The Copper Country isn’t a place you arrive at by accident. It’s up in the wilderness, with limited options to get there. But once you get there, you’re rewarded with the splendor of lake views for days, miles of wooded beauty and wildlife, and some of the most apparent mining history still on view in the country. Come for the views and stay for the food and culture – you’ll love it up here.
The Copper Country sits at the top of the Keweenaw Peninsula in the northernmost part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which sits on top of Wisconsin like a hat. You can get there from Lower Michigan by crossing the Mackinac Bridge, and then following Highway 2 west until hitting Route 41. From here, follow Route 41 all the way up to Houghton and Hancock. If you want to come up from Wisconsin, the best path is to follow Route 141 until it turns into Route 41, which will lead you right to Hancock and Houghton. If you’re coming from further west, take Highway 26 up to Hancock and Houghton.
Houghton and Hancock are the base towns for any trip to the Copper Country. Only two main highways take you there: Route 41 and Route 26. Take either one until you get to Houghton, where you’ll cross the Portage Lake Lift Bridge into Hancock to begin your trip through the Keweenaw.
There’s only one airport in the Keweenaw, and it’s the Houghton County Memorial Airport in Calumet – but it might not be all that easy to get onto a flight. The airport is tiny, with just one large room and only two flights per day. The flights are direct between here and Chicago O’Hare airport – and there are no other options for commercial flights into the Keweenaw. You can rent a car from the airport, but your best bet is to just road trip yourself up without bothering with flights.
You’ll want a car to get around the Copper Country, especially if you intend to go up mountain roads or take some shorter side trips throughout the peninsula. In Hancock, Houghton, and Calumet some ride services exist for you to call and get a ride around town, but really, no public transportation options are available.
The beautiful natural vistas of Lake Superior and the Copper Country are always free – and so are many of the sights, like Jacob’s Falls and the Eagle Harbor Life Saving Museum. But you will need to pay admission for some of the other attractions. Be prepared to pay entrance fees in cash or credit for the Quincy Mine and Delaware Mine tours, the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse Museum, and Fort Wilkins Historic State Park.
Although the Copper Country is mostly wilderness, there’s an ample amount of lodging hitting every part of the luxury spectrum. There are 12 camping areas throughout the peninsula, including at such attractions like Fort Wilkins and the Ahmeek Copper Mine.
Hotels and motels are spread throughout the Keweenaw, with most options in Hancock, Houghton, Calumet and Copper Harbor. One of the best choices is The Fitzgerald, along M26 to Copper Harbor and right on Lake Superior. As a bonus, they have award-winning barbecue in the on-site restaurant! You’ll find some gorgeous old mansions turned into Bed and Breakfasts in Laurium, and AirBnBs are available throughout the peninsula as well.
May we suggest, though, that you do as the locals do and try to stay in a vacation cottage or cabin? It’s what they call “going to camp,” and is usually a rustic stay along a lake but will be an unbeatable experience.
The Copper Country has something appealing to see all through the year, whether it’s beautiful sunsets, thrashing Lake Superior waters, or record-breaking snow. For a road trip, the best time to visit is during the warmer months.
In the spring, everything is sprouting fresh but there may still be some snow left on the ground, and seasonal businesses might not have opened yet. In the summer, it can be hot and mosquitoes might want to share your vacation, but you can be assured every business is open – plus, you’ll have the best breezes off the lake and the most chances to get into the water.
Autumn is one of the most beautiful times to be in the Keweenaw. Fall colors blaze brightly across miles of forest, and warmer days with cooler nights allow you to have the best of all the seasons in one day. The downside? Some seasonal businesses may close early, and you’ll miss your chance to visit.
Winter in the Copper Country is another animal altogether. It snows an enormous amount (there’s even a snow gauge to track the massive amounts each year), which can lead to a lot of roads, businesses, and hotels shutting down. All the seasonal shops will be closed. But, if you go in the winter, you can take advantage of all the snowy sports available. Think multiple black diamond ski runs, miles upon miles of snowmobile trails, and unique winter festivals like the snow sculpting competition at Michigan Tech University. Just remember to bring snow tires and a shovel, and educate yourself on how to drive on icy roads.
