Breathtaking escape: Tourism is booming in Munising area

A hammock is seen on Miner's Beach at Pictured Rocks (Journal photo by Kelsie Thompson)

MUNISING — Just a few years ago, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore could have been considered one of Michigan’s “hidden gems.”

However, the last decade has brought a dramatic increase in visitors to the area — up more than 85 percent from 2006 — with surrounding communities adjusting to the influx through increased accommodations, dining spots, events, recreational improvements and artistic ventures.

“There’s new things popping up every year,” said Kathy Reynolds, executive director of the Alger County Chamber of Commerce and Munising Downtown Development Authority. “Between the great retention rate and new visitors, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

While Reynolds said its hard to peg the growth on anything in particular, she said she believes the internet and social media have played a significant role. The collaboration between local entities is also one of the area’s strengths, she said, adding to its appeal.

“We all work very well with each other,” she said. “Whether it’s a government unit, private business or nonprofit, we’re all working toward the same goal. We only have 2,500 people in Munising, so we have to work together.”

Wagner falls is seen. The Munising area has much to offer the outdoor enthusiast from waterfalls to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. (Journal photo by Kelsie Thompson)

While people are often drawn to the area for its picturesque cliffs, hundreds of miles of hiking trails and countless other opportunities for water and outdoor recreation, Reynolds said there are many other things to love about Munising and Alger County.

Munising was recently selected to participate in the Detroit Institute of the Arts Inside/Out program, which brings high-quality reproductions from the museum’s collection to outdoor venues throughout the state.

The institute erected 15 works, both free standing and wall-mounted, throughout the city last week.

The works create a walkable gallery, said Reynolds, starting near the Munising Harbor dock and moving up into the downtown area before looping back around. It takes about an hour to complete by foot, she said.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” Reynolds said. “It gives people an opportunity to spend time outside and enjoy some art.”

Another exciting development, said Reynolds, is the Pictured Rocks Interpretive Center, slated to open to the public within the next few weeks.

The center, located in the old city hall building, will be home to interpretive displays featuring information on the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and also detailing the area’s rich history.

Pictured Rocks Cruises will also have a retail space on the main floor of the building, in addition to their primary location in the harbor, Reynolds said. There is space for two other retailers on the bottom floor overlooking the water, as well as private office spaces on the third floor.

The rehabilitation project was funded by a Michigan Economic Development Corporation Community Development Block Grant, she said.

“We started this project about three years ago, and are really excited for the completion,” Reynolds said. “It will be a highlight in the community.”

For those seeking an extended stay, the area boasts a wide variety of lodging options.

Reynolds said there are several hotels, countless vacation rentals and more 800 campsites throughout Alger County.

New to the area is the 18-room boutique hotel, Roam Inn, which opened its doors last fall.

“We have an incredible attraction with Pictured Rocks,” said Tom Dolaskie, owner and Munising native. “Tourism is a very strong industry here, and we wanted to bring a more refined but yet still adventurous lifestyle product to the market.”

Dolaskie said he lived out of the area for a while — in both Manhattan and Beverly Hills — but had the urge to return home.

“I love the small town vibe,” he said. “I like being able to use the high beams on my truck when I’m driving home — weird little things like that. The quality of life is what me and my entire team appreciate most about it.”

Operating on the tagline “adventure awaits,” Dolaskie said staff at the Roam Inn works to promote outdoor recreation, offering advice and tips to maximize their guests’ stay.

“We’ve become a conduit for that, sharing different options to go out and explore,” he said. “Roam Inn is a very visual, very adventurous hotel. It really works well for people who are trying to explore new places. We share and promote anything we think they’d have fun doing.”

Also inside the Roam Inn is Tracey’s restaurant, which Dolaskie described as “casual fine dining,” utilizing locally sourced ingredients including U.P.-raised bison, beef, lamb, chicken and pork.

“Our executive chef, Jason Biega … he’s 28 years old, but incredibly artistic,” Dolaskie said. “We’ve given him a blank canvas, and have been really rewarded for doing that. He’s exceeded our expectations.”

For a more casual lunchtime outing, Johnny Dogs, 106 Lynn St., is a staple spot in Munising.

With more than 400 reviews on Trip Advisor, Johnny Dogs’ menu features several unique hot dogs, including the “MacDaddy Dog” with fried mac and cheese, country ham, ranch dressing and fried onions and the “Hawaiian Dog” with smoked pulled pork, sweet chili sauce, pineapple salsa and cilantro. Other menu items include whitefish tacos, burgers, sandwiches, house-smoked BBQ meats and the popular “piggy fries.”

Located along the south shore of Lake Superior just 42 miles east of Marquette, Munising can be reached via M-28 from the southeast and west, M-94 from the west or Alger County Highway 58 from the east.

If traveling from the Marquette area, there are several other attractions that can be found along M-28.

In Christmas, visitors can test their luck at the Kewadin Casino, operated by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

During the summer months, canoers and kayakers take the AuTrain river by storm, with rentals available through Northwoods Canoe and Kayak Rentals. Campsites and rental cabins line the riverbanks, making for a fun overnight excursion.

Grab a bite to eat at the highly rated Brownstone Inn or Foggy’s Steakhouse, both located in the M-28 corridor.

Kelsie Thompson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is kthompson@miningjournal.net.