An oasis for outdoor lovers of every ilk, Marquette, Michigan is arguably the Midwest’s best-kept secret. This historic, picturesque town is not only a surprising haven for fresh culinary fare and craft libations, but its surrounding landscapes are a year-round hotbed for hikers, bikers, paddlers and adrenaline seekers of all varieties – even during the coldest months. Oh yes, and the Upper Peninsula locals – “Yoopers” – are perhaps the friendliest people on earth. These are just a few of the area’s one-of-a-kind, not-to-miss offerings.
Playing at the lake
Marquette is situated on the south shore of Lake Superior and the water offers a unique vantage point for exploration by kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboard or surfboard. From Presque Isle Park – the lush, forested peninsula just north of downtown – one can paddle from the beach or harbor across more than 40 miles of shoreline into hidden coves and inlets. The aquamarine water is crystal clear and it’s possible to spot the occasional bass or trout swimming below its surface.
Presque Isle is not just a popular launching point for paddle sports, but also where adventurers climb the park’s many cliff faces and walls. On warm summer days when daylight stretches for more than 16 hours, ultimate thrill seekers take long leaps into the sparkling lake from the top of the ashen lakeshore wall known as Black Rocks.
The park is where one can ogle at the rainbow of foliage in the fall or at the hypnotizing frozen ice formations in winter. The waves of Lake Superior can reach ocean-like proportions on stormy days, which serve as a calling card for surfers, whose hoots and happy calls can often be heard above the crashing breakers.
Discovering waterfalls and sweeping panoramas
The lake is not Marquette County’s only feature when it comes to impressive H2O. The Upper Peninsula’s many rivers and creeks spill into at least a dozen jaw-dropping waterfalls, all of which can be viewed via short (most less than a half-mile) hikes, and many of which can be reached by bike. For foot travelers seeking longer treks, the most panoramic bird’s eye views can be found from the summits of Sugarloaf, Hogback or Mt. Marquette.
Exploring on two wheels
Rivaling mountain bike trail systems found in British Columbia and across the American West, Marquette’s expanse of singletrack is truly mind-boggling. Whether you’re soaring around flowy banked turns on hero dirt, grinding up rocky climbs, launching off boulders, navigating bridge features through dark forests or cruising slowly along the edge of a river with family in tow, these trails go everywhere and are geared toward every level of rider.
There are also plenty of smooth multi-use paths that stretch along the shoreline and weave through neighboring towns – such as the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, a wide paved and gravel path that meanders through woods and around ponds, gurgling creeks and historic landmarks between Marquette and Ishpeming, the perfect route for a pub crawl to the famed craft breweries lying between towns.
The Upper Peninsula’s snowy winters do nothing to deter two-wheelers in this corner of the world, either – it simply steers them toward fatter tires. Such is the passion of volunteer-fueled trail maintenance groups like RAMBA and NTN, which oversee the majority of Marquette County’s trails and groom more than 75 miles of local singletrack into prime pedaling consistency throughout the white winter months, creating what is possibly the world’s most robust snow biking community.
Gliding, rolling and stomping on snow
Outside of snow biking, Marquette is home to one of the Midwest’s most popular downhill ski destinations – Marquette Mountain – with its 15 trails taking skiers and snowboarders down 600 vertical feet of elevation and offering striking views of Lake Superior. Marquette Mountain also serves as one of America’s epicenters for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. On any given day in the winter, sleek skinny skiers can be found gliding gracefully along the dozens of miles of groomed velvet comprising the Noquemanon Trail Network, which also offers endless route options for snowshoe, snow bike and yes, skijoring – in which skiers are towed by sled dogs.
Catching the northern lights
There’s no need to travel all the way to the North Pole to spot the ethereal natural night sky display known as the northern lights. As one of the northern-most regions of the contiguous United States, Marquette also boasts clear skies and an absence of light pollution above Lake Superior. It’s arguably the best U.S. town outside of Alaska where you can catch a glimpse of this rare, star-studded phenomenon. Bring your woolies, however, because the dead of night in winter is the best time to spot them, either from a parking lot along the shoreline or, for rugged viewers who don’t mind a strenuous midnight hike, from atop the nearby summit of Sugarloaf Mountain.
Eat and drink
With all of this outdoor activity, local adventurers will likely be craving more than trail mix before and after their journeys. Luckily, Marquette delivers far beyond expectations. Tuck into an herb-infused cocktail and array of German-fused comfort fare, including the most flavorful and authentic wienerschnitzel on this side of the Atlantic at The Steinhaus; enormous, farm-fresh sandwiches at Café Bodega; melt-in-your-mouth croissants at Huron Mountain Bakery and whitefish dishes at the Vierling Restaurant meticulously prepared from ingredients swimming in the lake just hours prior.
There’s also a wine bar, one of America’s longest operating candy stores and a hopping (and hoppy) craft beer scene that draws bustling crowds and live music to its patios in the summer and cozy taprooms all winter. Must-hits include Blackrocks Brewery on the university side of town and Ore Dock Brewing in the middle of downtown. No matter the drinking or dining haunt, the passion and skill poured into every sip and bite is enough to satiate the most discerning foodies and beer snobs.
Brimming with activity, creativity, culinary prowess and good vibes all around, Marquette’s glowing characteristics extend well beyond this list. Above all, this vibrant community is a true hidden gem on North America’s outdoor adventure map.