Grand Marais is an Upper Peninsula beach and harbor town with a beauty as fresh and invigorating as the scent of the air off Superior. This is a friendly community with unmatched access to wild land and recreation on land and lakes. You know you’ve come to a different sort of place even before you arrive: The highway sign reads, “Wildlife in Abundance.”
A city with 2,000 residents back in the heyday of sailing ships, commercial fishing, railroads, and white pine logging, it is now a resort harbor town surrounded by great natural beauty at the easterly end of thePictured Rocks National Lakeshore. For those who know this is a great place for a summer getaway to the beach, for fall color, hunting, fishing, kayaking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and antiquing, or rest, relaxation and peace.
This Lake Superior community has many historic buildings from those land rush pioneer days. This property was built in the center of town, centered on the bay. Made to last, it was completed and christened the Palace Saloon in 1895.
Saloons in frontier boom towns and the buildings that house them come and go, but this centerpiece structure of the community was solid, made to last. As a Saloon it had a tin ceiling with a light in each square, and was known as “the best-lit saloon in Alger County.” Prizefights were held there! From 1909 to 1957 it was the Ostrander Drug Store, which included a soda fountain in the back and bottled liquor. Later it was home to the Grand Marais Gazette. It has housed a dentist office, souvenir shop, and the Beaver House clothing shop.
Early Grand Marais was known as a Republican town. Chase S. Osborn announced his successful campaign for Governor of Michigan from the second floor balcony of the Palace.
Six years ago in 2008 it was totally renovated and reborn as an elegant resort town residence. The first floor holds living, dining and kitchen areas. A dramatic stair to the second floor leads to three bedrooms, each with it’s own private full bathroom. It has a full basement, and an attached garage sited on one and a half city lots, right in the middle of everything. From most rooms you enjoy panoramic views of West Bay.
The new Palace has 2,222 square feet of expensively designed and constructed, finely finished and equipped living space plus a full basement and attached garage. It has hand hewed three quarter inch hickory flooring throughout, crown molding, expensive fixtures, exquisite cabinetry, a wood stove and fine furniture. It is offered complete with furnishings and equipment, excepting only a few personal items. For room sizes, taxes and additional detail about this property, click here. The land, which includes 1 & 1/2 city lots, is zoned Bay District Residential/Commercial.
Grand Marais is my favorite Lake Superior harbor town, one that reminds me of the West Michigan shore where I grew up. Whether you buy real estate here or not, anyone who loves scenic beauty and small town America should put this charming lakeshore community on their bucket list. Access is easy from US2 or M28. In either case just take M77 north to Lake Superior.
You’ll arrive at a peaceful bay and harbor that you won’t soon forget. This bay was the original reason a village developed here and it remains a great asset. First sailing ships and then steamers sought refuge here. Great white pine logs from the Kingston Plains were shipped from here to markets to the south, east and west. In those lumbering days the population passed 2,000.
Now the use is mostly recreational and the year round population is a lot less, but you’ll find interesting history and artifacts from those logging days. There are five museums including the Pickle Barrel House & Iris Garden and The Old Post Office Museum & Rose Garden, both on the main street of town.
The look and feel of this place is so perfect it is destined to become an artist colony, likely sooner than later. Who knows, maybe this is the next Harbor Springs or Charlevoix. It could be. I’ve been in Grand Marais a couple times every year for the last 23 years and it is looking very prosperous to me this year. It’s a great place to visit or live. Come in mid-June and the bay will be full of sea kayaks for the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium, billed as the largest and oldest sea kayaking symposium on the Great Lakes. Later in June, the harbor is the site of an annual seaplane fly in. Every weekend through the summer something interesting is happening: concerts, arts events, fishing, races and more.
The harbor remains important for boating on Lake Superior. It is the only harbor of refuge between Munising Bay and Whitefish Point. There’s an excellent launch ramp so you can keep a powerboat or sailboat on a trailer and launch it quickly and safely. Cruise to Munising for dinner and amaze and delight your guests as you pass theGrand Sable Dunes and Miner’s Castle, Grand Island, waterfalls, and colorful sandstone cliffs that rise 200 feet above the lake.
Here’s a good interactive map of the park. (Note that you can increase the size of the map.) When Henry Schoolcraft visited in 1820 he called the Pictured Rocks “some of the most sublime and commanding views in nature”.
Grand Marais is the eastern gateway to the fabulous Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the nation’s first Lakeshore. The park has 42 miles of Lake Superior shoreline, great hiking trails, spectacular rock features, the Grand Sable Dune, blue lakes and streams, waterfalls and wildlife. Further afield you’ll find even larger waterfalls likeTahquamenon Falls 75 miles to the east andLaughing Whitefish Falls 30 miles west of the park, to name just two.)
On Coast Guard Point directly across the bay the National Park Service uses the old United States Coast Guard Life-Saving Station as a ranger station for the Lakeshore. The former keeper’s quarters next door houses the Light Keeper’s House Museum.
For a seaplane view of the bay and the village of Grand Marais, click this link, but best is to come see it in person. It will surprise and please you. This place is a classic beach town with history everywhere.
For those who know this is the place for outdoor recreational activities including world-class snowmobiling. Downhill skiers go to the Bugaboos in the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia for world-class powder skiing; snowmobilers come here for world class powder. In summer come for antique and crafts shops, music, art festivals and resorts.
You’ll find good places to eat like the Sportsman’s Bar with its family-friendly menu, the Dunes Saloon and Lake Superior Brewing Company, which serves a great burger with their own draft beer under a parquet ceiling. West Bay Diner and Delicatessen was brought here from New York, and it will surprise and delight you. Do not miss the newest recently opened addition, Stonehouse Bakery. There’s a hardware, drug store, bank and even anairport, a grass strip airport for light planes.
Watch out for traffic in town. In winter small herds of deer roam the city streets, searching for homes where they put out deer food.
Beaches are mostly pure white sand except in years with little or no drift ice. Then the surf washes the sand into offshore sandbars and the beaches have sand mixed with colorful small to goose egg size lake-tumbled polished stones and agates. The forest along the shore grows on ancient primary dunes. Sandy soil produces a beautiful open kind of forest, good for hiking, with 130-year old red and white pines, maples and oaks, and bracken fern underfoot.
Come visit the Palace and this lovely resort town of Grand Marais. If home is where the heart is, it could surprise you: You may come to call it home!