With a population of 21,000, Marquette is the largest city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The town, located on Lake Superior, has a strong maritime and mining history. Today, Marquette remains a major port for shipping iron ore.
Nature enthusiasts will find miles of hiking and biking trails. While you can easily enjoy a long weekend in beautiful Marquette, the city makes an excellent base station for nature-centric day trips to other nearby attractions. Other attractions within an easy day’s excursion are Tahquamenon Falls, Big Bay Point Lighthouse, Pictured Rocks National Shoreline, and Whitefish Point Light Station.
Editor’s Note: Marquette made Amy’s list of beautiful towns on Michigan’s Lake Superior shore. You should check out the rest!
Things To Do In Marquette
When I’m in Marquette, the region’s mining and maritime history present standout opportunities to learn. The Iron Ore Heritage Trail, the history center, and the maritime museum expand your knowledge of mining and Lake Superior.
On the other end of the spectrum, nature is at the cornerstone of the Marquette experience, with waterfalls, the northern lights, and walks in the wilderness. Here are six experiences you won’t want to miss in Marquette.
Discover Marquette Maritime Museum And Lighthouse
The Marquette Maritime Museum, lodged in the old City Waterworks building, tells the stories behind Marquette’s maritime history, Lake Superior, and the Great Lakes. The building itself, constructed in 1891, is as much a story as the exhibits inside. The Richardsonian Romanesque–style structure is a one-story stone building with a hipped roof. The architecture is stunning, with round-arched windows and parapeted windows.
Some of the notable exhibits displayed in the Marquette Maritime Museum include the history of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck, the SS Henry B. Smith shipwreck, and one of the best lighthouse lens collections on the Great Lakes. You’ll find examples of many types of boats, including steam barges, fishing tugs, and canoes.
The museum is open from mid-May through mid-October, so check specific dates and times of operation. The building is ADA accessible, and they have some wheelchairs for guest use.
The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, also on the museum grounds, offers a guided tour and is not ADA accessible. The lighthouse requires a moderate amount of walking and climbing 45 steps to enter the historic lighthouse. The tours last about an hour and run weather permitting.
Visit Marquette Regional History Center
The Marquette Regional History Center’s permanent collection includes artifacts from prehistoric copper culture through the modern day. Only a fraction of the center’s artifacts is on display at once. The interactive displays feature information on the fur trade, logging, and native culture, to name a few. The history center also presents a series of special exhibits.
I particularly enjoyed the history center–sponsored tours, where history comes alive.
Take A City Tour
Start at the Marquette Regional History Center for a 1.2-mile walking tour of historic Marquette. The 90-minute tours are set on paved sidewalks and cover about a dozen buildings throughout the downtown area.
For bikers, a second option is the city bike tour that takes you farther afield than the walking tour. This tour includes Presque Isle Park and Pebble Beach, where you can enjoy Marquette’s outdoor offerings.
We preferred a riding tour. During the summer months, the Marquette Regional History Center offers a bus tour, where you’ll meet historic characters in period costumes that tell tales of Marquette’s history. The bus tour requires some planning, as it doesn’t run daily. Digital audio tours are available on their website.
Watch For Waterfalls
Michigan has 300 waterfalls, and all but one are in the Upper Peninsula. Marquette County features 75 of those. The best time to see waterfalls is during spring, when the water is abundant and the falls are complete. Sometimes, the hunt for waterfalls is challenging, and they seem elusive when you can hear but can’t see them. Travel Marquette offers turn-by-turn directions (PDF) and a ranking system for the hike difficulty.
I’ve ordered these falls ranked as easy access according to their distance from downtown Marquette: Starting with the Wright Street Falls, only four miles from downtown, check out Warner Falls, Black River Falls, Laughing Whitefish Falls, Big Pup Creek Falls, Yellow Dog River Falls, and Canyon Falls, which is just over an hour away.
Explore the Iron Ore Heritage Trail
The 47-mile Iron Ore Heritage Trail is an outdoor museum of sorts. It’s a year-round trail that spans the Marquette Iron Range. You can explore this interpretive trail in so many ways — hike, bike, cross-country ski, run, snowmobile, or use off-road vehicles (ORV.) It is an interpretive trail that includes signage telling the story of the role of the iron ore mining industry in Michigan and throughout the United States. What was once the actual rail lines has been built into mile markers and interpretive signage frames. The trail is a great way to explore some of the areas surrounding Marquette. Be aware, the trail surfaces vary from asphalt to crushed limestone and no upgraded surfaces.
