With one marina and hardly any amenities, Escanaba may not seem like the most happenin’ destination available — but this quaint Michigan town on Lake Michigan is more than what meets the eye. With a down-home, hometown feel, a possibly haunted lighthouse, an insane amount of marine charts and a scenic coastal park, this little lakeside town is one of the Great Lakes’ hidden gems.
Fishing Along The Longest Coast
Escanaba comes from the Indian word Eshkonabag, which means “land of the red buck.” Known to have been home to some great hunting back in the day, people would come from hundreds of miles away up the Escanaba River to hunt game. These days, while the hunting game is still notable, the fishing activity outclasses it by far. Having the longest coast of freshwater bays and beautiful inland lakes and rivers, Escanaba’s fresh waters are filled with all sorts of fish-catching potential. A fishing permit is required and can be purchased at the harbor, but once you’re out fishing, there is no shortage of trophy-sized fish of various species ready to be caught.
The Lone Marina
Escanaba Municipal Marina is nestled right up in Ludington Park and is also just a short walk away from the main street. It’s the first port in the Little Bay de Noc in the secluded regions of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and its small size and easy accessibility make it the easiest and most convenient port to navigate. Of its 165 boat slips, docks and moorings, 50 are typically available for transients. These slips can accommodate boats up to 60 feet long, and even yachts up to 100 feet long can be fitted along the wall space. Services and accommodations offered are gasoline and diesel fuel, electric, water, storage box rentals and sales, sanitary pump out, showers and restroom facilities, bicycle rentals, ice, pop, snacks, free high-speed internet and more.
Ludington Park has all the standard features of a typical park — sand volleyball courts, basketball courts, a lighted tennis court, a gazebo, a playground. But it also spotlights its course for visitors to play disc golf, a sport that has become very popular in this region. Disc golf is like regular golf, but instead of clubs and balls, there are Frisbee-like discs that you throw into the chain baskets at each pole. This gives you a great chance to enjoy the expanse and natural beauty of the park while also engaging in some friendly competition. Free bike rentals are also available at the port so that you can ride through town to visit the mall or bike along the bike paths. One bike path leads to the swimming beach and bath house facilities and connects with Aronson Island, a natural, park-like area with parking for boat trailers, a boat launch and a handicap-accessible fishing pier.
Ludington Park connects to Ludington Street, which is the entryway to downtown.
“We have kind of a down-home atmosphere on our main street,” said Larry Gravatt, harbormaster. “We’re not really a tourist-type stop; we’re actually kind of a real town.”
Many unique stores line Ludington Street, and in late July, a Downtown Sidewalk Sale Day is the all the rage. Further into town is the Delta Plaza shopping mall — a central point of the community — with over 30 places to go and sponsored craft shows, auto shows and events throughout the year. The library is also a must-stop for those who are marine history lovers. With an estimated 2,000 marine charts on display, you could spend hours browsing just a fraction of the collection.
“We have probably the largest collection of marine charts of all over the world,” Gravatt boasted. “This is just new this year. A donor actually collected these things throughout his life and donated it to our library, so we set up a nice spot to view them.”
On the other side of the harbor is the man-made Sand Point, home of the lighthouse. The lighthouse has been fully restored and is now open for tours. Back when the lighthouse first opened in 1868, John Terry was appointed the first keeper, but died before the first lighting could take place. His wife, Mary Terry, was then one of the first female lighthouse keepers in the Great Lakes. Mary ended up dying in a lighthouse fire where foul play is suspected. Rumor has it that she sometimes comes back to visit and check in on the lighthouse, but don’t worry, the night security watchman is on the lookout. The museum also showcases much of its history.
“It has a lot of things about the past of Escanaba: the fishing, the logging, stuff that had gone on in the past, our shipping and stuff like that,” said Gravatt. “It’s a very nice museum. It was just redone three years ago, so it’s beautiful.”
Escanaba has a whole calendar of events for the summer, making every day an addition to one continuous, summer-long party. Due to their excellent fishing supply, professional fishing tournaments have been and still are held there: tournaments such as the Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit, the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Train, the FLW Walleye League Championships, the FLW Bass Series and B.A.S.S. Tournament Series. Aside from the professional ones, tournaments like the Young Angler Fishing Tournament also take place there. They also host the Wooden Boats Afloat Series, which is an exhibit that showcases the boat-building history of the Upper Peninsula in efforts to preserve the rich heritage of boat building in Michigan. Other events held throughout the summer include 5K races, concerts on the docks, UPIR racing at the race tracks and much more.
“We do a very nice music festival here on the marina grounds called the marina fest,” said Gravatt. “We have live music, we do games and we actually have a sailboat race that goes on that day. Then we have demonstrations of small R/C boats and activities for kids and for adults.”
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