When you head to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, you expect to see waterfalls and signs of fresh pasties wherever you turn. What you are not expecting to see is a giant pickle barrel that houses a community museum. However, the Pickle Barrel House Museum in Grand Marais is not a figment of your imagination. As you check off items on your summer bucket list, this unique and interesting structure should certainly be a stop on your road trip through the U.P.
About the Pickle Barrel House Museum in Grand Marais
The Pickle Barrel House Museum is an iconic site in Grand Marais, but this structure was not always located on the shores of Lake Superior. It was first constructed in 1926, and it was situated on the shores of Sable Lake. Its design was inspired by two small cartoon characters who lived in a pickle barrel under a rose bush — a fitting tribute to the original owner of the property, cartoonist William Donahey. Donahey spent his summers on the lake in this cottage, which included a bedroom, kitchen, pantry, and living room.
Eventually, the structure was moved to Grand Marais in 1937, where it quickly became the most famous place in town. For decades, Pickle Barrel House was the visitor information center for Grand Marais, as it was easy for tourists to spot, and it naturally attracted crowds. It also was an ice cream shop, which meant that the young — and the young at heart — always had a reason to visit.
However, in 2003, the historic society in Grand Marais purchased the building and began to work to restore it. When you visit this bucket list MI destination, you will find that it’s an interesting museum that showcases what life was like inside a summer cottage in the 1920s — even if it is a summer cottage shaped like a giant pickle barrel. In addition, you can learn more about the life and work of Donahey, and even see examples of his cartoon strip “Teenie Weenie” that ran in the Chicago Tribune in the 20th century.
More to Explore in Grand Marais
Gitch Gumee Agate and History Museum
As if that wasn’t enough unique and eclectic information for one day, you will find that there’s another interesting museum to visit in Grand Marais. The Gitche Gumee Agate and History Museum was established in 1954 and has become a mainstay in the local culture. This museum features a rock and mineral collection and is owned by a local resident who loves to share her love of agates. In addition to viewing the personal collection of the current owner as well as the collections from previous owners that have been handed down, you also have the opportunity to purchase rocks and minerals in order to start your own collection.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
After getting a healthy dose of history with a splash of kitsch, you can continue your summer bucket list adventure into northern Michigan by heading to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The wild sandstone cliffs that jut high above Lake Superior are spectacular from land, but even more breathtaking by sea. Consider taking a lake cruise around the shore in order to see the colorful rocks from the best possible perspective. Sunset cruises are particularly popular, as the setting sun highlights the natural beauty of the cliffs.
Where to Eat in Grand Marais
Whether you are sticking around Grand Marais or heading off to another bucket list MI destination, you will want to stop for food downtown. Lake Superior Brewing Company and Grand Marais Tavern are where the locals go for good eats and local brews. And while the Pickle Barrel House Museum used to be the go-to place for ice cream, today it’s best to plan a visit to The Sherpa Shack where they serve The Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream and more!
Best Lodging in Grand Marais
There are several great lodging options in Grand Marais and the surrounding area. Here are just a few to consider if you want to stay longer than a day while exploring all the great Michigan bucket list ideas in the Eastern Upper Peninsula:
- Hilltop Cabins and Motel
- Perfect Location in Grand Marais
- Stay at the Breakwall Lodge With Lake Superior View
- Lakeside Cottage With Amazing Views of Lake Superior and Grand Marais
With its crisp evenings and sunny summer days, Grand Marais is a wonderful place to camp. These are a few of the best campgrounds near Grand Marais:
- Woodland Park Campground — A municipal campground in Grand Marais that offers waterfront views and is within walking distance of the downtown area.
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Campgrounds — Campgrounds located within the boundaries of the National Lakeshore. Ideal for those who enjoy tent camping.
- Au Sable East Campground – Surrounded by a coniferous forest, this campground is just 0.2 miles from Au Sable Light Station with access to Lake Superior and views of the Grand Sable Dunes.
We've included local campgrounds in most of the #MIAwesomeList posts to help you get the most out of your Michigan summer bucket list adventures!
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Whether you want to pull it behind you or have it all set up at your destination, renting an RV is the best way to enjoy all your summer adventures in Michigan!