Located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Houghton is the gateway to the Keweenaw Peninsula, where you’ll find a combination of history and the great outdoors. Known for its copper mining history, the town, established in 1861, is also the birthplace of professional hockey. In autumn, spending a long weekend in Houghton, Michigan, is the perfect time to view mother nature’s complete show in technicolor.
Note: Thank you to the Keweenaw Peninsula for hosting my trip.
Things To Do In Houghton
From an outdoors perspective, Houghton offers a combination of hiking and mountain biking, keeping all activity levels busy. With the South Portage Entry, water enthusiasts will enjoy the Keweenaw Waterway, which provides access to Lake Superior. McLain State Park rests on the shores of the Keweenaw Waterway at the North Entry, where you can also enter Lake Superior. To get farther into Lake Superior, use Houghton as a jumping-off point to Isle Royale National Park. If you prefer a more sedentary trip, a drive through the area’s stunning fall colors will fit the bill. For history buffs, the region is rich with copper mining tales of yesteryear told through mine tours and ghost towns from the copper boom.
Tour Quincy Mine
Taking a mine tour is the perfect way to understand the area’s copper heritage. The Quincy Mine, located in Houghton’s twin city of Hancock, features an underground mine tour, museum, and tram ride. After touring the museum and Hoist House, you’ll take the cog-rail tram to the entrance of the mine. The guided tour covers approximately half a mile of damp, gravel pathway into the mine.
Pro Tip: The mine tour is wheelchair accessible. Call the day before you plan to tour so the facility can prepare.
Visit The A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum
Continuing the copper theme, the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum, located on the campus of Michigan Technological University, features the most prominent public display of Great Lakes region minerals. In addition, the outdoor Copper Pavilion houses a 19-ton, world-record native copper slab. Note: The pavilion is closed in the winter.
We found the fluorescent exhibit fun and informative. First, sit down before the room darkens and take in the exhibit as you see it during the day. Soon, the lights lower, and the rocks glow in the darkroom. While each cabinet glows different colors, the series of minerals glowing red and green suggests the holiday spirit.
The admission fee provides access for two consecutive days.
Hike And Bike The Trails
The Waterfront Trail is a paved trail stretching east to west through the entire length of Houghton. The course begins east at the Pilgrim River and goes along the waterfront and the western endpoint at the Kestner Waterfront Park. The Waterfront Trail is relatively easy.
Explore Michigan Tech’s and Nara Trails system for more moderate or advanced trails where all the paths connect. The trail system offers up to 19 miles of marked and unmarked singletrack biking and hiking trails with easy access to downtown eateries.
In addition, Michigan Tech’s map of its summer recreation trails will help you plan your outing. You can rent biking and paddling equipment through Tech’s Outdoor Adventure Program.
Explore The Keweenaw Waterway
You’ll find several ways to explore the South Portage Entry, from boat tours to paddle sports. Copper Country Boat Tours takes visitors out on its boat, the S.S. Dragonfly, for a narrated tour of the area’s history and historic waterfronts. For a more active adventure, rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard for a close-up view of the water. The Portage Canal offers a gentler paddling experience instead of paddling on the open waters of Lake Superior.
If you’re captaining your boat, tie up along the waterway for free day-use near the Portage Lift Bridge. Then you can walk to nearby downtown Houghton for some shopping and dining.
Go For A Scenic Drive
Take a scenic drive in autumn and do some leaf peeping. Take in Redridge, a copper mining ghost town about 28 miles west of Houghton via the “Covered Drive.” Located off Houghton Canal Road, the scenic dirt road features trees that create a tunnel effect. In Redridge, you’ll find the historic Redridge Dam and Lake Superior. Right behind the dam, you’ll find a waterfall, accessible via a short trail system.
For stunning high level views, take a chairlift ride to the top of Mont Ripley.
Visit Isle Royale National Park
While Houghton is a jumping-off point to Isle Royale National Park, visiting the park requires some planning. If you opt to visit from Houghton via ferry, the trip is approximately 6 hours one way. Arrive by seaplane, and you’ll be there in under an hour. Due to the timing of the arrivals and departures of the ferry, it isn’t a practical day trip. You will only have a couple of hours if you go for the day. While most national parks have an average stay of 4 hours, the typical stay at Isle Royale National Park is 4 days. While most visitors camp, you don’t have to. Either rent a cabin or stay at the Rock Harbor Lodge.
