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Rest, relax & refresh

Copper Country offers visitors history, outdoor attractions and more

The Portage Lift Bridge is graced by the cities of Houghton on the near side and Hancock on the far side. M-26 and U.S. 41 cross the bridge jointly here before splitting and heading north into the Keweenaw Peninsula. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

If you’ve ever pictured yourself riding up a highway along some beautiful windswept coastline, to the top of a mountain with a commanding view, then you may well enjoy the magnificent beauty of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

From just outside Mass City in Ontonagon County, M-26 winds north through the Copper Country into Houghton and Keweenaw counties to the near tip of the Upper Peninsula at Copper Harbor.

In a similar fashion, U.S. 41 heads north into the Keweenaw from south of L’Anse and Baraga, eventually also reaching Copper Harbor. Along the way, U.S. 41 and M-26 cross each other a couple of times, each bringing travelers spectacular scenery to enjoy.

Once into Houghton County along M-26, visitors to this area will find Twin Lakes State Park and the nearby Emily Lake State Forest Campground welcoming places to rest, relax and refresh.

Baraga State Park provides an eastern counterpart to Twin Lakes, providing views of Lake Superior at Keweenaw Bay and the spectacular red rock cliffs there that flank the south side of U.S. 41.

A view of Copper Harbor from Brockway Mountain shows some of the beauty inherent to this northernmost part of Michigan. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

Not far up the coast, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources manages massive wetlands at the Sturgeon River Sloughs State Wildlife Management Area. Here, visitors can find waterfowl for hunting and watching, along with numerous species of other birds and animals.

Continuing north, motorists will find Chassell, a community famous for its strawberry festival, nestled along Pike Bay on Portage Lake. There’s plenty of opportunities for fishing and boating, along with trail hiking.

The two highways first meet in Houghton, just south of the Portage Life Bridge, which crosses the Portage Canal, transporting visitors to the city of Hancock and, once over the bridge, a feeling of having arrived on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Here the highways split again, with M-26 skirting the eastern edge of the peninsula along Torch Lake and then hooking back at Lake Linden, meeting up with U.S. 41 again at Laurium.

Meanwhile, U.S. 41 runs a more direct route up the spine of the peninsula, passing several sites related to the region’s rich copper mining history, including the Quincy Mine and various locations connected under the auspices of the Keweenaw National Historic Park.

Reenactors demonstrate various aspects of life at Fort Wilkins for park visitors. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

A side loop trip off U.S. 41 to Calumet, along M-203, will bring motorists to McLain State Park, situated along spectacular Lake Superior shoreline property. The park has a picnic area, swimming, fishing, lawn sports and more.

As the two highways run north together, they pass through or near a collection of small towns important to the historic mining district here. Some of these places include Calumet, Kearsarge, Wolverine and Copper City.

As one might guess, there’s plenty here for the history buff and the rock-hound to enjoy, along with those who like to hike, bike or ride trails.

About 15 miles into Keweenaw County, the two highways split again at Phoenix. This time, M-26 takes the northern route, delivering travelers past waterfalls, quiet bays and big expanses of open Great Lakes waters.

A few miles offshore lie Isle Royale National Park, which is part of Keweenaw County and home to moose and wolves, numerous forms of lichens and moss and several colorful forms of garter snakes.

Halle Graves of Ishpeming takes a rest along the cascade of Jacobs Falls in Keweenaw County. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

Eagle River has a historic walking bridge that overlooks a waterfall, while a few miles up the sand-dune coast, past Jacobs Falls, is the quiet retreat at Cat Bay, where swimmers love the sandy beach and the chilly waters of Lake Superior.

Farther up the coast along M-26, past Eagle Harbor, Lake Bailey and the Silver River Falls, Brockway Mountain Drive shoots east for 8 miles, bringing visitors to grand views of the coastline and the peninsula and, in the spring of the year, thousands of migrating hawks, eagles and owls.

This part of the region also boasts some of the most fantastic mountain bike trails in Michigan. Meanwhile, U.S. 41 narrows as it snakes its way through hardwood forests, past the beauty of Lake Medora and more remnants of the bygone mining days.

Brockway Mountain Drive rejoins M-26 just before it again merges with U.S. 41 just outside Copper Harbor, a picturesque community settled along Lake Superior and Lake Fanny Hooe.

Some of the attractions in the Copper Harbor area include the old-growth Estivant Pines, Fort Wilkins Historic State Park and the Keweenaw Mountain Resort, which stands just outside of town.

There are gift shops and restaurants in Copper Harbor, along with numerous hiking and biking trails, boating, historic sites, fishing, stargazing and more.

Visitors can mountain bike out to the tip of the peninsula at High Rock Bay, which provides still more fabulous looks at Lake Superior. Any traveler to this region would be likely disappointed if they did not bring a camera.

Though the area makes for a great day trip, visitors will want more time to stay to explore this beautiful, scenic place. This is one of those locations in Michigan where if you visit once, you will always hope to return.