Keweenaw is an Ojibway word that means "the crossing place" or "land crossing between two bodies of water." With Lake Superior surrounding the peninsula, the land in between is full of waterfalls, ghost towns and ruins, hiking trails, gorgeous rocky shoreline, and tons of history. There is so much to explore in the northernmost part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula!
The college towns of Houghton and Hancock are the gateway to the Keweenaw and are separated by the unique bascule bridge over Portage Lake. You can start your day off with the locals at the Suomi Restaurant for delicious traditional Finnish breakfast or pick up some pasties for a portable lunch like the miners used to enjoy. If you arrive later in the day, check out Keweenaw Brewing Company, a local brewery with a resident microbiologist who’s creates experimental new flavors.
On the Michigan Tech campus in Houghton, get your adventure started at the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum. The world's largest specimen of copper (19 tons!) and over 4000 mineral and gems complete this fantastic collection that is worth the visit.
Before crossing the bridge take in the views of the remains of the Quincy Mine Smelter on the shore of Portage Lake in Hancock. The is a fantastically preserved site and you can take a guided tour down in the mine hoist and learn about the Copper ore boom and understand why this area is called the Copper Country. The mines and hoist are now part of the Keweenaw National Historic Park which contains 19 other heritage sites across the Keweenaw.
Find Some Waterfalls
If you head out of Hancock to the east on M-26 instead of taking US-41 then you can stop at Quincy's Restaurant & Lounge for a bite, see the Quincy Dredge Number Two sunk partially in Torch Lake, or spend some time exploring Hungarian Falls in the town of Hubbell.
The 10-acre Hungarian Falls Nature Area includes the uppermost falls, historic dam, pond, some woodland trails that cross onto the property, and the lowermost Hungarian Falls drop over 100 feet into the gorge below. Take M-26 and west of Lake Linden in Tamarack City, turn north onto 6th Street. Take the left fork (Golf Course Road) and drive up the hill 0.5 miles to an access road on your left marked by a closed gate. Park along the shoulder and hike in along this access for 0.2 miles. Turn right at the fork to access the upper falls or turn left to visit the lower falls.
Gorgeous Jacobsville Sandstone Buildings
If you continue on M-26 you'll come in to the towns of Laurium and Calumet where there are impressive red Sandstone homes and buildings. The Calumet Theatre is a fantastic example of the beautiful sandstone and you can catch a show or take a tour and maybe you'll encounter the resident ghost. You can enjoy more of the local architecture at the Copper Country Firefighters History Museum that is in the historic Calumet Village Fire Station on Sixth Street or enjoy more history at the Coppertown USA Mining Museum.
You'll take US-41 north to continue your Copper Country Cruise. The Hut Inn is a quirky little restaurant north of Calumet in Kearsarge that has been there since 1952. If you continue to take US-41 north, you’ll pass the Keweenaw Snow Thermometer. It is crazy tall and shows the snowfall each year (record is over 380 inches in one year) and it makes a fun photo op!
Fantastic Views and Quirky Stops
Just over a mile past this point you can veer off US-41 onto Cliff Drive and about ½ mile down the road on the west side are the ruins of Cliff Mine, an old cemetery, and you can hike up to the lookout for fantastic views.
Continuing 1½ miles north on US-41 you will come to the town of Phoenix and at this point you have a choice which direction you want to travel the loop through the rest of the peninsula. I always prefer to veer off and take M-26 north to Copper Harbor and then take US-41 south back to this point for the views along the shoreline.
Only ⅓ of a mile down M-26 is another Keweenaw Heritage Site, the Bammert Blacksmith Shop and makes for a quick stop. Only 2 miles from here is the town of Eagle River and a stop at the falls, dam and bridge is a must! The falls cascade over the beautiful rock formation and empties into Lake Superior. If you time it right, you can dine at Fitzgerald's Restaurant with their beautiful views of the big lake.
About 3 miles north from Eagle River is the cute little waterfall with a 20-ft drop on Jacob Creek. Jacob's Falls is on the east side of the road and easily visible from your car. Or you can park just down the road at the Jampot and walk back to view the falls, but make sure you go into this popular shop! Byzantine monks make and sell delicious wild berry preserves, homemade pastries, and coffee.
