(First published in the August 30, 2018 issue of City Pages)
Find a hidden outdoors gem, just four hours north of Wausau, in Copper Harbor
KEWEENAW NIGHT SKY PHOTOGRAPHY/JEREMY ROWE
Though northern lights are a phenomenon related to solar activity, not seasons, the best times to catch them around Copper Harbor tend to be October, November and April.
The northernmost city in Michigan, Copper Harbor, is a hidden gem located at the top of the Keweenaw Peninsula, surrounded by Lake Superior. About a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Wausau, the town over the past decade, has built a deserved reputation as one of the best places in the Midwest for tourism. And at a manageable distance, it’s perfect for a long weekend vacation or even regular weekend getaway, for all seasons.
Mountain bike on some of the best trails in the Midwest
Copper Harbor is one of only 11 silver-level International Mountain Biking Ride Centers in the entire world, boasting 35 miles of trails that have something for all levels of riders.
If you don’t have your own bike, rent from Keweenaw Adventure Company in town. A full suspension bike will run you around $55 for five hours. KAC also runs a shuttle bus on weekends through the summer, taking riders to the top of Brockway Mountain Drive, 600 feet above the city.
Searching for an even better adventure on a bike? Bike pack the Keweenaw Point Trail out to High Rock Bay, and enjoy one of the best views of the night sky the Midwest has to offer. There are a few non-reservable campsites out there, and on the way, you can check out the Keweenaw Rocket Range, where NASA once shot meteorological rockets into space.
Hit the trails for views and waterfalls
In addition to world-class mountain biking, there are miles of paths and routes in and around the town, too.
There are an ample amount of hiking trails and even some “mountains” to hike around Copper Harbor. My suggestions would be to hit Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary for a nice, easy hike, or check out the website Summit Post for information on hiking up Mount Houghton. Taking a short drive up Brockway Mountain Drive is worth it too, as you’ll get a great view of Copper Harbor from a scenic overlook off the road.
It’s common to see northern lights in and around Copper Harbor—find a spot that looks north over Lake Superior for the best view. The peak and best months are October, November and April (without the threat of lake effect snow, according to UPTravel.com.
There are 30 waterfalls in Keweenaw County, and all of them are worth checking out. Manganese Falls is the easiest to reach from Copper Harbor, located just south of town. Or take a drive to Bete Grise and hike to Montreal Falls. There’s an upper and a lower falls in the middle of the Baraga State Forest. For more information, check out waterfallsofthekeweenaw.com.
Rent an SUP or canoe or learn how to sea kayak
Once again, you can go through Keweenaw Adventure Company to rent a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) or canoe, and paddle to any of the protected areas within Copper Harbor or go to one of the inland lakes. Otherwise, Keweenaw Adventure Company can take you on a sea kayaking day trip, or teach you a water safety course so you can rent a sea kayak and go on your own self-guided trip.
Take a day trip to Isle Royale National Park:
Brockway Mountain Drive Vista
The scenic overlook of Brockway Mountain Drive
Looking for breathtaking scenery in a national park but want to avoid the crowds of Yosemite or the Smoky Mountains? Then Isle Royale is for you. Yellowstone National Park receives as many visitors in a day as Isle Royale receives in an entire year. Plus, if you’re in Copper Harbor, you can spend the least amount of time on a ferry getting out to the island, on the northern half of Lake Superior. The Isle Royale Queen IV, which has been operating out of Copper Harbor since 1980, takes three hours to get out to Isle Royale. However, you do need to make reservations beforehand for day trips.
When on the island, there are a number of hiking day trips to take around the Rock Harbor area, where the ferry docks for the day. Make sure to do your research on the National Park Service’s website before heading up there.
Visit a copper mine
Copper Harbor is a part of copper country, an area that includes five counties in Upper Michigan. There are two mines that host tours: Delaware Mine in Keweenaw County, and Quincy Mine in Houghton County, in the town of Hancock. Both are worth visiting, especially Quincy Mine.
Stay in town for shopping, golfing, beer, food and a fish market
Copper Harbor is no different than many Northwoods tourist towns in that it boasts a number of unique businesses to visit. For those seeking to find a local gift shop, Laughing Loon is probably the best bet, as it features Copper Harbor related collectibles, local artwork and a large selection of books.
Other places that are worth stopping at are Fisherman’s Daughter, Swede’s Gift Shop, The Garden Brook, and North One Gallery.
While in town, make sure to stop at Tamarack Inn (for pasties!), Brickside Brewery (for great craft beer!), and the Berry Patch (for ice cream!). For an afternoon or evening snack, head to Jamsen’s Fish Market, and definitely try smoked whitefish.
If you’re just looking to play a round of golf, Keweenaw Mountain Lodge has a 9-hole course that’s appealing to either the beginner or advanced golfer.
Enjoy a winter wonderland
Just 15 minutes from Copper Harbor is Mount Bohemia, one of the largest ski hills in the Midwest with a 900-foot vertical drop. But be warned though! Mount Bohemia specifically states that it’s “not for beginners” and doesn’t groom any of its runs. Rather, the ski area lets the snow—273 inches on average each winter— accumulate on the mountain as powder.
The U.P. also holds some of the best snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing trails in the Midwest, and are all within easy reach of Copper Harbor.
Where to stay:
Camping is available at Fort Wilkins State Park, Lake Fanny Hooe Resort and Campground.
There are multiple hotels/motels to stay at in town, including Minnetonka Resort, Pines Resort, Mariner North Resort, Harbor Haus, Brockway Inn and Bella Vista Motel.
Fort Wilkins State Park also offers cabin rentals, as does Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, Mount Bohemia, Keweenaw Adventure Company, and Cedar Point Cabins.
There’s also the Dapple Gray Bed & Breakfast just west of Copper Harbor.