When you embark on a Pictured Rocks cruise to see the colorful layers of sandstone cliffs that jut above the waters of Lake Superior, you will also see the often overlooked and easily missed Grand Island Michigan.
Located just a half-mile off the coast of Munising Michigan in the Upper Peninsula, this peaceful, secluded destination is a favorite among those who enjoy hiking, biking, and camping.
Grand Island is a wonderful place to connect with the wilderness that defines Northern Michigan, and it has been established as a National Recreation Area as part of the Hiawatha National Forest.
Getting to Know Grand Island Michigan
Surrounded by the icy blue waters of Lake Superior, Grand Island is a rustic and remote destination that showcases the natural beauty of the region.
Many visitors head to the island to spend a few hours hiking or biking on its trails, while others prefer to indulge in the undisturbed beauty of the island by camping for a few days.
Grand Island Unique Features
Michigan is known for its lakes and islands, but Grand Island is not usually the first island that people think of. Despite that, this lesser-known locale is remarkable in many ways:
- Grand Island is home to Grand Island North Light. It towers more than 175 feet in the air and is situated on the top of a cliff, making it the highest lighthouse in the country.
- The island features more than 40 miles of trails, including a 21-mile trail along its perimeter.
- Black bears reside on the island, which makes wildlife spotting particularly remarkable. These gentle giants pose no threat to human visitors and will leave you alone.
How to Get to Grand Island Michigan
Grand Island spans more than 13,500 acres, and it is located just a half-mile from Munising Michigan’s shoreline. The island can only be reached via ferry service or private watercraft, making it a quiet and remote destination.
The Grand Island Ferry Service is operated by the Hiawatha National Forest, and round-trip service is available for interested passengers. The ferry operates daily between late May and early October, and there are no ferry services during the winter months.
Things to Do on Grand Island Michigan
Grand Island is a land of adventure and appeals to those who love to spend their time biking, hiking, camping, and fishing. If you are looking to spend a day in the great outdoors, then these are some of the best things to do on Grand Island.
Paddle By the Sandstone Cliffs
Kayaking along the shores of Pictured Rocks can be risky, so for a safer and more intimate experience, consider paddling by the sandstone cliffs off the coast of Grand Island. Some of the cliffs tower more than 300 feet in the air, offering some of the most breathtaking views from the waters of Lake Superior.
Kayak rentals are available on Grand Island, so you don’t have to worry if you don’t have your own equipment. However, this is an activity best reserved for kayakers with some experience — the winds on Lake Superior can be strong and unpredictable.
Spend the Day Hiking or Biking the Trails
Grand Island boasts more than 40 miles of trails, and the most popular is the 21-mile trail that wraps around the perimeter of the island. It is best for mountain biking and can be completed in about four to six hours, depending on your skill level and the number of stops you make along the way.
Of course, there are easier trails to conquer and many that take you into the heart of the island, allowing you to see the flora and fauna of the terrain, as well as the wildlife that call this special place home.
Enjoy the Bus Tour
For those who want to experience the beauty of Grand Island Michigan but are unable to hike or bike the rugged trails, there is an interpretive bus tour that highlights the best that the island has to offer.
This narrated experience lasts for about three hours and includes nine stops where you can get out to enjoy scenic overlooks, beaches, and historical sites.
Try Your Hand at Fishing
Fishing is a favorite activity among visitors to Grand Island and is ideal for those who are looking for a more relaxed experience. The most popular fishing spots are on Echo Lake and Murray Bay.
If you are lucky enough to make a catch, you may reel in panfish, pike, perch, and walleye. Keep in mind that you will need a fishing license to fish on the island, and you must adhere to special fishing regulations too.
Safety Tips for Visiting Grand Island Michigan
When you take the right precautions, you can enjoy a visit to Grand Island that is both safe and memorable. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind for your trip:
- Drinking water is available at select locations on the island, but it’s recommended that you bring your own refillable water bottle or jug.
- Bugs can be pesky on the island, so visitors are advised to bring and use repellant.
- The sandstone cliffs are not suitable for climbing. Rock climbing and rappelling are not allowed on the island.
- Dress in layers. The weather on the island can be unpredictable, so it’s important to be prepared for a variety of weather conditions.
- Avoid swimming in Lake Superior. Even during the peak summer season, water temperatures can hover around 50 degrees. Swimming in water that cold can be dangerous and harmful to your health, particularly if you are in the water for a prolonged period.
Things to Know Before Visiting Grand Island Michigan
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that Grand Island is a remote location known for its preserved natural beauty.
This is not a modern tourist attraction with restaurants, shopping, and the typical amenities that you would find at a vacation destination. There are only a few rustic toilets at specific locations on the island, so it’s best to prepare accordingly.
In addition, the number of visitors to Grand Island Michigan continues to increase year after year, so it’s essential that everyone abides by the “leave no trace” mentality. Anything that you bring to the island should also return home with you — including garbage from snacks.
Everyone needs to work together to keep Grand Island the incredible natural respite that it is.
More Things to Do Near Grand Island
Given its proximity to Munising and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, it’s not surprising that many visitors want to expand their itinerary to include other nearby attractions. If you are looking for additional things to do near Grand Island Michigan, consider exploring Pictured Rocks by water.
While the ferry ride to Grand Island is enjoyable, it’s nothing compared to the narrated tour with Pictured Rocks Cruises. These seasonal excursions take you along the coast of Munising and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Most cruises last for two to three hours, giving you an opportunity to enjoy the ride, soak up the view, and learn more about the layers of sandstone that make up the Pictured Rocks.
