The wind whispered through the trees and the sun shone on the leaves, showing off their autumn hues as we walked down the street to breakfast. This was not only our first time in Marquette but our first getaway together as retirees. Life was decidedly different for us these days. We were nervous about our newfound freedom, but as we strolled the tree-lined streets gilded with fall colors that first morning, we knew we were in for a vibrant adventure.
We started the day with breakfast at Donckers, a local favorite that dates back to the late nineteenth century. After ordering a heap of flapjacks, bacon, and veggie hash, we watched Washington Street begin to wake up from our perch on their balcony. I sopped up every bit of maple syrup with those fluffy pancakes. Vacation calories don’t count, right? We perused the candy counters for treats for our grandkids and picked up a smorgasbord of bear paws and chocolate covered caramels to ship to them later, with a note promising we’d bring them with us next time.
Bellies full, we made our way downtown, stopping in at Lake Superior Photo Gallery for some photo inspiration for our trip. We were looking forward to taking lots of great shots of our own, and even hoped to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. We meandered down the Rosewood Walkway to the lakefront and the Lower Harbor Ore Dock. The impressive structure towering over the lake stood as a reminder of the iron industry that built this town. Then we headed over to the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse for some iconic shots. The bright red lighthouse was surrounded by a forest of orange and gold. With the golden sand of McCarty’s Cove and the blue waves of Lake Superior in the foreground, it was a postcard-worthy scene.
After exploring downtown, we ventured out to the Harlow Lake Recreation Area. We took the Red Pine Trail through tall stands of trees before turning onto the Harlow Creek Trail, which led to an area with tall grasses resembling a coastal marsh. In the distance, we heard the faint drumming of a ruffed grouse, which are common to the region. The sound of the grouse and the satisfying crunch of fallen leaves under our feet were the only sounds in the otherwise silent and peaceful landscape.
The trail crossed an old railroad bed turned multi-use trail and led us towards the lake. The raised railroad bed gave us a fantastic view of the winding creek below, and we snapped photo after photo, red, orange, and golden treetops swaying around us.
The next morning, as we sipped our coffee and studied the maps strewn across our table at Cafe Bodega, some locals at the next table suggested we take a day trip to Big Bay, 22 miles down the road. Even though Marquette was bursting with color, we were happy to get an insider tip on some under-the-radar views.
After enjoying a breakfast of crispy skillet-fried potatoes, fluffy eggs, and homemade cinnamon raisin toast, we hit the road, eager to see the rolling hills covered in autumn’s glow. County Road 510 is one of those quiet and curvy byways that just begs for the windows down and some classic tunes playing as your soundtrack
We came upon the historic 510 Bridge, which just screamed photo opp. I practically jumped out of the car to start taking pictures. We walked underneath the metal trusses and took in the view of the Dead River, its banks painted in vibrant reds and yellows, with pops of evergreen. Hopping back in the car, we continued down the winding road, hugging the curves through a forest tunnel created by the tree tops overhead. I looked up through the moon roof to see the canopy ablaze with red, orange and gold flying by above me.
Pulling off at Thomas Rock Scenic Overlook, we set off on the gravel path to check out this incredible view we’d heard so much about. The path led to a boardwalk and we emerged onto a large rock outcropping. There, we were greeted with expansive views of Big Bay, Lake Independence, and Superior in the distance, with the trees creating their own sea of color stretching out all around us. We were so awestruck, we almost forgot to capture the scene! We snapped a bunch of shots, along with a selfie for the grandkids, before making our way back down.
We rolled into Big Bay for an early dinner at The Thunder Bay Inn, once the vacation home of Henry Ford. Giant bottles of malt vinegar and mounds of fried goodness meant it was Fish Fry Friday. We enjoyed a hearty dinner by their woodstove, feasting on locally caught whitefish fried to perfection, along with a couple of local craft beers.
Our last morning in Marquette, we ventured across the street from our hotel to The Steinhaus, a classic German beer hall specializing in traditional German cuisine, for its stellar brunch. We started with a spicy bacon Bloody Mary and classic Hofbräu beer, along with country-fried schnitzel and eggs benedict. Absolutely stuffed and in need of an easy activity, we decided to do a little antiquing and found ourselves cruising to neighboring Negaunee.
Just 10 miles down Highway 41, the village is home to the Michigan Iron Industry Museum and several antique shops. After checking out the fascinating exhibits, we strolled along the boardwalk path that was also surrounded by gorgeous fall color. In a nearby antique shop, we found some beautiful carved wooden bowls, hand painted with different flora and fauna, and learned they were Munising bowls, popular at the turn of the century. Knowing they would remind us of our trip, we couldn’t pass them up.
Back at the Landmark Inn, we ordered up some classic cocktails, a French 75 and Manhattan, before dinner in the North Star Lounge. As the sun began to set, the sky was ablaze with magenta and gold, just like the forest. The star of the show was the view of the Marquette skyline and Lake Superior, with shimmering autumn colors all around. We toasted to a fun and relaxing trip, ready to embrace the slower pace that life brings us. While we didn’t get to see the Northern Lights this time, with all of our newfound freedom, we knew we would be back to try to catch them next time and experience all Marquette has to offer.