Two days is hardly enough time to explore Marquette in winter, but that’s what Kaitlyn and I were attempting to do.
We had been calling Marquette home for almost two years when we took our two-day excursion. We had moved to the area at the beginning of the pandemic. I had lived here before. Kaitlyn had never been.
Even for me, there were riches yet in store. I would highly recommend that visitors and locals alike check out the #MIAwesomeList to find awesome things to do in Michigan at any time of the year. Currently, they have a list of wonderful winter things to do in Michigan to explore.
Day 1: Marquette Winter Fun
Downtown and Third Street
We started our trip with a stroll down Washington Street. Washington is the main thoroughfare that runs through downtown Marquette. The street is lined by handsome stone and brick buildings, many of which date to the late nineteenth century.
The Harlow Block is a classic example of local architecture made from Jacobsville sandstone. You can see this distinctive sedimentary rock both in nature and in architecture all around the Lake Superior region.
The reddish brown stone, often striped or dappled with tan, graces the facades of many of Marquette’s most prominent structures. The Savings Bank Building, the Old Marquette City Hall, The Marquette County Courthouse and Saint Peter Cathedral are a few of the historic buildings that put Jacobsville sandstone to picturesque use.
Standing in front of the storefronts of The Harlow Block, we looked east. At the end of the street, below the clocktower of the Savings Bank Building, we could see Lake Superior.
Washington Street is home to a variety of restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques and other unique local businesses–too many to list in this article. There’s more to Downtown Marquette than Washington Street, however.
Branch out onto Front Street for more great shopping and dining options.
If you don’t take a detour onto Third Street, you will be missing out on coffee shops, restaurants, a brewery, Zero Degrees Gallery and, a personal favorite of mine, Snowbound Books, among other delights.
Third Street and specifically Downwind Sports was where we were headed. It’s a perfect place for a shopping adventure before embarking on an outdoor adventure.
We were approached by several very helpful employees while we were there. From biking to ice climbing, they seemed to have everything one could possibly need for any type of outdoor getaway.
A number of years ago, when my car battery died on a blisteringly cold day, I bought a ski mask from Downwind Sports, which made my long walk home from work much more enjoyable. The store has held a special place in my heart ever since.
Winter Hike at Presque Isle Park
After that, we headed over to Presque Isle Park. If you’re only going to do one thing on your visit to Marquette, I would recommend that thing be visiting Presque Isle.
Presque Isle is not to be confused with Little Presque Isle, another wonderful place to hike and spend some time on a beach.
There are Presque Isles in Maine, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and lower Michigan as well, but I’m biased towards the two in Marquette County.
Presque Isle is French for “almost island,” which is exactly what it is. The park is located on a peninsula that formed when the space between an island and the mainland filled in with sand.
Presque Isle has been a city park since 1891. When asked for his professional opinion, Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect behind New York’s Central Park, gave the following advice:
“Don’t touch it.”
Fortunately for us, the early city planners took Olmsted’s advice and left it alone.
Even though the park is located within the city limits, you feel as if you’re in the wilderness.
On this winter day, it felt especially pristine. A few cars were parked along Peter White Drive, although not the numbers usually seen in the summer.
The grey geometry of the breakwater extended out into the grey waves. The metal gate was closed and padlocked for the season. It was also encased in a thick coating of ice from the flying spray.
We headed for the main loop that goes around the peninsula.
During the winter, the road around the park is closed to motorized vehicles. So much the better for pedestrians, cross-country skiers, and snow bikers.
The path had already been packed down by the many boots that had walked over it.
The feature known as Black Rocks is a broad expanse of swarthy igneous rock that juts out into Lake Superior. It’s located towards the tip of the peninsula and easy to miss, especially if you’re driving around the park in the summer. To get there, you descend a rather steep incline and then turn right before reaching the area known as Sunset Point.
Today, the rocks were glazed with a coating of ice. One of the rocks was a huge boulder that had icicles dripping from the underside like little cilia.
These rocks had been covered by a lot more ice – about two miles of it – during the Pleistocene. You can still see the glacial striations or scuff marks left when the ice receded all those millennia ago.
Dinner at the Steinhaus
A German restaurant might not seem like a natural choice for a vegetarian and an occasional meat-eater, but I had always heard good things about the Steinhaus, so we decided to give it a try. We were glad we did.
I went for the Vegetarian Spätzle. Kaitlyn ordered Sauerbraten.
The vegetarian menu was, indeed, limited, but what it lacked in variety, it more than made up for in quality.
Kaitlyn ordered a cocktail and I ordered a Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout.
We were pleasantly surprised to receive warm pretzels before the salad arrived.
This was an uncharacteristically slow evening–we had the place to ourselves. Outside, the blue evening light dimmed. Inside, the tables were bathed in a warm, yellow glow.
The windowsill was decorated with hefty beer steins and brightly painted nutcrackers.
The main course arrived, elegantly plated. The spätzle came with an egg on top, adding protein and richness. The sauerbraten was, by Kait’s account, very good.
