Chapel Rock in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Chapel Rock is unquestionably one of the coolest natural formations in the state of Michigan. This rock formation in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore hosts a white pine that is completely sustained by taproots that stretch from the mainland. Atlas Obscura is an excellent site if you’re looking for mysteries & wonders like this. Their Chapel Rock entry says that while all of the Lakeshore is worth taking in, hikers should keep their eyes peeled for one feature in particular: Chapel Rock, once known as La Chappelle.
Composed of Cambrian age sandstone dating back approximately 500 million years, Chapel Rock is the result of the erosion caused by a proglacial lake somewhat confusingly referred to as “Nipissing Great Lakes.” This giant body of water consisted of separate basins joined by straits, and once occupied present-day Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Georgian Bay. Around 3,800 years ago, the high waters of Nipissing Great Lakes carved through the soft sandstone, resulting in today’s dramatic formation, which juts out into Lake Superior.
Although Chapel Rock’s stone is mostly beige, its base is a warm orange, thanks to mineral concentrations. The sandstone cliffs that comprise Pictured Rocks are full of iron, copper, manganese, and limonite, which impart red, orange, blue, green, brown, black, and white hues. Not long ago, a natural rock bridge spanned the area between Chapel Rock and the mainland. It collapsed in the 1940s, leaving the formation unconnected with the rest of the shore. Thankfully, the rest of the structure has remained intact and is protected from climbers by order of the Lakeshore Superintendent.
The rock isn’t the only thing that has proven to be remarkably durable. Charles Penny, a member of the Douglass Houghton expedition responsible for exploring Lake Superior’s southern shore, admiringly described a single pine tree that grew like a “spire” out of the sparse dirt covering the top of the outcropping. Till this day, the same resilient pine stands sentinel over Chapel Rock, connected to the mainland by its extensive root system.
This lone tree and sandstone outcropping on which it stands are so popular with locals, the site was commemorated on the Michigan-themed U.S. quarter in 2018 representing the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Read on for more at Atlas Obscura. The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s scenic sites page says that Chapel Rock and Chapel Beach are located about 15 miles east of Munising off Alger County Road H-58, then about 5 miles north to the end of Chapel Road (drive), then 2.5 miles (hike) to Lake Superior. Trails to the beach overlook Chapel Lake with views of the beautiful Chapel Falls on the west side.
If you want to dig deeper, the Geology field notes from the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has detailed information about the different layers of sandstone in the park that form these incredible structures.
NOTE: Cannabis remains Federally illegal despite the fact it is legal in Michigan. You can be arrested for consuming & possessing marijuana by federal law enforcement entities including National Park Rangers.