Small-town charms and a delightful outdoor playland surrounded by boundless water and wilderness. That’s what kept luring me back to Marquette starting many years ago, after visiting the city to participate in several Upper Peninsula business and tourism conferences.
Lake Superior and a historic harborview downtown can do that to you.
It surely was a trek — a good seven hours plus pit stops in the old Explorer — from southeast Michigan, but those initial memories are still calling me to visit again. Waterfalls everywhere. Kayaking the crystal-clear big lake and seeing lake trout 20 feet below. Biking and cross-country skiing along rugged trails with some pretty nice elevation changes. A college town with friendly folks and plenty of things to do in the sunshine and the snow.
Susan Estler, the executive director of Travel Marquette, the county’s destination marketing organization, likes to describe it this way: “Hidden by glacier-hewn bluffs with breathtaking views and diverse landscapes, Marquette County is located off the beaten path in the U.P. Defined by its untouched surroundings and abundance of outdoor activities, paired with a growing culinary and brewery scene, we’re the U.P’s largest community and one of the best small towns to explore.”
Estler calls her coastal city a world-class destination. “Marquette is incredibly special and unique because of how nature’s assets are truly on display, no matter the time of year. As the landscape changes with the seasons, there are new and exciting adventures for visitors and residents to indulge in,” she says.
“We’re a year-round destination and have gained national acclaim for our diverse terrain for hiking, biking, and exploring,” Estler adds.
Why Visit: “We embrace a lifestyle of adventure in the U.P.,” Estler says. “Marquette offers a wide range of locations for visitors of all capabilities and interests, and it provides the perfect balance of a vibrant downtown and a natural playground.”
Lake Superior has shaped the Marquette maritime identity, providing an ideal place for everything from kayaking to fishing. When it comes to beaches, explore the 83 miles of waterfront along Lake Superior. “A little-known secret,” Estler says, “is you can surf, with caution, anywhere on Lake Superior where there are great waves and strong winds.”
Best Bets: The following stories highlight some favorites from my Up North travels. These suggestions will help explain why visitors so often say how surprised they were to find so much adventure and history all in one fabulous Pure Michigan destination.
Varied terrain combined with Lake Superior access is tough to beat
With hundreds of miles of thrilling hiking and biking trails traversing Marquette County, it’s easy to hop on a scenic path that’s sure to make your heart start pounding.
Carol Fulsher, administrator of the Iron Ore Heritage Recreation Authority in Marquette, says she’s lived “in Northern California and Colorado, and I find Marquette County a perfect combination of both. There’s the big water and the hills, with enough challenges for all abilities. The biggest takeaway from visitors is the sheer amount of trail options we have” — and that’s true whether you’re a biker, hiker, runner, walker, in-line skater, horseback rider, ORVer, cross-country skier, snowmobiler, or in a wheelchair.
You get the idea; there are more than enough choices for every level of adventurer who enjoys the outdoors on foot or by being propelled.
Lori Hauswirth, executive director of the Upper Peninsula’s Noquemanon Trail Network (NTN), says: “Having traveled extensively for mountain biking, I can say Marquette is a world-class trails destination. Very few destinations offer the variety of trails mixed with scenery and convenience to wonderful lodging, restaurants, breweries, and more.”
Expert Advice: Pack your gear for whatever your preferred modes of movement, and head to town any time of year. Fulsher and Hauswirth boast that the biking trails, especially, are among the state’s best.
“We’re a county that has 1,873 square miles and is larger than Rhode Island. Trails range from less than one-mile loops in town to the North Country Trail (with potential moose sightings) that traverses through Marquette County for some 120 miles,” Fulsher says. “There are always new things happening with trails and hiking/biking trends around here. We’re a population of outdoor enthusiasts and have everything for bikers, from rail/trail big trails to singletrack mountain bike trails to beach-cruising flat trails to fat-tire snow biking and gravel-grinding routes.”
One favorite is the 47-mile, multiuse Iron Ore Heritage Trail, with both pavement and crushed granite, that rolls along mostly abandoned railroad corridors once used to bring lumber to furnaces and forges, and iron ore to Marquette Harbor. Interpretive elements along the route showcase the region’s iron-mining history.
What’s New: “We’ve added a historical feature at the Carp River Kiln, which was an actual kiln used for ironmaking (in the 1800s),” Fulsher says. “We resurrected a collapsed kiln and added benches, interpretive signage, a rain garden, and bike racks to make a new historical stopping point. This year we’re adding accessible fishing piers along the trail at the Carp River in Negaunee, as well as a bird-watching platform, a weather shelter, and steps down to a pond for additional access to fishing spots.”
