Passing Through: Marquette, Michigan

Passing Through: Marquette, Michigan
By Scott Williams
Photos by Brett Rothmeyer

Could you draw the state of Michigan without cheating? Chances are, your first effort would be an outline of the famous “mitten,” completely forgetting the other third of the state. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Mislabeling or entirely omitting the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) has been so common that, in 2009, the Michigan legislature passed a bill requiring the U.P. to be included on all state maps and publications. Directly off U.S. Route 41 lies Marquette, Michigan, the largest city of the Upper Peninsula, home to 20,000 residents and the Noquemanon Trail Network (NTN).
The South NTN offers a wide range of difficulty, from the 1.5-mile Grom Loop to more-expert trails with chunky rocks, granite slab roll-ins and even gap jumps. There are three primary loops that form a cloverleaf, adding up to roughly 40 miles of both legacy and new-school built trail. The Morgan Creek Loop (Green Loop) is a scenic easy-to-moderate trail that flows along the Carp River — great for beginners or to warm up the legs. The Pioneer Loop (Red Loop) is a nice, moderate mix of flow and tight and twisty. It’s a little more challenging than Morgan Creek, but overall it’s an enjoyable ride for all skill levels. My personal favorite, the Mount Marquette Loop (Blue Loop), offers more chunk and old-school feel for a moderately difficult ride. Sprinkled between each of the cloverleaves you’ll find an assortment of raw and untamed legacy trails and bermed-out, machine-built downhill runs. Our favorites include Chunder Muffin, Scary, Rome and Your Mom.

Whether you want a primitive hammock setup next to the Carp River or a luxury cabin with your own kitchen, TV, and heat, Rippling River Resort should have you covered. Amenities include clean bathroom houses, a pool, a hot tub, and Wi-Fi. There are other hotels, but this is the only campground close by. The resort is situated a stone’s throw from the South NTN trailhead and even offers its own piece of singletrack around the campground that connects to the trailhead.

Food and drink options are abundant thanks to Marquette being home to roughly 8,000 students attending Northern Michigan University. Walking into The Marq, the soft amber glow of Edison light bulbs illuminating the gastropub was immediately calming after being on the road for 12 hours. While the chic decor was comforting, the delicious food made this our No. 1 pick for a good meal while in Marquette. Its menu is limited and seasonal, ensuring that whatever food is caught, grown or picked is fresh. You can’t go wrong with any meal you choose, but there’s something to be said for the fresh-cut fries and homemade aioli. There may have been a few orders devoured before leaving our barstools.

If microbreweries are more your jam, head over to Blackrocks Brewery, which offers a backyard patio and fire pit as well as live bands. It’s also worth mentioning that Blackrocks has been a significant sponsor of the NTN. Ore Dock Brewing Company, which also supports local events such as the Ore to Shore MTB Epic and the Downtown Showdown Ski and Snowboard Rail Jam, offers free popcorn and a mellower atmosphere in this historic two-story garage and storeroom-turned-brewery.

The best part about the U.P. is the shorelines, and Marquette is no exception. Grab your swimsuit, towel and a six-pack and roll down to South Beach Park to put some sand between your toes. The cold, crystal-clear freshwater of Lake Superior is the perfect post-ride recovery. During the winter months, you may even get a chance to watch some Yoopers brave the icy waters to catch a good swell.

Mapping out the ride from a cabin at Rippling River Resort
Lake Superior was a little grumpy during our departure.
October is magic in the woods of Michigan.