Restaurants Near Grand Island Michigan
There are no restaurants on Grand Island itself, so those who wish to take their meals on the island will want to pack picnic foods and snacks. Keep in mind that you need to bring all rubbish back with you because the island is a preserved recreational area.
Your best bet for dining near Grand Island is at one of the restaurants in Munising. These are some of the locally-owned restaurants that will showcase the true flavor of the region.
Casual fare is the most common dining experience in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where locals often look for a comfortable place to enjoy a hearty meal after a long day.
Muldoon’s Pasties & Gift Shop
To experience a true Upper Peninsula delight, take your evening meal after a day of exploring on Grand Island at Muldoon’s Pasties & Gift Shop. Muldoon’s can easily be found in a yellow house off the side of the highway, and it serves authentic chicken, vegetable, and fruit pasties — all made fresh daily.
The Duck Pond Eatery & Beer Garden
For a sit-down meal, you might consider stopping at The Duck Pond Eatery & Beer Garden, which is a seasonal favorite among visitors and locals alike.
Its extensive menu includes classic, mouthwatering burgers and Michigan specials, such as whitefish tacos. It’s easy to find something to satisfy your hunger in the heart of downtown Munising.
Once you have spent a day in the elements on the rugged trails of Grand Island, you might be in the mood to indulge in the finer things in life. For an upscale dining experience nearby, you should visit Tracey’s at Roam Inn.
Tracey’s is best known for its seasonal menu, which is crafted from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. While it is considered one of the best fine dining restaurants in town, it is still the kind of place where you can feel relaxed and at ease.
The dining room features kitchen tables and home-like decor, ensuring that everyone who steps into the restaurant feels welcome.
Coffee, Ice Cream, & Beer
Either before you get on the ferry or after you have returned to Munising for the evening, you may find yourself in the mood for a treat of some kind. Whether you like coffee, ice cream, or a frothy beer, you will find everything you need in the city.
Gallery Coffee Co. is a locally owned coffee shop that is known not only for its fresh-brewed coffee but also for its innovative, renovated space. For a frozen treat, the best place in town is Miner’s Pastie and Ice Cream — a local treasure that has been enjoyed by generations of people.
Lodging Options Near Grand Island Michigan
Unless you are planning on camping on Grand Island, you will need to stay overnight on the mainland, where you will find various lodging options in Munising.
Travelers often find that, when hotels are owned and operated by locals, they enjoy a more personalized experience. This is certainly true in Munising and the surrounding region, where locals work tirelessly to provide a comfortable and welcoming stay.
One of the best locally-owned hotels near Grand Island is the White Pine Lodge, which is situated in the heart of Christmas Michigan and is operated by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. This boutique hotel has 48 rooms and is known for its comfortable rooms and affordable prices.
When you plan on embarking on endless adventures on Grand Island, you might want to stay in someplace that feels like your own home away from home.
Fortunately, there are many vacation rentals in Munising and the nearby area, many of which offer spectacular views of Lake Superior and Grand Island itself. One such vacation rental is this Lake Superior Villa.
This two-bedroom villa can sleep up to six guests and offers spectacular panoramic views of Lake Superior from its back deck. Also, it’s just steps from local boat tours and everything that Munising has to offer — including the Grand Island ferry service.
Those in search of an authentic and immersive experience will love camping on Grand Island.
The only way to stay overnight on the island is to camp, and you will find that you can either book one of two rustic cabins on-site, reserve an individual campsite for tent camping, or enjoy the experience of random camping.
There are 19 individual campsites situated across the island, most of which accommodate two tents and up to six people.
In addition, campers can scout out their own spots for random camping — as long as they choose a location that is at least 100 feet from a body of water, the edge of a cliff, private property, established campsites, and hiking trails. Keep in mind that bonfires are not permitted when random camping.
A Look Into Grand Island’s Past
Grand Island Michigan has always had rough and rugged terrain that made it difficult for human life, but there is evidence of human civilization on this island dating back several centuries.
People of the Ojibwa Tribe were the primary inhabitants in the island’s early history and remained so until around 1840. They lived along the shoreline, though there is evidence that they would shift their camps and villages throughout the seasons to accommodate unpredictable weather patterns.
When fur traders and settlers arrived on the island in the 17th and 18th centuries, they noted the remains of villages and evidence of indigenous life on the island.
The first permanent European settlement was established in 1846. At the time, the settlers wanted to create a trading post with the Ojibwa people to expand the fur trade throughout the region.
Those first settlers often worked in cooperation with the tribes, and both parties would lend each other information and resources about their respective lifestyles.
It was a partnership that worked well for many years, but when a large portion of Grand Island Michigan was sold to an iron company, the landscape was forever altered.
The Commercial Boom
Commercialization led to an influx of people who disrupted the natural order of the island, and by 1873, the Ojibwa Tribe had vacated the island. To protect and preserve the land that had been disrupted, the island was established as a National Recreation Area in 1990.
Today, just under two dozen people are permanent residents, and this tiny community lives mostly on the southern coast of the island to stay as protected as possible from the notorious Lake Superior storms.
Begin Your Grand Island Michigan Adventure
If you are looking to add a day trip to your Pictured Rocks visit, Grand Island Michigan is the perfect option. Escaping to this island will allow you to leave your worries behind on the mainland as you absorb the fresh air and natural beauty surrounding you.
Begin planning your trip to Grand Island today — it’s an adventure you will not regret!