Are you looking for a substantial, close-by hike that won’t leave you sucking wind and aching to your bones? You don’t have to scramble up Hogback or Sugarloaf to feel like you’ve accomplished something in the woods near Marquette. Along the Top to Bottom Trail, which is known by various other names depending on who you talk to, you can use the power of gravity to your advantage as you make your way from the Forestville Trailhead to the beautiful confines of Marquette’s famous Tourist Park. Depending on when you go, you’ll enjoy the solitude and calm of an Upper Peninsula wilderness winter, the hopeful beauty of a long-awaited spring, the full-throated majesty of a Northwoods summer, or the brief but stunning display of autumn.
Part of the Noquemanon Trail Network (NTN), the Top to Bottom Trail technically begins at the Forestville Trailhead, which is a couple miles off Wright Street (on County Road HQ, specifically) in Marquette Township. But other trails lead to the Forestville TH, so you can make a longer trip out of your Top to Bottom adventure if you’d like. In any case, the trailhead has ample parking. If you have limited time or just don’t want to ascend back up the trail, which drops at least 300 vertical feet in a couple miles, you may also want to leave a car at Tourist Park. This is especially important if you’re bringing your pets.
For most of its length, the Top to Bottom Trail is a sandy or packed-dirt forest track that winds through stands of hemlock, birch, maple and pine. It occasionally comes within sighting distance of a small stream and does have one close encounter with a small but beautiful lake in a deep hollow. And there’s one stretch where you’ll need to cross an active railroad track, so alterness there is key. But for most of its length, it follows a gently descending path through a quiet forest.
Towards the bottom, the views open up as you approach the Tourist Park basin and you can play on some interesting rock formations that offer stunning views of the city of Marquette (though not Lake Superior as much, sadly). The hike ends at the Tourist Park parking lot, which is just a short drive from Marquette proper. Easy peasy. Oh, and since most people take it from Forestville to Tourist Park and it’s not as popular as the “hike to a view” trails on Hogback, Top of the World and Sugarloaf, it’s rare to encounter more than a few folks at any time of the day or week. Nice!
Trick question! Any time is a good time to check out the Top to Bottom Trail. Though there are ATV/snowmobile trails in the surrounding areas, motorized vehicles are prohibited along its length, so you’ll need to put the power of your legs to good use.
But that’s pretty much the only restriction here. In the winter, it’s great for skiing or snowshoeing. However, if you don’t have a 4WD car, you may want to do the trail in reverse: Getting to the Forestville Trailhead does involve some dirt-road driving, and the last mile or so of the route can be treacherous or even impassible after a heavy snowfall. Thanks to the hard work of Marquette city crews and the Michigan Department of Transportation, though, the way to Tourist Park is always plowed. And once you’re on the quiet, snowy trail, you won’t be disappointed: For the same reason the Top to Bottom Trail is such a pleasure in the fall – huge stands of hardwoods that shed their leaves every year – it offers unmatched sightlines and vistas in the winter.
And the Top to Bottom Trail is also great for dog owners. There aren’t any leash restrictions here, so feel free to let your pups run wild. The trail is just long enough that even big dogs will feel as if they’ve gotten a workout, but not so long that the little ones are sucking wind at the end. If you have a few pooch-loving friends, the Top to Bottom Trail can be a great way to kill a couple hours on a leisurely Saturday morning or afternoon.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and check out one of the trails that defines outdoor activity in Marquette County – even if you’re the first in your family or group of friends to hear about it!