Natural Features & Ecosystems

Waves crashing against cliff shoreline
Wave energy continually impacts the Pictured Rocks cliffs.

Craig Blacklock © photo

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is located along the south shore of Lake Superior, between the communities of Munising and Grand Marais, in the north woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Major natural features include 15 miles of sandstone cliffs along Lake Superior, five square miles of perched sand dunes, and more than 12 miles of unspoiled beach. Waterfalls are also prominent in the park and throughout the county. The national lakeshore contains a wide range of forested ecosystems, including upland northern hardwood forests dominated by maple, beech, and yellow birch, and wetter lowlands of spruce and tamarack. Pine and aspen grow on drier sandy outwash plains. Hemlock groves are found in moist, sheltered pockets alongside streams and lakes.

The park is also rich in aquatic ecosystems, including inland lakes, bogs, marshes, vernal pools, and cedar swamplands. The climatic influence of Lake Superior creates microhabitats for rare plants as well as cool, moist conditions that impact every ecosystem within the national lakeshore. Numerous creeks and streams flow through Pictured Rocks and most of them originate outside park boundaries. Management of surrounding lands can therefore affect the quality of the national lakeshore's water and forest communities.

Past human activity has also influenced the park's ecosystems. Logging and land clearing are two of the most significant disturbances that have altered native vegetation and hydrology patterns. Much of the original forest within park boundaries was clear-cut or selectively cut, which has greatly impacted the structure and composition of today's forests. The average age of the park's tall trees is between 100 - 130 years old and nearly all the old-growth is gone. Some old specimens can still be found scattered throughout the park and in the Beaver Basin Wilderness Zone.

Lake Superior is the dominant natural force affecting the park. This powerful inland "sea" creates its own weather and climate and waves continually sculpt the cliffs and reshape beaches. But the effect of Lake Superior is also felt far from shore. Storms, snow, fog, humidity, temperatures, and wind generated from the lake impact every park ecosystem.

Learn more about the major natural features and ecosystems of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by selecting the links below:

Geologic Formations
Glacial Features
Lakes and Ponds
Lake Superior
Rivers and Streams
Sand Dunes
Wetlands, Marshes and Swamps

Last updated: September 3, 2020

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P.O. Box 40
Munising , MI 49862


906 387-3700

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