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Retirement Scouting: Peace, Quiet, and Scenic Splendor on Lake Superior

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

July 17, 2019 — Those of you who have been members for a few years might remember our two-part retirement exploration of Michigan’s eastern coast in 2017. Today we are happy to follow up with a report on our recent visit to the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Coast of Lake Superior

The Upper Peninsula lies between Lake Michigan on the south and Lake Superior on the north. People have described it as looking like a fist with the thumb sticking out in the northwest portion. The area is sparsely populated and has a rugged climate. We visited two towns east of Marquette. Both would be interesting places to retire, although for most people only as a summertime residence.

Map courtesy Google Maps
Downtown Munising

Munising (pronounced Mew’ na sen) MI, is the larger of the two, about an hour east of Marquette. The population is just over 2,500 but it gets much larger than that during the summer. It is located on Munising Harbor and immediately adjacent to Grand Island. It has a terrific natural harbor which is used for logging and manufacturing, as well as tourist, pleasure boating, and fishing (whitefish) activities. The downtown is surprisingly big for a town of this size, with multiple restaurants and shops. Many of the shops feature outdoor equipment and clothing, because the people who tend to come here are interested in being outdoors – summer and winter! In fact, you will see all kinds of snowmobile trails alongside local roads to help entertain the legions of people who come here to enjoy that sport (or ATV’s in summer). There is also a number of great hiking trails, some of which run along the lake edge to neighboring towns. Hiawatha National Forest is just one preserve in the area.

Pictured Rocks

A local tourist sight is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. You can take a sightseeing boat with Pictured Rocks Cruises to view the miles of beautiful cliffs lining the lake, or you can hike or drive.

There are drawbacks to a Lake Superior area retirement, starting with the winters (although they are great if you are into snowmobiling and other winter sports). The daily mean temp is 18 (F.) in Jan. and 65 in July. This area is remote and for serious medical care you might have a long way to go, starting in Marquette. That city’s airport is convenient. Cost of living is low. There are seasonal rentals available for those who don’t want to buy property here.

West Bay Diner
Agates abound on this beach
Climbing up Sable Dunes on all 4s

Grand Marais, MI. This tiny town (population 300) on a bay of Lake Superior is in one of the finest settings you can imagine. There are sandy beaches were you can prospect for agates or climb gigantic sand dunes over the Lake. Cute little cottages and homes offer stunning views of the Lake, forests, and boats in the harbor. Eat breakfast at the amazing West Bay Diner and Delicatessen and meet published author Ellen Airgood, the owner, who has written four very successful books (on sale there!)

The name Grand Marais (French: great marsh) is a reference to the large, shallow harbor. French explorers used the word “marais” to mean “harbor of refuge” as well as “marsh.” There are many hiking trails that go to lighthouses and gigantic sand dunes that shoot down to the lake. One activity you don’t see much of is swimming – the water even in summer is very cold – as Lake Superior is so big it is more like an ocean than a lake.

There are a number of rental houses for every type of budget in and near town. Some offer spectacular views and are set up for both winter (drivethru snowmobile garages) and summer sports. Indeed the area is extremely busy in winter as recreational addicts head here for dependable snow and cold.

Small house over beach

Summary. Admittedly there is probably a small segment of the population that would ever retire to this part of the world. Cost of living is good, but the climate would be a challenge for most people. But for those looking for peace and quiet in a spectacular setting, Lake Superior awaits!

Further Reading on Michigan Retirement:

Comments? Could you consider what is essentially a cold-weather retirement? Or perhaps retire to two places and be a snowbird. Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Grand Marais, MI is at the orange arrow at right. The GM in Minn is red dot at left.

Posted by Admin on July 16th, 2019


  1. Your description of Grand Marais is for the one in Minnesota, not the one in Michigan. You didn’t really specify, but I thought the article was about upper Michigan.

    by Jim Nauta — July 17, 2019

  2. There is a Grand Marais in Minnesota (red circle on left) but the one we described is in Michigan. See image, Grand Marais, MI is at the orange arrow on the extreme right, next to Munising.
    map of the two Grand Marais

    by Admin — July 17, 2019

  3. your comment:
    Grand Marais is a gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, with the Gunflint Trail, which in the 1700s was a footpath for travelers and fur traders from inland lakes to Lake Superior. describes the Grand Marais in Minnesota. Gunflint Trail and Boundary Waters are in Minnesota.

    Sand dunes and pictured rocks are Michigan.

    Admin comment: Ouch! How correct you are Leanne. The Boundary Waters reference does refer to Grand Marais, MN, which was NOT the focus of this visit (although it looks like we should review that one too!) We have deleted that sentence in the MI version, which was our error. We were trying to describe Grand Marais, MI, which is very tiny but quite beautiful. There were two cultural references that referred to the MN community, now deleted. Thank you Jim and Leanne so much for helping us present accurate information on this site.

    by Leanne Smith — July 18, 2019

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