Lake Superior Circle Tour: Part I – Agawa Canyon and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Lake Superior doesn’t need introduction or promotion. Part of the Great Lakes, it is the world’s largest freshwater lake in area and third largest by volume. The Ojibway called it the Gitche Gumee, which means ‘great sea.’ And that’s exactly what it is – a great, beautiful sea.

Lake Superior

We first visited Lake Superior Provincial Park over six years ago and immediately fell in love with its rugged beauty and immense power. One day, while exploring Old Woman’s Bay, we saw a ‘Lake Superior Circle Tour’ sticker on someone’s car. That’s when the idea of the Lake Superior road trip was born. Fast forward two years, and there we were: car packed, route planned, campsites booked, all ready for an adventure. It took us three amazing weeks and eight incredibly beautiful parks to drive around the Lake. Here are some of our adventures along the way.

For more information about Lake Superior Circle Tour, visit the website.

Lake Superior Circle Tour maps and brochures

Agawa Canyon

We started our trip with a train ride through Agawa Canyon. The train departs from Sault Ste. Marie daily and takes you 114 miles north through the rugged northern landscape that inspired the Group of Seven. The ride itself is an adventure: rocking of the train, walking between cars, eating in the dining car, majestic views and towering trestles sailing by.

Once you arrive at the Canyon Park, you have an hour and a half to explore. You can take scenic walks, climb over 300 stairs for a great view of the Canyon or simply sit by Agawa River and enjoy its peaceful beauty.

Agawa Canyon

General Info: The train leaves at 8 a.m. and returns at 6 p.m. To learn more about the train service, visit The Agawa Canyon Tour Train webpage.

Agawa Canyon Tour train

Accommodations: We stayed in a cabin (or should I say kabin) at the Sault Ste. Marie KOA, which allowed us to preserve the camping vibe and be close enough to the train station. Find more information here.

KOA cabin

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Bay Furnace Campground

Our next stop was Pictured Rocked National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This park is a place like no other with its stripy sandstone cliffs, whimsical rock formations, sand dunes, waterfalls and, of course, numerous beaches.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

General Info:

There are three drive-in campgrounds available on a first come, first serve basis. The sites are $14 to $16 a night. There are also backcountry sites along the 42-mile-long North Country National Scenic Trail. Unlike drive-in campgrounds, backcountry sites can actually be booked in advance.

For more information about Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, visit their website.

Since the website warned that campgrounds filled up quickly in July and August, we decided not to risk it and booked a campsite at the nearby Bay Furnace campground in Hiawatha National Forest. The campground is on the Lake Superior shore less than 30 minutes away from Pictured Rocks, has large private campsites and features the remnants of a historic blast furnace (hence the name) that was once used for smelting iron.

Bay Furnace campground

Bonus: Since many people use this campground as a one-night stop, they often leave unused firewood behind. During our three-day stay at the campground, we accumulated quite a pile of logs, none of which we had to purchase. To book a site, click here.

Must see and do:

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks, beautiful sandstone cliffs that line up the coast of Lake Superior, remind of a huge impressionistic canvas painted with broad horizontal brushstrokes. To be more scientific, these are streaks of mineral stain but I prefer to see them as a statement of nature’s creative genius.

These striped weather-sculpted rocks stretch from Sand Point in the west to Spray Falls in the east. Several points along the coast provide great views of Pictured Rocks or you can see them from your kayak or a tour boat that departs from the nearby Munising.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Miners Castle

Miners Castle is probably the most famous of the rock formations in the park. It does look like a castle tower with a little turret on the top. Not sure about the “miners” part. Miners Castle can be easily accessed from the parking lot.

Miners Castle at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Miners River and Beach

Miners Beach is about a mile away from the Miners Castle parking lot. It offers a great sandy beach, refreshing swimming (if you are brave enough) and beautiful views of Pictured Rocks. The coarse sand on the beach sings as you walk.

Miners River and Beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Miners Beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Chapel Rock

This landmark requires a bit of a hike (2.5 miles or 4 km one way to be exact) but it is worth it: another beautiful beach, Chapel Falls and, of course, a whimsical sandstone formation known as Chapel Rock. Chapel Rock is more intricate than Miners Castle with arches, terraces and curves. It was once connected to the mainland but the arch has since fallen through. Now all that’s left are the roots of the lone pine tree growing on the Chapel Rock. Stronger than the sandstone, the roots are holding tight. The beach is beautiful but can get a bit busy as people come here by boats. The waterfall at the beach creates a natural slide so kids had a blast playing around it.

Chapel Rock at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

exploring Chapel Rock at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore  Chapel Rock at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Chapel Rock at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Twelvemile Beach

Twelvemile Beach is just that – a long stretch of sand and water whichever direction you look. Perfect for lazy summer afternoons, leisurely walks and watching sunsets.

swimming at Twelvemile Beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore   Twelvemile Beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

evening at Twelvemile Beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore   sunset at Twelvemile Beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Log Slide

Log Slide is a 300-foot sand dune that was once used for, you got it, sliding logs down to the lake. It is now a popular attraction for visitors as they joyfully slide down like logs of yesteryear and then work their way up. You can also get a great view of Grand Sable Dunes to the west.

Log slide at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore   Log Slide at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Grand Sable Dunes at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Other nearby attractions to explore:

– Stop by numerous waterfalls abundant in the area. They are just as beautiful as their names, like Laughing Whitefish (bottom left picture) or Wagner Falls (bottom right). The waterfalls on the top are Chapel Falls and Munising Falls (from left to right).

Chapel Falls at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore   Munising Falls

Laughing Whitefish Falls in Upper Peninsula Michigan   Wagner Falls in Upper Peninsula Michigan

– Take a trip to Grand Island. We didn’t have time to do it (that’s why there is no picture to go with it) but apparently the island is beautiful.

– Stop by Muldoons in Munising to taste Upper Peninsula’s #1 pasties (we took the photo below during another road trip two years ago, the report on that trip is coming).

eating pasties at Muldoons Pasties in Munising

Check back soon for Part II of the trip: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, plus a drive from Duluth, WI, to Thunder Bay, ON.

3 thoughts on “Lake Superior Circle Tour: Part I – Agawa Canyon and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

    • Thanks, Jane. We do like to travel and see new places. We are lucky to live in Canada where there are so many great parks close by both in this country and also South of the border. But you have lots of adventures too and Australia looks like an amazing country to explore.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Lake Superior Circle Tour: Part II – Porcupine Mountains, Apostle Islands and more | Gone Camping

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