Keepin up with the Keweenaw
On occasion, we enjoy disconnecting from our smart phone and wifi tethers, packing up some s’mores fixins and settling in for a week of campfires, skipping rocks and chasing fireflies. This year, we chose the Keweenaw Peninsula – the northernmost post of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Projecting like a thin finger in to Lake Superior, it’s a remote adventureland peppered with wildlife sanctuaries and hidden lakes, offering a very relaxed pace and gorgeous northwoods scenery. We were aiming for Copper Harbor – quite literally where the road ends: Chicago’s famed Lake Shore Drive is a section of US Route 41 – beginning in Miami and ending at the furthest reaches of the Keweenaw, past Copper Harbor.
Normally an adventurer, this was a planned “chill out trip” – we had rented a cabin at the edge of Lake Superior, and had no plans beyond “get there and see.” As I was 4 months pregnant, this would be an interesting trip to see what I could, and shouldn’t, try to do “in my condition!”
On a Friday morning, we packed up the convertible with snacks and tunes and set off north – a nine-hour drive ahead of us. Leaving Chicago, we drove through suburbs and ex-urbs, past the amusement parks, antique malls, and cheese stands, and past lots of pasture. Hours later, driving through Green Bay, we realized – we were not yet half way there.
The Keweenaw is FAR.
And that’s a marvelous thing. Crossing the old steel lift bridge that connects Houghton north, you pass from a vibrant college town into a living museum of mining history. Small towns that were once economic powerhouses now host weekly karaoke nights and operate at a completely different pace than this city girl is used to. Limited street lights mean amazing nighttime skies – make sure to check the astrological calendar to catch sky watching events. We happened to catch the Perseid Meteor shower AND the Northern Lights in one night!
We were booked at Eagle Lodge, a scattering of cabins nestled in the pine groves right on the shores of Lake Superior. Outfitted with a fully equipped kitchen and bathroom, the 2 bedroom cabin had just enough space for 4. The site is popular with families – there’s a larger 1950’s rustic log cabin that gets booked out years in advance! This was a lovely location to stage day trips from – on the shores of the lake, it has regular breezes and fantastic sunset views. In addition, it’s only a short drive to all the interesting points of the peninsula.
One of our first stops was in Calumet, once the center of the peninsula’s mining industry. Classically proportioned, imposing red stone buildings built during the boom days now house art and native craft shops. Take a stroll down Fifth Street and visit the vintage candy shop, or take a tour of the old Calumet Theater, once the shining star of theatrical arts in northern Michigan. Calumet is well-known for its pastys – a traditionally Cornish hand pie stuffed with mixture of meat and veggies, easy to carry down to the mines. In fact, the dish is so important to the area that they feature an annual Pasty Fest, including a Dunk Tank – filled with ketchup!
Surrounded by Lake Superior, the water offers many adventures: swimming, kayaking and boating are but a few. The Isle Royal line runs ferries from Copper Harbor to Isle Royale, about 40 miles away (the least visited National Park, Isle Royale is truly remote!) There are a number of outfits along the north coast that offer sunset cruises as well.
The coast itself is quite varied – from smooth pebble coves to steep edge cliffs and soft sand beaches, you could spend days driving around and sampling each one. Along the north coast, near Copper Harbor, Hunter’s Point Park has a couple easy 2 -3 mile walks that go between smooth stone beaches and dappled green forest. On the south side, Lac LaBelle Road hugs the coast, offering plenty of stopping points for secluded beaches.
There being so much coastline, there are numerous lighthouses in the area. One of the prettiest is at Eagle Harbor. A picture perfect brick building on a promontory point, it offers a glimpse into the lonely and challenging life of the lighthouse keeper and his family. Be sure to browse the adjacent historical society, detailing shipwrecks and salvations along the shore.
Eagle Harbor, Eagle Lodge – are you sensing a theme here? The peninsula is home to scores of mating Bald Eagle pairs. Depending on the season, you might spot babies learning to fish. Keep your eyes peeled for the tell-tale sight of a white-headed raptor – their amazing wingspan and power are not to be missed!
If you happen to enjoy berry foraging, the Keweenaw is a dream. The very short lived thimbleberry is made into a delectable regional jam, while wild blueberries and raspberries abound just at the edges of the woods. You’re likely to see cars parked at various inscrutable locations throughout the peninsula – look closely and you might see the humped backs of berry foragers at the edges of the woods.
Driving along the north coast of the peninsula, the onion domes of the Holy Transifuration Skete improbably rise from the pines. Perhaps the most unexpected sight in the Keweenaw, the Orthodox Christian monastery east of Eagle Harbor appears to have been lifted straight from Ukraine and dropped along Route 26. You might see black-robed monks with full beards and black caps tending the gardens, or crossing the road to their bakery, The Jampot. Every morning the good men of the cloth prepare hefty muffins, scones and cookies for travelers to enjoy. They also sell a number of different types of jams and jellies, made from local harvests. The bakery is a hum of activity, and the monks are happy to chat. Take an extra minute to walk towards the grounds of the church. Visitors are only allowed inside during service.
If you decide to go in the winter, you will be rewarded with a plethora of snow sports – snowmobiling, downhill and cross-country skiing, and more. In fact, Mount Bohemia offers Black Diamond Only slopes (as well as yurt accommodations – all-inclusive for only $95/night per person).
The Keweenaw turned out to be a fantastic trip for a pregnant lady. While sparse and remote, towns were near enough to each other, and public parks all had well maintained (and stink-free!) outhouses. It’s a lovely combination of beach side relaxation and sightseeing.
Know Before You Go:
- The Keweenaw is really far north – the heat of a summer’s day transitions in to a chilly night quickly. Take layers!
- Plan your adventures and bring your gear, or prepare to rent: mountain biking, kayaking and hiking are all popular summer activities. Each town has tours and rental options at varying rates.
- The mosquitoes can be fearsome – bring some spray, and mind your DEET levels as needed.
- If it rains, you might be stuck inside for a while – you might want to pack some extra reading and movies.
- Pregnant and needing a bathroom every 20 minutes? Beyond the towns, most of the beaches and outlooks have outhouse facilities. Be sure to bring some extra snacks and water along to keep yourself nourished and hydrated when on walks or drives.
- Keweenaw.info is a fantastic resource on the area
Where to stay:
- Copper Harbor Inn
Eagle Point Cabins
Eagle Harbor Inn
Lac La Belle Inn
Various private cabins for rent
Where to Eat:
Dining options are rarely gourmet but always satisfying. Each town has one or 2 outposts worth checking out. Here’s where we had great experiences:
- The Jampot (near Eagle Harbor) – run by the Holy Transfiguration Skete, this is a must. From massive muffins and cookies to foraged jams and jellies, this bakery helps support the local monastic order.
- Bear Belly Bar and Grill (Lac Labelle) – a restaurant and bar that also offers cabins for rent, the Bear Belly has great local brews, a lovely patio overlooking the lake, and an occasional bald eagle swooping through the trees. A relaxing place to while away an afternoon. Open for lunch and dinner.
- Eagle Harbor Inn (Eagle Harbor) – seemingly the center of Eagle Harbor life, local community groups and visitors rub shoulders in this classic lodge dining hall. Open for lunch and dinner.
- Harbor Haus is a sprawling German restaurant (and bed and breakfast) offering something for everyone in Copper Harbor.
- There are a handful of microbreweries in the area – Brickside Brewery in Copper Harbor and Keweenaw Brewing in Houghton are two worth seeking out.
All photos by Tyler Mallory. For more amazing images check out his site – tylermallory.com