Spring may be peaking through in parts of the U.S. but there’s one magical northern place where winter still reigns supreme, or should we say superior? Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a snowy paradise on the shores of Lake Superior, where clean water and miles of untouched forests surround a small city full of history and culture. Read on to find out why Marquette, Mi should be your family’s next escape.
1. Lake Superior
If the only thing you do when you come here is gaze upon the azure waters of this pristine fresh-water lake, you will actually leave satisfied. The U.P. offers some of the most unspoiled shoreline of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. You can access much of it with Marquette as your launching point. From rambling walks along the docks to beach combing (with a little ice mixed in) to climbing up the mountain peaks, this brilliant blue body of water will be your constant backdrop. Marquette Harbor and breakwater (which will probably be covered in ice) are picturesque year round. Although the Marquette Maritime Museum (300 North Lakeshore) is closed for the season you can still get a peak at the beautiful red lighthouse/coast guard station from the nearby beach.
You’ll be totally charmed by the shops, restaurants and businesses in the heart of downtown. Grab a cup of coffee from Babycakes Muffin Co.(223 W. Washington St.) and spend a little time checking out the Scandinavian goods, locally made items and souvenirs on the same street. Take a quick detour to Snowbound Books (118 N. 3rd St.) where you’ll find new and used books of every variety, with a great selection of local history and culture. The shopping highlight for kids (and their grown-ups) is Donckers (137 W. Washington St.). This old school candy shop first opened at this location back in 1914 and the woodwork and architectural details prove it. If you can move beyond the rows and rows of handcrafted chocolates and truffles and every kind of bulk candy you can imagine, you’ll find a soda fountain/sundae counter in the back. Upstairs, the Donckers restaurant serves totally kid-loved fare like grilled cheeses, fries, burgers and salads. Bribe the kids to eat the rest of their meal by reminding them of the glory that waits below!
Stop by Hot Plate Pottery and Art Studio (153 W Washington St.) to paint a mug, plate, piggy bank or any number of creative items just waiting for your customization. It takes a week to fire them but tourists fear not! Hot Plate will ship your items to you for a flat rate so you can re-live your happy winter memories with a cup of cocoa long after you are gone.
3. Pasties (and More Yummy Things to Eat)
Ask any real Yooper (the affectionate term for anyone from the U.P.) where to get the best pasties (PASS-TEAS) in town and they are likely to answer “my mom’s house” but lucky for the rest of us there are several spots to grab this delicious local fare. Pasties are basically like savory hand-pies, traditionally filled with potatoes, onions, carrots and ground beef (but variations are endless) and were brought to the U.P. by Cornish miners back in the 1800s as an easy meal to take down in the mines. There are numerous spots to get a pasty in town. We have to say we sampled them all and our favorite for its flaky crust was Irontown Pasties (801 N Teal Lake Ave, Negaunee). Less than a 10-minute drive from downtown, it’s well worth the trip to get these pasties. Take them to go (or get them frozen to keep for dinner later in the week). They include vegan, vegetarian and fruit options!
To feel like a local, warm up at The Portside Inn (239 W. Washington St.)—a bar and restaurant that features a variety of classics from burgers to pizzas to pasta and is often packed, especially on Fri. & Sat. nights. But don’t let the “bar” fool you: it’s totally kid-welcoming and the wait is rarely very long. Closed on Sundays.
Insider tip: order the breadsticks with the garlic cheese spread! They are famous for a reason!
For an evening supper in a chic setting, check out the just-opened Delft Bistro (139 W. Washington) housed in the old movie theater right downtown. You can’t miss it: look for the marquee! Currently only open from 4 p.m. on, they also make a great spot for an evening after-dinner treat: snack on some milk and cookies while a movie plays.
There’s no shortage of other food in Marquette, including Thai, Greek, Mexican and more. Try Border Grill (800 N. 3rd St.) for fast Mexican often open until 9 p.m. (There are also two other locations. 3rd St. is closed on Sundays, the others are open).
4. Sugarloaf Mountain
It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit Marquette, no trip here is complete without a hike up Sugarloaf. There are two trails: easy and difficult (but TBH easy is still up). It’s a pretty short hike, though and totally do-able with kids. We promise you will not be disappointed when you get to the top: the view of Lake Superior will make you want to give up all that you know and move to the U.P. immediately. The trailhead is a few miles from downtown off of County Road 550. It is well-marked but be advised to write directions down as cellphone GPS is spotty. There’s a parking lot but no amenities so use the restroom before you hit the trails and bring water to drink.
5. A Museum for Littles
The U.P. Children’s Museum (123 W Baraga Ave.) is a delightful surprise for visiting parents who are looking for some downtime while the kids explore. With rooms packed full of everything from live turtles and a mining tunnel to a tree house and a giant intestine to slide through, the exhibits here are geared toward kids 8 and under (though all ages are always welcome) and particularly exciting for the toddler and preschooler crowd. Fly an airplane, give a weather forecast, hang out in an ambulance or become a grocery clerk for the day. This place is all about imaginative play. The exhibits are all upstairs, which means it’s pretty tricky for kids to wander too far away, and you’ll find yourself in the company of local families looking to explore on a winter’s day.
Cost: $6/adults; $6/children 2-17; children under 2 are free. Family rate is $25 for up to 10 family members! They also offer a visitor package: $55 for a full week of unlimited visits for 4 adults and all related kids.
Hours: Mon.-Wed., 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Thurs. 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Fri., 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat., 10-6 p.m. & Sun., noon-5 p.m.