Technically, you could do our driving tour in one day, but we really recommend two days at minimum. With just a single day, you won’t have time to stop and truly enjoy all the hikes, shops, restaurants, and attractions along the route.
All the towns on this trip are small – really small. The largest one is Houghton, just before you cross the bridge to start your trip, and that’s only about 7,500 people. And Copper Harbor up at the tip of the peninsula? A whopping 125 residents. But the people aren’t necessarily the draw here, even though they’re all characters on their own. The lake, the lighthouses, the food, the natural beauty… these are the things you’ll want to have enough time to see.
We recommend, at minimum, taking a day to drive up to Copper Harbor from Houghton and Hancock, staying overnight in Copper Harbor area, and then taking another day to drive back down. If you’re going to go off-tour and head over to Gay, Lac La Belle, and Bete Grise – add another day of lodging. And if you want to stay in one central location and make this a series of small day trips, pick a spot in Calumet or Lake Linden, they’re more or less in the middle of the action.
Here’s the beauty of the Copper Country: it’s hardly ever crowded. Only about a million people visit every year, and most of them come in July and December. You truly have the opportunity to plan around your own schedule and not worry about other travelers. Even when it’s busier than normal, it still feels mostly empty. The one suggestion that will help you, though, is if you plan to visit The Jampot – get there bright and early in the morning – otherwise you’ll lose out on some great baked goods. Plus, the shop is super small, and there’s always a line. Be one of the first shoppers and it won’t make a difference!
For a scenic drive high above the Copper Country, head up Brockway Mountain. It’s the highest above-sea-level drive between the Allegheny and Rocky mountain ranges, and the views (and birdwatching!) are stunning.
Copper Harbor represents the end of the road – or at least as far as there is to travel on the Keweenaw Peninsular. Home to just 125 permanent residents, its a fine place to both play and relax, with access to great beaches and world class biking trails. Copper Harbor is also the launch point for the ferry to Isle Royale National Park.
As we make our way from beach to beach and bay to bay, we are constantly reminded that in it’s angriest mood, Lake Superior’s waters can be filled with peril and danger. Lighthouses were a literal beacon of safety for the mariners. The 150-year-old octagonal lighthouse and museum at Eagle Harbor is quite a charming sight!
The Upper Peninsula has more than 300 waterfalls. We’ll stop at two on this trip, on of them being the pleasing Eagle River Falls. If you love chasing waterfalls, we’ll have tips and suggestions for long and short hikes – it’s a whole extra adventure. You’ll also get tips on other ones to hike to or visit.
If you can’t get to the west coast to see the giant sequoias, you’ll get to see the northern equivalent on a walking trail through the Estivant Pines. The grove has pines that are more than 300 years old and rise up more than 125 feet.
This extraordinarily well-preserved Army fort from 1844 is available to visit and has local history re-enactors to guide you through. The Army built it to keep the peace between miners and the Indigenous people, but there were really never any problems to speak of.
By area, Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the entire world. The shore you’ll be driving along is gorgeous thanks to both beautiful volcanic rock formations and stunning expanses of sky and water.
Once called old reliable because of how continuously profitable the site was, Quincy Mine is one of the best preserved mines in the Copper Country. Don’t miss the underground tour and the only cogwheel tram operating in the Midwest.
This seasonal bakery sells boozy cakes and muffins as big as your head, plus other goodies. And it’s run by monks living in a beautiful monastery in the woods, surrounded by the local ingredients going into the treats at the bakery.
There’s about 50 different hiking trails throughout the Copper Country that are a joy to go through. But try these ones for the best experience.
This 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) two-loop hike will take you to the oldest and largest of the Estivant Pines, plus give you a ground’s-eye-view of about 85 species of bird.
