backcountry sites. Dispersed winter camping is NOT allowed.
  • Snowmobiles can access the main parking lots and trail, heads where campers, then snowshoe or ski to the backcountry sites.
  • Locating backcountry sites in deep snow may require the use of GPS coordinates.
  • Use of stoves is recommended – campfires are not permitted unless you build them in established metal fire rings, which may be difficult to find in deep snow. Finding dry down and dead wood will also be difficult.
  • Overnight camping in parking lots is not permitted.
  • Snow is not soil! Since human waste cannot be buried in winter, you will need to pack out all human waste and toilet paper.
(per the Pictured Rocks National Park website)

Ice Fishing

For those seeking a tranquil winter activity, ice fishing at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers a serene escape into the heart of frozen landscapes.

As the lakeshore transforms, the icy surfaces of Munising Bay, just beyond the fringes of Sand Point Beach, become your fishing playground. 

Before embarking on your ice fishing expedition, exercise caution and ensure the ice conditions are safe for your venture.

Remember that the ice's stability and thickness can vary significantly from one location to another, influenced by currents, wave activity, and changing weather patterns.

It is the angler's responsibility to meticulously assess the safety of the ice before proceeding.

My brother goes ice fishing every winter that the ice allows – he's brave. I get nervous walking on the frozen lake. Granted, I don't eat fish, so really, is there a reason I should try ice fishing?

Ice fishing shanty's in the Munising Bay. A great Pictured Rocks in the Winter activity if you enjoy fishing.

Anglers planning to explore Munising Bay via the Sand Point area must adhere to designated parking spaces.

The loading zone can be briefly utilized for unloading equipment and ice shanties, respecting the regulations to maintain order.

Be attentive to the presence of park snow plow operators, ensuring the safety of both you and other park visitors.

Bundle up, drill a hole through the ice, drop your line, and patiently await the thrill of a catch. Whether you're an experienced angler or trying ice fishing for the first time, the sense of anticipation and the tranquil beauty of the surroundings make this activity a cherished winter pastime.

Five ice shanties along the Munising Bay with Grand Island in the background.

Embark on your fishing journey within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore armed with the necessary documentation—a valid Michigan fishing license. These licenses vary in fees. Children under 17 are exempt from this requirement.

Adhere to the regulations set forth by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Compliance with these laws ensures a harmonious fishing experience for all visitors.

Securing your Michigan fishing license is a straightforward process. Choose from the following options:

Online Purchase: Conveniently acquire your fishing license online. Visit the website and follow the prompts to obtain your license.

Licensed Agent: Numerous licensed agents operate across Michigan. Visit the agent's location to acquire your fishing license in person.

DNR Customer Service Centers: Seek assistance and acquire your license at DNR customer service centers.

These centers provide a personalized experience, guiding you through the process and ensuring you have all you need for your fishing endeavor.

Pictured Rocks in the Winter: Safety

As you embark on your winter adventure at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, safety should always be a priority.

The serene landscapes and exhilarating winter activities hold their unique considerations.

Here are some essential winter safety tips to ensure your exploration is as enjoyable as it is safe:

Dress in Layers: Winter temperatures can be unpredictable. Dress in layers to regulate your body temperature and stay warm and comfortable throughout your activities.

Me taking a photo break in front of some ice caves. Gloves and hat are in hand.

Stay Informed: Check weather forecasts and park advisories before your visit. Weather conditions can change rapidly during winter, so awareness of any potential hazards is essential.

Plan Ahead: Before setting out on any activity, make a plan and share it with someone. This includes the trails you'll explore, estimated times of departure and return, and emergency contact information.

Carry Essentials: Pack essential items such as a map, compass, or GPS device, a fully charged cell phone, extra food, water, a first aid kit, and a multi-tool. 

Compass with a map in the background

Tip: A lack of towers, cloudy conditions, hilly topography, and heavy forest cover make cell phone service spotty in the park. 

Check Ice Thickness: If you plan to venture onto frozen lakes or rivers for activities like ice fishing, be sure to check the ice thickness. Safe ice thickness is typically at least 4 inches for walking and ice fishing.

Know Your Limits: Winter conditions can be challenging. Choose activities that match your skill level and experience, and feel free to turn back if conditions become too difficult.

Stay Hydrated: Even in colder temperatures, staying hydrated is important. Pack a water bottle and drink regularly to avoid dehydration.

Travel with Others: Whenever possible, travel with a companion. Having someone else with you can provide assistance in case of an emergency.

Me and my husband together at an ice cave, enjoying Pictured Rocks in the Winter.

By adhering to these safety guidelines, you'll be better equipped to enjoy the pristine beauty and exciting activities that Pictured Rocks offers during winter.

