National Parks Plus Kids: On to Pictured Rocks and the Ice Age Trail

Hiking the Ice Age Trail.

Hiking the Ice Age Trail. Photo courtesy of the Obey family.

Our brief visit to Pictured Rocks was enjoyable, though not the biggest grabber for the kids.

Parents with young kids could try a couple of quick and easy excursions near the town of Munising, including Munising Falls and the Miner’s Castle—our kids enjoyed both. But our favorite experiences were simple walks on the beach, with the kids carving messages out of the sand and wading into the shallows where the Miner River enters Lake Superior in a mess of turbulent confusion. As we walked along the beach, our path was marked by the claw prints of what may have been a Great Blue Heron. Isabelle discovered her hand will have to grow a fair bit more before it can cover a heron print

Pictured Rocks is a pretty park. A boat trip was a great way to see the lakeshore, and the rocks themselves. We took the boat excursion to Spray Falls, which the adults enjoyed, but was a mixed bag for the kids, who would have preferred to move around and get their hands dirty. If we’d had more time, a kayak rental would have made for a very fun maritime adventure. The park that I really want to show the kids on a future excursion is the Apostle Islands, which I now think of as Pictured Rocks on steroids.

The real surprise for us was our next stop: the Chippewa Moraine Unit of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. While not technically a unit of the National Park System, it exemplifies the best attributes of a partnership between the Park Service, a state government, and committed volunteers. They also stamp your national park passport, which the kids have come to enjoy. The visitor center is perched upon a glacial moraine, which is an accumulation of debris such as rock and soil that formed by a glacier. This moraine overlooked kettle lakes (shallow waters formed by retreating glaciers), eskers (winding ridges of sand and gravel), and other remnants of the Ice Age that created today’s northern Wisconsin landscape. The air conditioned visitor center was particularly welcome on a 100-degree day, but it was clear this was a visitor center designed for kids as much as any I’ve ever seen in a national park. It was part nature center, part glacial exhibit, and highly interactive. The microscope near the entrance pulled the kids in almost immediately, as did tanks with live turtles and snakes, which, I understand, are quite popular with local school children. Lucas was thrilled to hold a snake for the first time in his life. Izzy opted for the painted turtle.

The trails were also a delightful surprise. There are short and long options. We opted for short, given the unusual heat of the day, and welcomed the escape from the sun beneath the tree-covered canopy of the Mammoth trail. Anybody headed toward the Apostle Islands or north of Eau Claire for any other reason should make this convenient side-trip with their kids.

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About the Author

Craig Obey is senior vice president of government affairs at NPCA.