6. Mining History
The Upper Peninsula was (and is) an epicenter for mining in the Midwest, specifically copper and iron ore. Although the main mining museum in the area (in Negaunee) is closed during the winter, the history is around every turn. The old iron ore dock is visible from downtown, and the working one can’t be missed on your way out to Presque Isle. Be sure and snap at least one family photo with one of these impressive and iconic structures in the background! Shops feature a ton of copper jewelry mined locally.
Hidden gem: Wattson and Wattson Jewelers (118 W Washington St.) not only features actual gemstones and gorgeous local pieces, there’s a replica mine shaft! It’s a free-of-charge mini-museum that kids will love exploring.
7. Literary History
Fans of the novel-turned Jimmy Stewart classic flick, Anatomy of a Murder, will want to stop and snag a photo of the brownstone courthouse (Baraga Ave. and Third St.) where scenes from the movie were filmed (inside). The cast and crew spent 8 weeks filming the movie and taking in the beauty of Marquette, Ishpeming and the U.P. You can also visit author of the novel John Voelker’s former home in nearby Ishpeming. Don’t miss a stop in the Peter White Public Library, (217 Front St.) established in 1891, is one of the most impressive small-town libraries in the country. A museum in and of itself, you’ll find several meticulously restored rooms with cozy chairs and collections. Downstairs you’ll find the children’s area where most Saturdays there’s a craft or story time, open to all children (Yoopers or not). Nearby, you’ll find Dandelion Cottage (440 East Arch St.). This charming little cottage once owned by Peter White as a rental was donated to the church and has been relocated more than once, but that it is famous for another reason. In 1904 local author Caroll Watson Rankin wrote Dandelion Cottage, a children’s book about four young girls who use the house as a summer playhouse in exchange for the task of getting rid of the cottage’s dandelions.
8. Microbrews (and Coffee)
Marquette boasts not one but three local breweries right in downtown. Blackrocks Brewery (434 N Third St.) is open until 11 p.m. every night of the week. Try a Potter’s Porter to keep the chill at bay. Ore Docks Brewing Co. (114 Spring St.) is open until 11 a.m. every night except open until 1 a.m. Fri. & Sat. and is home to live music and events many nights of the week. Insider tip: head upstairs to the Study Hall (Mon.-Sat., noon-5 p.m.) with a Belgian Blonde and cup of coffee and settle into a space with free wi-fi and lots of couches. For a walk back in time with at atmosphere that can’t be matched, hit the historic Vierling Saloon (119 South Front St.) which now includes the Marquette Harbor Brewery.
Located near the U.P. Children’s Museum (but closed on Sundays) you’ll find Dead River Coffee (119 W. Baraga Ave.) where you can enjoy arguably the best cup of coffee in the entire Upper Peninsula.
9. The Great, Great Outdoors
Rent a pair of snowshoes from Down Wind Sports (514 N 3rd St.)for just $15/day (due back by closing time the next day) and head out. For starters, Presque Isle Park aka “The Island” is closed to cars in the winter making it the perfect place to head out on a snowshoe hike. You can see the lake as you hike along and it’s relatively flat, perfect for kiddos who are just starting out. It won’t take you long to be far enough out where the only sounds you’ll hear are the waves of Lake Superior and the giggles of your excited kiddos. For a frozen waterfall experience, head to Yellow Dog Falls, just off County Road 510. Take the trail about one mile in to see the main falls. For a super adventure, rent some ice climbing boots or crampons (the clamps that hook onto your existing boots) and head about 45 minutes out of town to the Eben Ice Caves. Talk with the experts at Down Wind before heading out there about conditions, but under normal winter conditions it’s totally accessible (albeit slippery) for kids and definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Just minutes from the heart of downtown, Marquette Mountain offers downhill skiing with wow-worthy views. Children under six ski for free and there are discounts on equipment rental as well.
Insider tip: Check the KP index before you go to see if Northern Lights will be active during your visit!
Marquette won Kraft’s title of Hockeyville USA which meant that their beloved Lakeview Arena (401 E Fair Ave.) was all spiffed up. There’s no doubt Yoopers love their winter sports and hockey is the jewel of them all. Lakeview has open skating every day from 1-2:50 p.m. and you can rent skates for $4.50/adults; $3.25/kids under 12. There’s also drop-in hockey, or just pop in anytime to watch part of a local hockey game.
11. Rooms with a View
There’s not shortage of places to stay in the area. History lovers will want to explore the Landmark Inn (230 North Front St.) for a boutique vibe. Once upon a time the Landmark hosted the likes of Amelia Earhart, Abbot and Costello and other celebs! For a family (and budget) friendly option that’s within walking distance of downtown’s attractions, the Ramada Inn (412 W Washington) makes a great choice: there’s a pool, on-site restaurant, free coffee and as long as you get up past the 3rd floor, rooms with a view of the lake (request a lake view room when booking). Families can opt for a master suite or jr. suite which includes a separate bedroom and pull out couch. It’s a great choice for a family on seeking all of the downtown amenities without the high cost.
Flying directly into Marquette’s Sawyer International Airport will get you there the quickest. Daily flights to/from Chicago and Detroit. It’s a roughly six hour drive from the Minneapolis area and slightly longer from Chicago.
—photos and copy by Amber Guetebier unless otherwise noted
Special thanks to Travel Marquette for assistance in arranging accomodations and access to attractions. All opinions here are the writer’s own.
Will you say “Yah!” to the U.P.? Tell us your favorite spots in the comments below.