When we stepped outside, the glowing face of the clocktower and the moon looked like twins.
Day 2: Marquette Winter Fun
Marquette Regional History Center
The City of Marquette was founded in 1849 shortly after Iron deposits were discovered to the west. The area’s history goes back much further, of course, to the Anishinaabe. If you’ve got an interest in natural history, you can trace it back even further.
Visitors can learn about all that and more in the Marquette Regional History Center. The artifacts are genuinely old, but the facility is very new. It has a glass dome on top that mirrors the dome on the Marquette County Courthouse across the street.
The exhibits spanned from the shaping of the landscape by the glaciers of the Pleistocene to the emergence of contemporary Yooper customs such as snowmobiling.
The exhibits were thoughtfully arranged and curated. It gives the visitor a real sense of appreciation for the human and natural forces that have shaped the region over the centuries and millennia.
People of all ages should be able to find something of interest at the Marquette Regional History Center.
Families with young children will definitely want to check out the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum around the corner.
Velodrome Coffee Company
Before embarking on our skiing adventure, we stopped at Velodrome Coffee Company.
Within the last five years or so, Marquette has experienced a kind of coffee Renaissance. Dead River Coffee was the first roaster to set up shop back in 2002 and for more than a decade, the only roaster. It was and still is a great place to grab a slice of pie and a cup of coffee and take in Marquette’s small-town charm. The Crib, Contrast Coffee, and Velodrome all came on the scene in quick succession.
Velodrome is now opening a new location in downtown Ishpeming, which will be a great option for anyone looking for a caffeine fix on the West End of Marquette County. (I can attest to the fact that their decaf is very good too–I once accidentally drank a fair amount of it without realizing it wasn’t caffeinated.)
Kaitlyn and I were at the original Marquette location.
The interior was artistically minimalist—white walls and framed nature photos. Like an art gallery, the simplicity of the décor puts all of the focus on the coffee and, at Velodrome, the coffee definitely stands up to scrutiny.
We each got a coffee and a blueberry muffin and headed out to the trail.
Cross Country Skiing
It had been a long time since my last cross-country skiing experience–over twenty-five years, in fact. This experience would be Kaitlyn’s first.
Last time I went, my grandmother had taken me around a pond near their house when I was a child. Despite the wool socks I was wearing, by the end of the excursion, my feet had been thoroughly numbed by the cold.
Because of that memory, I had decided to wear my thickest wool socks for the day’s adventure. They were chunky wool work socks, not the sleek performance socks that I thought serious skiers probably wore. I wondered if they would fit into the ski boots I was about to rent.
When we arrived, we sat in the car for a few minutes. I sipped my coffee and ate my muffin.
It was a very cold day. The temperature that day hovered between -7°F and -4°F. It didn’t look like we were going to be running into a lot of people on the trail.
Cross country ski rentals are available at the NTN Forestville Trailhead Chalet, a tan pole barn beside the parking area. (As of the publishing of this post, equipment rentals are on pause due to Covid concerns.)
A mustachioed gentleman was playing the guitar when we entered. He put down the instrument and came to help us find the gear we needed.
The facility offered rentals of skis packages, snowshoes, fat bikes and even a skijor harness set up. The latter rig involves both you and your dog.
Because we didn’t have a dog, we decided we would stick with the ski package.
The boots were different from the ones I had worn previously, which had probably been made in the 70s or 80s. These seemed a little more substantial. I wondered if they might be warmer.
The chalet was pleasant with a potbelly stove and cheery atmosphere. The man said he didn’t expect us to be out that long and I secretly hoped that was true.
There was a brisk wind blowing as we set out on the trail. Even my warmest pair of mittens was having trouble living up to their reputation at the moment.
Kaitlyn enjoyed the experience immensely. She typically requires a higher level of excitement than I do in all things, but this was an activity that appealed to us both.
As I continued to move and get my blood flowing, the cold, prickly sensations in my fingers began to subside.
We crossed an area where the trees had been away to make room for some power lines. A gust of wind picked up a little vortex of snow.
By the end of our trip, we found ourselves wishing we could have stayed out longer.
Dinner at the Delft Bistro
The Delft Bistro has a unique atmosphere among Marquette Restaurants. It is located inside a renovated movie theater. Other than the beautifully refurbished marquee outside, little of the original interior remains.
With an industrial-chic vibe, the décor nods at the building’s cinematic past by way of movie posters and films projected on a large white wall.
Neither of us was necessarily sold on the latter feature, but we gave the food itself two thumbs up. We had the Buddha bowl and, off the specials list, hand-made gnocchi. The Buddha Bowl was fresh and flavorful. The gnocchi were slightly crispy on the outside and silky smooth on the inside.
As far as restaurants go, the Delft menu probably has one of the wider selections of vegetarian options in town.
When we headed out the door, we were back on Washington Street where our journey began. Two days are not enough time to experience everything Marquette has to offer, but if two days are all you have, visiting Marquette is always a good way to spend them.