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Leaf Peeping in the UP

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

The explosion of gold and red always surprises me, no matter that Fall happens every year around this time. Flying or driving the length of Michigan to the Upper Peninsula offers a trip into the special golden light of the season. The U.P. falls into peak leaf season first, so my destination was Marquette for maximum leaf peeping.

The largest city in this part of the state, Marquette boosts a tidy 21,000 residents, perched on Lake Superior. Our overnight destination was the Landmark Inn, visible from many parts of downtown if you miss the Front Street turn. Don’t hurry through downtown, though. The historic brownstone buildings confirm the age of the city, founded in 1849. A stop at Babycakes for a muffin will keep your strength up before heading to the leaves. This bakery and the town itself were featured on National Public Radio three years ago in a story titled, “In Contrast, This U.P. Town Is Thriving.” And they were right about both.

Lakeshore Drive is a scenic route that leads you to Presque Isle State Park, a one-stop shop of beautiful lake vistas framed in golden and red leaves.  The name of the park tells you exactly where you are going — Presque meaning almost or almost an island. The park is a 323- acre forested oval shaped peninsula jutting into Lake Superior at the very northern tip of the city.

Armed with beverages and muffins, there are multiple places to park and stroll, or sit and enjoy the last bit of warmth. You can hike the trails, bike the park, or drive through, a travel choice for every activity level. There is a 50 unit campground at the park should camping be your thing.

After expending all that energy looking at the dramatic fall foliage, it’s time to check in to the Landmark Inn. A member of Historic Hotels of America, the Inn is not especially notable on the outside but inside, you step back into history. The warm dark wood paneling, crystal chandeliers and oriental carpets in the lobby were part of a top to bottom renovation of the 62-room hotel, done in 1995. The hotel originally opened in 1930 but fell into disrepair and closed in the 1980s. You could never tell from the bustle today. White tablecloth dining at Capers, the more casual North Star Lounge and the cozy Northland Pub — all offer food and drink. My room had a spa tub and an enormous king sized bed that required a short step stool to reach.

If you miss the fall color, you can stay at the Inn for Halloween and perhaps run into one of ghosts rumored to have checked in, but never checked out! My stay was thankfully ghost free— no sighting of the broken-hearted librarian said to frequent the Lilac Room.

Marquette is home to Northern Michigan University and it offers a wide variety of restaurant choices including three Thai eateries. Elizabeth’s Chop House is located in one of those charming old buildings and the L’Attitude Café and Bistro offers outside dining and a spectacular view of the lake. Menus feature everything from fresh whitefish to steak.

With more time, I would have driven further around Lake Superior, losing myself in the fabulous fall colors. Alas, time was short and the leaves were falling fast, as the wind whipped around forecasting the winter to come.

If you go:

Presque Isle State Park

Babycakes Muffin Company

The Landmark Inn

Elizabeth’s Chop House

L’Attitude Café and Bistro

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