There are endless ways to spend days off in Marquette. A summer afternoon could be spent belly-flopping off of Black Rocks, or maybe Hogback or Sugarloaf mountains could both be conquered. Perhaps the miles of bike paths throughout the city could be explored or a Frosty Treats banana-split could be devoured.
However, for something completely new and exciting, residents can expand their horizons – there are loads of beautiful places and fun activities outside of the Marquette area but still within reach. Following are four destinations, each just a few hours away, that could spice up the summer season.
Roughly three hours driving time can lead directly to Paradise. Paradise, Michigan, that is. Located on the shores of Lake Superior is this small city which is home to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The main attractions are the three beautiful sight-seeing locations on the Tahquamenon River: the gorge, the upper falls and the lower falls. The only fee for non-campers is a $6 vehicle permit. For campers, the park is equipped with four different campgrounds running either $19 or $21 per night depending on electricity preferences, on top of the vehicle permit.
A short drive from the park, near the river mouth, is Whitefish Bay which is the area’s preferred beach, according to park interpreter Theresa Gratten, who helps plan and research the park’s projects. Gratten also said there is a long list of possible wildlife one could observe in the area with a little luck. “Usually every day we get a reporting of a bald eagle or two . occasionally folks see a moose,” she said. “Whitetail deer, black bear, porcupine, pine martin and quite a few different species of birds through the area that are unique.”
Gratten added that the prime-time to visit the park is in the later summer and fall months of August and September. Like most natural areas in the Upper Peninsula, insects are less of an issue towards autumn, and the changing colors of the trees can create quite a view.
Just one hour east of Marquette lies Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the nearest of Michigan’s six national parks. The area is a collection of cliffs, beaches, and trails along the shores of Lake Superior. Pictured Rocks park ranger Pam Baker believes students from the area are most attracted to the destination because of both its beauty and low-rates. “There’s no entrance fee, there are only camping fees here,” Baker said. “You can actually come and hike in the park for an entire day and not have to pay a fee.”
The park has two beaches available for a daytime swim or an evening stroll — Sand Point and Miners Beach. Each require a short hike into the back-country. Miners Castle, an area of sandstone cliff which has been eroded to form interesting shapes, can be seen from two platforms right off of a main road. Another piece of natural eye candy, called Chapel Rock, is the remains of a collapsed sandstone archway which now forms a large rock tower, topped with a tree. The sight is part of another hiking trail. “That whole entire hike is beautiful,” Baker said. “It’s a nine-mile loop trail and is the most popular day-hike in the park.”
A permit is required for back-country camping at Pictured Rocks, at a rate of $4 per night. For drive-in camping sites, there is a $12 per night charge.
One of Michigan’s most popular tourist destinations can be reached with a three hour cruise through the Upper Peninsula and a 20 minute ferry joyride through Lake Huron. Mackinac Island, roughly five miles from St. Ignace and viewable from the Mackinaw Bridge, has something for nearly every type of sight-seer and thrill-seeker. There are no motor vehicles on the island, so visitors must travel by foot, bicycle or horse-carriage. Aside from the ferry fee, which totals roughly $20 round-trip depending on the service, visitors can roam the 70 miles of trails on the island all day for free.
The executive director of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau, Mary McGuire-Slevin, said that aside from visiting the historic sites such as Fort Mackinac or eating the famous fudge, there is another element that often appeals to the college crowd. “A lot of the college students like to do pub crawls,” she said. “There’s 17 bars downtown, so they spread it out over a weekend and they go from place to place and have bartenders sign their shirts.”
McGuire-Slevin also said she suggests students travel in packs to save money. “The best thing to do is to get a few friends together and share a hotel room – obviously not overload it – but we have rooms starting from $80 dollars a night.”
There are very few opportunities in a person’s life when they can be rewarded for shoving their face into a cherry pie and gobbling it up like an animal, but at the National Cherry Festival, anybody can have that chance. From July 7 through July 14, five hours from Marquette, thousands of visitors will come to celebrate Traverse City as “The Cherry Capital of the World,” and also celebrate Michigan for producing 75 percent of the country’s tart cherry crop, according to the festival’s website. Festival-goers will be able take part in events such as a cherry pie eating contest, a cherry pit spitting contest, a dog jumping contest dubbed “Ultimate Air Dogs,” several concerts and plenty of other activities.
Tom Menzel, the festival’s executive director, said with the purchase of a $5 pin, one can enjoy all eight nights of entertainment. This year’s concert lineup includes former American Idol contestant Kellie Pickler and country act Emerson Drive.
Joe Bennetts, who just graduated from NMU with a construction management degree, grew up in Traverse City and attended the festival nearly every year growing up. “It’s a whole bunch of people getting together and enjoying themselves and enjoying the area,” Bennetts said. “They usually get big name musicians and it’s always really cheap.”