The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has about 311,000 permanent residents and a lot of great outdoors, characterized by pine tree forests, granite hillsides, glacial lakes and remoteness. Its largest city is Marquette, found on the south shore of Lake Superior, about 380 miles north of Chicago. The city’s population is less than 22,000—small by big city standards—yet this town packs a wallop that radiates wild charm and picturesque intensity. The intensity comes in the form of iron ore docks, black igneous cliffs, pristine shorelines, nationally-known cross-country ski and mountain bike pathways, striking 19th century sandstone architecture, mineral and maritime museums, lighthouses, marinas, the aurora borealis, waterfalls, an emerging foodie scene and, thanks to Northern Michigan University, the electricity of youth.


The city, named for 17th century French missionary and explorer Father Jacques Marquette, was established after a surveyor accidentally discovered rich deposits of iron ore in 1844. Immigrant mine workers found their way to the booming region, and the outpost quickly grew into the wealthy “Queen City of the North.” Its natural harbor, once known as Iron Bay, still holds an iconic 969-foot-long ore dock, built in the 1930s of concrete and steel.

That dock was put out to pasture in 1971 after delivering the last of its 24 million tons of iron ore to freighters. The remains of old and gnarly wooden docks lie within camera range of the massive dock, adding to the harbor’s personality.


The former industrial area has been transformed into the energetic, yet still quiet and quaint, Lower Harbor neighborhood. It’s anchored by grassy Mattson Park and a marina that through the short summer months is filled with sailboats, racing sculls, kayaks, paddle boards and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter.

From a nearby hillside a bronze likeness of Father Marquette, rosary in hand, watches  over both the harbor and the city. Further uphill from the marina the Marquette County Courthouse is resplendent with a domed cupola and stained glass dome suspended over the courtroom. It was the setting for a famous case that led to the book and the movie, Anatomy of a Murder, written by local attorney John D. Voelker. Part of the 1959 movie was filmed in the courthouse, which is one of the sites on the self-guided tour to locations related to the drama.

The city’s noteworthy architecture includes the twin towers of St. Peter Cathedral; the Peter White Public Library, a 1904 Beaux-Arts, white limestone beauty; and the former city hall, built of red brick and sandstone, in 1894. Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome is an unusual landmark. The world’s largest all-wood dome is constructed of massive Douglas fir beams, rises to 14 stories and seats 8,000 for football, field hockey and soccer.


Locally known as the “Yooper Dome” (Yooper, now recognized in dictionaries, references things related to the Upper Peninsula, as in UP-er), it is in Marquette’s Upper Harbor area. A non-motorized path parallels Lakeshore Boulevard to popular Presque Isle Park, a 323-acre treasure. The “almost island” is noted for its Blackrock Cliffs, walking trails and scenic, two-mile drive. Sunset Point, near the end of the loop, is a choice spot for watching the sun sink behind the Huron Mountains.

Just outside of the park, the still-active, 60-foot-wide Presque Isle Iron Ore Dock rises 75 feet above the water and stretches 1,250 feet out to sea. There’s a small parking area where it’s possible to photograph the structure and the eight or 12 freighters that line up at the dock each week to receive iron pellets that arrive by rail from the iron range 18 miles to the west.

That range surrounds the towns of Negaunee and Ishpeming, where the Michigan Iron Industry Museum and Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum grab the imaginations of visitors with examples of mining equipment, mineral samples and tales of a time when sweaty and boisterous Cornish iron miners deposited their lunch buckets under the billiard table at Long Jack’s Saloon. They’d shoulder up to the bar to loosen the mine dust from their throats—as well as their memories of dipping 1,250 feet into the earth to earn a living. Also in Ishpeming, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame honors snow sports greats with displays of artifacts such as homemade wood skis and poles, an original sit-ski for paraplegics, and tons of old ski jumping photos.


Negaunee, Ishpeming and Marquette are connected by the year-round, multi-use Iron Ore Heritage Trail, the newest of a multitude of paths that crisscross the region. The youthful nature of Marquette, along with its granite hillsides, have given rise to the popularity of trails for cross-country skiing and mountain and fat tire biking. They’ve contributed to the city’s national recognition as a “top town for sportsmen,” “best place to travel” and the “#1 Place to Bike and Live.”

The four-season Noquemanon Trail Network (NTN) is designed for mountain biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skijoring and fat tire biking. Nordic trails are designated easy, intermediate and advanced, and rental skis and snowshoes are available. Some trails cross rugged territory and host the nationally famous Noquemanon Ski Marathon, a 50-kilometer event that tests the measure of even the most skilled and conditioned athletes (Jan. 28-29, 2017).

The NTN series of single track trails for mountain bikers take in 65 miles of granite hills and valleys, and are a picnic ground of dirt jumps, wooden bridges, rock drops, bermed hairpin downhills, steep hillsides, waterfalls, stands of pine and views of Lake Superior that have earned Epic trail status from the International Mountain Biking Association.

Hikers also have miles of options in the Marquette area, from smooth, paved paths in the city to more demanding trails that lead to the region’s 77 waterfalls. The route to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain is rated “moderate” to “challenging” and includes more than 300 wooden steps, but the panoramic views of the city, Lake Superior and the Huron Mountains are worth it—especially in fall color season.

Colors of the aurora borealis make a spectacular show over Lake Superior, and the visitors bureau lists several easily accessible viewing sites along the shore for those lucky enough to be in Marquette when the conditions are right. According to local photographer Shawn Malone, who is internationally recognized for her images of the phenomenon, winter is a prime time to catch the Northern Lights in Marquette.


MARQUETTE VISITOR INFORMATION:, (800) 544-4321 QUICK TIPS Rest Easy: Historic Landmark Inn; waterfront Hampton Inn; pet-friendly Cedar Motor Inn; Scandinavian-themed Nestledown B&B

Local Flavors: Classic Vierling Restaurant and Harbor Brewery; uber-locavore Sweet Water Café; coffee crowd favorite Babycakes Muffins; gourmet Elizabeth’s Chophouse; inventive Steinhaus; traditional Villa Capri; casual Togo’s Sub Shop; iconic Jean Kay’s Pasties; vintage Donckers; local brews at Ore Dock Brewing Company and Blackrocks Brewery

Souvenirs: Nature-inspired jewelry by Beth Millner; Northern Lights and nature images by Shawn Malone at Lake Superior Photo; U.P.-made Stormy Kromer at Getz’s; local art from Zero Degrees Gallery

This article originally appeared in the 2016 fall/winter issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.


Jerry Harpt is an active kayaker, hiker, biker and cross-country skier and an adventure travel writer and member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association. He is married to his longtime sweetheart, Karen, and they live on the shores on the Menominee River in Wallace, Michigan.