What to Know Before Visiting the Grand Island National Recreation Area

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Why you should visit the Grand Island National Recreation Area

What to Know Before Visiting the Grand Island National Recreation Area article cover image

Grand Island National Recreation Area near Pictured Rocks is still largely untouched by humans and a beautiful place to visit if you want to reconnect with nature. Go hiking along the shore of Lake Superior and enjoy the raw beauty of this area of Upper Michigan. The island was awarded the status of National Recreation Area in 1990 and is protected by the state. Wild camping is allowed on Grand Island which makes it the perfect place to visit if you enjoy outdoor activities. You’ll fall in love with the incredible beaches, sandstone cliffs, and wildlife this island has to offer.

What to know before visiting the Grand Island National Recreation Area

Where is Grand Island?

Grand Island lies just half a mile from the mainland of Upper Michigan on Lake Superior close to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s located off the shore of Munising which lies in the center of the peninsula.

How to get to Grand Island

The easiest way to get to Grand Island is by ferry. Services run multiple times per day from late May until the end of October. A ticket costs 20$ which includes a forest fee for the island. For an additional 8$, you can take your bike with you to Grand Island.

You can also access Grand Island via kayak or boat. Always make sure to check weather conditions before you go and only attempt this if you are experienced at boating or kayaking. A majority of the island’s coastline is rocky and there is no official dock available for boats. All boats must be beached or anchored offshore. Always tell someone your itinerary before you attempt such a journey and keep in mind that not all campsites on the island are accessible by water. Jet skis are not permitted on Grand Island.

During winter you can only access Grand Island via the ice. You can cross with either ski, snowshoes, or a snowmobile. This is always done at your own risk. Authorities cannot guarantee the safety of the ice so have common sense and make sure you are aware of the dangers at hand.

What to do on Grand Island

Grand Island only has about 10,000 visitors per year which makes it a great nature getaway and far less crowded than the nearby Pictured Rocks. There are not many man-made things on this island so most of the activities are focused on the great outdoors.

You can hike or ride your bike around the island. All roads are unpaved and there are no vehicles allowed. See the incredible scenery of Upper Michigan up close and admire the beautiful beaches, sandstone cliffs, and dense forests. If you don’t mind the cold waters of Lake Superior you can even go for a swim or rent a paddle board or kayak. Keep in mind that you need to stay close to the shore with your kayak and not leave the area between Williams Landing and the East Channel Lighthouse to ensure your safety.

If you’re camping on Grand Island you might be lucky enough to spot a black bear. Although these sightings are rare keep in mind to lock up any food you are bringing with you. During the summer a guided bus tour is available to show you around the island. Seats are very limited so book in advance.

In the winter you can enjoy skiing and snowshoeing on the island. You can even bring your snowmobile across if the ice is stable enough. Keep an eye out for the beautiful ice caves that form on Grand Island during the cold months. They’re a magnificent sight.

Can you stay on Grand Island?

If a day-trip is not enough for you you can choose to stay at one of the many campsites on Grand Island. There are 21 different campsite options available which gives you a great selection to choose from. The majority of campsites recommend booking in advance with the exception of Cobble Cove, Flat Rock, and Muskrat Point which are first-come-first-serve. You can reserve a campsite on Grand Island here.

You can find campsites all around Grand Island although the majority of them are concentrated in the southern parts of the island. Some of the most popular include Murray Bay, Trout Bay, and Juniper Flats. Most of the campsites have either a vault or pit toilet and some have access to water.

Wild camping is allowed on Grand Island as long as campers leave no trace and keep to a maximum of 6 people and 2 tents at one spot. You cannot camp closer than 100 feet to any roads, trails, cliffs, creeks, or other campsites.

If camping is not for you you can still stay at one of the cabins on Grand Island. To stay here you need to bring all your own gear like cooking supplies, sleeping bags, and water containers. The cabins have 4 bunk beds each and can accommodate up to 8 people. In winter they can be directly accessed by snowmobile.

How long does it take to see Grand Island?

Grand Island is large and there is plenty to see and do. If you truly want to experience the serenity and beauty of this unique place then we highly recommend staying for a few days. The hike from one end of the island to the other is just under 10 miles long. You’ll still have a great time even if you’re visiting Grand Island for only a day. Keep in mind what time the last ferry returns to the mainland and make sure you are back in time. 

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