This 4.8-mile (7.7-kilometer) trail takes you through the Keweenaw’s varied ecosystems, from sand dunes along the shore to forested landscapes further inland.
The first half of this 6-mile (9.7-kilometer) round trip trail is an uphill climb for three miles (4.8 kilometers). It’s a lot to tackle, but the reward of seeing your surroundings from 730 feet (223 meters) up makes it worth it. Watch out for black bears on this hike.
This hike takes you past three waterfalls: the upper, middle, and lower Hungarian Falls. Be extremely careful when working your way to each portion, as the path can be slippery. All told, it should only take an hour and a half round-trip to do this hike.
This hike is way over on Isle Royale, but is one of the most spectacular hikes in Michigan. It spans 43 miles (69 kilometers) one-way across the island and takes several days to hike – so if you want to do this one, give yourself about a week in the Copper Country at least.
Thankfully children are no longer sent down into the mines to work – instead, they get to enjoy a great vacation with their family in the Copper Country.
Nearly every town you’ll pass through on this trail has a park and a playground for local kids. The one in Houghton, at the start of your trip, is called Chutes and Ladders thanks to the extensive network of ladders and slides.
What kid doesn’t love a day at the beach, splashing around in the water or hunting for shiny rocks hidden in the sand?
Your fauna-friendly child will definitely enjoy following trails through the local nature preserves and learning all about the hundreds of species that call the Keweenaw home. Make sure to tell them to keep an eye out for moose along the way!
The trails in Copper Harbor have some easy beginner routes for your budding daredevils. Some of the easiest start at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.
Even adults ooh and aah at the idea of seeing the northern lights. The beaches and towns along this tour are the perfect spots to see them since there’s a clear view to the north. And remember, you can see them all year if the conditions are right! No need to sit outside in 18 layers of clothes in the middle of winter just to get a glimpse.
The Upper Peninsula is known for thimbleberries, but you’ll also find blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and more. Let the kids forage for them and then you can make a salad from what they find.
All of the Copper Country was once booming with miners and mine towns – all of which sprung up around natural deposits of copper threaded throughout the ground they were set up on. You’ll pass through several mining towns (or remnants of them) on this tour.
These are the ones to stop and check out:
Central is the first and only mine in the Copper Country ever to turn a profit in the very first year it was open – which was 1854 in this case. The townsite at Central has an outdoor walking tour of some preserved and restored buildings, including miners’ homes, plus a couple of walking trails through the woods.
This was the very first large-scale profitable mine in the Keweenaw, perched on a cliff up above the town that grew up around it. You can still see the ruins on the cliffside, and the nearby cemetery is like a step back in time.
Quincy is the best preserved mine throughout the entire Copper Country. It opened in 1848 and ended up producing so much copper that it earned the nickname ‘Old Reliable’. Today, you can take a tour of the shaft house, ride a cogwheel tram (the only one operating in the Midwest!), and go down into the mine itself.
Another great mine tour in the Keweenaw is at Delaware Mine. The spot opened in 1847, and the mine operated for the next 40 years. It was never really profitable for early investors, but it had a good run. Tours will take you down into the first level of the mine, and you can see some preserved ruins and mine equipment around the site.
Copper Harbor is one of the best places in the United States to hop onto a mountain bike – and is certifiably one of the best places in the world. The International Mountain Biking Association awarded the trail system a Silver-Level Ride Center designation, one of only 16 in the entire world. If you’re a biker, you’ll have more than 37 miles (59 kilometers) of single-track riding through unspoiled forest and varied terrain. There’s even an annual celebration in September to celebrate the town’s biking system, called Copper Harbor Trails Fest. The trails are pretty technical, so be sure to stick to the easiest routes if you don’t have much experience.
And the world-class trails in Copper Harbor aren’t the only place to ride your bike around the Keweenaw. The entire Copper Country is laced with trails to enjoy.
