Grand Island - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip
Grand Island is located about a half mile from the mainland near Munising, Michigan. Originally owned by the Cleveland Cliffs Mining Company, the island has now been designated as a National Recreation Area. This large island of 13,500 acres is covered in hardwood forests and has a beautiful shoreline, ranging from sheltered bays with sand beaches to towering sandstone coastal cliffs that rise over 200 feet from the water. Many of the cliffs have been carved by the elements, forming sea arches and sea caves. For nonpaddlers a ferry run by the National Forest Service, which makes four trips a day in summer months, is available from Powell Point. The island has many dirt roads and trails for hikers and mountain bikers.
Trip Highlights: Spectacular sea cliffs, arches, and sea caves; lovely sand beaches; hardwood forests, and many hiking trails.
Trip Rating: Intermediate/Advanced: A 27-mile circumnavigation of Grand Island.
Trip Duration: Overnight or multiday trip.
Navigation Aids: NOAA chart 14963, USGS: Alger County at 1:100,000.
Cautions: Long stretches of sea cliffs, clapotis waves, and cold water.
Trip Planning: There are six designated campsites, two on Murray Bay and four on Trout Bay. Wilderness camping is also allowed along the coast with the exception of the north beach study area and on the few private land holdings. At this time no permits are necessary for camping, but pick up a brochure at the ferry dock to become familiar with island regulations. Lake Superior has very cold water, with temperatures of less than 50° F common even in summer. A wet suit or dry suit is strongly recommended. The north half of the island is primarily sea cliffs, here clapotis waves are likely, and landing may not be possible except on the sandy north beach. Caution: To round the north end of the island, start early in the day and only paddle north of Trout Bay in relatively calm conditions.
Launch Site: Heading west on Highway 28 out of Munising about 3 miles out from the County Road H58/Highway 28 junction, watch for the sign for the Grand Island Recreational Area, then turn right on Grand Island Landing Road. The road dead-ends at the ferry dock. There are porta-john bathrooms available, but no potable water at the ferry landing. There is a good sand beach for launching kayaks just to the left of the ferry dock.
From the ferry dock (N 46° 26.71' W 086° 39.83'), head northwest to the nearest land on Grand Island if you intend to circumnavigate the island. Caution: The northern half of the island is exposed sandstone cliffs with few suitable landing sites. If there is any question about the weather conditions, or if it is too late in the day to circle most of the island, then head for the shelter of either Murray Bay or Trout Bay.
After making the 0.5-mile crossing to Grand Island, you paddle around the southwest corner of the island along a low sand beach shore and turn north.
miles 1.0 to 2.0:
You paddle along a narrow sand beach that transitions to cobblestones and then to low red sandstone cliffs up to 30 feet high at Mile 2.0.
miles 2.0 to 4.5:
The sandstone cliffs continue with 10-foot- to 50-foot-high sandstone cliffs right to the waters edge. At Mile 4.0 there is a small bay and a nice sand beach. There are some private cabins, but there is room to land and use the beach without trespassing. Take advantage of this rest stop, the next acceptable beach for landing in rough weather is more than 5 miles down the coast.
miles 4.5 to 9.5:
Head north along a vertical cliff coast. The colorful wave-carved sandstone cliffs rise 50 to 200 feet from the water. Much of the sandstone has eroded and been shaped by waves. If you are lucky, springs seeping from the rocks high above on the cliffs will provide you with a refreshing shower. Caution: This is a bad place to be with a strong northwest wind. Large violent clapotis waves form along the cliffs if there are significant seas coming from the north or west.
At the northern most point of the island, cliffs tower 150 feet overhead. Although it is difficult to see when close to shore, the Grand Island North Light is perched high on the cliff top overhead. The lighthouse tower, which was constructed in 1868, is still in use today. Just before the lighthouse there is a small bay with a sand beach that would allow a landing in most weather. Heading east of the lighthouse, you pass through a sea arch with a long, narrow crack on the shoreward side (N 46° 33.28' W 086° 38.84'). If the water levels are down and the sea is dead calm, you can squeeze your boat into the crack and follow it back to a domed sea cave about 20 feet in diameter.
Passing through the sea arch east, you come to a beautiful sand beach (N 46° 33.40' W 086° 40.16') almost 1 mile long on the north end of the island. Take advantage of this opportunity to rest because the next good landing beach is about 6 miles to the south on the east side of the island. But note that this north beach area is designated as a natural study area for day use only.
miles 12.0 to 16.0:
Leaving the beach behind you, head east, then south, once again paddling along high cliff faces with small sea caves and reentrants. Less than 1 mile from the north beach, you pass through a sea arch with a window in the arch (N 46° 33.70' W 086° 40.69'). At about Mile 13.0 the cliffs are lower for about a mile, and then as you approach Trout Bay, they once again rise up to 50 feet or more.
miles 17.0 to 18.0:
At the south end of Trout Bay is another lovely sand beach (east side of the beach, N 46° 28.71' W 086° 37.61') about 1 mile in length. There are four designated campsites in Trout Bay. There also appear to be private cabins in the center of the beach so please respect the rights of the landowners. This is a great spot to take a break or to camp and wait out bad weather.
Heading north along the east side of Trout Bay, you come to a large arch and sea cave (N 46° 29.61' W 086° 36.81').
miles 20.0 to 21.0:
Rounding Trout Point and heading south, you are once again paddling along a high cliff coast. At about Mile 21 there is a small sea arch and some small sea caves.
At about Mile 22 you reach the old abandoned East Channel Lighthouse on the south end of Grand Island. This old wooden lighthouse is on private land, so you will have to enjoy it from the water. The lighthouse was put in service in 1868 and operated until 1913, when it was replaced by more modern harbor range lights.
Rounding the south end of the island, the cliffs give way to cobble and sand beach as you turn north into the sheltered harbor of Murray Bay. There are two designated campsites on the north end of Murray Bay.
miles 24.5 to 26.5:
Heading south down the west side of Murray Bay, you make the crossing back to the National Forest Service dock on the mainland.
Where to Eat & Where to Stay
The Dogpatch Restaurant (906-387-9948) is a popular bar and restaurant in Munising. For a complete list of restaurants, call the Alger Chamber of Commerce at (906) 387-2138.
Lodging: For a list of motels in the area, call the Alger Chamber of Commerce at (906) 387-2138.
Camping: There are several options on the mainland near Munising. To the west of the ferry landing, there is the Munising Tourist Park campground with modern campsites. Farther west Bay Furnace campground and Five Mile Point campground offer more primitive campsites. To the east there are four drive-in campgrounds within the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. For information on campsites in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, call (906) 387-4845; for National Forest campsites, call (906) 387-3700. For information on private campgrounds, call the Alger Chamber of Commerce at (906) 387-2138.
Excerpted from Guide to Sea Kayaking on Lakes Superior & Michigan: The Best Day Trips and Tours by William Newmanm et. al. with permission from Falcon Publishing.
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