The island features more than 160 miles of hiking trails. Other popular activities are paddle sports, scuba diving to view the nine surrounding shipwrecks, fishing, ranger talks, and exploring the lighthouses.
Best Restaurants In Houghton
Houghton features one of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula regional specialties on its Pasty Trail. During the copper boom, miners would take hand-held pie-style pasties filled with beef, potatoes, onion, rutabaga, and seasonings to work. Other local favorites are the Lake Superior whitefish, thimbleberries, and craft beer. Here are some places you can sample pasties and dishes from these ingredients.
Roy’s Pasties & Bakery
Roy’s Pasties & Bakery combines the regional specialty, pasties, with deli fare and a bakery. They feature the Upper Peninsula’s traditional pasty. Still, the restaurant’s also been creative and has several non-traditional favorites, like the pizza pasty, the bacon cheeseburger pasty, and an award-winning turkey cranberry pasty. Roy’s also features deli favorites like hot Italian beef and chicken salad. Then for dessert, it offers over 26 bakery items. You’ll have a difficult time choosing. If you’ve never had a pasty, I would go for the traditional one and try a cronut, a combination croissant, and donut for dessert.
The Den Restaurant
Located in downtown Houghton, The Den Restaurant offers gourmet quality dinners. Two must-try dishes are the pepper steak bites and the meatloaf dinner. While in the appetizer section, it serves the pepper steak bites over a bed of parsnip puree and fennel, making it an entrée for smaller appetites. The comfort food dish with great flavor was the bacon-wrapped meatloaf topped with onion rings, served with mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
The Library Restaurant
Housed in an 1898 building, The Library Restaurant and Copper Country Brewery features red carpeted walls and shelves of books. The library theme makes it an enjoyable space to taste a flight of craft brews. Try the tasty Parmesan truffle fries and the ahi tuna tacos to accompany that beer.
Four Suns Fish & Chips
Four Suns Fish & Chips is an outdoor café located across from Quincy Mine, making it an excellent place for lunch after a mine tour. It has counter-style service and a covered deck with tables to enjoy your lunch. To dine alfresco, you can eat at one of several picnic tables in the yard. It features Lake Superior whitefish in many forms. I loved the whitefish tostada, where the foundation was a crispy flour tostada spread with a cold whitefish mixture. Then, for a pop of color, they sprinkled the top with tomatoes, onions, and green bell pepper.
Hotels In Houghton
Houghton offers various accommodations, from local boutique hotels, nationally branded chains, and camping experiences.
The Vault Hotel
A boutique hotel located in downtown Houghton, The Vault Hotel sits in what was once a bank. The hotel’s décor continues with the banking theme, from the teller windows, salvaged security deposit boxes, and penny-topped bar in the Counting Room, the hotel’s speakeasy. Each room in the 17-room hotel is unique. The room’s style depends on which of the 3 floors you choose. The first floor, Old Money, offers jewel-tone décor and gilded details, the second, New Money, has modern lines with pops of color, while the third floor, Found Money, is a bold contrast in colors and graphic details. No matter the level, this is a fun non-smoking, no pet property.
The Holiday Inn Express
If you prefer to collect your Frequent Stay points at a national chain, The Holiday Inn Express is conveniently located on the west side of Houghton, just off Michigan Highway 26.
The City Of Houghton RV Park
Located half a mile from downtown Houghton, the City of Houghton RV Park is a seasonal park featuring 22 campsites, open from May through October. The park offers many amenities — sewers at each site, water, electric service, a paved site, cable T.V., and Wi-Fi. A picnic table on a covered patio, a park bench, a grill, and a fire ring add to the experience. The RV Park is next to the Kestner Waterfront Park, where you’ll find Chutes and Ladders playground for the grandkids, a sandy beach, boat launch, and a fishing pier.
Pro Tip: Many venues are open seasonally, typically from May through October. If you plan on visiting Houghton during the late fall, winter, or spring, check the venue’s website to be sure they are open.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Lake Superior area is ideal for lovers of the outdoors: