Welcome to the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan! Home to a great bunch of people who proudly identify as “Yoopers”. For nearly the entirety of Michigan’s statehood, many Yoopers and Yooper-allies have believed the UP (often with bits of current-day Wisconsin and Minnesota included) should secede from the Lower Peninsula and become it’s own state; Superior and Ontonagon being the two most popular names.
The idea of secession was first seriously proposed in 1858, only twenty-one years after Michigan gained statehood, when a convention was held in Ontonagon for this purpose. A seven-year-old newspaper, half a continent away, called The New York Times editorialized:
Unless Congress should interpose objections, which cannot reasonably be apprehended, we see no cause why the new “State of Ontonagon” should not speedily take her place as an independent member of the union.
It’s a subject worthy of an article (or book) of its own. For now you’ll have to settle for the Wikipedia article, because we’re here to see the sights!
We are going to be zooming-in on the UP and focusing on a peninsula on a peninsula, The Keweenaw (KEE-wah-nah) Peninsula.
Our journey begins at the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Stunning is a good word to describe many of the views in the “Porkies”. It has everything for the outdoorsy types: waterfalls, trails, camping, fishing, birdwatching, etc., etc. The cherry on top is Lake of the Clouds.
Next, we head up highway M-64 to Ontonagon. This is a great place to introduce yourself to the official food of the UP, the pasty (PASS-tee). It’s a pastry containing a mixture of meat and veggies; the most common ingredients being beef, rutabaga, potato, and onion. Think Hotpocket, but delicious. And much bigger. It is Cornish, brought to the UP by the miners that came here during the copper boom. Syl’s Café has amazing pasties, they’re my favorite of the half dozen or so places we’ve sampled them. Bonus; they also have absolutely delicious baked goods. You need to eat here.
Ontonagon also has a nice gift shop, Gitche Gumee Landing. It’s large and has a very impressive selection of copper items for purchase. Ontonagon also has a beautiful and easily accessible public beach, as well as a nice museum and a lighthouse.
The northern part of the peninsula has been our main target both times we’ve been here, so we fast forward through some beautiful country and pick things up in Houghton, the home of Michigan Technological University, AKA Michigan Tech. On campus is the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum. This is an absolute must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in geology and/or minerals…or even if you just like pretty rocks. There is so much to see that admission is good for two consecutive days.
Let’s eat! The Ambassador is a wonderful local restaurant. They have a very large menu with something for everyone. I recommend the Cudighi (coo-DEE-ghee). The menu description is “Classic UP version of this traditional Italian sausage. House made for over 50 years.” I can assure you, there’s a good reason people have been ordering it for over fifty years.
If you like beer, be sure to head up the street to Keweenaw Brewing. Three-dollar pints!!! They make great beer and have a great tap room with outside seating. You can sip some delicious beer and watch our next landmark go up and down…
The Portage Lake Lift Bridge is the only land-based connection between the southern and northern Keweenaw. The northern portion is sometimes referred to as “Copper Island” because there’s (still) lots of copper there and it is technically an island. The Keweenaw Waterway cuts the peninsula into two pieces. Crossing it brings us to Hancock.
Sitting high up on a hill on the edge of Hancock is the Quincy Mine. This is probably the best preserved and most accessible copper mine in the Keweenaw. They have a great museum and tours. Unfortunately, we had a canine traveling companion, so this tour wasn’t an option.
Now we hop on highway M-203 and head to McLain State Park. A much smaller park than the Porkies, but what sets this place apart is the campsites and cabins that are right on the lake. So close in fact, that the last time we were there (Fall 2020), they had lost some campsites to erosion. They also have a designated dog beach for your furry friends to enjoy the lake. If you are camping, I can’t recommend this park enough. Even if you aren’t, go check out the lighthouse and beaches.
Let’s get back on highway M-203 and go inland a bit to Calumet and Larium. Calumet’s downtown is very cool. Huge old buildings harken back to the time of the Keweenaw copper boom. Two highlights are the Calumet Theater and the Red Jacket Fire Station, which houses a firefighting museum. There is a lot to see around here.
The sister cities of Calumet and Larium are also home to two highly-rated pasty shops: Jen’s (née Connie’s) Kitchen and Toni’s Country Kitchen. Also, I must mention my favorite general store: Harter’s Party Store. Their tag line is “Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. (They have other stuff, too.)
A few miles north, in Kearsarge, is an interesting example of a WPA make-work project – a stone boat.
Heading up US highway 41 we come across an amazing rock shop in Allouez, Prospector’s Paradise. The selection is overwhelming. Mrs. S describes it as “a museum where everything is for sale”. Bonus; the owners are super friendly and readily give out advice on good spots to go rockhounding.
A little further up US highway 41 we come to a wonderful specimen of American roadside attractions, the Keweenaw Snow Thermometer. It’s a fun photo op, as well as a nice quiet spot to stretch your legs and use the facilities.
At Phoenix we’ll hop on route M-26 for a lakeshore drive. This is a wonderfully scenic way to work your way to the tip of the Keweenaw. Eagle Harbor is the first town we come to and was our Keweenaw headquarters the last time we went.
About halfway to Copper Harbor, you have a choice to make. Stay on the shoreline or take Brockway Mountain Drive. If time allows, the correct answer is “both”. If you’re short on time, head up Brockway. The view from the top is magnificent, and the sight of Copper Harbor as you come down on it from the mountain is sublime.
Copper Harbor is as north as we can go without getting wet. For a tiny town it has a lot going on. The Isle Royal ferry is based here. Just outside of town is Lake Fanny Hooe (to the right in the previous pic). In between Superior and Fanny Hooe is Fort Wilkins State Park. Fanny Hooe has some beautiful views, and Fort Wilkins is a very well preserved/recreated fort. The also have “living history” events if you are into that sort of thing. There are a lot of trails that start in and around Copper Harbor, and I saw at least one outfitter renting bikes. There are many shops in town, my favorite was a cool rock shop, Swede’s Gift Shop, that has some high-quality copper pieces.
One last fun thing to do is to drive to the beginning of US highway 41 just a mile or so past Fort Wilkinson. US highway 41 runs from here all the way to Miami, Florida; only 1990 miles away. Road trip!!
Now we’re going to start working our way back south down US 41. From here to Delaware is the US 41 Covered Drive. For much of it the road is completely shaded by trees. There’s also a lot of hills and blind corners, so if you’re the driver you likely won’t get to enjoy the view too much. The views turn from beautiful to breathtaking in the fall.
I mentioned before we couldn’t do the Quincy mine tour because of our pooch. Well, the Delaware Copper Mine allows dogs. There’s an orientation video in the small gift shop, and then you walk down ninety-one steps for a self-guided tour. Above ground there is a lot of historic mining equipment and buildings to check out.
A little further south and we’re back to Phoenix and that completes our loop. Now, for every sight we covered here, there are dozens of more things to see. The Keweenaw is full of mines, waterfalls, lighthouses, beaches, as well as trails (for hiking, biking, skiing and all-terrain vehicle use), art and antique shops, rockhounding, etc, etc. Many of the current residents descend from Finnish miners, so there is a lot of Finnish culture around. For instance, as you travel around, you’ll see saunas in back yards and for sale on the side of the road.
And be sure to get some thimbleberry jam. There are at least two ladies who sell it out of their homes – you will see their signs. We stopped at one and spent sixty dollars on various preserves she was selling on the honor system from her back porch.
Get up there and explore.