View The Northern Lights
You don’t need to travel to Iceland or even Alaska to view the northern lights. Little Presque Isle, Presque Isle, and the M28 turnouts all offer unobstructed views of the aurora. Presque Isle Park is the Upper Peninsula’s only dark sky park, and on Friday and Saturday nights, the park is open until 1 a.m. They turn off the streetlights for an optimal viewing experience.
To improve your chances for seeing the northern lights, study space weather predictions from NOAA Space Weather. To increase the likelihood of seeing the northern lights, go out on nights where the solar wind speeds should be greater than 600, the Ovation Model has a hemispheric power of greater than 30, and the south-pointing Bz is working for you. NOAA Space Weather predictions can assist you in determining this information. And, of course, check the local weather forecast for clear skies.
Best Restaurants In Marquette
Michigan is second in the United States in variety of crops produced, only trailing California. You’ll want to sample the Great Lake State’s abundance. Add that to Lake Superior’s freshwater fish, and it all equals big flavor. A northern Michigan sweet specialty, fudge, comes from Michigan’s sugar beet crop.
Jean Kay’s Pasties & Subs
Jean Kay’s Pasties & Subs features pasties just like the owner’s grandma used to make. Pasties, hand-held meat pies made from hearty steak, potatoes, and local vegetables like onions and rutabaga, are wrapped in a homemade pie crust. If you can’t make it to Marquette or want a taste of your vacation once you return home, they ship their savory pasties throughout the United States.
Iron Bay Restaurant And Drinkery
Situated in Marquette’s historic waterfront district, Iron Bay Restaurant and Drinkery was once a foundry. Lake Superior whitefish fresh from the lake is a specialty here in all forms — Superior Whitefish Tater Tots, Superior Whitefish Chowder, Superior Whitefish Tacos, as a simple sandwich, or as fish and chips. No matter the form, the fish goes straight from the lake to your plate.
Cherries are another Michigan product featured throughout the menu. You can try their Michigan Cherry Bourbon BBQ sauce on wings or a burger. They also feature these ruby gems on the Farmer’s Salad for a hint of sweetness.
Michigan is number five in the nation for craft beer, and at Iron Bay Restaurant and Drinkery, the chef incorporates beer throughout the menu. Try their beer cheese spread on a warm pretzel or one of Michigan’s craft beers on draft.
Located in Marquette’s historic Downtown Waterfront District, you’ll find this restaurant on the second floor above Iron Bay Restaurant and Drinkery. With large windows, the upstairs location features stunning views of Lake Superior. During the summer months, their outdoor deck is the perfect place to sip a margarita while taking in the sunset. Sol Azteca serves authentic Mexican cuisine in a historic building. The exposed brick walls and colorful decorations make a fiesta-like atmosphere. If you’re having a tough time deciding, choose one of their combination plates.
Best Hotels In Marquette
Marquette offers various accommodation levels, including upscale boutique hotels, national chains, and many options for camping.
Hampton Inn Marquette Waterfront
The Hampton Inn Marquette Waterfront on Lake Superior is within walking distance of downtown Marquette’s shops and restaurants. We enjoyed our morning coffee and complimentary breakfast on the deck overlooking Lake Superior. On winter mornings, the large windows allow for a beautiful view of the lake. The hotel is a newer Hampton Inn and features many amenities, like an indoor pool, spa, fitness center, and free Wi-Fi.
Located in downtown Marquette, the Landmark Inn is a luxury boutique hotel that’s hosted celebrities like Amelia Earhart, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong throughout its history. This 60-room venue with six suites features stunning views of Lake Superior.
Little Presque Isle Cabins
Tucked away in the woods at Little Presque Isle Recreation Area, about six miles north of Marquette, you’ll find six rustic cabins. These cabins are perfect to spend the night close to nature yet sleep with a roof over your head. They offer no running water or electricity and have vault toilets — plan to bring your own light source.
Pro Tips: Cell service is often intermittent in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, so plan accordingly. Don’t depend on cell service, and be sure to take a paper map.