With so much public land overlooking Lake Superior, Fulsher recommends visitors experience the bike path that hugs the lake, from Presque Isle Park south to Harvey. “It’s flat, paved, and just plain beautiful, with lakeshore all along,” she says. “You can literally stop almost anyplace and have access to the water. I think the beauty, the sense of accomplishment of making it up some hills, the peace and quiet, the scope of the big lake, the viewing from Sugarloaf and Marquette mountains, and Presque Isle are stunning.”
She likes the county’s varied terrain. It’s rocky in the north and west, and sandy in the south, with hills everywhere. That’s also inviting for the several notable bike races that happen around town every season.
Fulsher’s Pick: “The Iron Ore Heritage Trail, of course. I love going downhill from Ishpeming to Negaunee to Marquette, about 16 miles one way with an 800-foot elevation change. There are old mining properties and gleaming hematite rock walls, mine shafts, and historic downtowns with brewpubs. Then you get into more natural areas crossing the Carp River and marshlands for great bird-watching and wildlife-viewing, and move into a section that parallels a railroad route over a pond with a big greenstone bluff. Then you head into the more urban Marquette and along the Lake Superior shoreline into Harvey, with its bayous. It’s a great ride with great stops.”
More Choices: Hauswirth suggests taking time to explore the eight trail systems from Munising to Big Bay maintained by the 20-year-old Noquemanon Trail Network.
“Between NTN, RAMBA, and the Harlow Lake Trail systems alone, there are well over 150 miles of adventuring to be enjoyed. The newest trails in the NTN system include five miles of new, purpose-built single track at the Powell Township Recreation Area near Big Bay, and for mountain bikers looking for more challenging rides, there’s the 225 Resurrection Trail off the Benson Grade at South Trails in Marquette,” she says.
She’s also excited that the new owner of the Marquette Mountain ski area may be offering lift-serviced mountain biking this year.
Route Tips: “For newbies, check out the North Trails, where trails meander along the scenic Dead River. Favorites include starting on the EZPZ Trail from the 550 Trailhead adjacent to Tourist Park and traveling upriver, connecting trails as far as your legs will take you.
“For advanced riders, head to South Trails, where you can do laps up the Benson Grade and descend a variety of fun, flowy, and gnarly trails. Favorites include Eh-line, Down Dogger, and Flow,” Hauswirth suggests.
Hikers might want to try the Carp Eh Diem Trail to the Unnamed Morgan Falls at South, or head to Harlow Lake to meander to the top of any number of granite summits via the North Country Trails. Hogback or Top of the World are popular hike destinations.
A number of local shops rent bikes, Hauswirth says, although availability may be affected by a global bike shortage and COVID restrictions. The best advice is to call ahead.
There’s one thing that won’t be scarce around Marquette, however, despite any pandemic: Countless hours of outdoor excitement along the county’s scenic hiking and biking trails are guaranteed!
Iron Ore Heritage Recreation Authority
Noquemanon Trail Network
Stairways to Heaven
Escape into the woods and discover Marquette’s 77 waterfalls
Visiting Marquette and not exploring some of the many area waterfalls is like touring the Grand Canyon and not experiencing the views from the top of the rim, says photographer Eric Angerer, of ezmoments.com.
“Marquette County has the most waterfalls in the state, with 12 amazing ones nearby (there are 77 of varying size),” he says. “Visitors can look forward to relaxing trails that eventually wind up at waterfalls. Every season is a ‘best time’ to visit because of the constantly changing landscapes, but if I had to pick one season, I’d encourage visiting in the fall, which brings out the colors. In winter, there are splendid ice formations before the waterfalls completely freeze. Summer brings a great respite from the heat.”
Angerer believes waterfall adventures are a “must do” in Marquette. “What makes them so special is their accessibility. Most outdoor adventures and waterfalls are within a 15- to 20-minute drive, door-to-door, from your lodging. There’s almost never the ‘Oh, it’s too far’ or ‘It’ll take too long to get there’ conversation. It’s more like, What brewery (five in the county) can we hit on the way back?”
His Favorite: Dead River Falls. “It’s the only waterfall with multiple cliff-jumping spots,” Angerer says. It also involves a hike along the Dead River, which features more than five sets of waterfalls.
Best Choice for Bikers: “Morgan Falls is by far the best choice for visitors to take a bike ride to. Bikers can either ride the utility road directly to the waterfall, or take a scenic and more challenging trail that runs adjacent to the utility road. Both are scenic and fulfilling,” he says.
The Toughest to Visit: “I’d say Little Garlic Falls. If you hike the whole thing, it’s about eight miles round-trip. If you don’t want the long trek, you can drive to a small parking area off of a utility road that makes the hike more like a two-mile round trip. Dead River Falls isn’t a hard one; it just has a section where hikers need to scale up steep exposed root faces.”
Angerer’s tips for photographing Marquette’s beautiful waterfalls:
- Don’t be afraid to get wet.
