When most folks think of Michigan, it’s the more populated Lower Peninsula (“LP”) that tends to come to mind. After all, that’s where the big cities of Detroit and Grand Rapids are located, along with the state’s capital city of Lansing. And there is plenty to see and do outdoors in the LP as well, with a myriad of fresh water lakes and beaches, forests, trails and more. But it’s when you venture north above the Mackinac Bridge that you discover the rest of what Michigan has to offer, whether you’re looking for relaxation, adventure – or both.
Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula is the furthest northern point in the state, extending into Lake Superior. This area was where the first copper boom in the US took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, leaving behind a historically rich legacy to learn about and explore. I recently had the opportunity to spend several days in the Keweenaw and only touched on some of the fun and educational things to do. As a lifelong Michigander, I definitely will be heading back to the Upper Peninsula (“UP”) and to the Keweenaw area again as well with my family someday.
Many folks drive through the UP but if you prefer to fly, there is a small airport in the Houghton/Hancock area, which is also home to Michigan Technological University and the largest city in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Otherwise it’s mostly small towns through this area, interspersed with mountains, forests and plenty of lake frontage. If you are into boating, hiking, biking or just spending time out in nature, this area has it all for you. And for those who are into winter sports, don’t worry – the Keweenaw offers many options for snowmobiling, sledding, snowshoeing, and skiing. Or if you’re like me and prefer to remain indoors by a nice warm fire with a book and cup of hot chocolate, you can enjoy the winter scenery at a distance as well.
Where to Stay
There are no high-rise hotels here, but what you will find are many opportunities to get close to nature by camping or staying in cabin or cottage rentals. If you prefer a few more amenities, there are hotel and
motel options spread throughout the area (especially in Houghton/Hancock), as well as bed and breakfasts like the Laurium Manor Inn, a beautifully restored copper era mansion.
Where to Eat
The Keweenaw area caters to all types of dining options from fast food (mostly in Houghton/Hancock) to local eateries featuring delectable seafood dishes and the most well-known local meal, pasties. Pasties are a meat and potato filled pastry that are associated with the Finnish history of the area and can be found at restaurants throughout the UP. One of the most popular places to get pasties is Roy’s Pasties & Bakery in Houghton, where you can find everything from the traditional pasty (filled with pork, beef, rutabaga, potatoes, onion and carrot) to vegetarian, breakfast, chicken & broccoli and even pizza pasties. I would definitely recommend the chicken & broccoli, which was my favorite on this trip.
Wildlife is abundant in the UP – and if you want to share your mealtime with a black bear, you’ll definitely want to stop at the Konteka Black Bear Resort in White Pine. Bears stop by often and you can get a perfect view through the wall of windows in their dining room. And don’t miss out on a stop at the Jampot where you can purchase delicious baked goods and jams made by the monks who live in the nearby monastery.
Exploring Copper Country
The UP is best known for its rich copper mining history, and there are lots of ways to see and learn more about what copper mining was like, how it was done and what it meant to the local economy (and beyond). The Quincy Mine Company offers tours of their steam hoist, shaft house and you can ride a tram down inside a portion of a real copper mine to find out what conditions were like when the area was a working mine. The men worked by candlelight day after day to bring up the copper and provide a
living for their families. Another mine tour option is the Adventure Mine Company, which also offers underground mine tours, as well as the option to rappel down an actual mine tunnel. Both of these tours are educational, and exciting for all ages – although probably not a good idea for young kids or those afraid of the dark or enclosed places. Hard hats are required, as are boots and warm clothes (some tours provide boots and/or jackets for the underground portions).
Along with the mines, there are other educational opportunities to learn about the history of the area and its copper mining background. The Laurium Manor Inn is a restored copper era mansion that provides tours, and the ghost town of Victoria is also available for tours to show how the miners and their families lived and worked. You can also learn all about the local geology at Michigan Tech’s Mineral Museum of Michigan in Houghton, which boasts the “World’s finest collection of Michigan minerals”. This would be the perfect spot to put together a scavenger hunt for kids to locate various forms of rocks and minerals for an educational and fun way to explore the museum.
Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula juts out into Lake Superior, offering some of the most beautiful fresh water beaches around. The water is cold (even in July), but we did see folks swimming and even just wading up to my knees felt wonderful. The beach areas are filled with small, smooth stones that are perfect for skipping into the water or collecting to bring back home. You can also go boating or kayaking, or just relax by the water and watch the sunset over the lake. If you’re visiting the town of Copper Harbor at the tip of the Keweenaw, don’t miss out on the boat tour to the Copper Harbor Lighthouse – you can’t really beat the view, especially at dusk. The lighthouse is a museum that also teaches about the history of the area and its copper mining past.
If you can’t get enough of Lake Superior, there are many places to stay that offer beach frontage right on the water, whether you prefer a traditional motel such as the AmericInn in Calumet or individual cabins such as the Mountain View Lodges in Silver City.
Adventure is Everywhere
Whether you want to enjoy a hike on your own through the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Ontonagon or sign up for a kayaking or mountain biking excursion with the Keweenaw Adventure Company in Copper Harbor, there are adventures just waiting to be had all throughout the Keweenaw Peninsula. I tried my hand at kayaking for the first time on this trip, and loved it – such a perfect way to explore the Lake Superior shoreline. I also discovered that mountain biking is not my thing, but I would love to try biking through some of the less hilly areas someday to further explore the beauty that is everywhere in the UP. .
Just remember to leave your electronics behind – not only is there limited cell service in much of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, but you’ll be so busy exploring that you shouldn’t even miss being plugged in at all times. Wi-fi is available at some restaurants and lodging options but be prepared to have the camera be the only part of your phone or tablet that you’ll be getting much regular use of on your trip to the beautiful Upper Peninsula.