Houghton is a small city (population around 7,700) in the northernmost tip of the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, otherwise known as the Keweenaw Peninsula. On a map, it’s in an area that looks like a finger sticking out into Lake Superior. Logically, it seems like it should be called northern Wisconsin and fall in the Central Time Zone, but it follows Michigan Eastern Standard Time. We visited in October, looking for fall color, and were not disappointed. It’s a beautiful area, and was a nice change of pace from our annual fall Asheville, North Carolina trip. We’d been to Asheville four years in a row, and now I think the UP will be our fall destination for the next few years. Here’s why . . .
We stayed at the wonderful Sheridan Bed & Breakfast in Houghton, not far from Michigan Tech University (MTU). More than once, we had to stop as students crossed the street in front of us as we drove the main road into town. I enjoy college towns, maybe because it makes me reminisce about my youth. The Sheridan B&B is located right on Portage Lake, so two of the three rooms there have a beautiful lake view. The sunrise over the lake was spectacular on some mornings. One morning, when the temperature was in the low 30s, it looked like steam coming off the lake while the sun was rising. We enjoyed breakfast each morning with people from different parts of the U.S., and got to know Barb and Bill, the hosts. We could easily have enjoyed breakfast with just them, since they are fascinating people themselves. They raised four kids in this area, and several of their family members are MTU alumni. Barb and Bill can answer any questions about the area and offer dining or day trip suggestions. After our first breakfast, Barb gave me a packet of maps and brochures, with tips for our drive up to Copper Harbor. We loved staying here and hope to return again next year.
Flying into Marquette, Michigan
Marquette is the largest city in the UP (population around 21,400), and both Delta and American offer flights there. United offers flights directly into Hancock (CMX), but the departure/arrival times were more convenient for us through Marquette (MQT), so that’s where we landed. The airport has only two check-in counters and three gates, but that’s all they need! Our rental car was right outside the door. It wasn’t much further than where I park when I go grocery shopping. That certainly beats the inconvenience of very large airports that take nearly an hour to shuttle us off-site for our rental car!
On the drive west from Marquette to Houghton, we passed a rest area that had a waterfall. It’s an easy hike in, maybe 15 minutes? It was our first taste of fall color after landing, and at the end of the trail we reached a pretty waterfall where we took quite a few photos. This is a worthwhile stop. It’s right off 41 with plenty of parking, and the scenic trail follows the river to the falls.
Pilgrim River Steak House
This was our first meal in Houghton after landing in Marquette, then driving for several hours before arriving at the Sheridan Bed & Breakfast. It was nearly dark when we checked in, and Bill suggested the Pilgrim River Steak House, which was within walking distance. We walked down a tree-lined path from the Sheridan and then crossed the street to the restaurant and had a nice dinner. Having had a full meal at the Detroit airport for lunch, I wasn’t that hungry so opted for one of their specialty salads, and was not disappointed. My Tandoori chicken salad with pineapple and honey mustard curry dressing was delicious, and so was the homemade soup, especially after coming in from the cold. Walking back, it was completely dark, and when we looked up, we could see so many stars! There is minimal light pollution way out here, so anyone who enjoys astronomy will enjoy the night sky here.
Seaman Mineral Museum
If you’re a rock hound, you’ll love this museum on the MTU campus. A large collection of various minerals of all shapes, sizes, and colors fascinated me. Personally intriguing was finding out that sulfur is bright yellow. Yellow #5 food color, a sulfur compound, gives me hives. I knew it was a sulfur compound, but did not know that sulfur was yellow. I react to all kinds of sulfur compounds such as sulfites, sulfur dioxide preservatives, and sulfa antibiotics, so it was odd to see my personal poison displayed in a glass case behind lights.
Quincy Mine Tour
Visit an old copper mine and learn about the copper industry that was dominant here beginning in the 1800s. A fascinating educational tour explains the mechanics of bringing copper up from below. There was no electricity back then (no flashlights), no cell phones (how did they communicate with the miners?) and no gas powered engines, yet copper mining became a major industry in the Keweenaw Peninsula. The world’s largest steam hoist is on display here, which will pique the interest of any engineers in the group. After this first tour, we took a cog rail tram down into the mine. Another guide explained what a working mine was like back then and showed us some of the tools used. Miners led a hard life, and the tour made us appreciate our office jobs. It’s about 40 degrees down there so wear gloves if you have them and warm clothes. The Quincy Mine is a National Historical Landmark and a non-profit organization, so buy something from the gift shop to support them.
Peterson’s Fish Market/Four Suns
Practically across the street from Quincy Mine, this hole in the wall with outdoor seating serves fresh Lake Superior whitefish at reasonable prices. Pictured here is the baked parmesan crusted whitefish with sweet potato and cole slaw. We had a late lunch there after the Quincy Mine Tour. This is a local favorite, so expect a line unless you visit at off-peak hours.
Sylvania is a wilderness area near Watersmeet, a couple of hours south of Houghton. Parking leads to Clark Lake, which we hiked around for a couple of hours. Using the map feature on my husband’s cell phone, we periodically checked how far around the lake we had hiked. With towering pines and very few people, it’s a great place to enjoy the fresh air, quiet, and wilderness. My husband said this was his favorite hike because it was so quiet and peaceful there.
Heading back north up 45 from Sylvania, turn right at the sign to Bond Falls State Park. This large waterfall has trails taking you all the way up to the top of the falls. The falls look different when viewed from the top. A nice short side trip.
