Staycation opportunities abound in McGregor-Marquette

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A Mar-Mac staycation wouldn’t be complete without fishing. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Enjoy a cold drink while soaking in the sun on the Marquette riverfront during the Lazy River Beer and Wine Festival, held Saturday, June 25, from noon to 4 p.m.

Let captain Robert Vavra show you the wonders of the Mississippi River on his Maiden Voyage boat tour. Tours leave the McGregor riverfront every Monday through Saturday, at 2 p.m., through the end of October (weather permitting). On these two-hour excursions, Vavra highlights river history, local points of interest and wildlife.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Summer vacations offer the perfect opportunity to get away from the daily grind and make memories with family and friends. However, if you’ve only got a short amount of time, don’t relish waiting in long lines at the airport or are simply trying to save money, McGregor and Marquette provide plenty of options for a staycation—a vacation spent at home, visiting local attractions.

It’s also a chance to discover (or re-discover) all the area has to offer.

“We take so much for granted when it’s in our own backyard,” said Carolyn Gallagher, executive director of the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce. She said staycationing also gives people the chance to partake in something they enjoyed as a child, but have been too busy to do again as adults.

Gallagher said people from all over the country, and all over the world, stop in the Chamber office for information. Sometimes, though, she said, they impart knowledge to her, as well.

“It’s amazing when people discover something we don’t know about,” she quipped. “There’s so much here to see that people might not realize is here.”


One popular staycation option is camping. Pikes Peak State Park offers 70 campsites, including 52 electrical sites, as well as shower and restroom facilities and a trailer dump station. If you’re looking to experience even more nature, the 135-acre Bloody Run County Park has over 19 primitive sites. Spook Cave and Campground also has either primitive or full hook-up sites, along with a shower house, laundry and flush toilets. It’s a popular destination for seasonal campers, as well.


If you’re looking for a dose of nature without staying overnight, consider hiking. Effigy Mounds covers over 2,500 acres of land and includes 14 miles of hiking trails that take visitors past the park’s over 200 Native American burial mounds and through the prairies and bluffs along the Mississippi River. Pikes Peak offers another 11.5 miles of trails to explore, taking people to breathtaking views of the surrounding area and the popular Bridal Veil Falls. 


For those who are interested in history or learning opportunities, the area does not disappoint. The Driftless Area Wetlands Centre in Marquette will provide nature programming regularly throughout the summer at its Friday Night Live farmers market. Other special programs will include a trout fishing workshop on Sunday, June 5, and Dino Day in July. 

The McGregor Historical Museum is now open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m., through the end of October. Visitors can learn about the beautiful sand bottles created by Andrew Clemens, MacGregor family history, the Ringling Brothers’ connection to the community, river history, Emma Big Bear, local military history and much more. 

Relive Marquette’s railroad history through the Depot Museum and Information Center, which features a plethora of railroad artifacts from the Milwaukee Road, Sooline Railroad, I&M Rail Link and Iowa, Chicago and Eastern Railroad, as well as plenty of Marquette history. The Depot is open now through October, each Thursday to Monday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The communities’ historic buildings are also interesting stops, Gallagher noted.

“Stop in the B&Bs and inns and talk to the owners and find out their history,” she said. “They welcome it.”

If you haven’t been on a Spook Cave boat tour since you were a kid, consider giving it another try, not just to see the cave formations, but to learn about its unique history. The 35-minute tours run daily, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., now through October.


McGregor and Marquette’s shops aren’t just for tourists to enjoy; they need support from locals, too. Whether it’s a unique antique for your home, food or a bottle of wine for your next get-together, a fine cigar, a new (or old) book, a trendy piece of clothing, Iowa Hawkeye merchandise or artwork created by a regional artist, local stores have a lot to offer. If you’re interested in a girls’ spa day, you don’t have to travel out of town for mani/pedis, massages or other treatments.


For many, the perfect vacation involves relaxing on the water. Let captain Robert Vavra show you the wonders of the Mississippi River on his Maiden Voyage boat tour. Tours leave the McGregor riverfront every Monday through Saturday, at 2 p.m., through the end of October (weather permitting). On these two-hour excursions, Vavra highlights river history, local points of interest and wildlife.

If you’re more comfortable watching the waves roll by from the shore, check out the overlook and boardwalk in Marquette. The overlook, located at the end of Emma Big Bear Trail (the old bridge approach), has a covered shelter with several picnic tables, making it a great place to enjoy lunch or a snack. The boardwalk, located on the Marquette riverfront, will give you an up-close-and-personal look at the barges and fishermen as they pass by. Both sites also feature kiosks that tell about aspects of Marquette’s past, so soak up some history while you’re busy soaking in the sun.

On Saturday, June 25, consider attending the annual Lazy River Beer and Wine Festival, held on the Marquette riverfront from noon to 4 p.m. Around a dozen wineries (including Marquette’s Eagles Landing Winery) and breweries participate in the event, while several local restaurants offer food. The Bruce Bearinger Band will provide live music.

Finally, no staycation would be complete without fishing. Many locals fish regularly, whether on the mighty Mississippi or trout fishing at Sny Magill or Bloody Run. However, for those who haven’t been out in awhile, take advantage of Iowa’s free fishing weekend, held Friday through Sunday, June 3-5. You just might get “hooked.”

No matter what activities you plan for the summer, one thing is certain, Gallagher said: “There’s always something fun to do.”

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