Located in the northwest section of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Keweenaw Peninsula is the northernmost part of Michigan. The Keweenaw Peninsula’s heavily forested, mountain-like terrain protrudes into Lake Superior and is perfect for autumn leaf-peeping. This area was the United States’ first copper rush site, preceding the California gold rush, so the region is rich with history.
After flying into Houghton County Memorial Airport (CMX), rent a car to explore the area. Your Great Lakes State tour begins in Houghton and takes you across the Keweenaw Waterway, 41 miles up US Highway 41 to Copper Harbor. Michigan’s northernmost town.
The Keweenaw Peninsula is all about outdoor adventures in a remote and rural setting. Ghost towns and the local copper mining history will keep history buffs fascinated. The fall’s colorful forests will entertain leaf-peepers. Here are nine of my favorite fall experiences on Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.
Note: The Keweenaw Peninsula hosted my visit. All opinions are my own.
1. The Laurium Manor Inn
The village of Laurium, located 12 miles north of Houghton and 35 miles south of Copper Harbor, is a national historic district that provides a home base for exploring the Keweenaw Peninsula. The Laurium Manor Inn, built for Thomas H. Hoatson, who owned the Calumet & Arizona Mining Company, is a 4-floor, 13,000-square-foot, 45-room mansion featuring original details. In the dining room, you’ll see the gilded and embossed elephant leather wallcoverings. The music room showcases a domed ceiling covered in silver leaf. On the landing of the grand triple staircase made from hand-carved oak, you’ll find a 9-by-14-foot stained-glass window. Finally, be sure to look at the 1,300-square-foot ballroom on the 3rd floor.
If you’re a history buff, you’ll want to spend at least one night in this historical manor, where you can wake up with your morning coffee on the 100-foot-long tile wraparound porch. The circular porch itself is over 1,200 square feet.
Pro Tip: Whether you’re staying at the inn or not, you can take a guided audio tour of the Laurium Manor Inn. The tour takes about an hour.
2. Copper Harbor
In Copper Harbor, Michigan’s northernmost town, begin with breakfast at Jamsen’s Fish Market and Bakery, where you can get a cup of joe and pastries. If you’re looking for a heartier start to your day, it offers breakfast sandwiches and savory scones. Then, sit at the picnic tables on the Copper Harbor waterfront and take in the fresh air view. I enjoyed the yeast donut twist with the thimbleberry glaze. The bakery’s cookies make a tasty snack while you’re road tripping through the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Built in 1844, Fort Wilkins, now a state park, initially helped keep order in the region. You can learn about life at the fort from costumed interpreters on site from mid-June through mid-August. Of the 19 buildings today, 12 are original from the 1840s. The Copper Harbor Lighthouse is also part of the state park, but you can only reach it by boat.
Have an Austrian-inspired dinner at Harbor Haus, situated on Lake Superior’s shore. You’ll have a stunning harbor view with marine activity of all types — ore freighters, boats, and kayakers, scattered about. You won’t mind if you have to wait for a table on its outdoor patio. If you’re there when the Isle Royale Queen IV returns in the evening, you’ll see all the servers come out and greet the boat as it passes. The wait seems short when you have a cocktail and enjoy the lake views. To avoid an extended wait, call about a week ahead for reservations.
Pro Tip: To enter Fort Wilkins State Park and Historic Site, you’ll need a Michigan Recreation Passport, which you can purchase at the park.
3. Keweenaw Mountain Lodge
Situated in Copper Harbor, the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge is a wilderness resort at the top of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The refuge, built in 1934 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), offers year-round activities in a relaxed setting. The cabin accommodations are a perfect fit for multi-generational family trips. The two-bedroom, two-bath cabin with a single entryway has two areas separated by doors that include two living rooms simultaneously, making for collaboration and privacy. In addition, it offers a variety of cabin layouts to fit your requirements.
If your group has a combination of outdoor enthusiasts, culinary geeks, and history buffs, the resort will have something to entertain them. The Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC) offers complimentary guided mountain bike rides and social and adventure hikes. In addition, its nine-hole golf course provides occasional stargazing and astrophotography courses. History lovers should request the self-guided tour booklets of the property and the lodge. Each tour will take about an hour.
Keweenaw Mountain Lodge is home to the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park. While you don’t have to overnight at the lodge to take advantage of their International Dark Sky Park, it’s the perfect place to take full advantage of their stargazing opportunities. They even offer Night Sky and Northern Lights Photography Workshops, so you can learn to capture those alluring images.
