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The beauty of Baraga and L’Anse

Keweenaw Bay area offers numerous recreational opportunities

The cascading Falls River in L’Anse rushed toward Lake Superior, not far south from Baraga State Park. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

The gateway communities of L’Anse and Baraga – situated on either side of the head of Keweenaw Bay on Lake Superior – beckon visitors to countless historic and recreational opportunities available in the area.

Not the least of these attractions is Baraga State Park, which is being upgraded this summer with enhanced electrical and other improvements. There are more than 100 campsites located here, with activities ranging from off-road vehicle riding, swimming and fishing to boating, stargazing and photography.

The park is located along U.S. 41, just north of L’Anse on Keweenaw Bay.

Within sight of the park’s roadside picnic area, high on a red-rock cliff, is the shrine of the Snowshoe Priest, which includes a towering statue six stories tall, which overlooks the bay, erected to commemorate the life and mission of Father Frederic Baraga.

Baraga came to the region in 1830 and devoted his life to the American Indians living in the region. The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community remains here today.

The entrance to Baraga State Park off U.S. 41 is shown. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

With its central location in the western Upper Peninsula, a good many park visitors use Baraga State Park as a base camp to visit many locations in and around Baraga County, including the Keweenaw Peninsula, the cities of Houghton and Hancock, the Porcupine Mountains and more.

From secluded green forests, tumbling waterfalls, quiet lakes and rocky outcroppings with beautiful vistas, there are fantastic places nearby to visit, including several state forest rustic campgrounds, each associated with a water body.

These campgrounds are for those interested in an even quieter setting, with few amenities. Picnic tables, water pumps, a fire ring and a pit toilet are provided.

Among these, Big Eric’s Bridge has great spring and fall trout and salmon fishing on the Huron River; King Lake is a beautiful kayaking place with rock islands, loons, eagles and moose; Big Lake is a sandy-bottomed lake with access to the Baraga Plains and the Baraga Plains Off-Road Vehicle Trail and hiking at the Sturgeon River Gorge; and Deer Lake provides a secluded atmosphere with fishing and boating.

Michigan’s highest natural point, Mount Arvon, is not far from the park. The shores here are rugged and the waters protected and often peaceful. The communities of L’Anse and Baraga provide shops, places to eat and to buy gasoline.

Kayaking classes, like the one shown here, are taught on the waters of Lake Superior at Baraga State Park. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

The beautiful Huron Islands and Huron Bay are also located in this area, along with the Abbaye Peninsula, with numerous angling destinations available. Wildlife watching, hunting, snowmobiling, hiking and kayaking are additional popular activities in this area.

In this part of the U.P., heading in any direction from L’Anse and Baraga will open up wide worlds of discovery, with the historic Copper Country located to the north, Baraga Plains waterfowl area and Henry Ford historical attractions to the south at Alberta, waterfalls, deep forests and the Huron Mountains to the east, and secluded lakes, the magnificent Sturgeon River and the Ottawa National Forest to the west.

There are sandy beaches here for walking, with gorgeous sunsets and sunrises over Lake Superior, small communities and miles of open space and skies.

Spectacular destinations such as Copper Harbor at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, the Keweenaw National Historical Park, Lake Gogebic and Bond Falls, all lie easily within a day-trip’s reach.

The park is 75 miles from Copper Harbor, 73 miles from Marquette and 69 miles from the Porcupine Mountains.

An undated photograph shows the early days of Baraga State Park, which was established in 1922. Development began two years later. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

Wildlife viewing and bird watching are popular activities in this area with a wide variety of birds and animals living within the woods and waters here. From moose to wolves to deer and bears, wildlife watchers can find these species and more, while birdwatchers can fill out long checklists of species, especially at places like Arnheim Slough and along the slow and winding waterways just south of Keweenaw Bay.

Michigan is celebrating its state parks centennial this year. Baraga State Park was the first state park developed in the U.P.

Land was purchased for the creation of the state park early in the 1920s. Development of the park began in 1924 and took a good while to complete. Early plans included potentially siting a fish hatchery next door.

“We moved there, that was 1937, and there was nothing there, but the house and they had two box toilets on the north side and two on the south side,” said Albert “Chink” Wallin, manager at the park from 1937 to 1974. “That’s all they had there, nothing else. And the tools they had was a wheelbarrow, a shovel and a rake. In fact, it was all swamp.”

The Works Progress Administration completed a lot of the work at the south end of the park, planting trees, developing features of the day-use area and beach on Lake Superior. The crews also helped enlarge the park.

Several activities are scheduled throughout the summer and fall at the park or nearby, including the Baraga County Lake Trout Festival in June, Christmas in July and the park’s Harvest Festival.

A visit to this beautiful part of Michigan is well worth the trip.