The Keweenaw Adventure Company, based out of Copper Harbor, brings tourists out for guided excursions, whether it’s mountain biking or kayaking the waters of Lake Superior.
The residents up north get a little funky with their festivals. In the winter, you can enter a wife-carrying competition as part of a Finnish Midwinter Festival. Or, you can cheer on a dogsled team or a solo-person team racing an elaborately decorated outhouse.
Thanks to Lake Superior’s violent mood swings, shipwrecks dot the coast along Lake Superior and your tour throughout the Keweenaw. Lighthouses were a must to keep sailors safe, and many are still there and operational.
Get your fill of the local cuisine along the Pasty Trail, which takes you to all the best spots for pasties throughout the Copper Country. Come hungry – they’re filling.
Can you imagine what 32 feet (10 meters) of snow looks like from the ground? It would reach up to the tops of telephone poles. And it did, in the winter of 1978 in the Copper Country. A trip to the Snow Thermometer will help you visualize how much it actually was, since you can look up and see a marker at the level snow hit that year.
If you visit the Keweenaw in the wintertime, a snowmobile is one of the very best ways to get around — especially if there’s some of that record-breaking snow hitting the ground. You’ll find more than 230 miles of well-marked trails, punctuated by restaurants, lodging, and small towns. The entrance to snowmobile the Copper Country begins at the Portage Lift Bridge, which lowers for snowmobile traffic in the winter. Technically, you could do this entire tour from a snowmobile! You’d miss some of the seasonal stops, of course, but the winter scenery is unmatched.
Since the Keweenaw is a peninsula, you’ll have your pick of beaches no matter where you go. These are some of the best ones you’ll pass along this tour route – but don’t be afraid to pull off the road at any point for a quick foray to the lake.
You’ll pass right through Eagle River on your trip, so make a note of the beach. If you come back at night, it’s one of the best spots to see the northern lights.
This fabulous sandy beach covers a long stretch of Lake Superior, making it the ideal place for a sunset picnic or to hunt for agates and other stones.
You’ll come to this beach in Houghton before you officially start the tour, but it’s right at the beginning. It’s along the Portage Canal waterfront and offers everything from paddle sport rentals to a dedicated swim area. Bring the kids, too – there’s a playground known locally as Chutes and Ladders.
This tour won’t take you to the east of the Keweenaw, so spend your Copper Country evenings watching the glorious sunsets that sparkle and shine across Lake Superior. The best places are the spots that are more westward facing.
Eagle River and particularly Fitzgerald’s, the local restaurant and hotel, is probably the best spot for a sunset session. You can sit in the lawn chairs out back, right on the lakeshore, and watch as the sky turns brilliant colors.
For a sunset spot free of most civilization, pop down to the beach at Great Sand Bay. There, you can watch the sunset from a blanket on the wild sand dunes of Lake Superior as your kids play in the lake.
The highest point in the Copper Country will give you one of the best views of the sunset – because it’ll be in the shadow of all the natural splendor the Keweenaw has to offer.
You’re surrounded by water on this trip, so trust us – if you don’t try the fish, you’ll regret it. Find a place serving Lake Superior whitefish. It’s a delicate, mild, flaky fish that makes for an excellent fish fry. Trout from Lake Superior is equally as delicious. We recommend Peterson’s Fish Market in Hancock, a family-run business that pulls in fresh fish every morning from the lake. The smoked fish dip is divine, but the fish tacos are among the best in the state. For fish fries, you’ll want to hit Quincy’s in Dollar Bay, Joey’s Seafood and Grill in Houghton, Dreamland in Lake Linden, or Offshore Fish and Chips in Calumet. Up in Copper Harbor, head to Jamsen’s for some stunning smoked fish.
Be sure to try a pasty (pronounced past-ee) as well; it’s a local specialty dating back to the 1800s, when miners would carry them in their pockets into the mines for a portable lunch. A pasty is a big hand pie, though best eaten with a fork and knife, stuffed full of meat, potatoes, onions, and either carrots or rutabaga. Locals dip them in ketchup, but you can also ask for gravy… if you want to give yourself away as a tourist. Either option is delicious, though, so maybe ask for both! We recommend stopping at Amy J’s in Hancock, the Mohawk Superette, or Toni’s Country Kitchen in Laurium – but any of the stops on the Keweenaw Pasty Trail will do.
Up here in the Copper Country, we’re also known for our fruit – thimbleberries specifically. Get them in jam or baked into pies, or have them popped into a sweet drink for some summertime flavor. You can even pick your own from late summer to early fall. The berries look quite similar to raspberries but taste a bit more tart.
Extra Layers: The weather can change pretty quickly and unexpectedly when you’re on a peninsula surrounded by the most massive of the Great Lakes. So bring a few extra layers and a jacket or sweatshirt you can throw on if it gets chilly. If you’re doing any mine tours, put something a bit warmer on, it’s always cooler down in the mines. If you’re visiting in the wintertime, you’ll want to bring a heavy coat, long underwear, a winter cap, thick socks, and gloves.
Footwear: Bring shoes with good traction if you’re walking along rocky shorelines, the water can make things slippery. If you choose to go hiking to see the Estivant Pines or one of the many waterfalls in the Copper Country, bring along some hiking boots and also water shoes if you plan to wade into any streams. In the winter, a sturdy pair of snow boots that come at least partially up to your knees are essential – no low-tops here, or the snow will soak your feet.
Beach Supplies: In the summertime, the water is more than fine – it’s a delightful escape from the heat. And if you don’t want to get in the lake, there’s no better spot for setting up camp to watch the sunset. So remember to bring your beach gear. A bathing suit if you want to go in, towels, blankets to sit on or beach chairs, flip flops. If you’re taking a dip and then getting back in the car, bring a dry set of clothes.
Daypack: A comfortable pack makes all the difference. In addition to carrying an extra layer and water, it’s a good idea to throw a few snacks in there as well.
Bug Repellant: It’s not uncommon for mosquitoes and biting black flies to welcome you to the Copper Country in the summer. You’ll also be contending with ticks during the warmer months. So bring a bug spray that has DEET in it, and remember to wear a hat and tuck your pant legs into your shoes if you’re out hiking.
Sunscreen: No matter what time of year you go, sunscreen is a must. In the summer, the sun shines brightly, and in the winter, the sun not only shines – but also reflects off the snow.
Sunglasses: Those bright days at the beach will be better if you can actually see, right? Protect your eyes while you’re catching rays.
Water: Bring water – and remember to drink it! Even if you’re up north in the winter, the sun can be intense and you can get dehydrated much quicker than you expect. Nobody wants to miss part of their trip because of heat exhaustion, so drink up.
Binoculars: Keep your eyes open for moose, bald eagles, deer, and hundreds of other species of birds and animals while you’re in the Copper Country. Moose like to hide along the edges of the woods, far away from people, so you’ll want binoculars with you to get the best look. Same with all other wildlife. A couple tips: Brockway Mountain is a hotspot for migrating raptors and birdwatching; and if you see a group of cars pulled over for no reason, pull over too and ask them what they’re looking at.
Map: Since cell phone service can be spotty, so too can your navigation system. A physical map will help you out if you get turned around in an area with no connection.
Portable Wi-Fi and GPS: Cell phone service and internet can be hard to come by when you’re driving or staying in the more remote areas of the Keweenaw. Bring a portable wi-fi device if you need to stay connected or are coming from overseas. Or better yet, leave everything behind and enjoy the off-grid opportunities you can have on the trip! The Copper Country has hundreds of miles of hiking, snowmobiling, biking, and cross country skiing trails, so bring a portable GPS unit with you just in case you lose your way.
Phone Charger: If you’re taking pictures with your phone, running out of batteries may result in missed opportunities.
Plastic Bag: We always like to take along a plastic bag to pick up any garbage we find along the beach or the trails.
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