- Wear shoes that you don’t mind ruining or getting wet, so you can position yourself and capture a new perspective.
- Bring a tripod (to steady your camera) so you can get long exposures.
More details on the waterfalls and a map are available under the the Outdoor Adventure section at travelmarquette.com.
Anglers net the jackpot in a fishing wonderland
Ask Mike Koziara and John Bergsma what the fishing’s like around Marquette and watch their faces light up.
Koziara runs Marquette Adventures Guide Service, which offers customized, four-season guided fishing trips and nature outings. Bergsma hosts the nationally broadcast “Great Lakes Fisherman’s Digest Television Show.” Both rave about the exceptional freshwater in the region.
“With eight rivers in the county and a host of streams that flow into Lake Superior, along with more than 30 easily accessible public lakes, Marquette County provides a treasure trove of fishing opportunities for the novice or experienced angler,” says Koziara, whose guide service offers trips year-round, including amazing ice fishing outings on Lake Superior.
“The best inland fishing can be found off the beaten path. The county has more than 150 miles of single track and 32 known hiking trails, so there are plenty of options for exploring the terrain,” he adds.
“We have some of the most diverse terrain in Michigan. It’s also the state’s largest county, at 1,873 square miles. There are 24 miles of Lake Superior coastline just in the city area. The cold Lake Superior water is home to a wonderful variety of salmon, trout, and whitefish species. The inland lakes offer nearly every freshwater sport fishery available.”
Bergsma suggests sampling the many types of opportunities that can offer hours of excitement on the water for everyone from solo anglers to group charters to family outings — even bachelor parties or work retreats.
“A river-fishing charter, for example, can save you valuable time and take you right to the ideal location to experience the best fishing Marquette offers,” he says.
Why It’s Special: “You only have to travel a few miles to experience the solitude and unpopulated areas of the terrain. Easy access to remote fishing and a quiet day are only a few minutes away,” Bergsma reports. “Staying at one of the many campgrounds or renting a cabin in neighboring Gwinn are enjoyable ways to get away from the largest city in the Upper Peninsula while still having the amenities nearby.”
Hot Spots: Koziara says Harlow Lake, Teal Lake, Deer Lake, and the Chocolay River have the best inland access. The Chocolay DNR dock and the Harlow dock are great places to catch fish. With two harbors in Marquette, visitors who want to fish have access to different launch points on the largest freshwater lake in the world.
Their Advice: “Book a fishing or waterfall/hiking tour with Marquette Adventures Guide Service. Spend time in downtown Marquette perusing the shops filled with local memorabilia and eateries, then book a charter fishing tour with Hooked Up Charters to get offshore on Lake Superior — a truly action-packed way to discover one of the best lake trout fisheries in the world,” Koziara says.
Marquette Adventures Guide Service
Fisherman’s Digest TV
A Paddler’s Paradise
On-the-water excitement awaits in this U.P. playground
Outdoor adventures in Marquette revolve around Lake Superior and all the nearby inland lakes. For Bill Thompson, co-owner of Down Wind Sports in Marquette, exploring the wonders of “the Big Lake” is one of the main reasons people visit the Upper Peninsula.
“There’s no better way to make the connection between the U.P., Marquette, and Lake Superior than by being on this beautiful inland sea,” he says. “With the pandemic getting more and more people out and enjoying the outdoors, we’re expanding our offerings in our paddle sports department — including stand-up paddling, sea kayaking, recreational, and kayak fishing watercraft — to meet their needs.”
Everywhere around Marquette, there’s usually water within your view. “It’s the ease of access that makes watersports so special here,” Thompson says. “Almost all of the water in Marquette has public access, so within five minutes from where you’re sleeping, you can be on the water experiencing one of our spectacular sunrises or sunsets. For me, I think the best paddling in the area is around the Presque Isle Park” on the north side of Marquette Harbor.
Watersports opportunities for all experience levels are available around town, but, Thompson cautions, “Lake Superior, with its cold water and quick-rising storms, can be very dangerous. Prior experience and watching the weather/marine forecast is very important,” especially if you venture beyond the harbor.
For inland kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboard options, he recommends the Dead River and Harlow Lake. “They’re beautiful inland alternatives when Lake Superior isn’t an option.”
Other Picks: “Jumping off Blackrocks is very popular now,” Thompson says. Those looking for a thrill can jump about 15 feet into the crystal-clear, frigid Lake Superior from the top of the sheer cliff rocks in Presque Isle Park. If you visit in the summer, you might have to wait in line to make the plunge because it’s somewhat of a tradition for adventure-seekers, especially students from in-town Northern Michigan University.
The Retail Beat: “Marquette has lots of unique small businesses that people can explore when they aren’t adventuring out on the lake,” Thompson says. That includes stopping in to see the new offerings at his stores in Marquette, Munising, and Houghton, which are tailored to outdoor enthusiasts.
