About Spray Falls
Spray Falls was one of the more unique waterfalls that we’ve seen because it was a rare permanent 70ft waterfall that spilled directly into Lake Superior.
Lake Superior’s shores even exhibited ocean-like behavior such as waves, beaches, “sea” cliffs, and even lake effect weather like “coastal” fog.
Indeed, as you can see in the photo above, seeing Spray Falls felt special, and it seemed symbolic of what waterfalling in the Pictured Rocks National Seashore was all about.
Speaking of the Pictured Rocks, we managed to experience this waterfall both from land as well as from a boat tour.
Both methods yielded very different experiences not just with the waterfall itself, but they also differed in how Pictured Rocks as a whole was experienced as well.
To make a long story short, the Boat Tour represented a typical Pictured Rocks experience that was convenient and had lots of photo ops all packed into a nearly three-hour tour.
On the other hand, experiencing Spray Falls by land required at least an 8-mile round-trip hike, but that yielded a more subtle and tangible experience full of moments of solitude with Nature.
Logistics of Pictured Rocks Cruises
As far as the Pictured Rocks Cruises were concerned, there were two main types – the regular cruise and the Spray Falls cruise.
There was also the Sunset cruise, but that was basically the regular cruise at the end of the day timed for sunset.
We had to make sure that we took the Spray Falls cruise, which was typically 2 hours and 45 minutes (15 minutes longer than the regular cruise which went for 2 hours and 30 minutes).
Given that these cruises were the most convenient way to experience the Pictured Rocks, they easily sold out so we had to book our tickets in advance.
In our experience, we bought them in person the day before our cruise, but apparently it’s possible that they might sell-out to the extent that you’d have to buy them online even further in advance.
As of late September 2015, we paid $75 total as it was $37 per adult and $1 for our daughter since she was less than 6 years old.
During the peak Summer months, cruises would leave every hour from 10am with the last cruise around 7pm or later.
The Spray Falls cruises started at 4pm and the last tour would either be 5pm and/or 6pm.
Since our visit was during the shoulder season of Autumn in late September/early October, cruises left every two hours from 10am with the last tour at 5:15pm.
The Spray Falls cruises left at either 2pm or 4pm when we did it.
Pamphlets containing a table of the full departure schedule were readily available at the boat dock in Munising as well as some accommodations (the Holiday Inn Express that we stayed at had some available).
Of course, for trip planning purposes, the Pictured Rocks Cruises website also has up-to-date schedules and fares.
In addition to prices and tour times, another thing worth considering about the Pictured Rocks Cruises was the uncertainty of weather cancellations.
This happened to us as a result of high winds, which forced us to do the tour the following day (thereby causing turmoil in our itinerary since we weren’t staying nearby for a second night).
Generally winds tend to pick up later in the day so it was a real roll of the dice whether us waiting the following day would pan out.
Finally, if the cruise does move forward, in order to get choice seating, it was pretty much first-come first-serve.
Therefore, we had to show up early in order to improve our odds of getting a decent seat, but there was already a giant line 45 minutes before our cruise departure time.
Pictured Rocks Cruise with Spray Falls (Difficulty: 1)
Once the boat cruise took off from the dock, it took a good 30 minutes or so to zoom along the lake from Munising towards the start of the Pictured Rocks cliffs.
When the PA announcer told us that we were free to move in the aft deck (the back of the boat), I used this time to make my way to the back of the boat on the right side.
After all, that was the side that I could face the Pictured Rocks cliffs on the way there (the left side would face the cliffs on the way back).
It was also the time when most people were scattered about the boat since the sightseeing was light during this time, but I knew it would get crowded once the main sights of the Pictured Rocks started to show up.
Along the way, we saw some exclusive Summer homes on both Grand Island and on the more remote shores of Michigan’s UP.
Once we got to the Pictured Rocks (especially around Miner’s Castle and beyond), that was when the aft deck got really crowded (so it was good I got there early, but now I could hardly move).
In any case, from a photo standpoint, this was where the hit parade occurred as there were small sea caves, impressive natural arches, colorful streaks on the shapely and sloping cliffs, impressive rock formations, and beaches along the way.
The quickness of the DSLR camera to snap photos was useful as the rocking motion of the boat conspired to make photos blurry.
Once we got past Chapel Rock, the boat then went the extra mile to Spray Falls.
Right at the falls, the boat turned around and that was when my position at the rear right corner of the aft deck was no longer advantageous.
Since the left side of the aft deck was full, I pretty much retreated to my seat and tried to take what photos I could from there.
That said, you can imagine how tricky it would be to do this when you’re seated in the middle and not the edge of the boat.
If you were seated inside the heated cabin like Julie and Tahia were, taking photos through the window would be difficult at best, especially with all the people in front to contend with.
Hiking to Spray Falls (Difficulty: 4)
There were a couple of hiking options to go about the land-based self-tour of Spray Falls.
One started from the end of Chapel Road, which was also near both Mosquito Falls and Chapel Falls.