About 1 ½ miles down the road is the Great Sand Bay and stairs to the beach. With all of the rocky beaches and cliffs, the sand is an unexpected but lovely glacial deposit. Continuing on, you'll encounter the next town of Eagle Harbor and the historic Eagle Harbor Lighthouse. The lighthouse is quaint, is open for tours and has incredible shoreline views. Take time to explore the area and the nearby lightkeeper's cottage that is available for week long rentals.
Just north of Eagle Harbor is the turn off for Brockway Mountain Drive, but don't take it yet! Stay on M-26 and stop just down the road at Esrey Park. It is on the west side of the road, with parking and great boulders, picnic tables and views. It's one of my favorite places to stop and the views along this stretch are wonderful.
Explore Copper Harbor
The town of Copper Harbor isn't much further to the north and there are several places to explore. The U.S. Army built Fort Wilkins in 1844 and it is a great example of mid-19th century army life with its original log and frame structures. You can also enjoy museum exhibits, costumed reenactments, and views of the Copper Harbor Lighthouse across the bay.
As you head out of town, you can take a detour to Manganese Falls. As you head south on US-41 from the state park, turn left onto Manganese Road and travel ¾ mile until you see the sign marking the falls on the left (east) side of the road. Just pull off and park on the shoulder and it is a quick hike in to see the falls. If you continue on Manganese Road for just over a mile, you will encounter Burma Road that leads to Estivant Pines Nature Preserve. Turn left (west) onto Burma Road and travel ½ mile to the trailhead on the left (south) side of the road. The 1 mile Cathedral Grove loop passes some of the largest and oldest giant white pines, growing more than 125 feet tall and dating back 300-500 years. After enjoying these old-growth trees, you can continue on Burma Rd until you encounter US-41 or go back the route you came. Either way, go back through the town of Copper Harbor onto M-26 and after ½ mile turn onto Brockway Mountain Drive. The drive is steep but once at the top the views are incredible. You can continue down the other side of Brockway Mountain and connect with M-26, but to make a true loop through the peninsula and have plenty of scenic detours along the way, I like to go back down the mountain the way I came and head out of Copper Harbor on US-41.
Hunt Down Some Ghost Towns
Approximately 7 ¼ miles south on US-41 out of Copper Harbor is the ghost town of Mandan. There is a vertical sign on the left (south) side of the road that could be missed easily. But once you pull off and walk back among the trees you will see a few abandoned houses still standing, plenty of old foundations and ruins among the weeds. The Mandan and Medora mines, two copper mines which were established in 1864 and worked until abandoned in 1909. The surround town died and left a creepy feeling in its place.
You can continue on along US-41 and turn off on Gay Lac La Belle Road for for a pretty drive out to the town of Bete Gris and the Bay. Make sure you stop at the beautiful granite rock beaches and watch for moose out that way.
Once you get back to US-41 from Gay Lac La Belle Rd, continue ½ mile to the historic mining town of Delaware. The ruins here of the old mine are some of my favorites in the Keweenaw. You can take a tour into the mine, but the ruins of the massive sandstone buildings are my favorite. There are now easy walking trails that take you past the ruins of two original mine buildings, equipment displays, antique engines and trains.
After you have explored for a while, if you are inclined to see more mine ruins, continue south on US-41 for 6 ½ miles to Eagle Harbor Cut Off Road. Approximately 1 mile down the road is the Monk Trailhead on the left (west) side of the road. This 2.6 mile loop takes you past the Arnold Mine Ruins and further to the top of Jacobs Falls (which was an earlier roadside stop). A lot of the trail is along Jacob's Creek and makes for a nice hike.
Finish with a Lake Superior Sunset
To finish your grand tour of the peninsula, continue south on US-41 until you are back in the village of Calumet. Turn right on M-203 and head south to either Calumet Waterworks Park (for a great rocky beach) or further to McLain State Park (which has sandy beach) and enjoy the sunset over Lake Superior. You can continue on M-203 for great views along the Portage Canal as you head back into Hancock and Houghton.
You would be hard pressed to fit these sights and stops all in one day, so breaking up the trip and camping in Ft. Wilkins State Park, enjoying a room at the historic Keweenaw Mountain Lodge in Copper Harbor or staying at one of the lighthouse keeper cottages would be a great way to stay longer and explore more.
The Keweenaw Peninsula is my favorite part of our state! With so many different things to explore - all of the historical sites, waterfalls, ghost towns and mining ruins, waterfalls, gorgeous beaches and views - you won't be bored!