I have always felt that there is something magical about wintertime in Michigan. Whether you’re sitting wrapped up in a blanket with a warm cup of cocoa watching the snowfall through your window, or you’re sliding down an icy sidewalk… Snow and ice transform the world around us into something new, beautiful, and exciting.
As a student at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, I have been awed by the way that winter changes the town and the forests into what feels like a whole new world. What better way to take a break from classes and homework than to get outside and enjoy the snow?
Here are five of my favorite short hikes when I want to get out in the winter.
Shiras Park to McCarty’s Cove
When I want to take a walk along the shores of Lake Superior, this is my first go-to. Right in town, the sandy beach stretches about half a mile, starting at Shiras Park and ending in McCarty’s Cove. There is a paved bike and walking path that runs between the road and the lake, but I like to walk right down on the beach itself. With the trees to one side and the lake to the other, it feels like you are far from the city, even while walking alongside it.
I like to park my car at the Shiras Park lot and walk South. My favorite time of the day to do this is in the early morning when the sun is rising across the lake. The waves crashing on the beach freeze the sand solid, and sometimes you can see really interesting ice formations or shards of ice where the waves have picked it up and smashed it back down onto the beach. From McCarty’s Cove, you have a gorgeous view of the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse. The “Heartthrob Red” paint stands out against the white of the snow, and when the sun rises behind it it is simply magnificent.
Mattson Park and Lower Harbor
For some amazing winter views of Marquette itself, you can’t do much better than walking along the Lower Harbor. Adjacent to the bustling downtown, but still right on Lake Superior, the park and bike path are a great place to visit and take a walk.
One of the most prominent features of the Lower Harbor is the abandoned ore dock. The concrete and steel dock was first erected in 1931, it was later abandoned in 1971, but still stands today as an important piece of Marquette history. I could talk for hours about the history of Marquette, but even without that this dock provides some breathtaking views.
If you are lucky enough to be in Marquette while the lower Harbor is frozen, it is possible to walk out around and even in the dock itself. Standing inside the ore dock was one of the most incredible things I’ve experienced in Marquette.
Wright Street Falls and Pipeline
The Wright Street Falls are beautiful in and of themselves, but one of the things that draws people to the hiking trails there is the pipeline. The pipeline is exactly what it sounds like: a really big long pipe. It is a wooden pipe with a diameter of about 6 feet. This pipe is actually a section of the Dead River that runs water from the Forestville Dam, down to the Marquette Board of Light and Power. While being a cool and interesting structure (at least from my perspective) all year round, it gets even cooler in the winter (pun fully intended).
You may remember earlier when I mentioned snow and ice transforming the world around us? At the pipeline, the ice is the star. The expansion of the water as it cools and starts to freeze leads to cracks and leaks in the wood. Water bursting or dripping out of the pipe becomes massive blocks of ice, creating a really unique hiking experience.
Little Presque Isle: Day Use Area
My favorite swimming beach in the summer, this park is just as incredible when the snow starts to fall. It’s a little further out of town than the other hikes in this list by about 5 miles, but it is well worth the slightly longer drive. You can walk or ski on the forest trails surrounded by towering pines, or walk on the frozen shore of Lake Superior.
I think it is one of the most beautiful places in the Marquette area. Hiking there in the winter feels like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. The hush of the world under a blanket of snow, with the crash of icy waves and falling spray, combined together with the rustle of the wind in the trees to create a wild music that made me want to run and dance. I did not do either of those things, because the sensible part of my brain said I would probably slip on the ice and fall in the lake, but the magic was still there.
Presque Isle Park
To finish our list we go to one of the most popular parks in the city. Just north of the city, past the Upper Harbor ore dock, is over 300 acres of forests and cliffs. Presque Isle was first set aside as a lighthouse reservation in 1852, and it was later opened to the public as a city park in 1887. Since then it has been visited by thousands of tourists and locals looking to enjoy the beauty of Lake Superior. While parts of the park are shut off to vehicular traffic in the winter, there are still plenty of views and trails to be enjoyed. Deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, and more, all call this their home. On one side of the park you can see the ore dock and parts of the city in the distance as well as the Upper Harbor Breakwater Light that guides ships into the harbor. In the winter the breakwall is covered with ice which transforms it into something beautiful, but unsafe to walk out on.
On the other side of the park, you can look toward the north across the frozen and snowy Middle Bay. It is amazing to see the snowfall in the distance as it moves across the lake towards you. It made me feel so small, like a single flake of snow in a blizzard.
Winter is cold and beautiful, terrifying and amazing. It can sometimes be hard to find the time to just go out and enjoy it, but it is worth the effort. Sometimes you can see and experience awesome things even in a short ten-minute walk that reminds you of all the magic of the world around you.