The other was from the Little Beaver Lake Trailhead, which I wound up doing because it was the shortest hike to Spray Falls from there.
It was still 4.1 miles each way (or 8.2 miles round trip) from the Little Beaver Lake Trailhead.
However, in hindsight, I wondered if the price of hiking the extra couple of miles or so would have been worth it to experience the other waterfalls along the way from the Chapel Road Trailhead.
Nevertheless, from the trailhead parking near Little Beaver Lake (see directions below), I followed the White Pine Trail for the first 1.5 miles.
The trail was fairly straightforward to follow with a few bridges and boardwalks over the marshiest spots.
For practically the entire time, the trail was surrounded by trees while passing by some interesting rock formations (some with tiny caves).
At about 0.1-mile from the North County Trail (which skirted Lake Superior), there was another spur trail on the right leading to Beaver Lake.
I didn’t make it all the way to the lake on that detour, but I did explore enough of it to get a nice reflective shot of a calm section of Little Beaver Lake before resuming the Spray Falls hike.
Once I got to the well-signed North County Trail (noting the signs as they were important to remember following the White Pine Trail on the way back), I then hiked the remaining 2.6 miles to Spray Falls.
This section of the hike pretty much skirted along the shores of Lake Superior.
There were some sandy spur trails leading down to the beaches in the more flatter parts of the lakeshore.
However, most of this trail was skirting along cliffs with some limited dropoff exposure.
That said, some sections of the trail afforded me short detours to bluffs that yielded some of the more satisfying views of the lakeshore.
On the inland side of the trail, there were other spur paths leading to the Cover’s Campground and group sites.
Continuing on the mostly-level North County Trail, I did encounter a couple of undulating spots involving some very steep steps and slopes to get around some rocky alcoves and bluffs along the way.
Nevertheless, this part of the hike represented some of the most peaceful moments of our entire Great Lakes trip.
I could easily see why people would want to go on a much longer trek involving overnight backpacking along this trail.
In fact, I didn’t see another person until I was returning to the trailhead from Spray Falls.
And I only saw one other person after that at the White Pine Trail on the return.
Anyways, there was a signpost marking “Spray Falls”, which led me on a short spur to a precarious overhanging bluff with a distant view of Spray Falls as I peered towards the southwest direction.
There was definitely dropoff exposure at the edges of this bluff.
Moreover, given the tendency of the shoreline to erode and fall into the lake (the same forces that caused the Pictured Rocks as well as all the arches and caves), I was keenly aware of how dangerous it would be to linger at the edges.
Nevertheless, I knew that this was the best view I could get of the waterfall from land so this marked my turnaround point.
The North County Trail actually kept going along the lakeshore towards Spray Creek and beyond, but I knew from my pre-trip research that I wouldn’t be able to see Spray Falls without doing some very daring and dangerous scramble.
When I returned to the car, I wound up spending about 3 hours and 10 minutes on this excursion.
However, since I couldn’t keep Julie and Tahia waiting back at Munising, I admittedly had to do a little trail running as I had mistakenly thought that this hike was around 5 miles round-trip.
Therefore, on a more relaxed pace, this out-and-back hike can easily take around 4 to 5 hours.
Spray Falls resides in the Pictured Rocks National Seashore near Munising in Alger County, Michigan. It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
For fares and boat tour times, see the Pictured Rocks Cruises website.
To do the Spray Falls (or any Pictured Rocks) cruise, all you have to do is to show up at the dock near the main part of Munising.
This dock was at the end of Elm Ave less than 0.1 mile towards Lake Superior from the corner of West Munising Ave and Elm Ave in the center of town.
The ticket office and parking lot was on the left at City Park Dr.
To reach the trailhead for the Spray Falls hike starting at the Little Beaver Lake Campground, I first had to drive on the H-58, which began east of Cedar St (M-28) on E Munising Ave.
From there, I drove 19 miles east on the H-58 until reaching the signposted Little Beaver Lake Road.
Turning left onto the unpaved road, I then made another left after 500ft to continue on the Little Beaver Lake Road.
The remainder of the 3-mile road was fairly narrow with a smattering of ruts and potholes.
It would probably be a non-trivial drive for long vehicles like RVs or big trucks given their width in addition to their length, but for our passenger car, it wasn’t too bad.
I just had to take my time given the blind turns and the dips or holes along the way.
Overall, this drive was about 22 miles from Munising, but it took me 40 minutes.
I can’t say anything about the Chappel Road Trailhead, but if we’re fortunate to return to this beautiful part of Michigan, for sure I’d give this hike a try.
Marquette was 146 miles (under 3 hours drive) east of Ironwood, 168 miles (over 3 hours drive) northwest of Mackinaw City, 392 miles (over 6.5 hours drive) northeast of Minneapolis, Minnesota, 382 miles (over 6 hours drive) north of Chicago, Illinois (via Green Bay, Wisconsin), and 455 miles (7 hours drive) northwest of Detroit, Michigan.
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