Down Wind Sports
Iron City History
Museums illuminate the lore behind Marquette’s superior evolution
Marquette began to play an important role in America’s budding logging, mining, and shipping history after the discovery of iron ore nearby in 1844. The city flourished and today it shines as the largest community in the Upper Peninsula.
Visitors can discover the tales behind the city’s celebrated history at the Marquette Maritime Museum and Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, which opens for the season in mid-May, and the Marquette Regional History Center, which will introduce new exhibits in mid-April.
“Marquette was founded as a shipping port, and the fascinating history of the area can be found inside our facility,” says Hilary Billman, director of the maritime museum. “Lighthouse tours take you through the park, where you’ll see the old Life-Saving Service/Coast Guard properties, and out onto the lighthouse’s catwalk, where you’ll find spectacular views of Lake Superior and the harbors. The vantage point you have from the catwalk, only available through lighthouse tours, gives you the best view of the lake in Marquette.”
The museum features “one of the best collections of Fresnel lenses on the Great Lakes, as well as a display of rare Lyle guns and exhibits on local shipwrecks and the Edmund Fitzgerald,” she adds. New exhibits include a beach cart replica and a boat display space in the Stannard Rock boathouse.
Planning Tips: Billman suggests reserving a space on a lighthouse tour in advance, because they tend to sell out during peak tourist season. Allow extra time to walk out onto the lower harbor breakwater for scenic photo opportunities of Marquette and the lighthouse. The museum conducts scavenger hunts and at least three free children’s art/history workshops every summer.
Regional History Center Executive Director Cris Osier says his museum “is set to entertain visitors in as little as an hour, or they could linger for the afternoon or morning enjoying exhibits that are on par with a big-city museum.”
A special exhibit opening April 26, The Story Behind Their Clothes, will feature many types of clothing and describe the people who wore them. Examples include handmade deerskin gloves and a young girl’s silk outfit made from her father’s World War II flight jacket lining.
Due to the pandemic, the museum’s popular historical bus tours have been replaced for now with walking tours around downtown and the lakefront. “Stories about the community and the sites visited will be shared, and there may be an historical character or two, as well,” Osier says.
Gallery Highlights: Nine hands-on stations explore what’s at the bottom of Lake Superior, the inside of a beaver hut, an authentic wigwam, and a fur trading post.
“Don’t miss the First Footprints section,” Osier advises. “This region wasn’t considered to be archaeologically important until fairly recently. The Gorto Site Dig on Deer Lake in 1987 showed the first conclusive evidence of people living in Michigan’s U.P. at the end of the Ice Age. In five days of working, 89 whole pieces or fragments of late Paleo and early Archaic projectile points were found at this site. These items were determined to be 10,800 to 9,800 years old.”
That’s just a sampling of why both museums are well worth a visit.
Marquette Maritime Museum
Marquette Regional History Center
Extras to round out your visit
Susan Estler, of Travel Marquette, says there’s no wrong way to spend your time in Marquette. Here are a few of her “extras” to help you plot your adventures.
By the Cup: Marquette County has more locally owned coffee shops per capita than Seattle, according to Estler. Check out the Velodrome Coffee Co., Contrast Coffee Co., and Dead River Coffee. “There’s also a beer culture of its own, and it stays true to its small-town feel and big-city taste mantra,” she says. Highlights include Drifa Brewing Co., the first cooperatively owned craft brewery in Michigan; Ore Dock Brewing Co.; Blackrocks Brewery; and Barrel & Beam.
Postcard-Perfect: The Lower Harbor Ore Dock (below) in downtown, stretching 1,000 feet into Lake Superior and soaring 85 feet high, is one of the most iconic images of America’s iron industry. It’s not used today, but its 150 pockets once loaded ore from nearby mines onto freighters. Locals call another, larger 1911 dock that’s active in the Upper Harbor the Presque Island Dock. It handles approximately 10 million tons of ore annually.
Side Trip: The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame in nearby Ishpeming honors more than 350 international athletes and visionaries who shaped the sports of skiing and snowboarding.
Fun for All: The Thomas Rock Scenic Outlook north of town offers panoramic views of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Lake Superior, Lake Independence, Big Bay, and more. Photographers also love the scenic lookouts at Marquette Mountain and Sugarloaf Mountain, closer to town.
History Buffs: The 14-room Thunder Bay Inn, once owned by Henry Ford, is located about 30 minutes north in Big Bay. The inn was purchased by GM employee-turned-innkeeper Mark Bevins, who plans to update it and expand its offerings to include guided tours, sailboat charters, and more. Movie fans might remember that the 1959 film “Anatomy of a Murder,” based on the John Voelker best-seller about a local crime and starring James Stewart, was filmed there.
For more information about things to do and see, visit travelmarquette.com.