Copper Harbor Drive
We spent a fun day driving up the Keewenaw Peninsula to Copper Harbor. Calumet is a nice first stop if you’re looking for gift items. We bought a t-shirt, but there were also some nice artsy items for sale. Continuing north up 41, we eventually turned and headed west to the Lake Superior shoreline at Eagle River, then drove up the coastline. There are many waterfalls to see on this drive and you can stop at all or none. Honestly, after a while, they all look alike to me. No, not really, but since we had some longer hikes planned, we didn’t stop at many of the waterfalls. We did stop at Eagle River Falls to take this photo.
Continuing up the shoreline, we stopped at an agate beach, because I’d never heard of an “agate beach.” I grew up in Hawaii and now live in Florida, and there are no agate beaches in either state. After hiking down some steep stairs to the shoreline, I saw a beach covered with various colored rocks: blue-gray, various shades of dusty red, and speckled combinations. Wow, this was really cool! I could stay for hours looking at the different rocks if I were a kid.
A little later, we followed a sign to Brockway Mountain Drive and headed uphill. Unlike most of the shoreline trees, there was some fall color here as we climbed in elevation. Eventually we reached the summit, parked at a scenic overlook, and took some photos. Continuing on down, there was one more overlook with a view of Copper Harbor itself. A few minutes later we intersected with the main road. Turning right would have taken us into the town of Copper Harbor with many little shops. But we turned left and followed the signs to Hunter’s Point Park. The park sits on a narrow spit of land that encloses Copper Harbor. We hiked a forested trail to the end and back. At some points, the land is so narrow that we could see Lake Superior on either side from where we stood. The shoreline is rocky and there’s not much elevation, so Hunter’s Point Park is a pleasant, scenic hike.
After the hike, we headed through the town of Copper Harbor and bought a t-shirt at one of the stores. Unfortunately, because it was Sunday, some of the artsy shops were closed, so we headed to our next destination and followed the signs to Estivant Pines.
This was my favorite hike of our visit. It was rugged, and some parts of the hike were quite steep, but the forest was so beautiful with the fall colors. I was glad I was wearing hiking boots and we had walking sticks, because we often had to navigate around large roots. The walking sticks gave good balance when there was nothing to hold onto in the steeper parts of the trail. There are only two trails, but we didn’t see a trail map at the entrance; we only saw a map sign after we had hiked in a little bit. Luckily, there’s only one path up from the parking lot. If you can imagine a circle with a stick coming down the center, that’s the extent of the trails. I’ve read that the trail on the left is steeper going up than the right, so the better choice would be to head right going up, and then come back down on the left trail. We headed right going up but came down the middle on our way back because it was getting late. But this is definitely a place I hope to visit again.
Beautiful Fall Drive on 41
The short stretch of 41 from Copper Harbor back towards Delaware was gorgeous! Trees bursting with fall color lined both sides of this beautiful drive. We drove through here late in the day, so the setting sun made the colors even more vibrant. We didn’t see any place to pull over so I couldn’t take any photos.
Joey’s Seafood & Grill
We ate at Joey’s Seafood & Grill two nights in a row, because I wanted to try different things on the menu. The first night I had the Lake Superior whitefish, baked with a simple lemon seasoning. It was delicious. The second night I ordered whitefish again, but in a lemon dill sauce over white rice. I could’ve licked my plate—that sauce was delicious! Joey’s is in downtown Houghton on the main road and we had no problem finding street parking.
Nara Tech Trails
These trails are part of MTU, and since they were close to the Sheridan bed and breakfast, we decided to hike them. They are not well marked at all, and many trails intersect, so once we walked a little ways and came to an intersection, we had no idea which way to turn. I had a small map on me, but it didn’t seem to make sense with what we were seeing. Eventually we did find our way out, but I certainly wouldn’t venture in there again. We did see a little fall color, and there was no one else on the trail, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.
Another Beautiful Fall Drive: Covered Drive (S63) between Houghton and Lake Superior (near Redridge to the west)
This road was breathtaking because it was a narrow, two-lane road, which meant the trees on either side almost touch each other, creating a canopy of trees. The leaves were just starting to turn yellow when we were there and it was so pretty! We drove all the way to Freda, where the road ends, and there wasn’t much to see. Next time, we’ll just turn around once we come out of the tree canopy.
McLain State Park
This beach park lies right on Lake Superior (northwest of Houghton) and it would be a good place to catch a sunset. Unfortunately, the sunset the day we visited was not spectacular. But we did hike the forest trail and there were more agate rocks to explore on the beaches.
This large state park sits on a bluff overlooking Lake Superior in the far western portion of the UP. It’s about two hours southwest of Houghton. Stop at the visitor center for maps, a bathroom break, and to learn about the area. Locals call this place the Porkies. There are so many trails here that visitors have to decide which ones to hike, depending on how many days they have. The brochures recommend three sites for a one-day visit: Lake of the Clouds, the Summit, and the Presque Isle River trails. The park is so large that driving from Lake of the Clouds to the Presque Isle River at the opposite end of the park took over half an hour. We also didn’t have time to hike all three, so just sampled the first two. I love hiking around any form of water, whether it’s a lake, river, stream etc., so I loved the Presque Isle River hike. Be warned that most of the hikes in the Porkies involve hiking either up or down in elevation. We climbed many stairs to get down to the river level, and then had to climb back up when we were ready to leave. Visitors can see the rushing waterfalls and rapids as they work their way towards Lake Superior’s shore. This is a beautiful outdoor area with many towering trees surrounding the river. I hope to return and hike more of the Porkies the next time we visit.
After six nights at the Sheridan Bed and Breakfast, we checked out and headed to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, east of Marquette. Photos of our activities there are in the next post.