Some old friends spoke glowingly about Marquette, Michigan’s trails and outdoor scene. So, when our schedules finally lined up, two downstate natives traveled across the bridge to show us what Marquette is known for—spectacular hikes through towering trees, gorgeous waterfalls, stunning beachside sunsets, and cold brews by the fire underneath a starry sky.
With a plan to hike part of The North Country Trail, one of the nation’s most scenic trails, we stopped to fuel up at The Crib, a coffee roaster serving up local baked goods, housed in a stately Victorian home. We settled on some sofas upstairs and devoured our stuffed ham and cheese croissants, anxious to get out on the trail. As we headed out the door, the bakery case called to us once again, so we refilled our coffees and grabbed a few cookies for the road.
“As we walked among the towering pines, I noticed bright blue peeking through on our right.”
The North Country Trail spans 4,600 miles from New York to North Dakota. We decided on the 1.5-mile trek from Wetmore Landing to Little Presque Beach. We set out on the densely wooded trail, hiking through lofty pines down a wide path carpeted with pine needles. As we walked among the towering pines, I noticed bright blue peeking through on our right. I couldn’t resist popping through the trees and found that Lake Superior was right there! The trail hugs the shoreline high above the lake and took us through rock formations that are said to be two billion years old. We stopped to take in the sweeping view of the lake from atop the massive 60-foot cliffs. A steep staircase led down to the lakeshore trail, and another, to the beach.
The Little Presque Isle area is often referred to as “The Crown Jewel of Lake Superior,” and it wasn’t hard to see why. Towering pines, rugged cliffs, a gorgeous sandy beach with some of the clearest, bluest water you will see anywhere. We relished in the sunshine and strolled along the water’s edge, abandoning our boots to feel the sand between our toes.
Little Presque Isle sits just offshore, separated by a stretch of chilly water with rough waves and dangerous currents. It is said to have been attached to the beach prior to the 1930s and was a landing place for explorers and natives alike.
The climb back up to Wetmore Landing awaited, so we fueled up on salted chocolate chip cookies and began our trek back. We took time to catch our breath during the climb, surveying the ground in hopes of discovering morel mushrooms. Although we didn’t find any, we had fun searching.
That evening, we headed to Blackrocks Brewery for a local craft brew. To our surprise—and our stomach’s delight—a giant green school bus, dubbed the Burger Bus, was out front serving up classic singles (or doubles, if you can), with sacks of fresh, hand cut fries. The smell of grilling burgers and caramelizing onions was too tantalizing to resist. Inside, we sipped crisp Carp River Mist Pale Lagers and talked with the bartenders, who were happy to share their knowledge of trails and easy-to-find waterfalls. Outside, we leaned back in the low slung Adirondack chairs, put our feet up by the fire pit, and looked up to gaze at the stars as we planned tomorrow’s adventure.
While our friends ventured off to check out Marquette’s single track trails, we followed the bartenders’ suggestion and took the short 15-minute drive to Dead River Falls. We parked our truck and hoofed it up the big hill from the power plant parking area. A carved stump that read “Dead River Falls,” and an arrow pointing down clued us into our next move, though the sound of rushing water helped as well. We followed the stairs down, continuing on the rocky forest floor, dodging roots until we came to the first falls. The river is wide here, surrounded by mossy boulders and forest on both sides. The drop of the falls was just a taste of what was to come. After chatting with the Blackrocks guys, we knew we’d have to traverse the steep wooded river bank, or the boulders along the riverbed, to get to the other falls. The water was rushing through the crevasses, making the rocks slick, so we decided on the challenging scramble up and down the river banks.
“The river is wide here, surrounded by mossy boulders and forest on both sides.”
The trail was rugged and steep, winding over rocks and tree roots. The further we went, the more impressive the falls became. We ducked out of the forest onto massive boulders to witness the sharp drop of the middle falls. Seeing the sheer force of that water blasting its way through the behemoth rock formations, and hearing it plunge into the calm pool 20 feet below was hypnotizing. Damp with sweat, I wiped my brow, and told Ryan to press on, determined to make it to the top.
The next drop was particularly impressive, thanks to its sharp dive through a deep, dark gorge, surrounded by lush green trees. We finally made it to the top, where the river widened, and rested on the bank to catch our breath and take in the last set of falls dancing down multiple rock tiers. Sweaty and smiling, we sat in silence, letting the sound of falling water lull us into a state of total relaxation.
Not quite done with waterfalls, we had planned to meet up with our friends at Morgan Falls later that afternoon. Just 10 minutes from downtown Marquette, toward Marquette Mountain, the falls are accessible via a rutted mile and a half dirt road that can be difficult to drive in wet weather without a 4-wheel drive or high clearance vehicle, so we hiked it instead. We meandered down the road, avoiding the puddles and muddy ruts until we reached a wooden footbridge that crosses the river and leads down to the falls. The falls cascade down a craggy rock face, sliding 20 feet into a pool below. Our friends were already there, soaking their tired feet in the pool, and we went ahead and joined them. Despite the falls’ easy access, we had the place to ourselves. We relaxed, mesmerized by the falls. The only thing we were missing were a few cold cans from the brewery.
We spent our last day exploring downtown Marquette, and cruising the lakeshore by bike, culminating in a visit to Presque Isle Park to enjoy some of the best views in town. The nearly 300-acre park is situated on huge sandstone cliffs that offer expansive views of Lake Superior. We parked the bikes and hiked along the easy path that winds around the peninsula, stopping to take in the views along the way. We reached Sunset Pointe just as the show was beginning and grabbed a seat on a bench overlooking the deep, blue water. We sat quietly, watching the sun slowly melt into a pool of yellows and oranges, as the wind whipped up the waves rolling in around the point. I couldn’t help but think that this had been a once-in-a-lifetime type of vacation. It’s not every day you can hike through a forest, then along stunning cliffs overlooking an enormous clear, blue lake, and down to a sandy beach, or trek through the woods to waterfalls and not see another person. Days like these are fleeting. Someday, life will become much more complex and scheduled. This trip taught me to relax and enjoy the trail, and the views along the way.
“We sat quietly, watching the sun slowly melt into a pool of yellows and oranges, as the wind whipped up the waves rolling in around the point.”