Travel Guide to Grand Island Recreation Area
Welcome to Grand Island!
Located .5 miles offshore of Munising, Grand Island is a 13,500 acre addition to the Hiawatha National Forest. Designated a National Recreation Area in 1990, Grand Island showcases a rich natural and cultural history. The Island is approximately eight miles long and three miles in width at its widest point which makes it the largest island on the south shore of Lake Superior.
Grand Island's History
Historical sites and structures found on the Island today tell the story of 5 distinct eras beginning with the Prehistoric and Historic Native American Era (3000 BC-1800AD). Native Americans who were members of the Ojibwa (Chippewa) Nation had settlements and agricultural fields on the Island and fished, hunted, trapped fur-bearers, and made maple sugar on the Island or on the nearby mainland. During the Fur Trading Era (1822 - 1845) Europeans visited the island and small trading posts were established in the area. In 1840, Abraham Williams and his family were the first permanent European settlers to live on Grand Island, marking the beginning of the Williams Era (1840 – 1900). Williams built several houses, traded with the Native Americans, farmed, and cut wood for passing steam ships. Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company (CCI) owned Grand Island during the Resort Era (1900 – 1953). Company president William Mather oversaw the island’s development into a vacation resort and game preserve in the years that followed. Today, you can enjoy viewing the historic landscape built largely during this era. In 1953, CCI began selectively harvesting the forest on Grand Island. During the Logging Era, a network of roads was built on the island that you can bike or hike on today.
The rich diversity of flora and fauna make the island a perfect destination for wildlife and plant enthusiasts. Many animals call Grand Island home including: fox, white-tailed deer, pine martens, snowshoe hare, little brown bats, and a wide variety of birds. Of course, the most talked about and sought after animal is the black bear. Although elusive, the black bear can often be seen in the late summer and fall snacking on berries and acorns. A northern- conifer hardwood forest provides habitat for an abundance of wildflowers, including orchids, and other plant species.
Grand Island is the perfect place to spend a day, weekend, or even just a few hours biking and exploring. The island’s breathtaking overlooks, pristine sandy beaches, fascinating cultural sites, deep hard woods, and inland lakes make it an exciting and secluded destination. As you plan your stay consider the following:
Historic Sites & Scenic Overlooks
- There are a number of special sites and overlooks not to be missed on your visit to Grand Island. You can either hike/bike to these sites or take a guided bus tour. Interpretive Signs at these locations will provide you with a glimpse into the past.
- Trout Bay Boat: At Williams Landing, under the shelter is the boat Trout Bay that was used during the resort era to transport people and supplies from Powell Point to the Island.
- Historic District: As you leave Williams landing and travel the road to Murray Bay , you will pass many houses that were once a part of the historic hotel resort built by William Mather. Although the hotel is no longer standing, tennis courts from the hotel can be seen from the road, along with “brownies” that once housed servants working in the hotel.
- Stone Quarry Cabin: This cabin had many uses throughout the history of Grand Island from the early 1800’s as a homestead through the Cleveland Cliffs Resort area when it was refurbished and used as a cottage for summer residents.
- Historic Cemetery: Just a couple hundred yards west of the Murray Bay Day Use site, nestled in a cathedral of white pines, is the Grand Island Township Cemetery. Bus tour participants and others visit the cemetery where Grand Island’s earliest European settler, Abraham Williams, and his family and descendents are buried to this day.
- Duck Lake Overlook: About 2.5 miles north of Williams Landing, Duck Lake is 20 acres and was originally a lagoon on Lake Superior. From the overlook you can often see waterfowl and other birds.
- Echo Lake: One mile long and almost a half-mile wide, Echo Lake is the largest beaver-made lake in the world. The entire south end of the lake was once a beaver dam!
- Trout Bay Overlook: This overlook is about 100 feet above Lake Superior and affords stunning views of Trout Bay and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the distance.
