Houghton County parks ideal for outdoor enthusiasts

Two vacant chairs welcome visitors to F.J. McLain State Park to watch the waves on Lake Superior. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

Ninety years ago, members of the Houghton County Board of County Park Trustees met and crafted a plan to create three parks within the county.

Among the members of the panel was Frederick Jay McLain, a man who’d moved from Nebraska to the Keweenaw Peninsula to work as chief clerk for the Quincy Mining Co. — a copper mining enterprise well-known to the local populace.

“Three distinct sites, already popular recreational areas, were involved,” states a Michigan Department of Natural Resources park history, referring to establishing the parks. “One was at Twin Lakes and the other two on opposite sides of the Portage Ship Canal.”

Land was surveyed from 1925-26 for Canal State Park, which was renamed for F.J. McLain in 1931. This would be the first state park established there.

McLain, who was appointed assistant treasurer of the Quincy Mining Co. and served on the Houghton County Road Commission and later, on the Board of County Park Trustees, “displayed a keen interest and devoted many hours of time to the development of the first state park in Houghton County.”

Children enjoy the playground at Twin Lakes State Park. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

All the early construction at the park was completed by the Works Progress Administration, including monument rock stoves, a bandstand, toilet building and picnic tables.

Today, the 443-acre park sits on land obtained through tax reversions, land exchanges and property leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Renovations are underway as part of a plan to revitalize park infrastructure and protect features from shoreline erosion at the hands of Lake Superior, which has been a persistent problem over a period of several years.

With stunning sunsets and sweeping views of Lake Superior from its shores, F.J. McLain State Park remains a favorite place for many park visitors who return each year to camp, swim, bike, picnic and gaze at stars or the northern lights over the lake.

McLain State Park offers two miles of sand beach on Lake Superior. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of activities at the park, including fishing, hiking, windsurfing, berry picking, beachcombing and sight-seeing.

The park is located between Hancock and Calumet, along M-203. The park has a 4-mile hiking trail, a playground, cabins and lodges, roughly 100 modern campsites, a concession store and a picnic area, horseshoe courts and volleyball equipment.

Visitors to Twin Lakes State Park in Houghton County enjoy the water. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

There are numerous historical and natural attractions located nearby, along with restaurants located in the small towns that adorn the extent of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Among these attractions are Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, the Keweenaw National Historical Park, several waterfalls, beaches, rivers and lakes to fish, trails to hike and bike.

From Copper Harbor to Hancock, the Keweenaw Peninsula is home to amazing landscapes to enjoy, quiet woods to walk, rocks to hound and beautiful scenery along winding blacktopped roadways.

About 25 miles southwest of McLain State Park, sits Twin Lakes State Park on the southwest shore of Lake Roland, alongside M-26.

The 175-acre park includes a modern campground, boating, a playground, mini-cabins and perhaps most notably, a popular 500-foot swimming beach. Lake Roland is one of the warmest lakes in the Upper Peninsula, providing a welcome place for summertime swimming.

There is a 1.5-mile hiking trail at the park, with the Bill Nicolls multi-use trail situated nearby, which extends for 38 miles throughout the western Upper Peninsula, into neighboring Ontonagon County.

Lake Roland’s twin, Lake Gerald, is located directly north of Twin Lakes State Park. This area is a beautiful place for boating, swimming and fishing. Between the two lakes, there are 16 species of fish waiting for anglers.

The state park was established in 1964. There are roughly 60 campsites with electrical hook-ups there.

Two miles south of Twin Lakes State Park, the DNR manages the Emily Lake State Forest Campground, which has nine rustic campsites, a boating access site and fishing.

Like F.J. McLain State Park, Twin Lakes State Park is in a good place to set up a base camp, traveling throughout the surrounding area to explore numerous additional attractions, including local copper mines, a restored mining community at Victoria and mineral museums.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park — Michigan’s largest state park — is well within the scope of a day trip. That park is crisscrossed with numerous backcountry trails, scenic vistas and more place to explore associated with Lake of the Clouds and Lake Superior.

Wildlife viewing opportunities are found throughout the region.

F.J. McLain and Twin Lakes state parks are two fantastic locations providing a wide range of activities and experiences for visitors to Houghton County.

In the wake of a recent June 17 flooding event, both state parks remain open and operating, as do numerous additional attractions throughout Houghton and Keweenaw counties.

With all this to consider, a trip to Houghton County should be a strong consideration for those looking for fun in the sun.