I AM THE QUINTESSENTIAL city girl. Trains, 24-hour bodegas, street traffic, high-rise buildings — that’s MY thing.
So any visit to Michigan would understandably get me excited thinking about Detroit, the birthplace of the auto industry and home to Motown. But that’s not where I was headed on this trip; my destination was the western section of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a remote finger of land surrounded by enormous Lake Superior. It would be a new experience for me, but then again the most important lesson in traveling is to leave your inhibitions at the door — and that’s just what I did.
The western Upper Peninsula (the “UP”) is a mix of dense forest, lakes and rivers small and large, and quaint towns. For an area that has more trees than people (Copper Harbor’s population, for example, is 90), there’s no shortage of activities or sights. From exploring underground mines, dining on fresh-caught fish and other local specialties, to hiking through the Porcupine Mountains, I now understand why “Yoopers” (full-time residents of the UP) speak of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with an incredible amount of love and pride.
Vintage vibes in downtown Houghton
Downtown Houghton was built upon the enormous success of the copper-mining boom over 200 years ago. At one point, this small town had more millionaires than any other in the US. Today, with most of the original architecture still in place, you can enjoy an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars, shops, and local attractions. The vintage cars and signage add to the character of this town.
I now understand what the term “food porn” means. According to the Yoopers, “you will never leave Michigan hungry.” Food is celebrated here—this place truly follows the farm-to-table lifestyle, offering diverse selections from the entire food chain. Fresh-caught fish guarantees a selection of the best eats: lake trout (grilled or smoked), honey-glazed salmon, whitefish, smelt, and anchovies. Add one of the local brews to dinner and you’re experiencing what makes the UP so special.
The ultimate religious experience – Jampot
Where can you go to taste homemade jellies, cakes, cookies, bread, candies, and one-pound muffins made by Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic monks from the Society of St. John? Jampot is a pastry and dessert utopia. This popular little bakery fills up quickly with lines sweeping down the street. I fell in love with the rum-and-bourbon cakes, which are aged at least six months, and left with a bag full of jalapeño caramels and crabapple jelly.
You can’t leave the UP without eating a pasty. These meat pies are generously sized and packed with seasoned-meat and veggies. Cornish miners who immigrated to Michigan during the copper rush of the 1800s brought with them their national dish, and the Finnish later followed with their own version. This was a quick handheld meal for miners who couldn’t leave the mines to eat. Pasties are a staple in the UP, and today you can try an array of flavors, from broccoli and cheese, pepperoni pizza (similar to a calzone), to my personal favorite, Thanksgiving in your hand—turkey, cranberries, and stuffing.
Thanks to a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign in 2011, Brickside Brewery is the first microbrewery in Copper Harbor, Michigan. This tiny bar, in a town with a population of only 90 people, delivers fresh and flavorful beers that are a mix of handcrafted, bottled, and specialty brews. Try the sample glasses for $1 or get a whole pint for only $3.50.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (“The Porkies”) has an expansive 60,000 acres of woods, hiking trails, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and beaches. Choose from hunting, fishing, camping, wildlife watching, or trekking the 90+ miles of trails. The natural beauty of this place is as stunning as the pride displayed by the community when talking about it to visitors.
Sea kayaking with the Keweenaw Adventure Company
It took a group of 15 people and a lot of prayers to get me to attempt sea kayaking, but am I ever glad I tried it! The Keweenaw Adventure Company conducts tours for beginner-to-advanced kayakers. The Porter Island Paddle is a recommended 2.5-hour tour of the Copper Harbor section of Lake Superior.
Lake of the Clouds
It’s easy to see why Lake of the Clouds is considered a “must see” for first-time visitors to the Porkies. Located 300ft below a scenic overlook that’s easily accessible by a 100-yard hike, I was blown away by the view of green trees spilling into sparkling blue water. Every season is worth the trip to the Porkies, especially in fall when the colors change from deep greens to autumnal reds, yellows, and oranges.
Walking through Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Park, you will encounter some pretty spectacular waterfalls, the largest of which is Manabezho Falls on the Presque Isle River. Named after the Ojibwa’s spirit god, Manabezho Falls is easily accessible by trail.
Laurium Manor Inn
“Live like a copper baron, if only for one night,” proclaims the Laurium Manor Inn, a beautiful bed & breakfast located in the historic district of Laurium. Originally built for Thomas H. Hoatson, owner of the Arizona and Calumet Mining Company, in 1908, the inn is an impressive 13,000 sq. ft. building with 45 rooms all specially decorated with beautiful artwork and antiques personally selected by owners Dave and Julie Sprenger. Both enjoy giving history lessons on the inn while plying you with delicious food and drink. If you’re lucky, you may be able to try some of Julie’s lavender-infused cookies she creates with her sister Cally under their label Sister Sister Foods.
The Mineral Museum of Michigan
The Mineral Museum of Michigan is like stepping into Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue in New York. Housing an extensive collection of over 20,000 minerals and crystals, including Michigan’s pure copper (a six-foot sheet of White Pine Mine Copper that greets you as soon as you walk into the museum), this is also a great place to shop for gems, rocks, fossils, and mineral-infused jewelry.
Fans of ghost towns, antique furnishings, and history will enjoy a trip to Old Victoria, an abandoned mining settlement with log cabins dating back over 100 years. Learn about the daily life of a miner and his family through an informative guide-led tour. The coolest thing about this tour is that you’re actually able to touch the artifacts.
Sunset over the Portage Lake Lift Bridge
This bridge, the heaviest aerial lift bridge in the world, stands on the border between Hancock and Houghton, MI. It’s a multi-leveled construction that accommodates both vehicles and pedestrians and is the only entrance to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula other than by boat or plane.
Learn about the copper rush of the 1800s and why copper mining was an integral part of economic growth in the US by going on a mining tour at the Quincy Mine National Historic Landmark District. Visitors can experience the historic artifacts in the museum and ride a cog-rail tram to the actual mine. The ride takes you down a hill that offers a spectacular view of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge. After the tram ride, you’ll be escorted underground to the actual mine, where a guide will show the equipment used to dig for copper as well as give you a history of the Michigan mining industry.
Great Sand Bay
While driving along Lake Superior’s coastline in Keweenaw County, visit one of the largest areas of sand beach on the Keweenaw Peninsula, Great Sand Bay. Enjoy the seclusion of the beach, which is popular for sunbathing, swimming, and windsurfing. As a huge collector of minerals, I enjoyed the abundance of agate sprinkled along the shore. Even if you’re just passing through, Great Sand Bay is worth a 10-minute stop to dip your feet in.
BY ANDREA CAUTHEN