- Farm Field: Once used by native Americans and early settlers to the Island, this area is now a native plant restoration project. Rest on a bench and view the spectacular wildflowers.
- WaterFall Beach and Mather Beach Overlooks: On the west end of the island, several overlooks provide views of two beautiful rock and sand beaches. Stairs provide access to these beaches where you can look for rocks or view a small waterfall on the beach.
Bike or Hike Grand Island
- The island provides a combination of rugged dirt/sand trails and easier gravel roads that will accommodate any level of biker or hiker. For example, a family planning a day of biking can arrive on the early boat, take a leisurely pace and travel partway up the west rim trail, cut across the island on an old logging road to Trout Bay Overlook, travel down to Trout Bay day use area for a picnic meal and beach walk, and finish the day biking down along Murray Bay to Williams Landing in time to return to the mainland. More advanced, energetic cyclists can mountain bike the 20-mile main island perimeter route in four to six hours, with time for brief stops and some exploration. Bicycling off roads and trails is not allowed because it damages fragile vegetation.
- If you don’t have a bike with you, no problem! The Grand Island Ferry Service rents mountain bikes right at William’s Landing. For more information about bike rentals or ferry schedules, please call 906- 387-3503. If you are traveling to and from the island on the passenger ferry, keep the ferry schedule in mind as you plan your time on the island. Consider your level of fitness and your pace as you make route choices.
Other Day Use Opportunities
- Bus tours are available on the southern part of the island and last 2-2 ½ hours. The tour takes you to all of the main historic landmarks on the island and popular day use sites. Buses are wheelchair accessible and so are some of the trails and waysides. Contact the Ferry Office at 906- 387-3503 for more information about the tour.
- Spend the day beachcombing, picnicking or swimming on one of Grand Island’s fabulous beaches such as Murray Bay and Trout Bay on the southeast end, Waterfall and Merchandise beach on the west end, and North Beach on the north end. Accessible by private boat, biking or hiking, these beautiful sand and rock beaches will captivate you.
- Kayakers can experience the island from a unique perspective. Discover private coves and spectacular rock formations from the water. Contact the Visitor Center for outfitter information.
- For Anglers, Echo Lake offers bass, pike and pan fish. Murray Bay has perch, pike, walleye and rock bass. In Trout bay, lake trout and coho salmon may be caught by trolling.
- At this time there are seventeen designated campsites on Grand Island; two at Murray Bay, four at Trout Bay and 11 scattered around the Island’s rim trail. Large groups of 7 to 25 people may camp only at the designated group sites at Murray Bay and Juniper Flats. Random camping is also allowed with certain restrictions.
- There are few amenities on Grand Island. You must plan to bring all of your food and supplies with you. Drinking water and pit toilets are available at the landing and day use areas. In the spring, the biting flies and mosquitoes can be plentiful and voracious. We recommend not only bug spray but head nets and loose clothing that covers your arms and legs. Vehicles are not allowed on Grand Island except in special circumstances. Dogs are allowed on Grand Island on a leash.
- One of the best places to see a bear is on Grand Island. If you are both lucky and observant, you may be able to see a black bear during your visit. Please remember that these are wild animals and are not to be harassed or fed. Bear boxes and poles are located throughout the island to store food while you are on the island. Use leave no trace techniques and remove all trash and food items from the island.
- Grand Island is also a popular destination in the winter time as well. Once Munising Bay freezes, adventure seekers travel there for snowmobiling, ice climbing, ice fishing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Please be sure to check with locals & the Visitor Center on the conditions of the ice before venturing out. Strong currents and winds can change the conditions very quickly. The ice is considered never safe so travel with caution!
- If you are interested in planning a day use or overnight trip to Grand Island, we recommend that you contact the Visitor Center at 906-387-3700 or 400 E Munising Ave, Munising, MI 49862, for more information. We offer updated day use and camping brochures that can assist in planning a trip to suit you. Topographic maps are also available for a fee. You can also visit www.grandislandmi.com to plan your trip.