The Lodge has a restaurant offering rustic worldly cuisine, where the food is simple, done with quality ingredients influenced by cuisines from around the world. An alternative is ordering one of the lodge’s grill kits, which include the food and equipment required for dinner on your cabin’s grill. Then, enjoy it at your cabin’s picnic table.
Pro Tip: The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge cabins have a minimum required stay. As of this writing, the minimums are two nights in the spring, fall, and summer, and three nights in the winter.
4. Michigan 26 North Shore Drive
To take full advantage of the brilliant fall colors, you’ll want to take a scenic drive, and Michigan 26 North Shore Scenic Drive provides stunning landscapes. The drive from Copper Harbor to Eagle Harbor along Lake Superior has several roadside parks and scenic turnouts along the way. For example, you could have a picnic lunch at Esrey Park, a small park about halfway between Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor. A rock staircase provides an elevated view of the area. You’ll also see the Keweenaw lava flow rocks along this drive, which adds more interest to the landscape.
Once you reach Eagle Harbor, have lunch at the Eagle Harbor Inn, and if you’d like to extend your stay in Eagle Harbor, the inn has seven comfortable rooms and an apartment to meet your needs. Next, tour the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse and Museum. In 1980, the current red-brick lighthouse (built in 1871) was automated. Today, you can tour the lighthouse and museum and discover more about maritime history in the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Right along the highway, you’ll find Jacobs Falls. The falls showcase a 40-foot drop that you can easily see without leaving your car.
Pro Tip: With any luck, Jampot will have a jar of wild thimbleberry jam in stock. Products at Jampot are handmade by monks from the nearby Poorrock Abbey. Thimbleberries are a slightly tart regional berry. Unfortunately, this popular jam sells out quickly.
5. Brockway Mountain Drive
Brockway Mountain Drive, off Michigan 26, is a nine-and-a-half-mile drive between Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor. Because it’s the highest above sea-level drive between the Alleghenies and the Rockies, it’s challenging to beat the view for fall foliage. At this vantage point, you’re high above the treetops, where the mountain forest contrasts with the deep blue water of Lake Superior and the inland lakes.
Pro Tip: The scenic drive is open May through October, but while snow covered, you can take in the stunning winter wonderland via snowmobile.
6. South Shore Drive
The South Shore Drive is a county road running between the community of Gay and Lac La Belle. You’ll see a panorama of the Huron Mountains and the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula jutting into Lake Superior. The views of Bare Bluff along this area are beautiful in autumn.
Another exciting way to see the fall colors is through the Fall Color Chair Lift Rides. Mount Bohemia offers them, and you’ll pass by it on your way down the south shore. It also has them on Mont Ripley at Michigan Technological University.
Pro Tip: Settled in 1904, the town of Gay grew around the Mohawk & Wolverine Mining Companies’ stamp mills.
Today, you’ll find black, sandy beaches in the area that came about due to the stamp mills.
7. Isle Royale National Park
If you’re planning a trip to Isle Royale National Park, the perfect time to do it is during your visit to the Keweenaw Peninsula. With the ferry schedule, you’ll want to plan more than a day trip. The average stay at the park is about 4 days, but you could manage with an overnight visit. Most camp on the island, but you can rent a cabin or stay at Rock Harbor Lodge.
Once you arrive, check at the visitor center for a complete schedule of ranger talks. The park rangers provide in-depth historical and cultural information during their talks, which occur daily in July and August. With over 160 miles of hiking trails, you’ll find plenty to explore. Discovering the lighthouses, fishing, paddle sports, and scuba diving will contribute to an active outdoor adventure.
Pro Tip: While the boat trip to Isle Royale is about six hours from Houghton, it only takes three and one-half hours from Copper Harbor. If you take a seaplane, you’ll be there in under an hour. If you plan a day trip, you will only have about two hours on the island if you go by ferry.
The additional rainfall in September and October makes fall a good time to chase waterfalls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Upper Peninsula has about 300 waterfalls, and Keweenaw has its fair share — Agate, Bond, and O’Kun de Kun, to name a few. The autumn colors frame the falls, making it a beautiful way to leaf peep.
9. Copper Country Trail National Byway
The Copper Country Trail National Byway is a 47-mile-long section of US-41 from Copper Harbor to Houghton. The drive isn’t a lakeshore drive, but rather inland. The trees form a tunnel-like canopy over the road, which makes it a particularly beautiful drive in autumn when the trees are ablaze with color. Birdwatching is a popular activity in this area in the fall due to migratory birds. I even spotted an eagle during my drive.
To expand your vacation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, consider these experiences: