Fall Journey to Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Name: Ginger Crichton Title: Senior Editor
My story: My husband and I had wanted to visit the western edge of Michigan's Upper Peninsula for a while; the pandemic proved the perfect motivation to make the 9-hour drive from our home in Des Moines. Our week-long stay took us from Ontonagon and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the south to Copper Harbor at the northern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. We found the Keweenaw remote, surprising and beautiful, just the way we like our vacations. Even at peak fall color, it rarely felt crowded.
But First, Food
Breakfast On our days near the Porkies we cooked in our lakeside cabin, but when we arrived in Copper Harbor, we headed to Jamsen's Fish Market and Bakery on the lake for coffee and huge berry scones.
Lunch Driving from Ontonagon to Copper Harbor, we stopped midway, in Houghton, for a hearty lunch at Roy's Pasties (one traditional stuffed pasty was more than enough for the two of us!). On a sunny day, you can picnic with a view of the Keweenaw Waterway.
Dinner After several nights of our own cooking, we were thrilled to order a takeout dinner from Harbor Haus in Copper Harbor: maple-glazed salmon over maple risotto. So. Good.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park—with 60,000 acres and 100 miles of hiking trails—was an absolute gem. We spent two full days hiking there and easily could have stayed longer. Top sights include Lake of the Clouds Scenic Area, Summit Peak Scenic Area and Presque Isle River trails. Stop at the visitors center for detailed maps before you go; it would be easy to miss the turnoff for some of the smaller trails.
My suggestion for a two-day itinerary: Day One, visit Lake of the Clouds early to beat the crowds, then hike the 1.1-mile Union Mine Trail, with interpretive plaques that tell the story of copper mining history in the Porkies. We were virtually the only ones on the trail, which winds by a stream and small waterfalls. We finished the day at the Nonesuch Mine Trail, a short out-and-back trail that leads to an abandoned copper mine and the remains of a mining town.
Day Two, head to Summit Peak Scenic Area—climbing to the top of the tower for a 360-degree overview of the park—then drive to Presque Isle to hike both the West River and East River trail, which make a 2-mile loop that passes oh-so-many waterfalls. We finished with a snack on the beach facing Lake Superior. (It would also be great to see either Summit Peak or Lake of the Clouds at sunrise or sunset; we just never timed it right!) In the afternoon we went to the aptly named Overlooked Falls, a lightly trafficked trail with more lovely streamside views.
More to Explore
Waterfalls cascade at every turn on the Keweenaw; in addition to the ones we saw inside Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, we stopped at roadside falls like Bond Falls, one of the most impressive (and accessible) waterfalls in Michigan.
For more adventures: In Hancock-Houghton, take a two-hour tour of Quincy Mine to delve into the history of copper mining and then round out your mineral knowledge at the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum. In Copper Harbor, visit Fort Wilkins State Park, built in 1844, for exhibits and living history interpreters; hike among towering old-growth white pines at Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary; and drive the 9-mile, 1930s-era Brockway Mountain Drive that runs along the ridge of Brockway Mountain, with plenty of pull-outs and short trails for gazing on the misty mountain ridges.
We'd love to get on the water with a guided kayak trip from Keweenaw Adventure Company in Copper Harbor and also take a day (or overnight) trip from Copper Harbor to Isle Royale National Park via the Isle Royale Queen IV ferry.