Remember, winter landscapes may be serene, but they require careful preparation and consideration to ensure a safe and memorable experience for all.

Michigan Ice Fest 

Ice Fest is a popular annual winter event near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The event is centered around ice climbing and typically occurs in Munising, Michigan, the gateway town to Pictured Rocks.

Michigan Ice Fest is a celebration of ice climbing and winter outdoor activities. It usually includes a variety of clinics, workshops, guided climbs, gear demos, and social gatherings for ice climbing enthusiasts of all skill levels. 

Participants can learn new techniques, improve their climbing skills, and explore the ice formations in the area.

Multiple ice climbers climbing up a curtain of ice.

The festival provides a unique opportunity to experience the beauty of the Pictured Rocks area in winter while engaging in the thrilling sport of ice climbing.

It's also a chance to connect with fellow outdoor enthusiasts and experts in the field.

Since event details, including dates, schedules, and offerings, can change from year to year, I recommend checking the official Michigan Ice Fest website for the most current and accurate information.

Accommodations

Nestled amidst the winter wonderland of Munising, the Roam Inn beckons as your cozy haven for a memorable winter retreat. The Roam Inn offers an ideal base for winter adventures.

Cozy rooms, attentive service, and modern amenities await you at the Roam Inn.

After a day of winter adventures, unwind in the inn's inviting common areas, perhaps by a crackling fireplace that offers solace from the winter's cold.

Reserve your stay at the Roam Inn for an unforgettable winter experience at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Whether you're seeking a romantic weekend, a family getaway, or a solo retreat, the inn's warm hospitality and convenient location make it an excellent choice for visiting Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Other lodging options available near the park are open in the winter. For a more comprehensive list, check out these other places in Munising.

Pictured Rocks Inn & Suites Hotel sign with hotel in background.

FAQs: Pictured Rocks in the Winter

Are Pictured Rocks open during the winter?

The park remains open, but certain facilities and roads may be closed.

Do I need a permit for winter activities?

The park requires a permit to visit. Some activities, like camping, may require extra permits.

What should I wear for winter activities?

Wear layered clothing, waterproof gear, and insulated boots. Consider packing ice cleats for better traction in icy conditions.

Are there any dangers to be aware of in the winter?

Cold temperatures, icy conditions, and changing weather can pose risks. Check the weather before venturing out for the day.

Are there other frozen waterfalls in the area worth visiting?

Apart from Munising Falls and Wagner Falls, other frozen waterfalls worth visiting in the area include Alger Falls, Au Train Falls, and Tannery Falls. These waterfalls offer stunning ice formations and add to the winter beauty of the region.

Nearby Winter Things to do near Munising, MI

Eben Ice Caves: Located about 30 minutes from Pictured Rocks, the Eben Ice Caves are a natural wonder during winter when the frozen formations create a captivating spectacle.

We've gone twice, and site facilities have improved vastly – there is now a bathroom and a large parking lot.

FYI – did you know that there isn't a waterfall in the summertime? It seems so weird that this ice cave forms in the winter, but in the summer, there's nothing special to see.

Eben Ice Cave. A curtain of ice with a gap near the middle which allows to to walk behind the ice curtain.

Tip: Make sure you have ice cleats – the trail near the caves is often very slippery and hilly! We've seen many people struggle to make it to the caves!

Valley Spur Ski Trail: Located near Munising, you can discover excellent cross-country skiing opportunities at Valley Spur Ski Trail. Groomed trails wind through serene forests, making it a paradise for winter sports enthusiasts.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park: This park is about 1.5 hours from Munising, but the majestic frozen waterfalls of the Tahquamenon River are a true spectacle of winter's beauty.

Enjoy the heated bathrooms in the frozen tundra! The park is a popular stopping point for snowmobilers.

Tahquamenon Falls partial;y frozen over. Icicles forming over adjacent cliffs.

Final Thoughts: Pictured Rocks Winter Adventures

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore winter activities are a big thumbs up. As you embrace the wonders of winter at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, remember that Mother Nature's chilly embrace is full of surprises, laughter, and the kind of magic that only this season can bring. 

So, bundle up, bring your sense of adventure, and let the snowy landscapes weave their enchantment around you! I hope you find it one of the best places to visit in Michigan during winter, just like I do.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy taking a road trip through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan!

Pin this for later:

Choose the image(s) that resonate with you to pin to your travel board on Pinterest!

Frozen waterfall, snowmobiler, ice climber, cross-country skier
Ice fishing people and huts on the bay at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan.
Ice formations over outcropping, frozen waterfall, ice climbers

Related Posts:

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts